Treachery At The Red Rocks Sweat Lodge

Red Rocks sunsetYou may have seen the story of the deaths at an Arizona retreat sweat lodge in the news over the last week. It is not necessarily our normal fare, but I am oddly captivated by it on several levels.

A self help, wealth and awareness “guru” by the name of James Arthur Ray, who runs an enterprise by the crafty name of James Ray International, rented out the facilities and grounds of a Sedona Arizona retreat by the name of the Angel Valley Retreat Center for the purpose of conducting a group program. Ray appears to run several different types of “programs” and this particular one he calls “Spiritual Warrior” and is a five day event that culminates in a group sweat lodge ceremony.

Ray describes his Spiritual Warrior program as follows:

In Spiritual Warrior, you’ll build upon what you started in Practical Mysticism. You’ll become privy to techniques (many kept secret for dozens of generations) that I searched out in the mountains of Peru, the jungles of the Amazon (and a few other places I don’t care to recall).

For the low, low price of $9,695.00 per person:

You’ll accelerate the releasing of your limitations and push yourself past your self-imposed and conditioned borders (no more coloring inside the lines)…

You’ll carve out your own destiny and quickly develop the strength and determination to live it…

You’ll learn (and apply) the awesome power of “integrity of action”…

You will (perhaps for the first time in your life), have a gut level understanding of “The Four Enemies of Power.” You’ll learn to recognize them at a glance, and instantly defeat them when they arise…

You’ll define and enforce your own boundaries—without someone else telling you what they should be…

You’ll experience a new technologically-enhanced form of meditation that creates new neurological pathways, allowing you to experience powerful whole-brain thinking (this one’s gonna knock your socks off)…

You’ll experience, at the spiritual level, the ancient methodologies of Samurai Warriors; and gain a true understanding of the authority and strength that come from a life of honor…

“Look, you’ve most probably spent your whole life staying within the lines to get what you’ve got (or at least a major portion of it). Join me outside the lines in this heroic quest for higher consciousness…”

And, of course, a sparkling pony. At last week’s “program”, Ray had over 65 people participating. Sounds like a pretty lucrative gig he is running. And it is; that is in excess of $625,000 he is grossing for his five day awareness fest. But all was not well in Angel Valley this time last week. All the love, power, healing, mystical wellness and spirituality went to hell.

Two people have died and 19 others were taken to hospital after being overcome while in a sauna-like room at a spiritual retreat in Arizona.

Police said 64 people were inside a so-called “sweat lodge” at the Angel Valley resort for up to two hours before many of them became ill.

The pair who died were a middle-aged man and woman, police said.

Investigators are speaking to staff and guests and carrying out toxicity tests in an effort to find out what happened.

Dead were a 38 year old woman, Kirby Brown and a 40 year old man, James Shore. Both are reported to have been in excellent health prior to their Spiritual Warrior experience. 19 others were hospitalized; one, Minnesota resident Lizabeth Neuman, age 49, in a coma from which she never recovered. Neuman died at Flagstaff Medical Center yesterday, bringing the death toll to three.

I had never in my life heard of James Arthur Ray before this incident. Jeebus, I don’t even know where to start. It boggles the mind that people pay quacks like Ray huge sums of money for the ginned up baloney he pitches; but they do. And apparently a lot do, he is making a killing on this horse manure. P.T. Barnum clearly underestimated the birthrate of suckers.

Mr. Ray may have bit off more than he can chew this time though; the Yavapai County Sheriff’s Office is considering the deaths homicides. From Friday’s Arizona Republic:

The agency probing the deaths of two people at a Sedona-area sweat-lodge ceremony, hosted by a self-help guru last week, says it is now treating the case as a homicide investigation.

Yavapai County Sheriff Steve Waugh said his office is focusing the inquiry on James Arthur Ray and anyone else involved in organizing the ceremony.

The sheriff said the investigation has turned up several people who said they fell ill at previous Ray events beyond one in 2005 that was disclosed this week by fire officials.

“At this point in the investigation, there are indications it was not accidental,” Waugh said at a press conference in Prescott. “We feel that there is some culpability.” (emphasis added)

Good. And what is Ray doing? He is right back at it, still running his programs without a flinch; schedule has him currently in southern California for a series and then off to Vegas. He better build up his legal defense fund; better watch what he says too, because law enforcement will be paying attention to every second and word, as will the press. Oh, and he is still pitching the snake oil to the victims of his sweat lodge nightmare:

Meanwhile, the Associated Press reported that Ray held a telephone-conference call with many of the participants in the ceremony, according to people involved in the call who provided a transcript.

In the call Wednesday, Ray stressed the importance of eating healthful food, exercising, resting, meditation and surrounding themselves with “like-minded individuals.”

“Remember all that we’ve learned and experienced and knowing by law of the universe that out of every apparent chaos comes a greater state of order, an order that never existed prior to the chaos,” he said, after asking those on the call to imagine themselves standing in a prayer circle.

Ray said he used the call as a way to provide closure to those attending his retreat.

What a load of dung. The Yavapai County Sheriffs and prosecutors should pursue this matter as a criminal homicide. Ray had between 55 to 65 adult sized people crammed in a 415 sq. ft. sweat lodge that Ray and his assistants apparently shabbily hand built themselves with a wood frame covered with layers of tarps and blankets. The structure was 53 inches high at the center and about 30 inches high around the outer edges. The “sweat lodge” looked like a pile of garbage and is shown fairly well in the attached video. Ray, conveniently, remained safely outside of his handmade pressure cooker during the ceremony.

The authorities have good statutes to work with in this regard under Arizona law. Potential charges for Ray include manslaughter under ARS 13-1103, defined as “recklessly causing the death of another person”. Manslaughter is a class 2 felony punishable by a presumptive prison term of five years. The key term in ascertaining applicability to Ray is “recklessly”. Under Arizona law, recklessly is defined as:

“Recklessly” means, with respect to a result or to a circumstance described by a statute defining an offense, that a person is aware of and consciously disregards a substantial and unjustifiable risk that the result will occur or that the circumstance exists. The risk must be of such nature and degree that disregard of such risk constitutes a gross deviation from the standard of conduct that a reasonable person would observe in the situation. A person who creates such a risk but who is unaware of such risk solely by reason of voluntary intoxication also acts recklessly with respect to such risk.

