Material Girl Turned Me on to a World of Spiritual Joy.. Now She's Set to Convert All of Ireland ; Fan Predicts Flood of New Followers of the Trendy Belief System Popular With Madonna
Irish student Matthew Keehan has told of his complete conversion to a trendy way of life - thanks to hearing superstar Madonna talk about it.
And the 20-year-old artist says thousands more people throughout Ireland will turn to the newly-fashionable ancient Jewish principles this year when his heroine and Britney Spears both play in Ireland.
Both of the stars are committed to the Kabbalah - Britney even has one of its symbols tattooed on the back of her neck which experts say means absolutely nothing.
But it's believed that with celebrity endorsement like that, the spiritual fad is set to take off.
Limerick-born Matthew turned to the Kabbalah after spending his early teens being bullied and tormented because he didn't fit in.
By the age of 12 he had begun experimenting with religion and spirituality as a way of escaping the escalating gangland wars and thug culture.
And at 13 he dropped out of school unable to cope with the pressures of not fitting in and failing to gain an interest in the bland subjects of his curriculum.
While most teenagers from his area were fighting, stealing cars, doing drugs or drinking, Matthew was searching for fulfilment and enlightenment.
He said: "I left school when I was 13.
"Bullying was a big part of my problem and I wouldn't tell anyone.
"It was more verbal abuse because I didn't conform to what they considered popular.
"Although I didn't get beaten up by my peers it was constant verbal and psychological abuse. It was because of the way I was dressed or the things I liked. I was just absorbing it all until I couldn't take it any more and that's one of the reasons I left school.
"Before I became interested in Kabbalah I had a circle of friends who only wanted to play video games, drink and smoke drugs all the time. I was already on the outside of this group because I wasn't interested in all those activities.
"I grew up in South Hill in Limerick which is a really rough area and I decided I didn't want anything to do with that whole lifestyle. If you didn't wear tracksuits and steal cars you didn't fit in.
"So I repackaged myself and changing my accent was just one of the things I did to leave it behind.
"I wanted to be better, where I came from was a dump, a dead end. Most people grow up and end up repeating their families' mistakes and having the same problems - I wanted to get out of that.
"Nobody I knew was interested in the same kinds of things as me so it was a pretty lonely lifestyle choice. Since I was 12 I tested a lot of different faiths, I went on a whole journey of rejecting Catholicism, I then became an atheist, an agnostic and even got into Buddhism and the Occult.
"But it was all a natural progression - it wasn't like I woke up one morning and decided I was going to be something else - there was always a link as to why I moved on to the next thing."
At 17 Matthew discovered the Kabbalah. Having heard his idol Madonna mention it in an interview, he decided to read about it - but not everyone took his new interest as seriously as he did.
He said: "People keep thinking this is a phase for me because I've been through so many phases before but I think this is it - I am happy now.
"Kabbalah is a manual for living. It gives you a set of principles or laws which incorporate physical and spiritual laws and if you live by these guidelines you will avoid chaos and receive fulfilment.
"My friends and family ridicule it but they don't understand it. They think because of the whole celebrity thing it's just a fad. I suppose they probably think I'm doing it just because everyone else is.
"Kabbalah is not a religion - there is no praying or worshipping involved.
"The fundamental teaching of the Kabbalah is sharing - the soul is considered as a vessel of receiving energy and will naturally be selfish - Kabbalah teaches you to resist the selfishness and put the needs of others first.
"We believe in the principle that the more you give the more you will receive. It's also about taking responsibility for everything in your life - to learn not to blame everything on others.
"There are no 'Thou Shalt Not's' in Kabbalah, you can still be religious, ie, you could be a Catholic Kabbalah student if you wanted and you can do basically whatever you want in life whether that is smoking, drinking or other things.
"As long as you are doing all these things whilst taking into consideration the fundamental principles.
"There are 52 different energies that correspond with the 52 different weeks of the year. These energies can be understood and applied to our personal lives in order to bring about changes within us on the spiritual level, which will then our lives."
And he says this interest will grow rapidly as Madonna and Britney gear up to play gigs here this summer.
"I'm a huge fan of Madonna. She's always been an inspiration of mine but it's not because of her that I am interested in the Kabbalah - she just made me more aware of it," said Matthew.
"She is the single biggest influence in Kabbalah in the world at the minute. She has become the face of it world-wide.
"Many people in the college I go to are fashion students and they think the red string I wear around my wrist is just a trendy fashion accessory that I'm wearing to copy Madonna.
"A lot of the tools in Kabbalah can seem pretty weird to people who don't know anything about it - the red string is essentially to ward off evil."
Matthew firmly believes becoming interested in the Kabbalah changed his life, that he is now a happier, more positive and more confident person.
"Before I became interested in Kabbalah I was so stupid, blind, I didn't know anything and I was extremely negative about my life. I was a really confused, scared teen - I had no idea what was going on. When I read my first book on Kabbalah from cover to cover I felt like a blindfold had been lifted from my eyes, I took a step back from my life and became more conscious about the choices I'd made," he said.
"I want to start up a centre here in Ireland, I want to be able to teach other people about the benefits of the Kabbalah, to help others the way it has helped me.
"It is my goal to be a channel for that. Ireland is the only country in Europe at the minute without one - if I can do that and continue to learn I will remain happy."