Of Sex, Souls and Shamanism

The Independent (London, England), September 1, 1995 | Go to article overview
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Of Sex, Souls and Shamanism


IF YOU ever felt that your poor sagging body was about to be transformed by a previously unheard of cure-all - wild yam, tea tree oil, royal jelly and so forth - the chances are that it would at some time or other have been endorsed by Leslie Kenton, the queen of weird alternative remedies, and one of the most influential health gurus of the past two decades. During her reign as a writer at Harpers & Queen, and in her bestselling books on fitness, diet and beauty (which have gung-ho titles like Ageless Ageing and Endless Energy), she has exhorted her readers to drink raw vegetable juice; to eat blackstrap molasses; to listen to their inner voices; and to practise creative imagery in order to get thin. A wacky new age superstar long before Lynne Franks ever came on the scene, Leslie Kenton has become a journalistic legend, swathed in a legion of stories concerning her famous eccentricities. People talk of the years when she dressed in nothing but white; of the time she lived in a convent in Wimbledon while working for a glossy magazine; of her refusal to move to another magazine until she had satisfied herself as to the quality of its psychic energy; of her four children, each fathered by a different man; of her subsequent lovers, including a black revolutionary Buddhist.

But more eccentric than her life, perhaps, is the extraordinary range of her enthusiasms. Ms Kenton has advocated Tibetan medicine, Chinese medicine, Indian medicine; she has also recommended any number of strange- sounding herbs as the key to longevity (skull cap, catnip, squaw vine, among others). Apparently tireless in her search for the latest sensation, she has always been the first to try the most peculiar regimes on her readers' behalf: the apple diet, the seaweed diet, the three-week fast; clay therapy, hydrotherapy, thalassotherapy; cold baths, vinegar baths, air baths. In the course of these and other investigations, she has travelled to the ends of the earth: to Himalayan monasteries and to Bavarian sanatoria; to Ayurvedic hospitals and Buddhist retreats.

Far from being alarmed by these arcane explorations, Kenton's readers appear to adore her. At least half a million of them have bought her books, and many more follow her advice in newspapers and magazines. (This week, for instance, the Daily Mail published extracts from her new book, Passage to Power, on the meno-pause.) This is not as surprising as you might assume, for Leslie Kenton is remarkably persuasive. Not only is her writing packed with scientific and medical references (if she's quoting half a dozen professors of dermatology, it's easy to assume that she knows what she's talking about), but she also offers hope to the hopeless, addressing mundane yet pressing problems - fat, wrinkles, spots - with a curious blend of practicality and magical thinking. The practical stuff is fairly obvious (eat properly, exercise regularly, breathe deeply); the magical bits encourage readers to concoct their own miraculous potions: carrot, watercress and cabbage juice to drink, freshly squeezed ivy juice to rub on the skin (one can only hope that readers do not confuse the two).

And if her readers' physical blemishes are not improved by Kenton's prescription of fresh air, herbal baths and salad three times a day, she will suggest other, more esoteric pathways. For as far as Leslie Kenton is concerned, beauty is not only skin deep: the state of our minds governs the state of our bodies. Thus in her new book, alongside reasonable advice on the subject of diet and natural alternatives to hormone replacement therapy, Kenton reveals details of her latest passion - shamanic healing. ("In the hands of a developed and highly-trained shaman, the process of soul retrieval can be a tremendously important part of a woman's journey at menopause. It can often do in a couple of hours what years of psychotherapy have been unable to accomplish.

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