While it is quite arguable that Ray’s action in respect to herding his flock into the sweat lodge constitutes a “conscious disregard” and “gross deviation”, it seems more likely that the charge of negligent homicide under ARS 13-1102 would apply. A person commits negligent homicide if with criminal negligence the person causes the death of another person. The pertinent definition is:

“Criminal negligence” means, with respect to a result or to a circumstance described by a statute defining an offense, that a person fails to perceive a substantial and unjustifiable risk that the result will occur or that the circumstance exists. The risk must be of such nature and degree that the failure to perceive it constitutes a gross deviation from the standard of care that a reasonable person would observe in the situation.

It is hard to see how Ray’s action in erecting his rickety sweat lodge without a permit or inspection, after having had several other problems in the past with his sweat lodges and having that gross number of people in such a small space not even tall enough to stand erect in, would not constitute criminal negligence. Furthermore, although it is impossible to be certain, the video sure looks like it depicts blue tarps involved; if so those are invariably artificial materials that would not permit air transfer, which would be difficult enough even with natural materials and fibers. Under Arizona law, negligent homicide is a class 4 felony punishable by a presumptive prison sentence of 2.5 years.

Another lesser charge possible is reckless endangerment under ARS 13-1201. A person commits endangerment by recklessly endangering another person with a substantial risk of imminent death or physical injury. Endangerment under these circumstances, since it clearly constituted the threat of imminent death, is a class 6 felony and is punishable by a presumptive prison sentence of one year. Theoretically, charges for assault and/or aggravated assault could apply as well.

Having had experience defending all of the above charges in Arizona, I can safely say that the provisions, and their respective mental states of culpability are fairly broadly interpreted and applied. Generally the prosecutor will charge all of them, with the highest possible charge leading the indictment and the others as lesser included offenses, and then see what he can convince the jury of. That is exactly what I expect the Yavapai County Attorney Sheila Polk to do, the only question is whether she leads with manslaughter or negligent homicide.

Without attempting to cast ill against the victims of James Arthur Ray’s nightmare Spiritual Warrior sweat lodge, looking through Ray’s puffery on his self promoting website, you have to wonder what type of lost soul thinks handing this type of quack nearly ten grand is the way to self fulfillment, grand wealth and spirituality. Snake oil purveyors like Ray prey on the weak and rake in tens of millions of dollars doing it. If people want to buy into that, you cannot stop it; but by the same token, by taking their money and using his influence and control over them, Ray assumes a duty of care and responsibility for their well being.

Personally, I would argue that Ray’s whole schticht is a giant fraudulent scheme and artifice, but it is unlikely that avenue will be pursued. At a minimum, Ray’s conduct in respect to the three deaths and other illnesses suffered by his victims should be pursued zealously.

Marcy has been blogging full time since 2007. She’s known for her live-blogging of the Scooter Libby trial, her discovery of the number of times Khalid Sheikh Mohammed was waterboarded, and generally for her weedy analysis of document dumps.

Marcy Wheeler is an independent journalist writing about national security and civil liberties. She writes as emptywheel at her eponymous blog, publishes at outlets including the Guardian, Salon, and the Progressive, and appears frequently on television and radio. She is the author of Anatomy of Deceit, a primer on the CIA leak investigation, and liveblogged the Scooter Libby trial.

Marcy has a PhD from the University of Michigan, where she researched the “feuilleton,” a short conversational newspaper form that has proven important in times of heightened censorship. Before and after her time in academics, Marcy provided documentation consulting for corporations in the auto, tech, and energy industries. She lives with her spouse and dog in Grand Rapids, MI.

88 replies
  1. Loo Hoo. says:

    There is nobody on earth who could convince me to go into that sweat lodge voluntarily.

    So sad. I hope Polk goes for manslaughter.

    • earlofhuntingdon says:

      I don’t know here. Often, it’s from a wood fire, to imitate for a few hours the American Indian experience. CO would be readily produced.

      • bmaz says:

        No fire in the lodge as far as has been described so far; rather the fire was off to the side and they superheated large rocks in the fire, took them inside the lodge and then douse them with water to create the steam and heat. I would think that with that many people in such a small sealed area, with no headroom, and that kind of hot moist air would make it extremely hard to breathe. Additionally, Ray had all the people fasting for two days or so and then had them eat right before entering the sweat lodge. You would think that progression might place a body out of whack fairly well.

        • earlofhuntingdon says:

          Yup. That routine just prior to hours in a hyperthermia-inducing environment would create enormous stress. The physiology would have been stressed from a 48-hour fast, stressed from breaking it shortly before going “hot”, and stressed from the hot, enclosed conditions. Anyone new to Sedona would also have been stressed by the altitude and dryness.

          There are quite a few top experts on hyperthermia in the US and England and several top practitioners of authentic sweat lodge experiences in the SW and Southern California, who could readily bring a prosecutor up to speed on how intentional or reckless was this greedy behavior.

        • bobschacht says:

          No fire in the lodge as far as has been described so far; rather the fire was off to the side and they superheated large rocks in the fire, took them inside the lodge and then douse them with water to create the steam and heat.

          This is correct.

          Bob in AZ

        • earlofhuntingdon says:

          Lots of CO2 from five dozen people in a half-height lodge with little or no ventilation. Someone could run the math, but with a relatively low total volume of total air, the volume displaced by people, and the carbon dioxide generated from stress-induced elevated metabolic rates, the surprise is that so few people were sickened or dead.

          • bobschacht says:

            This is another reason for the sweat leader to be inside. There is a certain amount of talk during the sweat, not silence, and that helps monitor the participant’s mental state. Also, the sweat leader sits by the entrance, and can lift the flap from time to time if fresh air is needed. Again, it should be emphasized that a proper sweat is a supervised experience.

            Bob in AZ

    • PJEvans says:

      Dehydration from the preceding 36-hour fast, mostly.
      They would have been so tightly packed that they couldn’t have gotten out. And there’s a strong component in this kind of thing to stick it out or be seen as a quitter.

      (Somewhere there’s a scam that will take you in. It’s important to remember this.)

  2. Leen says:

    Bmaz “Good. And what is Ray doing? He is right back at it, still running his programs without a flinch; schedule has him currently in southern California for a series and then off to Vegas. He better build up his legal defense fund; better watch what he says too, because law enforcement will be paying attention to every second and word, as will the press. Oh, and he is still pitching the snake oil to the victims of his sweat lodge nightmare:”

    Ray sounds like a greedy creep. And there are a bunch of new agers out there collecting dough like this for these self help retreats..although this guy “Ray” sounds like he has the $$$ game down.

