Sunday, October 18, 2009

UPDATE: Third Victim Claimed in Sweat Lodge Tragedy

News outlets are now reporting that a third person has died in the James Arthur Ray sweat lodge fiasco.  I have copied a couple of reports for you to read, below.  This post updates my previous post of Friday, October 16th on this topic, entitled "A Law of Attraction Guru Runs Amok".

Arizona Rural Headlines Examiner - October 18, 9:30 AM Arizona

Third victim claimed in Sedona, Arizona death lodge tragedy
"Liz Neuman, 49, of Minnesota died Saturday at a Flagstaff hospital, the third in a series of fatalities from a sweat lodge ceremony in Sedona last October 8.

Yavapai County sheriff's spokesman Dwight D'Evelyn said the 49-year-old suffered multiple organ damage.

The ceremony was being conducted as part of the "Spritual Warrior" program led by get-rich-quick guru James Arthur Ray. Accounts from past participants of the program suggested that students were subjected to a grueling 2-hour sweat lodge experience after 36 hours without food or water, and were urged to complete the session regardless of personal discomfort.

The sweat lodge itself, just over 400 square feet in size, had been far overcrowded. Estimates of people in the sweat lodge ranged from 50 to over 60 at the time emergency personnel were called the Thursday evening, Oct. 8 from the Angel Valley resort. Nearly two dozen were transported to medical facilities in Flagstaff and elsewhere in Yavapai County, and two, Kirby Brown and James Shore were pronounced dead on arrival.

Ray has not spoken to investigators, and left the area shortly after the incident occurred.

The Yavapai County Sheriff's Department has since upgraded its initial investigation into the deaths as a homicide investigation. While no charges have yet been filed, the headquarters of James Ray International in Carlsbad California has been searched for documentation kept by Ray regarding construction, proper use, and conduct involving sweat lodges.

Experts in Native American ceremonies have decried the James Ray ceremony as being improperly conducted and badly motivated.

Participants paid nearly $10,000 each for the program."

Christine Whelan in the Huffington Post writes about the participants in Ray's retreat:

"The sweat lodge experience was the culmination of a five-day nearly $10,000 “Spiritual Warrior Event” advertised as a retreat to “accelerate the releasing of your limitations and push yourself past your self-imposed and conditioned borders.”

More than 60 participants entered a makeshift structure where hot stones created intense heat. Rituals in sweat lodges are a common Native American purification practice intended to raise the body temperature to somewhere between 102 to 106 degrees. Given the intense heat, supervision is required -- and in most sweat lodges, attendance is limited to 8 to 12 people. Participants should leave when the heat becomes too intense. However, after a week of brainwashing about pushing past “self-imposed” borders, human instinct was overridden by orders from a so-called great leader.

James Ray is one of the hottest new self-help gurus – featured on Oprah, Larry King Live, and The Secret – who has only become more popular during the last year’s economic uncertainty. Ray preaches that it is our negative attitude and negative energy that holds us back from true wealth.

Let me be clear: The 60-plus people in that sweat lodge weren't stupid. They weren't lemmings. They trusted a well-known, well-loved inspirational leader who had been given the popular culture seal of approval. The attendees are the victims here because they trusted a leader who claimed to have expertise in a potentially dangerous practice. The idea that we trust our leaders isn't anything new -- and the idea that this trust can be misplaced and used to harm us or others isn't new either. (Remember the famous Milgram experiments dealing with how receptive people are to authority?) But this recent tragedy is a terrible way to re-learn those lessons.

The obvious question is: Why did these men and women stay in such a hostile environment, even as their lungs burned from the heat and they felt themselves slipping into unconsciousness? Why? Because James Ray told them their limitations aren't necessarily where they think they are, to trust him and push past them.

Indeed, just hours before the deaths, James Ray posted this to Twitter: ''Still in Spiritual Warrior ... for anything new to live something first must die. What needs to die in you so that new life can emerge?''

We often think of self-help as harmless and silly, but the charismatic leadership that these gurus wield is a powerful psychological force. Just because a ceremony is New Age or from a native tradition doesn't mean that it's benign. As with all powerful experiences, training and supervision is crucial. And when a leader encourages his followers to override their own bodily signals -- encourages them to trust him over themselves -- there are terrible consequences."

