The 2009 deaths of 3 people in Sedona AZ, while in a sweat lodge style ceremony was not the first deaths caused by those who have appropriated Lakota ceremony. What made these murders different is that the deaths were at the hands of James Arthur Ray, member of the self-help guru crowd and darling of Oprah, NBC News and CNN. The other difference was that these poor souls paid James Arthur Ray nearly ten thousand dollars apiece to attend his spiritual warrior seminar in the hopes of increasing their personal wealth. The 10k monetary price was steep but not nearly as steep as the final bill. 3 dead 15 other sickened and yesterday James Arthur Ray convicted of 3 counts of negligent homicide.
The conviction brings me no happiness, and no peace of mind because James Arthur Ray is one of many who have taken Lakota ceremonies, twisted them to their own purpose, and now grows wealthy dealing false and deadly rites to people who do not know any better. Sedona is a festering cesspool of con artists, shamans, gurus, spiritual guides, and self-proclaimed medicine people. They will all claim to help anyone, for a price, yes spirituality packed, stacked, racked and for sale to anyone with enough cash in their pockets. The entire economy of Sedona is based on shams and charlatans many like James Arthur Ray who peddle things that they do not know or understand. James could not have understood even the basics of the sweat lodge or he never would have been charging money and 3 people would not have paid the ultimate price for his arrogance and ignorance.
James should have known that there is no such thing as a “warrior sweat”. The sweat lodge is not a place to prove your bravery and or toughness. Yes a sweat ceremony is hot and it is hard but it is to purify, it is to pray, it is to heal. The sweat lodge forces us to be humble not arrogant. We go in on our hands and knees we ask for help and healing, for our families, for our friends, for ourselves if needed. We go in to clear and purify ourselves not to become financially successful.
James had no business running a sweat ceremony. He had no training. Reports from the survivors prove that he was unfit to lead his group to the local ice-cream shop much less into a sweat lodge. The leader of a sweat lodge is responsible for every person in there. It is done with compassion and without coercion. It is the job of the leader to monitor the participants and make sure they are in danger of sickness or death. Yes the sweat lodge can cause damage and death if not done correctly. It takes years of training and ceremony to learn how to run a sweat properly. So many read a few books or attend a handful of sweats and think. “Oh this is easy, I can do this”.
The greatest sadness is that I do not see anyone actually learning from this event. No one in Sedona or elsewhere will stop and think about what they are doing. There is far too much money involved in cultural theft and new age spirituality for those that engage in it to stop, much less those that are making a comfortable living off the practice. I have also learned that if there is anyone out there that can delude themselves and rationalize any behavior it is New Agers. It would be bring a small measure of closure if the deaths of Kirby Brown, 38, of Westtown, New York; James Shore, 40, of Milwaukee; and Lizbeth Marie Neuman, 49, of Prior Lake, Minnesota at the hands of James Arthur Ray brought about some change, some understanding, maybe even just a dash of respect.
That will not happen. James Arthur Ray will appeal the convictions. The hucksters and con artists will continue to sell spirituality. The New Age consumers will not see the damage and the dangers. Indian people will stand and say “stop! Do not do this! This is wrong and dangerous!” everyone will ignore them completely. What do simple Indians know about spirituality, unicorns, rainbows, star dolphins and Atlantis etc. How many more will die before the New Agers wake up to see and listen more than speak.