Material girl turns spiritual as she puts cash into mystic centre

Madonna loves the Kabbalah sect so much she's helped buy it a plush new London home. And she won't be gossiping about the other stars who go

The Observer/May 25, 2003
By Vanessa Thorpe

She is one of the most devout and certainly richest disciples of the mystic teachings of the Kabbalah, the ancient Hebrew philosophy. Now Madonna and her husband, film director Guy Ritchie, are to hand over a slice of their fortune to help buy a multi-million pound headquarters in the heart of the West End for the educational charity that promotes a modern, faddish version of the 4,000-year-old spiritual tradition.

A 'divine system of wisdom', it derives from the ancient writings of Jewish rabbis but has come to Britain via Los Angeles. Its doctrines now encompass meditation, the purchase of patented health and beauty products, and the promotion of positive thought processes that are said to slow the ageing progress.

Celebrated followers include Mick Jagger, Barbra Streisand, Roseanne Barr, Jeff Goldblum, and Elizabeth Taylor. Models Jerry Hall and Naomi Campbell both wear the red bracelets the Kabbalah recommends to ward off negativity.

Madonna first drew media attention to her interest in the Kabbalah five years ago when she credited it with 'creative guidance' on her Ray of Light album. Speaking recently of its impact on her life she said it had taught her not to gossip. 'If we truly believed that every act of denigrating somebody is a small form of murder - the negative energy you create by talking badly - we'd never do it again,' she said

Now, according to yesterday's edition of the Estates Gazette, the Queen of Pop and her consort are behind the Kabbalah Centre's acquisition of 12 Stratford Place, just behind Oxford Street, for around £3.65 million.

The building was owned by the Friends Provident. Peter Trinder of Nelson Bakewell, the company advising the former owners, told the Gazette he was unable to 'confirm or deny speculation about the building', but Nelson Bakewell's website was updated last week to say the building had been sold.

The charity already has more than 50 centres around the world but has been looking for a new, larger location in the middle of London, having outgrown its offices above the Vidal Sassoon hairdressing school in Grosvenor Street. It is expected to use its new 10,000 sq ft head office to run lecture courses.

The original writings of the Kabbalah, which means 'receiving' in Hebrew, were based on a series of secret, sacred visions. These were eventually described in the Zohar - Book of Splendour, an arcane text that offered a complete philosophy for life and learning, including versions of yoga, astrology and numerology. Its complexity led some rabbis to advise that no one should attempt to understand the Kabbalah before they had reached the age of 40.

Nowadays it appeals in particular to devotees of New Age spirituality, and its teachings have been applied to all aspects of modern life, from office politics, to sex, to attitudes to death.

At its former head office, the Kabbalah Centre's lectures - some of which Madonna has attended - have included courses on What Women Want (For Men Only), Making Love Last, Overcoming Our Hidden Addictions, and How to Read People in Five Minutes or Less. The centre's philosophy argues that we are all potentially rejuvenated every seven years and we only go on to age if we fail to recognise this fact.

Kabbalah products are sold, including skincare treatments retailing at around £50 each and Kabbalah mineral water with 'centuries of wisdom in every drop'.

Many Jewish clerics are sceptical about this modern appropriation of an ancient part of their culture. They argue that a powerful tradition is being devalued by commercial applications.

To the Ritchies, however, the influence of the Kabbalah on society is entirely benign. Their generosity in donating a large sum to help with the purchase of the new centre comes hard on the heels of Pink Floyd guitarist David Gilmour's public call for the rich and famous to sell off 'spare' properties and help those in need. The guitarist sold his £3.6m London home in Maida Vale and has donated the proceeds to the Urban Village charity for the homeless.

The Kabbalah is already thought to have influenced the Ritchies' personal and professional decisions and it is believed to be the inspiration behind children's books the couple have created together. Madonna has explained she has based her five morality tales on its teachings because she was sick of reading her son and daughter stories which did not contain any 'lessons' for life.

'I couldn't believe how vapid and vacant and empty all the stories were,' she said. 'There were no lessons - they were just all about princesses and the beautiful prince. I didn't see any body struggling for things.'

Last year the couple renewed their wedding vows at a Kabbalah ceremony in Los Angeles, and Ritchie's latest film project, The 49th Gate, is a drama about people trapped between heaven and hell, inspired by the writings of the Kabbalah. The key principle involved in his screenplay is that there are 50 levels of holiness for a person to attempt to reach, but the 50th is close to impossible. Even Moses failed to attain it.

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