    Lived in Aspen, Boulder and those regions during the 70’s and 80’s there are hundreds of these “Ray” types collecting big money from those who can spend hundreds of thousands of dollars on self help workshops.

    Scientology, the Alive Tribe, etc etc. Much of the voodoo if from what I call the “sketchosphere”. But hey I grew up in the Catholic Church which was often collecting bucks in those baskets on Sundays from folks who could not afford it. And the voodoo that I heard every day in Catechism classes was not any less wild than I heard in Buddhism classes at Naropa Institute in Boulder Colorado. Some of the new agers do go over the cliff

    We know that native Americans and others around the world have been doing sweat lodges and saunas for centuries. They can obviously be done responsibly and do have health benefits.

    If it is found that Ray is responsible for these deaths then he should do the time for the crime

  3. earlofhuntingdon says:

    Manslaughter sounds better to me, whether Ray had run these events before or not. If he hadn’t run one before, he was reckless in designing this experience by not adequately planning for its risks. If he had, his recklessness becomes intentional conduct.

    With that much revenue, Ray would not involuntarily have been short of trained staff or resources. The inherent risks, including death, of hyperthermia are obvious and well-documented. The tools for monitoring heat illnesses and recovering from them – many, like mist cooling boxes, developed for the Haj – are readily available.

    As beautiful – and hot – as it is, Sedona attracts wealthy new agers (as well as those paying handsomely to escape whatever they have permanently or temporarily left elsewhere). That may lead to naive levels of trust in a “healer”. Mr. Ray is free to be greedy and free to be loose with his own health. He’s not free to throw away the lives of those who put their health in his hands, even if only for a two-hour sweat.

    • Leen says:

      I have never heard of a sweat lodge with so many individuals. Lots of tarps on that sucker…shut down…does not look like much air getting through.

    • msms says:

      This is a great article. I hope the prosecutor is able to get manslaughter. These poor souls may be misguided to follow this crook but they didn’t deserve to die!! He seems guided by getting as much money as he can from these people without any real regard for their well-being. This man is dangerous and needs to be stopped.

  4. person1597 says:

    Thanks for writing this up. The whole sordid affair is tragic beyond words. PT Barnum indeed. This circus-tent episode showcases cultural hucksterism as the fast-food of modern quackitude. What point of view is being served here? Self, selfishness, self-importance…

    You’ll learn (and apply) the awesome power of “integrity of action”

    Integrity was most certainly ignored in the construction of this clown hall of death. There should have been no metals whatsoever, let alone synthetic fibers. Behold the Sweat Lodge Wiki

    Construction – The lodge is generally built with great care and with respect to the environment and to the materials being used. Many traditions construct the lodge in complete silence, some have a drum playing while they build, other traditions have the builders fast during construction.

    Calling this a sweat lodge is wrong and impugns the time honored ceremonial strictures imposed by authentic practitioners of indigenous culture.

    This was not a sweat lodge, it was a death chamber conceived in fraud, attended by fools.

  5. radiofreewill says:

    About James Arthur Ray

    “James Arthur Ray is transforming the way the world thinks. As an internationally-renowned Personal Success Strategist, Visionary and New York Times Best-Selling Author who has traveled the globe dedicating over two decades of his life to studying the thoughts, actions, and habits of those who create true wealth in every area of their life, James delivers his practical teachings to hundreds of thousands of individuals and business leaders every year.”

    Smooth-talking Flim-Flam men like Ray have been around since ancient times – unfortunately, so have stupid rich people.

    Together, they prove that Greed Kills…

    • Petrocelli says:

      “Smooth-talking Flim-Flam men like Ray have been around since ancient times – unfortunately, so have stupid rich people.

      Together, they prove that Greed Kills…” – radiofreewill

      I couldn’t have said it better, myself.

  6. bobschacht says:

    bmaz,
    Thanks for covering this. I’ve been wondering about the details myself. This was right in my backyard, just downhill a bit from Flagstaff, and I worked with American Indians for 18 years, lived on the Navajo Rez for a year, and was married to a Navajo for a year.

    Sweat lodges have become a pan-Tribal ritual on Indian reservations, and are often used in Native addiction treatment. Unfortunately, sweats have become very popular among New Agers, and those are obviously Rays’ marks.

    The construction of the sweat lodge is probably not an issue, except this one was too big. A traditional sweat is conducted in a small enclosure for a dozen or fewer people. You’re not supposed to stand up and walk around, you’re supposed to sit. The enclosure is often taken to be symbolic of the womb. Tarps or blankets are often used to help seal the heat and humidity inside. In the sweat I was in, the ends of the tarps & blankets rested on the ground, so that those seated around the periphery could lift the edges to let in fresh air. The entrance is the other principal source of fresh air.

    However, the management of this sweat certainly is an issue. The leader of the sweat is always supposed to be inside with the participants. This is critically important because the sweat leader is responsible for the well-being of the participants. Ray’s stance outside of the sweat is already grounds for criminal negligence. The number of participants also has a bearing here, because it is difficult enough for a sweat leader to monitor the well-being of a dozen participants, let alone several dozen.

    A traditional sweat involves four quarters for the four cardinal directions, and there is supposed to be at least one break in the middle, where participants leave the sweat lodge for a few minutes, which also should give the sweat leader another chance to monitor the well-being of each participant.

    However, just as disturbing is the advance publicity for the sweat:

    You’ll accelerate the releasing of your limitations and push yourself past your self-imposed and conditioned borders (no more coloring inside the lines)…

    This is just plain irresponsible. In retrospect, Ray is announcing his intention to invite the participants to push the boundaries of safe practice.

    I lean towards negligent homicide and/or reckless endangerment. And he should never be allowed to run another “sweat” again.

    Bob in AZ

  7. Lindy says:

    Snake oil purveyors like Ray pray on the weak and rake in tens of millions of dollars doing it.

    He probably does pray on them. In this case, though, I think you meant prey.

  8. posaune says:

    bmaz, your comment on permits and inspections is right on. Sounds like there should have been a structural and plumbing inspection. To say nothing of a certificate of occupancy that cites “public assembly for x persons.” Sounds like there wasn’t an architect involved (or he/she will need a boatload of E & O coverage.)

