To I make my these clearer I want to say that what gentiles consider Kabbalah and what the Zohar and the Arizal [Isaac Luria] are about are two very different things. The Zohar is not about magic. It is a neo platonic explanation of the Old Testament.
And it is an explanation that is necessary for many reasons. One is that the alternative--Maimonides [the Rambam] with his reasons for the mitzvot based on Aristotle are not very convincing. Clearly some type of Neo -Platonic approach is necessary. [See other medieval kabbalists especially Avraham Abulafia and the Ramban (Nachmanides).] (I mean the Rambam might be right but in any case he is hard to accept and grasp.)
Yet I still have to say that my general impression of people that learn Zohar is that they start thinking they are the Messiah, and get other delusions rather quickly.
That is just one criticism of it. I have another one also. It is this. That the aspect of Torah which is Numinous and holy is not touched by the Zohar or the Ari. This is an inner holiness of Torah which has nothing to do with the things talked about in the Zohar at all.
I should say that I spent time learning Kabbalah, and I am familiar with many of the so called "kabalists" in Israel, so I am not completely ignorant about this subject. I learned the Eitz Chaim of the Ari [Isaac Luria] several times, and went through the other writings of the Ari at length. I read several works of the Remak (Moshe Cordovero) including the Pardes and the Reshash and prayed with the Sidur HaReshash for many years. I went through several authors of Medieval kabbalah like Avraham Abulafia and others. A lot of this was very inspiring for me. But still it has the tendency is to instill delusions into people.
I know the fraudulent kabbalist of the Kotel. And I knew others that had actual insights. One fellow had virtual film going through his head showing him the life of people that came to him. [He was put into Cherem (excommunication) by Rav Ovadia Yosef] I was close with many of the disciples and descendants of Bava Sali.
Also one odd thing was that people that learned Kabbalah also thought they knew how to learn Gemara (The Babylonian Talmud), even though they could never tell you a simple explanation in any Gemara They seemed to believe their expertise in Kabbalah gave them expertise in everything.
So though Kabalah is a legitimate sub-section of Torah learning, still there is the problem of cults.
And the Sitra Achra that got mixed up with it also.
The main principle in terms of Kabalah is this: Sephardim are OK, Ashkenazim are not.
The Ramchal also is fine [as far as I can tell], even though Rav Hutner (Rosh Yeshiva of Chaim Berlin) is reported to have said that some aspects of his teachings come from the Shatz.]
So I say in general simply to learn in a kosher Lithuanian type of yeshiva.
And avoid kabbalists. [But it is still OK to go to descendants of Bava Sali for blessings and advice-not because of Kabbalah, but rather from the standpoint of being descendants of a tzadik which gives certain kind of merit.]