When Michelle Pfeiffer Joined the Breatharians Cult

michelle-pfeiferWhen actress Michelle Pfeiffer was just starting out in Hollywood, long before her hit movies Batman Returns and Hairspray hit theatres, she admits to being roped into the cult of “breatharianism.” Breatharians believe that humans can survive without food or water—they get all the nutrients they need from air and sunlight.

Obviously as even plants can’t survive with only air and sunlight, there is no way that humans can live on just this, so how did she get wrapped up in it?

In 1978, Pfeiffer participated in the Miss Orange County beauty pageant. She won and went on to participate in Miss California, where she came in sixth place. During that time, she was able to sign on with an acting agent and started auditioning for films and TV shows. Obviously, she would later become quite successful, but as with many acting careers, she was off to a slow start. It’s possible that breatharianism was pitched to her as a diet that could make her look good and perform her best for those auditions. Whatever prompted her, she fell into line with a couple who acted as “personal trainers” and encouraged her to get on this diet.

Of the couple, Pfeiffer recalled that

They were very controlling. I wasn’t living with them but I was there a lot and they were always telling me I needed to come more. I had to pay for all the time I was there, so it was financially very draining.

Today’s breatharian movement was started by Ellen Greve, known as Jasmuheen, though she didn’t come up with the idea. Living off of a “life force” has been around in many different cultures throughout history. Greve took the idea of “prana,” the Sanskrit word for life-force, and believed she had found a way to cure world hunger- just stop eating… genius!

Now, fasting, of course, has long been an important part of many different religions. The difference between fasting and breatharianism is that you typically end your fasting period and eat some food. Breatharianism, on the other hand, is for life (however long or short that life may be).

You’re probably wondering how anyone could possibly get roped into thinking living off air and sunlight is a good idea, let alone pay for it, but the methods used are more or less the same as with most cults (and used in politics, marketing, etc.).  They simply exploit human psychology to very subtly get one’s mindset in such a state that they can convince the person of some small inconsequential thing, then rinse and repeat until in the end they’ve managed to convince you of some big thing which had they presented to you at the very beginning you’d have instantly known was ridiculous.

While it’s common to scoff and shake our heads at people who get roped into such things, the reality is that these sorts of methods work on pretty much all humans if presented in the right way and if the shift in thinking is gradual enough- among numerous other examples throughout history, we need look no further than the Nazi party to observe this effect on a mass-scale.  Small moves over a large span of time is one of the major keys to this.

And, indeed, this is how they do it with breatharianism.  Progressing to real breatharianism is a slow, step-by-step process; so for new members it probably doesn’t seem so crazy at first, particularly if you’re ignorant of the end goal to start with. Newly inducted breatharians start by making the switch to vegetarianism. From there, they become vegans, eat only raw foods, cut out everything but fruit, and finally consume only liquids before stopping food and liquid intake altogether.

Let’s say someone reaches that last step and stops eating entirely. Without any food, the body starts to break down glycogen, proteins, and fats for energy, until it runs out of what it needs. Dehydration from lack of water is the bigger worry, though. Without any liquids, among other problems, the organs will begin to shut down, seizures are common, and it can result in permanent brain damage. Normally people can survive just a few days without water, though people have been known (rarely) to survive for a few weeks.

Even Greve recognizes the danger, though she blames it on members’ unpreparedness rather than the lack of consumption of food and water:

If a person is unprepared and not listening to their inner voice there can be many problems… from extreme weight loss to even loss of their life.

And, indeed, people have lost their lives attempting Breatharianism: Verity Linn, a 49-year-old, was found dead in Scotland following her Breatharian conversion; Temo Degan slipped into a coma after converting to Breatharianism and died shortly after being revived with IV drips; and Lani Morris, mother of nine, was in the care of a Breatharian couple when she developed pneumonia and had a stroke before passing. They claimed not to know that anything was wrong until it was too late.

Yet there are a number of “success” stories to counteract the deaths. Greve herself claims to have lived the Breatharian lifestyle for years, only sometimes eating mouthfuls of food “for taste.” However, given the time-frame for survival without water, let’s just say that it’s unlikely that Greve actually sticks to her own diet.