    • bobschacht says:

      I would vote no on the building permits and inspections. 99% of all sweat lodges would not pass such an inspection.

      The problem was not the building. It was the management of the sweat, or lack thereof. Much better than building permits would be to license the sweat leaders. Of course, this would not apply on American Indian reservations. And licensing should be done, if it is done, in collaboration with American Indian sweat leaders.

      One sure sign that it was bogus was that Ray charged –a lot– for his sweats. A real sweat is free. No money involved.

      Bob in AZ

      • bmaz says:

        Actually, I believe there was a requirement for a temporary structure permit from the county. There are standard codes, and anything used for a commercial purpose over a nominal size (100-200 sq ft I think) must get the permit.

        • bobschacht says:

          There are standard codes, and anything used for a commercial purpose over a nominal size (100-200 sq ft I think) must get the permit.

          Yeah, that sounds good and appropriate. Wouldn’t apply to most Native American sweats, however (a. they’re smaller, and b. they’re not commercial.)

          Bob in AZ

          • bmaz says:

            Yeah, but Ray ain’t a Native, it wasn’t on tribal land and it was for a commercial, for profit, purpose. If they had erected a party tent that size, they have to get a permit; I think the same will hold for this pike of junk.

            I was particularly taken by Ray and his staffs’ statement during the group communication they did with their victims. Talking of

            “…of the two that had passed and they left their bodies during the ceremony and had so much fun they chose not to come back and that was their choice that they made.”

            That is really rich.

  9. posaune says:

    You know, I went to a “naturo-pathic” expo a few weeks ago to watch a friend do a meditation class.
    I was astounded at how many people went to this, far and above their normal catchment.

    I really got the impression that all these newcomers were there out of desperation. There was palpable fear in that crowd. I think we’ll see more of these types of incidents, sadly.

  10. LabDancer says:

    I’d be interested in knowing whether & to what extent Ray & his henchpersons inquired as to the cardiovascular history of those they proposed to sweat out. Similarly I’d be interested in knowing what information Ray et al gave the sweatees in advance. After that, you have to consider that some folks are lacking in any sense, especially in the thrall of groupthink. If you’ve had any history of heart complains, as so many of us do, even just hanging out in a functioning hottub for more than a few minutes poses serious risks.

    Lovely spot to die though; Sedona, that is–not the tarp oven.

    Hey bmaz–isn’t this shaping up into a Law-n-Order script?

  11. person1597 says:

    Could a wrongful death suit be far off?

    Wrongful death is also the only recourse available when a company, not an individual, causes the death of a person; for example, historically, families have tried (both successfully and unsuccessfully) to sue tobacco companies for wrongful deaths of their customers.

    As Chief Arvol Looking Horse said via Slothrop:

    What has happened in the news with the makeshift sauna called the “sweat lodge” is not our ceremonial way of life.

    and, more importantly…

    When you do ceremony, you can not have money on your mind.

    So if Ray hides behind his Ranked No. 41 in Consumer Products & Services corporate persona to avoid criminal culpability then this AP article is about the end times for Ray. 3rd person dies in Ariz. sweat lodge; suit planned

    Between 55 and 65 people were in the makeshift sweat lodge over a two-hour period, and authorities said participants were highly encouraged but not forced to remain inside for the entire time. An emergency call reported two people without a pulse and not breathing.

    They were dead already.

    • bmaz says:

      Just because the fucker is incorporated in no way, shape or form means he cannot be prosecuted criminally. I fully believe he will be. A wrongful death suit is NOT the only remedy. The family of the woman who died yesterday after having been in a coma already has retained local counsel, Louis Diesel of Aspey, Watkins and Diesel.

      • person1597 says:

        Given that the Sheriff is treating this as a homicide suggests you are right. It doesn’t really sound like an accident. The coercive aspect relating to the restraint of movement is heinous. The duration was also excessive. If JimWhite is right about the toxicology then murder two sounds verdict-able.

        Here is what a typical sweat lodge ceremony looks like to an internet surfer like me…
        The Native American Sweatlodge
        A Spiritual Tradition

        When all are inside the sweat leader calls upon the doorkeeper to drop the flap covering the lodge opening. The lodge becomes dark, and at this point the lodge leader announces that all are free to leave the lodge at any time if they cannot endure. (If you must leave, speak out “Mitakuye Oyasin,” “All my relatives.” The other participants will move away from the wall so that you may pass behind them as you leave in a clockwise direction.)

        • greenharper says:

          That’s consistent with my experience: two sweat lodges, about a quarter century ago, with a medicine man of the Lakota Sioux.

          • person1597 says:

            Thanks for the affirmation. I want to make my own lodge someday. I’m growing the willow trees now. I haven’t figured out what to use as a covering though. Perhaps an old woolen rug or blankets from yesteryear.

            If it happens that I’m industrious enough (beyond watching the trees grow) and the fantasy becomes a reality, I will be grateful to those who have endured so much to make our nature seem natural. Not to the patrons of some culture-chic-for-hire or their rogue carney mentors. Not to the power-mad demons of control-by-destruction ideology who’s mission it is to dominate All Of Dominion. But to those who are truly born wild and understand innovation. Must we animals be tamed and treated abusively to achieve compliance? Society is the monster that consumes all.

            I guess the way it works is that the “haves” will always want more of whatever they cherish. The “have-nots” merely want something to eat.

            FDL makes me feel like a “have” because I cherish the clarity here.

  12. perris says:

    bmaz, while reading this it bacame apparent to me, I suspected people would die and I wondered how he would resolve those deaths, my real problem is they didn’t die the way I thought they would die;

    You’ll accelerate the releasing of your limitations and push yourself past your self-imposed and conditioned borders (no more coloring inside the lines)…

    this is some nice words saying the following;

    “you do what you want to do, there are no rules, if someone is beating you in a race cut off his legs (literally)

    You’ll carve out your own destiny and quickly develop the strength and determination to live it…

    You’ll learn (and apply) the awesome power of “integrity of action”…

    this is code for

    “if you do it and succeed you are justified by that very success

    this is the leo strauss school of social interaction

    this is what cheney practiced, rove practiced and the entire PNAC

  13. Jim White says:

    You’ll experience a new technologically-enhanced form of meditation that creates new neurological pathways, allowing you to experience powerful whole-brain thinking (this one’s gonna knock your socks off)…

    This part immediately made me think drugs are also involved. With that many people going to the hospital, I’ll bet at least one clear-thinking doctor took a blood sample to be sent for toxicology analysis. I’ll bet a shiny hubcap that meal after the fast and just before entering hut was laced with something. When those tox results come back, there will be grounds for lots more charges.

