The 2012 Super Bowl was one of the most watched television events in U.S. history, with an estimated viewership of 111.3 million people. Three million more watched the halftime show. Madonna, the iconic pop star and headliner, crafted a thirteen-minute-long medley of her songs, a lavish production costing millions. The result was a spectacularly staged performance. The show opens on a stage decorated with Egyptian motifs and similarly costumed dancers as Madonna enters, dressed as the hierophant of an ancient mystery cult, seated in a throne on a chariot being pulled by dozens of "slaves."
The original Hermetic Order of the Golden Dawn would likely have been envious of the attention to detail. Other dancers dressed as armored angels and strange deities spin around Madonna as she sings "Vogue." Tall banners are decorated with a symbol, an M cutting into a circle, the two sides of the letter forming what look like massive horns. Madonna's costume is simple, a Roman centurion's skirt, her head adorned by a winged helmet with two pointed appendages rising from the middle.
Madonna's interest in esoteric matters goes way back. Beginning with an awkward conversation with Kurt Loder of MTV in 1997, Madonna tried to explain finding her way to the Kabbalah Centre, where she was taught that, "If you want to have goodness in your life, you have to give it." She also explained that the soul becomes firmly attached to the body at age 13 (the age of a Bar Mitzvah). In a later 2005 interview with the Guardian, having become increasingly devoted to the Kabbalah Centre, Madonna again tries to explain what the teachings mean to her, and defending the controversial center from what the interviewer, Dina Rabinovitch, calls "charlatanism."
The Kabbalah Centre was started in 1969 by the retired Rabbi Philip Berg. Berg wanted to divorce the mystical teaching of the Kabbalah from its Jewish context, believing it to have universal spiritual power. While the center uses the Bible and the Jewish Kabbalistic text called the Zohar in its teachings, the main thrust of the approach is in the practical application of what the center calls "the world's oldest body of spiritual wisdom." The center contends that Judaism kept the 5,000-year-old teachings secret until Berg believed that all people should have access. In Judaism, the Zohar is considered the primary source of Kabbalistic wisdom. The Zohar was written in Aramaic sometime in the 13th century, likely drawing from a variety of sources, some old and some contemporary to its own time, and serves as a mystical interpretation of the Torah, the first five books of the Hebrew Bible. The center claims that the power of the Zohar is not in what it says, but what it is— an artifact of great power that can alter one's destiny: