JASMUHEEN says she can live on light. RICK ROSS says it's nonsense. He should know. He taught Harvey Keitel how to be
EVEN THE STAUNCHEST ATHEIST HAS A SYSTEM OF BELIEF. It might be an allegiance to a football team. a fashion movement. or ethnic or national pride. These convictions make its happy but. like any religious belief taken to an extretne. they can be dangerous and fanatic. And as traditional religious faiths decline in the West. so our search for meaning is leading tts increasingly to embrace New Age theories and to investigate their potential for happiness.
Today New Age is all the rage. Some 500 new self-development groups are active in Britain. Marginal belief systems come in all shapes and sizes. from the harmless to the corrupt. the most menacing examples being autocratic tribes such as the Manson family or the doomsday mass suicide ctllts in Waco and l'ganda.
Rick Ross. webmaster. cult investigator and technical consultant to Harvey Keitel on Holy Smoke. believes the distinction between moderate New Age philosophy and radical extremism is often very subtle. ‘\\'e should always ask “Do these beliefs hurt people?” he says. ‘There are tribes whose chiefs are aggressive or violent. who prey on vulnerable people and exploit theln sexually or discourage them from eating or drinking. But there are other movements with a complex myriad of beliefs that seem relatively benign. but that may have negative effects or by-prodtlcts.‘
So when does seemingly innocuous New Age philosophy develop into something more sinister'.’ This question applies topically to ‘breatharianistn’ whose most prominent researcher .lasmuheen is speaking at lidinburgh L'nivel'sity's ('haplaincy (‘entre this fortnight. Breatharianisln maintains that by accessing alternative forms of nourishment known as prana or liquid light. the body’s need for solid food is significantly redttced. .lasmuheen. an .-\ustralian (real name lillen (ireve) claims to be so nourished by the power of her ‘l)ivine ()ne \Vithin'. that she has lived on a diet of fruit juice. herbal tea and the occasional ‘taste burst' since 1993.
As the Jane Fonda of New Age. .lasmuheen has developed a 3 l —day process whereby interested parties can gradually replace their ‘toxic thinking' and the emotional need for food. allowing themselves to be sustained by their Divine ()ne \Vithin. "Through will. intervention and joyful discipline we can de— and re—progralnme ourselves. to move beyond our perceived limitations and the struggle for stlrvival.‘ she has claimed.
The idea of pranic energy or 'chi‘ is an ancient one. and periods of fasting are common to several liastern religions. l'nder nortnal circumstances .lasmuheen's outrageous claims would be dismissed as the ramblings of a crank. ller Scottish visit has prompted a tabloid controversy. however. thanks to the tragic case of Verity Linn. who was found starved to death near Sutherland last August. a copy of Jasmuheen’s book Living on [.lg/ll by her body.
l.inn was the third to die after allegedly attempting to live on light. .lasmttheen dismisses as ‘ludicrous' the implication that she is in some way responsible for discouraging eating. ller defenders believe her writings have been misinterpreted. Peter Napier. co-ordinator of the lidinburgh event feels .lasmuheen is being witch-hunted by the Scottish press. 'This negative reporting is simply not happening anywhere else.‘ says Napier. ‘Jasmuheen is not a cult and there are no followers as such. As for criticising someone for what they do or don't eat that's ridiculous. Think of the number of people who die from eating chips here in Scotland..
While the concept of a ‘chip guru‘ may appear more attractive to the majority. .lasmuheen makes a healthy living from her unregulated internet marketing. More than 2()()() people worldwide have undergone the 2 l -tlay process. Victor Seal. a Yorkshire osteopalh. took part in the
10 THE LIST 'i '
a cult-buster in Holy Smoke. ms; Allan Radcliffe
'Criticising someone for what they do or don't eat is ridiculous. Think of the number of people who die from eating chips here in SCOtIBﬂd.' Peter Napier
process as part of a three—week retreat. llaving preyiously tapped into pranic energy. he claims to have reached a stage (some time before the retreat) where he simply stopped being hungry. ‘I didn‘t deny my body food.’ says Seal. ‘It didn‘t want food. The process was a real learning process. a spiritual experience which I can best describe as a feeling I “"15 “Cl”? Protected or watched ovet'.‘
Of course. terms like ‘spiritual experience' are highly interpretative and can be applied to virtually any feeling or emotion. But Seal‘s physical experience of the 3 I -da_\ process was rather more harrowing than the 'joyful discipline‘ described by .lasmuheen. Seal admits that he found the initial seven-day long fast to be interesting but uncomfortable. 'I slitl‘letl 10 feel better Lllttl better its the pl'ttL‘L‘SS progressed] lte concedes.
His body weight dropped dramatically during that week from llst 4|bs to 0st (ilbs. By the second week the group were drinking water and small quantities of fruit juice. which was increased by 30‘; by week three. Scal's weight eventually stabilised at l()st Ilb.
The main critical objection to .laslntlheen's lidinburgh \ isit is not so YllllL‘ll her promoting the benefits of pranic energy. but her dubious claims that she survives without eating. If not eating isn't a central concern of her belief sy stem then why tnake it an issue‘.’ Though