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Michael J. Daw, Chris Roe, & Callum E. Cooper
University of Northampton, United Kingdom
Introduction: Many spiritual traditions include accounts of miraculous events and supernormal powers that appear to be inexplicable within current scientific understanding, and are sometimes associated with fasting and vegetarianism. For example, shamans may fast to support apparent psi-like abilities such as healing and controlling the weather (Wright, 2013), and many yogis who are strict vegetarians are also said to exhibit powers such as the ability to read minds and control wild animals (Lamb, 2011). Some authors have related fasting and vegetarianism to the development of both spirituality and psi (e.g. Aivanhov, 1982; Carrington, 1920; Cousens, 2009). However, there has so far been little empirical research into this potential relationship; for example, none of the topics of diet, fasting, and vegetarianism appear in any substantial form in prominent summaries of psi research (e.g. Cardeña et al., 2015; Irwin & Watt, 2014; Radin, 2013; Vernon, 2020). In this paper, we present an analysis of interviews with seven ‘psi adepts’ (those who practise psi in a professional capacity) to examine their understanding of how fasting and vegetarianism affect their sensitivity to psi.
Methods: We recruited seven participants known to the authors and to Dr Helané Wahbeh (Institute of Noetic Sciences) using purposive sampling. Qualification for inclusion was that participants should be established practitioners of apparent psi abilities and practising fasting and/or vegetarianism in support of their work.
Data collection involved a semi-structured interview using videoconferencing with each participant with a mean duration of approximately one hour. Framework questions sought to ascertain the nature of participants’ dietary practices; the effects such practices had on their lives, in particular, purported psi abilities; and, finally, possible underlying reasons for these effects.
Interview data were subjected to thematic analysis, following the stages outlined in Braun and Clarke (2006) of familiarization, initial coding, and theme construction.
Ethics: Ethical approval was secured from the University of Northampton. Anonymity was waived through the consent process since all participants have public profiles as psi practitioners. The use of videoconferencing was necessary because of pandemic restrictions but also alleviated safeguarding concerns and helped facilitate interviews where participants’ locations were distant from the primary researcher. Participants could decline to answer questions and withdraw consent for up to seven days following interview.
Results and Discussion: Analysis revealed a thematic structure comprising four themes, seven subthemes, and seven sub-subthemes.
The first theme shows that participants use fasting and vegetarianism to support their manifestation of purported psi. Some use diet to provide a baseline receptivity to psi and fast to enhance psi when needed, echoing Lamb’s (2011) account of Hindu ascetics whose fasts build on vegetarianism as preparation for siddhis. The second theme shows that a majority of participants perceive fasting and vegetarianism as enhancing psi through a positive effect on cognition. The third and fourth themes focus on fasting and vegetarianism respectively; subthemes examine the nature of each practice and reasons for how this might support psi. Four reasons for how fasting and vegetarianism might support psi were considered most important: purification and reasons related to the gut for fasting; and health benefits and purported ‘subtle qualities’ of food for vegetarianism.
Purification is cited by the participants who fast in common with practice within diverse spiritual traditions, such as Shamanism (Walsh, 1994) and Christianity (Thompson, 1997), and authors of spiritual and psi development, including Carrington (1908) and Aivanhov (1982).
Two participants suggest that a gut emptied through fasting might support psi with intriguing correlates to recent research highlighting a link between nutrition, gut health, and positive mental functioning (Oriach et al., 2016).
All participants suggest that vegetarianism benefits health which, in turn, benefits psi. All but two emphasize wholefoods. One participant employs supplements to target discrete psi-related functions and mitigate against harmful inflammation she believes is caused by psi. If supported by further research, this last finding could lead to dietary recommendations for those practising psi who may otherwise be putting their health at risk, such as in Beischel et al.’s (2019) study on mediumship and ill-health.
Just over half of participants suggest that food is associated with subtle qualities that impact on psi: negatively in the case of meat; or positively for plant-based food (consistent with Blavatsky, 1889, Carrington, 1912, and Cousens, 2009).
This study of the lived experience of psi adepts supports previous literature in suggesting a relationship between dietary practices and psi. Planned survey and experimental research will explore this putative relationship to test whether fasting and vegetarianism may help improve performance in psi tasks, and offer health benefits for psi practitioners.
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Michael Daw is a postgraduate researcher at the University of Northampton with a lifelong interest in parapsychology. His first degree is in social science; he also has an MSc in Computation and is a former high school teacher of mathematics. Since 2001, he has worked with academic research teams at three of the UK’s largest universities, most recently at the University of Leeds supporting engagement with industry for a leading materials science research centre. How is Fasting and Vegetarianism Perceived to Support Psi among Adepts?