    • drational says:

      I was thinking the same thing. MDMA (ecstasy) comes to mind as an “experience enhancer” with a particular penchant for causing hyperthermia, heat stroke and death.

  14. bobschacht says:

    How much anyone want to bet that this charlatan made all his participants sign some kind of disclaimer?

    Oh, and 100 sq ft is kinda close to the upper limit of the normal size for a sweat lodge.

    Bob in AZ

    • bmaz says:

      My understanding is that there were waivers executed by each participant in favor of both Angle Valley and Ray’s company. Would have to see them, but I don’t think they will hold up[ to these kind of allegations.

  15. kmlisle says:

    I have not done a sweat lodge but used a Sauna up in Northern MN for many years. The practice was common among the Finnish communities in the area where I lived at that time. We used hot water on rocks to produce steam and it got very hot. I cannot imagine staying in that kind of situation for that long of a time without a break and without adequate ventilation. Definitely criminal negligence.

        • bmaz says:

          Yeah, that is why I put the statutes in the post; Ray really is clearly within their ambit I think. They have already executed out of state search warrants on Ray’s office in California; that means judges are finding probable cause to believe a crime has been committed quite readily.

  16. prostratedragon says:

    @11, thank you very much for that link; may he not be the last.

    And thanks for raising this topic, bmaz. As others have said, we might be in for one of those sad waves of gullibility that overtakes us in desperate times.

  17. Loo Hoo. says:

    OT for bmaz. What is it called when someone is locked in a shipping container? Kidnap? We’re discussing Jamie Leigh Jones at La Figa.

  18. Leen says:

    More about Kirby Brown
    http://www.foxnews.com/story/0,2933,563885,00.html

    Ray’s blog
    http://blog.jamesray.com/labels/content.html

    Look at this title at his blog “Health Care: Taking Personal Responsibility”

    Plastic tarps…air? How did Ray get away with this for so long?

    last post
    http://blog.jamesray.com/2009/10/for-all-those-affected-by-tragedy-in.html
    For All Those Affected by the Tragedy in Sedona

    I am shocked and saddened by the tragedy that occurred at Spiritual Warrior in Sedona, Arizona, Thursday evening. I wish to express my deepest heartfelt condolences to the family and friends of those who lost their lives as well as offer my prayers for a speedy recovery for those who were taken ill. Because there are so many more questions than answers at this time I believe it inappropriate to comment further until we know more.

    Out of respect for the deceased and their loved ones and for those who have taken ill and for whose speedy recovery we pray, we will not be replying to individual postings. Instead, we thank you for writing, and we hope you will share in our continued wishes of support, strength and comfort to all those impacted by this tragedy.

    We also want everyone to know that a friend has been at the hospital monitoring the condition of those still ill. Our love and warm affection is with all who mourn and with all of you in this time of grief, sadness and challenge.

    With never-ending love and prayers,

    James Arthur Ray

  19. Leen says:

    For All Those Affected by the Tragedy in Sedona

    I am shocked and saddened by the tragedy that occurred at Spiritual Warrior in Sedona, Arizona, Thursday evening. I wish to express my deepest heartfelt condolences to the family and friends of those who lost their lives as well as offer my prayers for a speedy recovery for those who were taken ill. Because there are so many more questions than answers at this time I believe it inappropriate to comment further until we know more.

    Out of respect for the deceased and their loved ones and for those who have taken ill and for whose speedy recovery we pray, we will not be replying to individual postings. Instead, we thank you for writing, and we hope you will share in our continued wishes of support, strength and comfort to all those impacted by this tragedy.

    We also want everyone to know that a friend has been at the hospital monitoring the condition of those still ill. Our love and warm affection is with all who mourn and with all of you in this time of grief, sadness and challenge.

    With never-ending love and prayers,

    James Arthur Ray
    http://blog.jamesray.com/2009/10/for-all-those-affected-by-tragedy-in.html

    • Loo Hoo. says:

      We also want everyone to know that a friend has been at the hospital monitoring the condition of those still ill.

      And Ray wasn’t at the hospital because he had a paying gig to attend.

  20. Leen says:

    at Wikipedia James
    Native American perspective

    Native American chiefs and experts on sweat lodges have criticized the reported construction and conduct of the lodge as not meeting traditional ways (“bastardized” and “mocked”). Indian leaders expressed concerns and prayers for the dead and injured. The typical leader has 4 to 8 years of apprenticeship before being allowed to care for people in a lodge. Participants are instructed to call out whenever they feel uncomfortable, and the ceremony is usually stopped to help them. The lodge was said to be unusually built from non-breathable materials. Charging for the ceremony was said to be inappropriate. The number of participants was criticized as too high and the ceremony length was said to be too long. Respect to elders’ oversight was said to be important for avoiding unfortunate events. The Native American community actively seeks to prevent abuses of their traditions. [20][21][22][23][24]

  21. john in sacramento says:

    Sorry, off topic but nevertheless important … if you’re in Sac or know anyone in NoCal

    Justice Rally tomorrow

    End the Abuse of Our Justice System,

    We need change!! The Justice Reform Coalition is calling for a rally and march to protest the abusive and totally out of control justice systems in Sacramento and Yolo County. The DA’s in both counties run their departments as their personal fiefdoms, subject to their prejudices special interests and attitudes. Exaggerated charges, and overly long sentencing used to coerce plea taking to get high conviction rates to keep government funded grants, vindictive prosecutions, and intimidations especially against people of color, are part of the usual tactics of these departments run by these two DA’s. Racism and racial profiling abound.The JRC calls upon all people who have been abused by these two DA’s and the justice systems they promote, and organizations and people concerned with these problems, to join us and let your voices and concerns be seen.

    The cases of Ajay Dev in Yolo County, and that of Adrienne Simone and Michael Witkin in Sacramento County, ideally illustrate the problems with both county justice systems, with the DA’s in the center of the collusion, lies, racism, and abuse of power associated with these cases of injustice. We must end this corruption and abuse and violation of our citizens and civil rights. These DA’s must go and their departments must be investigated. This is why we rally.