She once went on Australia’s “60 Minutes” and did a fasting test to prove that she could live on light and air. At the end of 48 hours, her blood pressure rose and she showed signs of severe dehydration. She blamed the symptoms on “polluted air,” so the show moved her away from the city. After that, a supervising doctor said Greve experienced dilated pupils, slowed speech, and weight loss. The program cut off the test before Greve required hospitalization, but she said they only did it because they feared she would be successful.

Another “success” story is Wiley Brooks, who claims to have been a Breatharian for over 30 years. He even founded the Breatharian Institute of America. If you’re interested in joining, it will cost you just $10 million.

Weirdly, Brooks is all for McDonald’s hamburgers and Diet Coke (which is of course made from sun and air… Right?). Brooks has a long explanation as to why this is good, starting with

One of the most exciting things about coming to Earth [after descending from our natural plane] was eating 3d food. Food was not eaten for nutrition but for the exquisite taste and sensations you would get.

And get this: “The 5d qualities in the diet coke acts as a type of binding agent which binds all other sugars and toxins (after-effects) in the meal being digested at that time to the beef in the burger. The beef acts as a catalyst that draws these toxins to digestive tract and escorts them out of the body as waste.” (Tell that to Supersize Me!)

Don’t even get him started on chicken burgers. Apparently beef is the way to go because:

The cow consciousness is a group of fully consciousness, very high dimensional beings who don’t experience death the way you think about it. They know there is no such thing as death. Only transition from one reality to another, and there are many realities to visit. So stop worrying about them, you are the ones in hot soup.

Ah, the unparalleled wisdom and nobility of our bovine friends. How much we could learn from them if we only listened…

At any rate, while it seems that the “air and sunlight” diet isn’t strictly followed by many Breatharians, and certainly not by the surviving ones, it’s lucky for those of us who are fans of her work that Michelle Pfeiffer escaped while she still could. She says that the moment of revelation came after she met her first husband, Peter Horton, at an acting class. Horton was working on a film about the “Moonies,” the followers of Reverend Moon Sun-myung’s cult-like Unification Church.

He brought her along to interview ex-cult followers to do some research. Pfeiffer said,

We were talking with an ex-Moonie and he was describing the psychological manipulation and [it] just clicked… I was in one.

Obviously, acceptance was the first stage to getting out, and Pfeiffer was able to quit the cult. She does still eat a vegan diet, which she started while with the Breatharians, but she says that’s about health rather than clinging on to the vestiges of the cult.

If you liked this article, you might also enjoy our new popular podcast, The BrainFood Show (iTunes, Spotify, Google Play Music, Feed), as well as:

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  • “…these sorts of methods work on pretty much all humans if presented in the right way…” I am sorry but this sentence is full of crap. It is the same as hypnosis, unless you want to be hypnotized it will not happen. I went to a faith healer when I was young and as the assembly fell when he touched them there I was not budging. I was maybe 15 and wasn’t buying a word of it. Weak minded fools who buy into BS because they WANT to hear somebody agree with them, because they WANT to believe in a lie, are indeed rampant and they are being manipulated by the elite running the country right now. Yes, SOME stupid humans are susceptible, the proof is the fact there are so many who buy into a lie and then accept another lie for the lie.

