London’s leading Kabbalah teacher is concerned that the association of celebrities with the ancient discipline might make it appear “faddish”, and dilute the power of what it can bring to normal people.
Marcus Weston, who has been studying and teaching Kabbalah for more than a decade at the London Kabbalah Centre, tells HuffPostUK:
“When someone says Kabbalah, the first words you hear back are ‘Madonna’ and ‘red stringy bracelets’, nothing about 4000 years of social impact, and students from Plato and Aristotle to Newton and Galileo, Jesus to Mohammed. This celebrity tag makes it sound like a fad and threatens to dilute it.”
Madonna's dedication has brought Kabbalah into the public eye
Despite this, Marcus finds it easy to see why stars of the calibre of Madonna, Demi Moore, Naomi Campbell, Mick Jagger and others are drawn to the discipline, first discovered four millennia ago in a three-page book promising a code of wisdom, and the key to the nature of universal spirituality.
“I always laugh at the celebrity thing,” says Marcus. “Most of us think that heightened fame and wealth is a real fairy tale - we laugh, we enjoy their falls, we feel better and worse for ourselves - but fame can cause great destruction with its trappings.
"Life for a famous person, we think it’s heavenly, but behind those curtains, there’s a lot of trouble and darkness, and a lot of happiness is built externally, based on recognition and popularity. For anyone who is relying on this, it’s a fickle existence and, at some point in life, you get a reality check, you spot the façade, you realise that something’s missing and that’s when people start to search, and that search has led many to us.”
Marcus teaches a class at the Kabbalah centre in London
Despite this A-list appeal, Marcus is keen to stress that Kabbalah has something to offer everyone, not just superstars, and he’s not surprised that the discipline has seen a huge surge in popularity over the last 12 months.
“There are a host of different answers to why people come. Some people just come because a friend brought them. Some are seeking clarity. Some are intrigued. Some think it’s a great community. Some like volunteering. Everyone’s got different reasons, and that’s the nature of the community, it’s so eclectic. You have a lot of like-minded people, where friendships can build organically.
“Over 90% of everyone who comes is through a friend. It’s just a snowball that’s been rolling and rolling.”
Ok, so I’ve been referring to it deliberately vaguely as a ‘discipline’, but what is Kabbalah, and what exactly does it involve? It sounds pretty wide.
“Some classes are practical business relationships, some are mystical palm reading, some are profound, they dig up and excavate ancient scriptures to explain modern day living,” explains Marcus. “Some are personal, about beauty, some dig from an ancient scripts, which are then explained and made very practical for daily life.
“It’s one hour every week, giving you something to think about during that week. So, for example, instead of looking at the person you despise in the office, you might look within yourself for why this reaction has occurred.
“Homework is internalised discourse, finding your responsibility for the week, something that is more philosophical and applicable to something in your life.”
Ariana Grande wears the distinctive red bracelet - a guard against "jealousy and the evil eye"
Ballpark figure? “We try to bring down costs as far as possible. Introductory classes are free, and the first course is 10 weeks, at around £7 per session.”
And what, in a nutshell, is Kabbalah?
It’s not a religious discipline, but a spiritual one,” is how Marcus puts it. “It can sit beside faith or none at all, with practical insights to help people gain more from life by looking inside. It’s a study system that helps you to take more control, helps you behave better in relationships, gives you a system of query into the meaning of life to help you be more successful.”
As we know, certain self-improvement organisations are all too happy to claim religious status, whether deserved or not, but Marcus is keen to stress that Kabbalah is no church.
“What is different from a Church is our stress on personal development rather than a one-size-fits-all belief. It’s about self-awareness, community consciousness, global leadership and that takes you on a very personal journey.”
There’s always the fear that such an organisation, with this diverse, and highly interpretive, offering as well as glittering stars on board, could suffer from a certain… self-satisfaction on the part of those who are meant to lead. I can’t speak for all those running Kabbalah, but certainly Marcus’s humility is palpable, particularly as he describes his own journey from a successful career in the moneyed walls of London’s City to the classroom in which we now find him. In his own words, he’d hit a wall.
“I was fortunate. Someone said to me, ‘You’re so clever with your intellect, yet you battle people, competitors, employees. Perhaps there’s something inside you need to overcome.’
“This concept was intriguing, I turned up to a class, I felt a turnaround in my relationships and my work. I got involved volunteering, and soon I had to make a choice.
“It was between earning lots of money and helping lots of people. And I haven’t looked back one. Every day I feel like I’m effecting a little bit of change in the world, and meeting people from all walks of life.”
It’s very calming just talking to Marcus, so I can well imagine how soothing one of his classes must be, although I think it may be a while yet before the word Kabbalah completely transcends its association with Madonna and her red stringy bracelet. And yes, I nearly forgot to ask, what is the red stringy thing all about? Proof of elite membership even at this universal club?
Marcus chuckles. “Less of a tag, more of the removal of jealousy and the evil eye, so the opposite, really.”
If you’re interested in finding out more information about the London Kabbalah Centre, visit www.kabbalahcentre.co.uk