    The Rally for Justice will take place on Monday October 19th , at 12 noon. We will assemble at the State Attorney General’s office at 1300 I St. in Sacramento for a press conference. Then we will march to the Sac DA’s office at 901 G St. in Sacramento, where we will hear some firsthand accounts of abuse, then move on to the Federal building at 801 I St., where we will deliver a demand to the Justice Department to investigate the DA’s offices in Yolo and Sacramento Counties.

    This is the beginning of the JRC push to have the U.S. Justice Department investigate the whole justice system in Yolo and Sacramento Counties. Join us and make a difference!!

    http://justicereformcoalition.org/projects/10-19%20justice%20rally.htm

    I’ll be there

  22. DWBartoo says:

    Very nice comment, person 1597.

    Perhaps though, it is not “society” which is at fault or to blame?

    By nature, we ARE social beings, so the problem may not be society, or even the idea of society, but rather the nature of the “games” that a particular society “plays”.

    A society’s “systems” … political, economic, educational and so on, are what determine the nature of that society.

    Ours is most desperately not only at odds with itself, but also at odds with life …

    This does not bode well.

    For any of us.

    But, to the extent that the “obvious” may be ignored, in pursuit, for instance, of money or power, and the laws of society are perverted or “stretched” to allow and sanction such behavior, even at brutal cost to our society, to precisely that extent we allow the nature of our society to be perverted.

    From there, it is but a small step to torture, to depravity, and to ruin.

    History, as I am certain you are aware, is replete with cautionary tales, which we, in our much ballyhooed “exceptionalsim” have chosen, always, to ignore.

    As you imply, it is the quality of the humanity, the intelligence and the clear capacity of those found here, which allows and encourages such hope as we may have of changing the nature of our society.

    Society should be understood, simply, as the being the relationship between people, that is, how we actually treat one another.

  23. person1597 says:

    Hey Bartoo! Thanks for calling me on the society remark… I felt a bit carried away having said that. I’m a bit conflicted though. On one hand I sympathize with the “Set the prisoners free” sentiment as in “Free Leonard Peltier”. On the other hand I’m keen to see Ray do the time for his murders.

    John in Sacramento alerts us the the shameful feudal-judicial fiasco in his neck of the woods which speaks to the abuse of power by the local authorities. The wider abuses of the tools of governance are the subject of many, nay most of the FDL posts of which I’m an avid consumer. Society has given and society has taken away. Is it a wash?

    All the time, there is the degradation of the environment and the conditions on this planet. Human nature is what it is. That doesn’t change. Meanwhile, our consumption of goods and services remains paramount to “social success”. I once thought that the global systemic economic meltdown might put a dent in the mind boggling usurpation of our vital planetary fluids. It kind of did. For a bit. Now it is all-hands-to-battlestations as we attempt to re-assemble Humpty-Dumpty. Methinks it will take another dose of Ice-9 to the main vein of consumer credit to put us back on the path to sustainability.

    But is Society an entity unto itself? Your inadvertent typographical rendering of society as “the being” is superbly revealing. Society is far more than the embodiment of relationships between peoples because it is something constructed out of consciousness. It isn’t a naturally occurring substance. It is not an arrangement of atoms yet it purports to define everything about us and our points’ of view. It isn’t alive, but feeds off of our natural being. It cannot exist without the natural world, yet it consumes all that is natural about us. It infects us like a virus. It destroys individuality and resists change in the most Machiavellian ways. It inhibits innovation because it has something to lose. We are minions of our own dead thinking. What are we trying to accomplish? Spiritual ascendency? Eternal continuity? All the toys we can gather prior to death?

    From the gospel according to Repo Man:

    Duke: The lights are growing dim Otto. I know a life of crime has led me to this sorry fate, and yet, I blame society. Society made me what I am.

    We are so screwed.

    • DWBartoo says:

      Me typing be most atrocious, 1597.

      It is ALL a construct of our minds … poor feeble thingies.

      We make our times what they are, through diligent effort or strenuously doing nothing …

      It does appear that we have so little appreciation of the happy circumstance of existence, as to have failed to understand virtually anything.

      More’s the pity.

      Or, perhaps not.

      It is my most firm conviction that Earth can well do without us.

      In this age, devoted to the divine right of money, the peculiar featherless biped, being full of itself (and truly, we are) and finding no other concept of abiding interest, seems well poised (as you, once again imply) and even, determined, to totter happily (or at least uncomplainingly) along after the dodo bird …

      DW

  24. person1597 says:

    If only we knew, as you once put it,

    …the real ’shock and awe’ of being alive.

    Maybe then we would discover our natural state. Now that would be a shock!

    • Petrocelli says:

      Sorry I missed you during this great conversation, dear friend.

      We were celebrating our Festival of Lights, and I missed your words in real time.

      Thanks bmaz, for allowing us to have our own O/T session … this inevitably happens when the story deals with self upliftment.

      Marcy, I hope you & Mom are doing well … {{{ Hugs for Mom }}}

  25. person1597 says:

    But for “We the People”, there is no end to the dialectic of contradictory impulses. Especially inside our own anticipating consciousness.

    Yet we exist in Nature as organic creatures with intelligence far beyond conscious awareness. Frauds like Ray seek to sell access to this natural capability already present in our makeup.

    Oh the irony of seeking that which we posses already. More ironic is that we won’t find it until we stop looking. Most folks don’t stop looking until they find it. Even if it kills them. Funny thing is… “not knowing” is our natural state. How satisfying is that?

    • knowbuddhau says:

      Word to you, person1597, how very Buddhist of you.

      And thanks to you, bmaz, for posting this here. I was very dubious, at first, but now I’m glad for the opportunity to comment.

      What power moves people to throw ten grand at fake gurus? Why, the power of myth, naturally! You use nearly every pejorative euphemism for it in the book, bmaz, but calling it baloney, dung, manure, snake oil etc. doesn’t diminish its power to move people by even a fraction of an erg.

      What is it about us on the Left, that we deny, ignore, and/or deride that power, while the right is continuously abusing it? I think it’s because we’ve fallen under the spell of a different myth: the myth of the cosmos as a fully automatic Newtonian mechanism. As you, person1597, so aptly point out, we are organisms, not mechanisms!

      As the great Zen poet Hakuin wrote, It is like ice and water: apart from water, there is no ice; apart from our very selves, where would we seek the Buddha?

