Verity Linn, an Australian, is believed to have been a follower of a New Age guru who says human beings can live without food. Police say her diary described how she thought that practising "Breatharianism", a creed that preaches that eating is an unnatural practice, would "re-charge her both physically and mentally".
Breatharianism is a movement founded by Jasmuheen, an Australian self- styled prophet whose real name is Ellen Greve.
Mrs Greve, a blonde and apparently well-nourished mother from Brisbane, claims to have been living on herbal tea, juice and the occasional biscuit since 1993, after being told to change her life by her spiritual mentor St Germain.
She maintains that nourishment can come from light and this can help solve world famine. She says: "I have found another form of nourishment. It's called Pranic light, which is the light of God found all over the universe and inside everyone." Mrs Greve, 42, has 5,000 followers worldwide, including a small band of British converts, although she prefers not to use that word, saying that she teaches "self-mastery".
Her website, called the Cosmic Internet Academy, keeps people up to date with the latest "research" into food-free existence. Her book, Ambassadors of Light - Living on Light, is published here next month, and she is due to conduct a lecture tour around Britain in November. During her last trip to Britain, in May, 400 people turned up to hear her speaking at St James's Church, in Piccadilly.
In her book she outlines her vision: "They (the Ascended Masters) show me visions of a world without hunger, no food outlets or farming except to grow for the sake of beauty not need. Imagine how many billions of dollars could be diverted to other things if everyone trusted they could be fed by Universal substance, by God's Light alone?"
Yesterday Mrs Greve issued a statement from her Self Empowerment Academy saying that she had never had the pleasure of "connecting with Verity", the dead woman.
She went on to stress that anyone tempted to try living without food should not do so "unless they are well-trained and fit on all levels". Otherwise it would be like "attempting to complete a gruelling marathon". She lists recommendations for how individuals drawn to her programme may begin to become fit "on all levels" - emotionally, spiritually, physically and mentally.
"There is nothing mysterious about living on light," she writes, "it is a natural by-product of connection with DOW Power (The power of the Divine One Within).
"Mental exercise involves programming and mind mastery. Emotional exercise occurs through the way we co-exist in our relationships. Spiritual exercise is the path all initiates take when they want to experience the enlightening qualities of their DOW."
Before embarking on the 21-day initiation programme, breatharians must convert to vegetarianism, progress to raw food only and then a wholly liquid diet. If the preparation is good, the "spiritual cleansing" programme can leave you in "a state of grace and wonder at the majesty of life", Mrs Greve asserts.
Depending on how deeply you connected with your "DOW", you may then find you can do without food for long periods of time. "Some never return to food again preferring to be pranically nourished. Some don't connect deeply enough to sustain being nourished in this way without a few negative side effects," she says.
Verity Linn, 48, came to the UK about 10 years ago, attracted by the Findhorn Foundation, a New Age community in the north of Scotland. She worked in the management team of the Foundation's Cluny Hill College in Forres, a converted hotel which serves as accommodation for the whole community.
Robin Alfred, manager of the Findhorn Foundation, is anxious to disassociate the community from Greve and her teachings. "This is the first we have heard of `Breatharianism'," he said yesterday. "Fasting is not something we regularly do. In fact, the last time I saw Verity was on the Thursday when we all had dinner together. We grow a lot of organic vegetables here. Visitors often comment on how good our food is."
Verity left Findhorn on 4 September to go on holiday. Her body was found on 16 September. Her diary revealed that she had travelled by bus from Forres to Inverness and then on to Sutherland on 6 September, two days after she began her fast. Despite being weak from lack of food or water, she managed to climb two and half miles along a rocky hillside to pitch her tent. It was there, on the grassy plateau, that her body was found.
From her diary, police were able to establish that she had chosen this isolated spot to carry out a pre-millennial vigil which involved a 21- day fast. A copy of Mrs Greve's book was found among her possessions.
Inform, a London-based charity which researches new religious movements, keeps a file on Jasmuheen. Rachel Storm, of Inform, said yesterday: "Fasting has been a practice within many religious traditions for many centuries as a means of self-discipline and a believer's way of dedication to God. This case is obviously an extreme form of fasting which is clearly not medically safe."
Fasting dates back to Biblical times. It was rigorously practised in Judaism and was recommended by Jesus both by example and teaching. As a penitential practice it is designed to strengthen the spiritual life by weakening the attractions of sensible pleasures. More or less rigorous fasts are practised in all the more austere religious orders today such as the Carthusians, Cistercians and Carmelites.
The Evangelical Alliance (EA), an organisation which represents more than a million evangelical Christians in Britain, is urging all of its members to fast during the "final prayer countdown" to the Millennium, from 28 November to 19 December.
"Fasting is perhaps one of the most misunderstood, neglected or ignored habits of many Christians," said Jane Holloway, the EA's head of prayer.
"In presenting this opportunity for prayer, we would like to show that fasting, if used creatively, can be a powerful way of going deeper with God at this momentous time in our history," she said.Reuse content