October 11, 2009

How sweat lodges can kill

Sweat Lodge Deaths Bring Soul-Searching to Area Deep in Seekers

By John DoughertyAt least seven other people have died in ceremonial sweat lodges since 1993 in the United States, England and Australia, according to news accounts compiled by Alton Carroll, an adjunct professor of history at San Antonio College who also moderates the Web site Newagefraud.org.

James Arthur Ray, a self-help expert from Carlsbad, Calif., led what was billed as five-day “spiritual warrior” experience at Angel Valley, which concluded with a tightly packed sweat lodge ceremony. Participants paid about $9,000 each for the weeklong retreat, which included seminars, a 36-hour fast and solo experiences in the forest.

The authorities say that at any one time 55 to 65 people were packed for a two-hour period into a 415-square foot structure that was 53 inches high at the center and 30 inches high on the perimeter. Mr. Ray’s employees built the wood-frame lodge, which was wrapped in blankets and plastic tarps. Hot rocks were brought into the lodge and doused with water. Mr. Ray, who conducted the ceremony, left the area on Thursday after declining to give a statement to the police.
And:Dr. Carroll, who is partly of Mescalero Apache descent, said the Angel Valley sweat lodge was the “best example I have seen, sadly, in a long time of why it is extremely dangerous to conduct sweat lodge ceremonies without proper training.”

Katherine Lash, a co-owner of Spiritquest Retreat in Sedona and a veteran of more than 100 sweat lodge ceremonies, said she had never heard of a sweat being conducted with as many people as were involved in the Angel Valley event. “In my experience it has been very rare to have more than 20 people,” she said.

Limiting the number of people inside a sweat lodge is critical because the person leading the event is supposed to carefully monitor the mental and physical condition of each participant, experts said.

“It’s important to know who is responsible for your spiritual and physical safety in that lodge,” said Vernon Foster, a member of the Klamath-Modoc tribe who regularly leads ceremonial sweat lodge events in central Arizona.

Mr. Foster said native people would use only natural materials in the construction of a sweat lodge. “We would never use plastic to cover our lodges,” he said. “The lodge has to breathe, that steam has to go someplace.”

Sheriff’s office investigators are conducting tests to determine whether any toxins were released during the ceremony. The authorities said sandalwood “was thrown on the rocks to give the effect of incense.” A 2007 study by the National University of Singapore on the effects of smoke emitted by sandalwood incense published in the journal Science and Technology of Advanced Materials found that “continuous and prolonged exposure to incense smoke is of concern.”
Comment:  As you may recall, Al Carroll is an occasional contributor to Blue Corn Comics and Newspaper Rock. He's the person I usually consult on New Age issues.

For more on the subject, see New Age Sweat Lodge Kills.

Below:  James Arthur Ray.


Rob said...

A joke posted on Facebook:

The good news: The president is meeting with 564 federally recognized tribes. The bad news: It's in a sweat lodge in Sedona.

My own joke:

Does James Ray's "Spiritual Warrior" retreat have a refund policy? No, the "guaranteed to live through the experience" package costs extra.

Anonymous said...

Seen Mr. vernon foster on anderson cooper, what is wrong with him? Filming a ceremony!!!!! We do not allow photos of ceremony and then he is singing our sacred songs that do not belong to him at that! He made matters worse in my view! And representing all our Native Nations on television, he is klamath and modoc, he should have been doing one of their ceremonies and singing his own songs to exploit! This issue of exploitation started from our own people looking to be a guru just like James Ray, small time...James Ray should be prosecuted for taking people's lives in his hands by using another nations spiriutal way of life and making into a mockery and a money making venture. Mr Foster should repremended! He needs to go back to 101 native elder sit down on how to be respectful of another nation's ceremony!

Anonymous said...

looked at it again, it is an AIM song, well there you, still allowing our cermeony to be filmed! He should be allowing filming of his cermeonial ways and see what his Elders think.

Anonymous said...

Vernon Foster is a fake who most people who live locally in the Sedona area know has been making money by passing himself off as an Elder. He has been a phoney as known to locals for many years. Perhaps someday he will be found out also and tourists will no longer spend money on this man who spends his time playing slots in the local Casinos in the middle of the night. He is not NOT a True Elder; he never was. Just knows how to dress the part and play the role in order to make money. Shame on him. So, he should not talk of another.

Anonymous said...

I am certainly not defending this James Ray guy by saying that Vernon Foster should not talk of another...but I AM saying that the two should look in each others mirrors! A TRUE ELDER does NOT charge or take money for sweats. many locals in Sedona who are not whacko KNOW that Sedona is a tourist "trap" and mecca for people like those two. It is a shame to look at these self-promoted "elders" who will do and play up anything to line their filty pockets with the green paper. I would not want THEIR karma! Thanks to the person who wrote about V.F.needing to take Elder 101 again.....you are absolutely on target except being an Elder comes from wisdom, respect and taking responsibility for owns life on a continuum...not sucking the public just to make a buck or two or three; thats the real evil of it all. They are fake for money. And, so many well-meaning, good people who actually work hard jobs for their money buy into it; literally.And, before its all said and done men such as these two destroy a part of these peoples lives with their phoney crap. They are not real Traditional ANYTHING!!!