      And yet the dominant myth of our day conceives the cosmos as a mechanism. governed by the laws of Newtonian science of which we believe ourselves to be the rightful masters. That right there is the root of our folly.

      You take the wonders of the scientific method, marry them to American Exceptionalism couched in the myths of the Levant, and voila! That’s how we get such obscene and insane policies like Full-Spectrum Dominance.

      The power of myth expresses itself all around us: Iraqi WMDs and the “death panels” are two examples.

      What Ray is doing is a microcosm of our society. You think Ray is bad, how ’bout the myth-makers of Wall Street? Is all that trading etc. purely rational? Of course not, right?

      We ourselves are powered by myths. A myth is not a freakin’ fancy-pants synonym for lie, people! It’s the metaphorical image you assume prior to going out and acting in the world.

      Try examining your own lives, try revealing and comprehending the myth by which you live your life. It will indeed empower you, just not the way Ray sells it.

      Here’s William Black on the power and importance of myth to Wall Street:

      WILLIAM BLACK: HOW THE SERVANT BECAME A PREDATOR: As financial sector elites became obscenely wealthy through predation and fraud, their psychological incentives to embrace unhealthy, anti-democratic Social Darwinism surged. While they were, by any objective measure, the worst elements of the public, their sycophants in the media and the recipients of their political and charitable contributions worshiped them as heroic. Finance CEOs adopted and spread the myth that they were smarter, harder working, and more innovative than the rest of us. They repeated the story of how they rose to the top entirely through their own brilliance and willingness to embrace risk. All of their employees weren’t simply above average, they told us, but exceptional. They hated collectivism and adored Ayn Rand.

      And that’s the power of myth. Ignoring, deriding, dismissing it doesn’t make us proof against it. On the contrary, it leaves us all the more open to getting jacked to hall and back, stuck with the bill both ways.

      [The edit function is effin with me! If this post is misformatted, I’ll try again.]

    • Petrocelli says:

      The state of “not knowing” has two definitions. The first and most publicized one is, an endless pit of ignorance. Pseudo-Gurus rely on this definition to catch people in their web of deceit and fleece them royally.

      The other definition of “not knowing” is the threshold of genius, of innovations like Newton’s falling Apple or Michelangelo’s David or a Baby’s first step. With this “not knowing”, there are no inhibitions or prejudices[thought and consciousness are two separate things]. This “not knowing” is the first step to unlimited abilities and realizations.

      Too many [low esteem] people see the first definition as the one that fits them, so they gravitate to pseudo- gurus; often with dire results.

  26. nextstopchicago says:

    >P.T. Barnum clearly underestimated the birthrate of suckers.

    As well as their disposable income. How do people this idiotic manage to amass $10,000 to give away to con artists?

  27. foothillsmike says:

    As someone who has been involved in many sweats I will say this was one big con game. The man needs to be brought up on murder charges (now 3 since one of the hospitalized has died).

  28. GregB says:

    We had family friends who joined a religious/spiritual group in the 70’s…The leader, David, urged his follows to throw away their glasses.

    That rule fell by the wayside when it turned out he needed glasses.

    -G

    • Leen says:

      Big business during the 70’s, 80’s and today. Not much different in some ways from folks throwing money that they need for their families in the basket on Sundays in many churches across this nation. I think I understand the need for collective worship and a spiritual community to a degree. But when you have folks getting rich by pretending to fill the spiritual holes in peoples lives something is askew.

      a Few of the big ones in Colorado during the &0’s

      Werner Erhard “The Forum”
      http://www.rickross.com/groups/forum.html

      Was trying to think of that Oregon guru who had that large community out there some years ago
      Small ‘cottage cults’ drawing more converts in United States
      http://www.oregonlive.com/special/guru/index.ssf?/news/oregonian
      /lc_11gside15.frame

      One of the folks I got involved with for a while in the early 70’s
      http://www.yogibhajan.com/

      I had one friend who spent so much money with Scientology that I am afraid to ask her the total amount. Over a hundred thousand I know

      • bobschacht says:

        But when you have folks getting rich by pretending to fill the spiritual holes in peoples lives something is askew.

        a Few of the big ones in Colorado during the &0’s

        Werner Erhard “The Forum”
        http://www.rickross.com/groups/forum.html

        Erhard was also the founder of “est,” which I encountered in the 1970s in Houston. It was actually recommended to me by my psychotherapist– the best psychotherapist I have ever had, but I didn’t know that then. After a few sessions, in which I was highly resistant, she recommended that I take the est training, claiming that it would “speed up” the progress I was seeking. I consulted my sister (a psychologist) and a few friends who had also taken the est training, and I got mildly favorable responses. So I took it, and a few follow-up sessions in Colorado. It did indeed help unfreeze my resistance, and helped open me up to what my psychotherapist was trying to open up for me.

        est and the Forum were only a problem for people who became dependent on it. In my experience, est was not manipulative, and I never felt endangered in any way.

        Bob in AZ

        • Leen says:

          Glad it worked for you. I also encountered “est” in the 70’s before it was the “Forum” in Colorado. Too often I witnessed folks become ‘addicted”

          When I heard Erhard speaking I felt like I was listening to a used Karma salesman. Sorry to say. But glad it worked for you

          One of my favorite all time teachers is Ram Dass ( Dr.Richard
          Alpert).. who I had the pleasure of attending numerous workshops with in Aspen. That guy adds lots of humor in with his teachings. He is just so damn funny. And I so respect how he gives back. One of his latest books “Still Here” is a winner (remember Be Here Now…then “Still Here” Just made me laugh when I saw that cover and him with that shit eating smile on the front

          One of my favorite teachings of his is to focus on WHY you push for human rights and social justice issues. That if you get to stuck on the results you will burn out get tired and want to drop out. That the driving force of your conscience is what is driving most who work for truth and justice issues. To stay focused on that driving force and not the results. Although the results are so worth while.

          His teaching actually reminded me of some of the core teachings in the Catholic church

        • Hmmm says:

          Thanks for telling your story, bobschacht. FWIW, I understand not everyone found EST to be a positive experience. My dad went to EST in the 70’s and it had some very bad effects on his personality and his ability to relate to other people. Incipient Ayn Randyness re-emerged thereafter in a big way, with a side helping of serial guru susceptibility (went to Rajneeshistan for a while). But then again, Dad had quite a number of psychological strikes against him going in, and a massive-cortisone-treatment reaction gone wild in the same time frame, so it can’t all be blamed on His Wernerness and the attendant reality distortion field.