    • Daven Hiskey

      @Jake Lakota: It is true that some people are more susceptible than others, but it’s much more based on knowledge in a particular area than intelligence. But the idea that some humans are inherently rational just isn’t true. As an example of this, I’d encourage you to read How We Decide, by Jonah Lehrer which deals with the subject in detail. In a nutshell, even the most logical of us makes our decisions based largely on emotions at the time. Certainly the more data we have, the more rational our decisions can potentially be, and knowing about a lot of the tricks marketers (and politicians) use we can help ourselves make more rational decisions, but it doesn’t change the fact that the actual trigger of how we ultimately decide things is usually based on emotion, not logic, and IQ doesn’t play as big of a role as you might think.
      This isn’t news to anyone who’s studied marketing psychology, but is often surprising to most people as we all like to think we’re logical and make decisions rationally. It just turns out that’s not really how the human brain works.
      As to the specific things referenced above, I really wanted to expand significantly on that point within Emily’s article, but I couldn’t find the specific book I read covering the issue in detail, discussing various studies on the subject, which I’d need to back up the claims adequately. (I looked for over an hour for it, but couldn’t remember which book- hazard of reading waaaay too much information daily and the fact that I’ve been aggressively studying social psychology for the last year to help in the marketing side of running this site. :-)) However, I *think* I know which website turned me on to the specific book in question (socialtriggers.com- great site by the way), so I’m emailing Derek to see if he can tell me which book it was and then I’ll be able to get you some hard scientific studies on the subject.
      One of the keys discussed, though, was this idea that you can pretty much convince just about anyone of anything if you just use small enough changes in their thinking. Numerous other tricks can be used in the process, but that’s one of the key vehicles to the end goal. Certainly the more data the person has on a subject and the more intelligent, the harder you’re sometimes going to have to work if what you’re saying flies in the face of what they know or believe; but if you’re subtle enough in your use of various psychology persuasion tricks, and use a long enough time span, over time you can eventually convince them. One of the examples used in the book was the fact that many of the core ideals of the Republican and Democratic parties in the United States have completely swapped in the last 3-5 decades and yet people who were hard-line Republicans a few decades ago are still predominately Republicans today and the same for Democrats. Not only this, but their stance on these issues on the whole tends to have swapped with the party’s new stance. Essentially, over the decades, they were made to believe the opposite of what they believed before. This is classic Orwellian “We’ve always been at war with Eastasia” type manipulation, but over a long span as switching overnight wouldn’t have worked with many people.
      Again, I know I need to find the specific studies to make a more compelling argument, but I’ve now looked for an additional hour (scanning through my various psychology themed books as well as doing some Googling) and I can’t seem to find it at the moment. But as a sort of band-aid to that lack of specific studies, as stated above, consider the fact that the Nazi party was able to mass-manipulate the majority of the populace of Germany quite easily, often introducing ideas that flew in the face of any rationality and what the people believed before. Yet they were successful. This is a very large sample-size and unless you think there is something inherently different in the brains of early to mid-20th century Germans vs. other humans, it would seem, again, that the human mind is far from rational and very easily manipulated.
      Yet another classic illustration of this is the famous Milgram experiment, once again showing human irrationality in the face of nothing but an authority figure in this case. The experimenters didn’t even need to use a long time-span, they simply instructed people to do something they’d normally find morally objectionable, and 61-66% of the people did it anyways in the various experiments run- willing to give a potentially fatal shock to another human being- even often when they clearly didn’t want to.
      So not only was it against their moral beliefs at the time, but it even went against what they wanted to do in that instance- but they did it anyways, simply because someone told them to, despite the fact that there would be no consequences to not doing it. And further, the biggest change in people’s willingness to go on with the experiment, as they were made to believe the other person might die or was in extreme pain and wanted to stop, was simply the proximity of the person telling them what to do- not intelligence, not their moral beliefs, just the proximity of the authority figure. This is the height of irrationality without even really using much of any psychological tricks.
      Now, armed with this data, people can attempt to remember this fact when authority figures are telling them what to do against their beliefs, so we can potentially make more rational choices. So you are correct in that some people will be more susceptible than others, but it’s not so much intelligence that determines this, but rather the knowledge you possess.
      On that note, some books I’d recommend that will help arm you against such manipulations (and are just fascinating reads) include:

      As just sort of an aside on this subject, one of my favorite things learned from all of this was from “The Upside to Irrationality”- that the domestic house cat is the only known perfectly rational creature, in that when given the choice between working for something or getting it free, they will almost always pick free. All other animals tested, including humans, will predominately choose to work for the thing. 🙂

  • Men… are we gullible or what ? Such kind of “bulls**t” comes and goes all the time and there are always idiots trying to convince other idiots…