Amma, universally known as “The Hugging Saint,” went through a two-decade transformation from a simple fisherman’s daughter to an international wonder worshiped by millions.
Gail “Gayatri” Tredwell was there every step of the way—from early devotee to head female disciple, ever-present personal attendant, handmaiden, whipping post, and unwilling keeper of some devastating secrets.
She takes us vividly through her varying stages, starting with naïveté and innocent devotion, then on to dawning awareness and confusion, finally to emotional breakdown and her shocking “enlightenment”—her realization that the liberation she urgently required was is in fact liberation from her own guru.
In a gradual yet determined struggle she managed to untangle herself from the web of myth and indoctrination. Only then was she able to muster her battered but not quite broken spirit and plot her escape.
“Far more than a cautionary tale, Holy Hell is a captivating, heart-rending, inspiring and instructive story. This intelligent, brave, and lucid account is uniquely valuable for its depth and searing honesty. Gail Tredwell reveals the lies, cruelty, and greed behind her guru’s facade of selfless love, perpetual bliss, and divine perfection. As a willing slave who sacrificed her well-being and sanity on what she mistook for a spiritual path, she endured her guru’s ongoing abuse—from hitting, kicking, and scratching to routinely insulting, humiliating, and terrorizing her with threats.
To prevent others from being ensnared by similar traps—in spite of predictable retribution and scapegoating—Tredwell felt morally compelled to tell the truth and reveal the guru’s deceit along with her own complicity. Her resulting memoir is a gift to seekers vulnerable to similar widespread misconceptions about spirituality and the role of surrender.”
—Joel Kramer & Diana Alstad, coauthors of The Guru Papers: Masks of Authoritarian Power
“Writing through the wise lens of hindsight, Tredwell weaves into her fascinating story of liberation from the depths of a modern-day cult, the hidden dangers of blind faith. Her insights drawn from years of personal experience render this book invaluable for individuals considering, or perhaps unaware they are already on, such a path.”
—Steven Hassan, author of Freedom of Mind: Helping Loved Ones Leave Controlling People, Cults and Beliefs
I courteously made my debut in 1958 on a warm and sunny morning in Queensland, Australia. The majority of my childhood was spent playing outdoors or with my hands on my hips—sometimes both. At age ten I won first prize in my school writing contest and was awarded a copy of The Secret Garden. Instantly, I was mesmerized by the fellow-aged characters in this fascinating tale, and began daydreaming about my own secret garden and of life in faraway exotic lands.
By 1978, after several uninspiring teenage years, me and my free spirit gave Australia a kiss on the cheek and took off to explore the big wide world. After touring Southeast Asia for a year or so, my life did a surprising headstand and I entered a phase of fanaticism and submission to a guru. For two decades I lived in India and served as the personal attendant to Amma, nowadays known as “The Hugging Saint.” Those intense years of faith, devotion, and pure madness have shaped who I am today and are the basis of my memoir.
At the end of 1999, I made my daring escape from the organization and fled to Hawaii.
Nowadays “balance” is the only mantra I chant. I strive for balance between giving and receiving, work and relaxation, and nurturing myself in addition to those around me. Spirituality is no longer about self-denial, but about becoming whole. It is about the healthy development and well-being of every aspect of my self—physical, emotional, mental, and spiritual.
The writing process of this memoir has been exhilarating, exhausting, excruciatingly painful, eye-opening, heart-warming, strangely comical, liberating, frustrating, tedious, demanding of determination and discipline, therapeutic, deeply empowering, and highly rewarding. Did I leave anything out?
The rarest of gems are found in the deepest and darkest caverns of earth. When life forces us into the dungeons of our soul we must adjust our eyesight, discover our gems and through faith, resilience and the loving support of friends and family find our way back to the light.
May my past rest in peace
Links and articles
- August 2012: http://www.rollingstone.com/culture/news/the-hugging-saint-20120816
- February 2014: http://www.tagesanzeiger.ch/zuerich/stadt/Schwere-Vorwuerfe-gegen-Umarmerin-Amma/story/27141074
- February 2014: article in the indian news magazine Tehelka
- May 2014: Paul Wood article, page 40- On Maui Magazine
ETW – Embezzling The World
an invaluable repository of investigative analyses of the organisation and its leader
The Amma Empire
Second major critical insider testimony on Amma and her movement with documented evidence and a wealth of sources.
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