It’s remarkable what you can find on eBay these days. I came across this old Marvel comic book from the early 1970’s which features a “hero” (if he can be called that) called the Golem. Possibly the first comic book character straight out of Jewish legend. But what really caught my eye was the story title: “The Devil-Hordes of Kaballa!” Stan Lee (né Lieber) having one of his little inside jokes.
Madonna, look out!
Kabbalah, for those of you unfamiliar with the term, is the body of knowledge having to do with Jewish mysticism. It consists largely of speculation on the nature of divinity, the Creation, the origin and fate of the soul, and the role of human beings. It consists also of meditative, devotional, mystical and magical practices that in years past were taught only to a select few; for this reason, Kabbalah is regarded as an esoteric offshoot of Judaism. The word “cabal” - a group of conspirators - is derived from Kabbalah, owing mainly to the mystical and secretive nature of the latter.
Some - probably most - aspects of traditional Kabbalah are so wound up with Jewish religious belief and knowledge that they are meaningless outside of that context... but at the same time, there are other aspects that have been studied and practiced outside of Judaism for so long that they have evolved their own distinct identity. As Colin Low puts it in his Kabbalah FAQ website, “you do not have to be Jewish to study [these aspects of Kabbalah], any more than you need to be English to study the Law of Gravitation. However,” Low continues, “if you choose to study Kabbalah by name you should recognise that Kabbalah was and is a part of Judaism, and an important part of the history of Jewish people, and respect the beliefs which not only gave rise to Kabbalah, but which are still an essential part of Jewish faith.”
These days, of course, anyone who is hooked into the Great American Drivel Manufactory can tell you that the hot new spiritual trend taking Hollyweird by storm is - you guessed it - Kabbalah. Madonna, Demi Moore, Ashton Kutcher, and
What a country. Madonna Ciccone Ritchie, a nice Catholic girl, is writing children’s books based on rabbinic teachings. And meanwhile, Britney rushed off to get herself a Kabbalah-inspired tattoo - never mind that tattoos are a no-no according to the Torah. I’ll bet it’s real cute... and spiritual, too!
So: back to my comic book.
Those “Devil-Hordes of Kaballa” - could it be that, 30 years ago, Stan Lee could see all this coming? Perhaps these “devil-hordes” are all those happy Left Coast trendoids struggling to penetrate the cosmic mysteries. They say Kabbalah is notoriously difficult even for the most learned scholars. Traditionally, you couldn’t even begin to study it until you were 40 years old (20, by some authorities). And there were old stories that you could go stark raving nutso if you weren’t fully prepared.
Hey, maybe those old stories are right. I hear that Target has actually run out of $30 red string bracelets due to high demand. Stark. Raving. Nutso.