I opened the doors of the Kabbalah Centre, a huge Victorian building just off of Bond Street, convinced I was walking into a cult. Would I ever be the same again? After all, Madonna is a Kabbalist isn’t she? And she is pretty normal, in an overtly sexualised, new age spiritual, multi-millionaire kind of way. A celebrity endorsement, just like Tom Cruise is to Scientology. What could go wrong?
I am greeted with brilliant white walls, elaborate fixtures and high ceilings. Rooms are minimalist in style, scattered with antique furniture and tables flamboyantly wrapped in crisp white cotton. Above us hangs a blue crystal chandelier. 80 or so young, glamorous women in designer clothes and men in fitted suits sit around circular tables.
“Great to meet you”, people repeatedly come up to me, baring their white teeth with well rehearsed smiles. We are each assigned a study group and directed to sit with them.
Kabbalah is a branch of Judaism, based on The Zohar, a 13th century Holy Book that is claimed to reveal the hidden secrets of the Torah. Orthodox Rabbi’s have traditionally maintained that the study of Kabbalah is limited to married Jewish men who are over the age of 40 and highly learned in Jewish law, to prevent misinterpretation.
The founders of the Kabbalah Centre, Rav Berg and his wife Karen, disagreed with this and decided to bring this ‘wisdom’ to the people, making it accessible to all of humanity. So in the 1980’s the first Kabbalah Centre was launched in the USA. Since then the growth has been significant, and the organisation now boasts centres in over 70 countries reaching tens of thousands of students.
I count six different nationalities represented on my table of ten. Our leader, Daniel, wears a yarmulke and talks with an Israeli accent.
“Kabbalah is not a religion” he begins, “it is merely a way of living, adhering to an ancient wisdom. It does not contradict any other belief system but simply offers tools to help us to expand our consciousness”.
We are told that everything in our lives is a blessing, so long as you look at the bigger picture. In order to see this, we need to try and elevate ourselves into our higher consciousness, (the ‘99%’), rather than let Gravity drag us down to where we spend most of our time, in our lower consciousness (the ‘1%’).
“If we live in the 99% we accept responsibility for what happens to us and what we do. If we live in the 1% we either want to blame, or play the victim” Daniel says.
I sign up for a ten-week course on a Thursday evening, which begins with the story of creation.
Before anything else existed, there was nothing but the force of Good. “Kabbalists call this ‘The Light’. Religion calls this God, Science would probably call this Quantum Theory” Daniel says.
The Light was an infinite giver of energy, so it created a ‘Vessel’ to be an infinite receiver of energy. The Vessel (a metaphor for the human Soul) and the Light had a perfect relationship, until the Vessel decided that it was fed up of being the receiver (the ‘effect’), it wanted to be it’s own creator as well, it’s own cause. So the soul ended this relationship, deciding that it will only receive again when it deserves to.
The word Kabbalah means ‘to receive’ – Kabbalah teaches us how to be the cause of everything we receive through being proactive and taking responsibility, as oposed to being reactive and playing the victim.
Three weeks later we are each offered a copy of The Zohar to take home for the week, so we can all ‘experience its energy’.
“You won’t really understand it”, Daniel says. “You just have to connect to it in your own way”.
So we were to leave it on our bedside table or sleep with it under our pillow, and to let it affect us in any so way it decided. We were also advised to ‘scan it’ as one would a bar code. The three rules for scanning it were as follows:
Do not scan or read the book when you are in the ‘private room’.
Do not read or scan the book while you are sat on the floor.
Do not read or scan the book without wearing clothes.
I put my hand up. “Why the rules?”
“It’s an energy thing”, Daniel says, “if you break the rules you will be attracting the wrong kind of energy”.
In my eagerness to connect with the book, I ‘scan’ a chapter in bed that evening. Half an hour passes before I realise with a panic that I am not wearing any clothes underneath my bedcovers. Does this count? I slam the book shut and hope that I haven’t inadvertently attracted bad energy.
The next day I fly out to the French Alps for a ski holiday. On the first night of the trip we get broken into while we are sleeping and the thieves escape with £1500 worth of our stuff. On the third day my boyfriend breaks his collarbone. On the 5th day we all get sick. On the 6th day our flight home is severely delayed, and when we finally do get home the carbon monoxide alarm is bleeping so we have to evacuate the flat… Of course, this could all be a co-incidence.
For our final session, we focus on how Kabbalah can help humanity.
“Kabbalah is not a self help course”, Daniel tells us, “it teaches us how we can bring about peace on earth through the decisions we make”.
We are told that the year 7000 is the deadline for peace on earth according to the Kabbalists, although we can make it happen tomorrow if we want to. At the moment we are at the year 5774, calculated from the birth of Adam and Eve, and therefore humanity.
Daniel senses the tension in the room; “Kabbalah is not against the idea of dinosaurs”, he reassures us, “but that doesn’t matter because according to the Kabbalists, time cannot be measured without human consciousness”. He swiftly moves on, taking a swig from his bottle of ‘Kabbalah Water’.
I quiz my mentor on this after the session. “Kabbalah water is very powerful,” she explains.
“How is it different from non-Kabbalah water?” I ask.
“It goes through a process,” she says. “It is meditated over, to give it energy. It has healing powers”.
She must pick up on my skeptical expression; “it’s been proven. Water takes on the properties of its environment. They tested it. They compared water left in a room with music, candles and love with water that was left in a room with people arguing. They looked at it under the microscope and it had completely different chemical properties”.
It also costs £3.95 a bottle.