          Guess we each have our peculiar constellation of susceptibilities. And we can’t legislate against psychological predation. Frankly I think a lot of psychopredators don’t even recognize that’s what they are.

  29. Leen says:

    Native Americans responding to the mis use of their traditions
    http://globalvoicesonline.org/2009/10/15/usa-native-american-exploitation-in-sedona-sweat-lodge-deaths/

    “…people in New Age religions embrace only one part of the totality of a culture or a people–like the buying masks and idols or a religion–without an understanding of what these items or these rituals really mean. Disrespect results, and then eventually, leaders can become authoritarian and cultish, people can get turned off and leave, or people can get hurt or worse, die. That’s the cruel lesson, I feel, that’s being learned regarding this tragedy. I can only hope that this time, that it’s heeded.”

  30. Petrocelli says:

    Thanks for this post, bmaz. This hits me in the gut because every one of these faux gurus casts a shadow on the sincere teachers. Ray should be investigated to see if he has backers and they should also face prosecution.

    I’ve had many people offer to back me financially, to make a mint but I would have to give up management of my course. To me, this only meant one thing … that they would misinform and mislead, in order to make tons of $$$ and since this places the clients at great risk, I always decline their offers.

    I truly hope that Ray gets the book thrown at him, and that this case allows many who have been duped by other con artists to come forward and toss some more crooks in jail.

  31. mark701 says:

    What did these people expect to get out of this retreat? Did they think for $10000 they could purchase spirituality, a private stairway to nirvana?? People like Ray are clever because they know that in a society where people can buy almost anything, they also think they can buy enlightenment, and guys like Ray exist to sell it to them. Very sad. My guess is that these people probably died from heat stroke.

  32. Leen says:

    Link above not working
    “In the Grip of a Guru”
    http://www.oregonlive.com/special/guru/

    Small ‘cottage cults’ drawing more converts in United States
    http://www.oregonlive.com/special/guru/index.ssf?/news/oregonian/lc_11gside15.frame

    Now I am not saying that these spiritual “cults” are any different than what I witnessed in the Catholic church to a great degree and what others can experience in recognized Religions…just saying, not a whole lot of difference. Just bigger numbers from richer people being confiscated.

    Well and I do have to admit the Catholic church and other faiths sometimes give back to the sheep and help those who are suffering

  33. person1597 says:

    Long live the threads, long live FDL.

    This blurb kind of sums it up for me…

    Sweat-lodge host fights back against accusations

    Shawna Bowen, a Cottonwood substance-abuse counselor, was invited by friends to the sweat-lodge event. She said Friday that when she got there, people were lying outside the makeshift enclosure and that those frantic to pull people out apparently had torn down part of it.

    “They were like, ‘Screw it, we’re ripping it apart,’ ” she said.

    For them, the path to continuity now lies elsewhere. People will continue to pursue their point of view until it comes to grief. For me, “not knowing” is the end of grief.

  34. earlofhuntingdon says:

    The rich, at least those who didn’t earn their wealth and those who don’t think they deserve it anyway, may be more naive than others. It may be foolish to pay a loquacious salesman $10,000 for a few hours of a false sense of health and well-being. What is criminal is taking that money, then subjecting clients to obviously dangerous conditions with a reckless disregard for the outcome.

    Congress and companies may do it all the time. When individuals do it, the law has a better track record of exacting consequences.

    Ray may have attempted to insulate himself from liability by working through a corporation or other virtual legal entity. To the extent that he personally had decision-making authority over this experience, the law can still hold him to account.

    Someone just has to be willing to do it. I hope it’s the local prosecutor. Sedona is an enclave that depends on the wealthy finding it a comfortable and beautiful escape from the ordinary. It would be in the prosecutor’s political as well as professional and moral benefit to do so.

  35. x174 says:

    nice piece: dense & highly readable. “Ray’s conduct in respect to the three deaths” tells me everything that i need to know about ol’ JAR. further scrutiny of the detailed nature of the “sweat lodges” leads me to imagine, along with the earlier complaints, that ol’ JAR’ll get something between criminal and negligent homicide. his actions after the matter give insight into the nature of the beast: reckless endangerment for personal gain, with evidence of continuing disregard for human life.

    i’m gonna guess he’ll be charged with three counts of manslaughter, 15 years.

  36. person1597 says:

    Some follow up…

    Survivor of Ariz. sweat lodge ceremony speaks out

    When participants exhibited weakness, Ray urged them to push past it and chided those who wanted to leave, she said. “I can’t get her to move. I can’t get her to wake up,” Bunn recalls hearing from two sides of the 415-square-foot sweat lodge. Ray’s response: “Leave her alone, she’ll be dealt with in the next round.”

    And what about the bodies?

    Ray was standing about 10 feet away, watching, Bunn said. “He didn’t do anything, he didn’t participate in helping. He did nothing. He just stood there.”

    Well, there goes the charisma thing. So much for practicing what you preach, eh?

  37. person1597 says:

    Wrongful Death Suits Expected in Sedona Sweat Deaths; Brooklyn-Native Among Deceased

    Autopsies on Brown and Shore were conducted, but the results weren’t disclosed pending additional tests. Authorities have ruled out carbon monoxide poising as the cause.

    Sweat Lodge Organizer Denies Building Structure

    This is in contrast to the Yavapai County Sherriff’s Office claim that Ray and his staff were the ones who built the tent where two people died last week.

    Guru not helping much in inquiry

    That noted, Ray repeatedly has stated on his Web site and by other means that he is cooperating with authorities. Specifically, he has said he is “working with the appropriate authorities” to determine what went wrong.

    Ray’s definition of cooperation is elusive.

    Despite the fact that Yavapai County investigators have made Ray “very aware of our desire to speak to him directly about the incident,” he has not done so, according to a sheriff’s spokesman.

    The sheriff’s investigators have “met briefly” with the private investigators hired by Ray, but in no reasonable way can it be construed that Ray is cooperating with the official investigation into the tragic incident. He is not “working with” them at all.

    Stay tuned…

  38. northrenlights says:

    So has any one heard how many rocks this madmen put into this death trap….and this should not even be refered to as a sweat lodge…as it has no relation to a real one.

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