Midweek Cuckoo: Ellen Greve
We all know about the pescaterians, who won’t eat red meat or chicken but will eat fish. Then there are the vegetarians, who won’t eat meat of any kind but will often eat animal produce gained without harming the animal, such as eggs. And then the vegans, who won’t even eat eggs, and who most would see as the extreme in restricted diets. But only if you’ve never heard of inedia, the idea that one can survive without physical nourishment, subsisting on only water and heavenly prana. Taking inedia to its extreme are the breatharians – those who believe that not even water is required for the human body, properly trained, to survive for decades, nourished only by the cosmos.
The idea of inedia has been around for a long time in the hindu faith, and practising inedia has been claimed by many a swami and fakir. In the west, past practitioners of inedia include Therese Neumann, a german catholic and stigmatic who apparently survived for 40 years on nothing but the holy communion. The champion of the movement over the last decade has been Ellen Greve, or ‘Jasmuheen’ to her followers.
Ellen Greve claims to have survived on less than 300 calories a day for years, absorbing additional nutrients from ‘liquid light’ and the very air around her. She agreed to be tested by TV show 60 Minutes, but Ellen began to show signs of acute dehydration within the first 48 hours. When the supervising doctor claimed it was due to lack of food and water, Ellen argued that it was because the hotel room was near a road and the air that she needed for sustenance was polluted. The crew obligingly moved her to a mountain retreat, where she lasted another 48 hours before the doctor deemed it unsafe to continue. Ellen’s pulse was racing, her pupils were dilated, her speech was slurred, she had lost 6kg in four days, and she was severely dehydrated. The doctor pulled the plug.
And wisely so, given that only a short while before, Verity Linn, a follower of ‘Jasmuheen’, had been found dead in the Scottish wilderness, after getting 8 days into the 21-day fast that was meant to be part of her induction into the Breatharian cult. Ellen naturally denies that the woman’s death had anything to do with going without food and water for eight days, but that it was exposure to the elements that killed her.
Of course, this wasn’t the first death. The previous year a woman had collapsed and died while on Jasmuheen’s 21-day fast. Lani Morris sat alone in a caravan in the yard of her breatharian tutors, paralysed down her right side, incontinent, unable to speak and coughing up black liquid. The couple who were looking after her, Jim and Eugenia Pesnak, decided that she was coughing up ‘spiritual pollutants’ and that they ‘honestly and reasonably’ believed she was not sick. Lani died from severe pneumonia, dehydration, kidney failure, and the effects of a stroke she suffered while in the care of the Pesnaks. Jim got six years in jail and his wife Eugenia got two. Ellen claimed never to have heard of Jim Pesnak, even though she mentioned him in her book, Living on Light. Ellen later said that perhaps Morris was “not coming from a place of integrity and did not have the right motivation”.
But even Lani Morris’s death wasn’t the first. The year before that, German schoolteacher and follower of Breatharianism, Timo Degen, went 19 days without food before slipping into a coma. After four weeks in hospital, as he was finally beginning to recover from massive circulatory failure, but in his weakened condition he fell in the hospital, hit his head, and died.
None of this has deterred Ellen, of course. She continued endangering lives and making wild claims. She has even claimed that her DNA has expanded from 2 strands to 12 to better absorb hydrogen. When she was offered $30,000 to take a blood test to confirm this claim, she replied:
For blood test for DNA – I don’t know. I’d have to really think about that one. I don’t know what the relevance for it is.
Frankly, i’m not quite sure what the relevence for her is.