A New Age guru who claims to have survived for seven years on herbal tea and chocolate digestive biscuits received a hostile reception last night when she delivered a lecture about her cult, which advocates continuous fasting.
Jasmuheen, an Australian whose real name is Ellen Greve, arrived at Edinburgh University to talk to students about "breatharianism" whose followers live on "liquid light" and 300 calories a day.
It was her first visit to Britain since the death of Verity Linn, 49, whose emaciated body was found by the shores of Loch Cam, Sutherland, last September. Ms Linn starved to death after embarking on a 21-day fast which was part of her induction into the cult.
Opponents of Jasmuheen gathered outside the university's Chaplaincy Centre to accuse the cult leader of promoting eating disorders among vulnerable young people. They included Robin Harper, a Green MSP and rector of the university, who said: "I believe that one person and perhaps more have already been unwise enough to try some of this woman's ideas and died as a result."
However, Jasmuheen, a mother of two, said on Scot FM that she felt no responsiblity for any of the four deaths around the world which have been linked to her teachings.
She said that Verity Linn, died of "exhaustion and exposure" which had nothing to do with her fast. During the lecture, Jasmuheen told her audience that she last ate a proper meal in 1993 and claimed that she survived by "tapping into an alternative source of nourishment" which came from within.
She denied that she was exposed as a fraud on an Australian television programme which revealed that she fell ill when she was filmed continuously without food. "I flatly deny that I was ill," she said.
Breatharianism, which is practised by Tibetan monks but for shorter periods, has about 5,000 adherents worldwide. They believe that the elements contained in air - nitrogen, carbon dioxide, oxygen and hydrogen - can sustain a body. However, Jasmuheen, a former computer programmer, gave warning that it takes years of practice. On GMTV, Dr Hilary Jones attacked her teachings. "When we have an epidemic of eating disorders in the Western world, you saying you can live off divine light and less than 300 calories a day is frankly dangerous."
Although Jasmuheen claims that she has no trouble living without food, some of her followers find it more difficult. Two years ago one of her disciples in Australia was photographed coming out of a fast food shop munching on a chicken pie.
And an Australian journalist who was checking on to a flight with Jasmuheen was surprised to hear the airline attendant ask the cult leader to confirm that she had ordered a vegetarian meal. Jasmuheen quickly denied it, then changed her mind. "Yes, I did but I won't be eating it," she said.