Read more at:


  1. People paid $10,000 for this "experience"? Are they insane? What was it PT Barnum said???

  2. THAT IS SO TRAGIC. And needless. What a scam from someone who didn't know what he was talking about. Thanks for highlighting it.

  3. Interesting post, Bonnie. James Ray sounds like an idiot if you ask me. Hopefully this will open people's eyes to these money-grubbing scammers and they'll realize that neither truth nor spirituality is something that can be bought!! I hope this man is punished and held accountable for his actions. Blessings!

  4. How sad, Bonnie. He's taken a beautiful native American ceremony and turned into a tragedy. We must always listen to our inner voice...when something doesn't feel right, we must stop and follow our inner sense. It is so easy to get swept up in the moment. This is a good lesson for us all. And I am so sorry for those that died and their families. Too sad.
    Thanks for sharing this with us. It gives me much to contemplate.

  5. Sherry Lee: It seems so from a distance - but I think it could very easily be any of us searching to fill the emptiness within. Many of us have probably attended workshops, seminars, retreats in hopes of creating space to grow . . .
    we just have to take our critical thinking skills with us . . . and not get caught in 'group think'.

  6. Jenn: I remember seeing him on Oprah when she was singing the praises of "The Secret". All of the contributors to that book and programme seemed like very intelligent, likable people. But I could not believe how everyone including Oprah, just accepted their magical thinking theories without asking any questions. So sad.

  7. Marion: Such a good point: 'truth and spirituality cannot be bought'. I would guess though that these folks thought they were 'buying' an experience that would pave the way for growth and a deepening spiritual life. But as you infer - truth cannot be purchased - it is found - and hopefully within.

  8. ChicGeek: So true - when we participate in any group activity we must stay in touch with our inner voice and honour its promptings. I wonder how many of those people wanted to bolt out of that quasi-sweat-lodge - but didn't because of fear of peer pressure.

    Imagine how traumatic it was for those who got sick - all in attendance, in fact. What a trauma! And Ray did not even stay around to help them with it or to see if those in critical condition survived. He had another big pay day to go to in Marina de Rey.

  9. This is such a complicated issue Bonnie. Without taking anything away from the reported facts of this situation, which suggest criminally irresponsible behaviour, motivated by an obscene amount of money, the reality is that our personal beliefs about our limitations and our actual abilities are often poorly aliened.

    The flip side of this, for me, is that my body is sending me messages that suggest I have never been in better health, never been more fit; while cancers grow and an exponential rate within me.

    We need to reconcile this discrepancy, to become comfortable with our realities, but getting starved, dehydrated and stuffed into a sweat lodge is not the way to do it.

  10. Barry: Excellent points you make about the discrepancy between reality and what our body/mind is telling us. Who knows, as well, what sort of hyped up state or altered state they were in from the coaching and the fasting. So as you suggest, perhaps, they thought they were fine when in fact they were on the verge of collapse.

    Native American 'masters' in sweat lodges say only 10-12 people at a time and they must be closely monitored by someone familiar with the process.

    I'm sure as you suggest there are many factors that result in such a tragedy - and they all just come together in the wrong way . . . Retreats are running sweat lodges all the time - - without fatalities - apparently.

  11. This breaks my heart on so many levels...f the innocence and willingness of the participants to do what this man said to find relief from the suffering to the point where they were unable to hear their own intuition...

    this is not how to find peace or God

    much love

  12. I think I must agree with the idea one can't buy spiritual awareness. It is a different path for everyone. It is unique to that individual. Just the fact that there was so much money involved, would make me question motivation on Ray's part. I remember a friend telling me about her experience with Scientology - and it was the same thing. The requirment for large sums of money in order to move forward in the group. Questioning motivation is important. Listening to your inner voice - priceless.

  13. There has to be a big hole in the lives of people who fall for this stuff.

  14. After reading your post I came to the conclusion that this man’s success went to his head and he lost his good sense. He thought he had become a “warrior” of above natural strength. He is responsible for their deaths and should be sentenced accordingly – they trusted him and drank his cool-aid, figuratively, just like the followers of Jim Jones did in Guyana.


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