Friday, October 16, 2009

No Shortage of False Prophets

I am deeply saddened that once again, Native American culture and spiritualism have been used for fun and profit, with horrifying results.

James Arthur Ray, author of "Harmonic Wealth: The Secret of Attracting the Life You Want" and other self-help books, runs seminars for which people pay thousands of dollars to hear business executives, fitness experts and motivational authors exhort them to achieve material success beyond their wildest dreams within the framework of New Age spirituality. I think that spending vast sums of money to hear people speak is the exact opposite of self-empowerment, but it seems to be paying off for Ray, who is probably worth billions by preying on the dissatisfied and gullible. Clothing material lust in the trappings of spiritualism is a brilliant ploy to gain the hearts and wallets of baby boomers, many of whom are aging 60's hippies, by enabling them to reconcile a bornagain desire for wealth with their former non-materialistic values. (In my view, there is nothing intrinsically wrong with money, only with its misuse to have power over others. And there is certainly nothing wrong with changing our beliefs over time; otherwise, what would be the point in still being here?)

On October 8th, Ray conducted a sweat lodge as the culminating event of a 5-day Spiritual Warriors retreat near Sedona, Arizona, which participants paid $9,000 to attend. Native Americans have done sweat lodges for centuries - I have participated in a few - but the purpose is cleansing, not profit. The sweat lodge is typically a tent with large heated stones in a pit at the center on which water is poured at regular intervals to create steam, similar to a sauna. It is a profoundly spiritual experience and has nothing to do with material gain. It is also carefully controlled in that people are allowed to leave through a flap in the tent if the heat becomes too intense. Normally, the sweat lodge holds no more than a dozen people at a time.

In this case, however, 64 people crowded into a 415-square-foot space during a two-hour period Thursday night. Ray led eight 15-minute rounds of various spiritual exercises and while no one was forcibly restrained, participants were strongly encouraged to remain for the entire time. According to the Yavapai, Arizona, sheriff's spokesman, there was no permit granted for the construction of the temporary wooden building in which two people died and many others were taken ill.

Kirby Brown, 38, of Westtown, N.Y., and James Shore, 40, of Milwaukee died after being overcome in the hut. Nineteen other people were hospitalized with symptoms ranging from dehydration to kidney failure. Ms. Brown was a hiker and surfer described by her family as being in top shape and the kindest person anyone knew. Mr. Shore was also in great physical condition and the doting father of three children. Both attended this event to continue on their paths of self-improvement as a means to better help others.

Ray has issued a statement through his publicist that says, "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." He has declined to comment further because there are "more questions than answers." He refused to speak with detectives on the fateful evening and left the state hours later. "He's interested in getting to the truth and will speak to the right people at the appropriate time," said his publicist. One can only assume that the appropriate time will be when he has concocted a story which exonerates him from any responsibility.

I knew there was a reason I was unable to finish reading his book and donated it to the library book store.


Pamela said...

wow. how sad.

Anonymous said...

Really sad story.

I heard brief coverage, but I didn't know the background.

Anonymous said...

There was reason enough for the anciet admonition to beware of false prophets, and it holds today. Caveat emptor. And how much of a step from his blather to Jonestown?

PeterAtLarge said...

Thanks for this strong post, which aptly captures the mockery of this abuse of an ancient tradition. The sad part is that people get conned into believing in such rot.

Artful Kisser said...

That's a really tragic event on so many levels. One hopes this shyster's negligence doesn't incite a witch hunt against the culture he so totally bastardized for the pure purpose of profit.

Laura Lee said...

I can't believe it cost that much. There have been many people I have seen and read with similar ambitions, using Buddhist, Hindu, and a plethora of other cultural modalities for similar things. Sweats are intense and are obviously best used with traditional ways...

Sedona may have a black mark on its beautiful red rocks for a while cuzza this guy... sheesh

LittlePea said...

Never been a fan of "motivational speakers" and the like. How awful for those people.

thailandchani said...

Wow. I think that's evidence of the fact that so many people feel empty and look for answers the easy and quick way. It takes a lot of exploration and a lot of reading, thinking and exploration to find those answers. Anyone who promises it for 3K is full of baloney! I wish more people knew that.


heartinsanfrancisco said...


Yes, sad and inexcusable.


We generally only hear about it when greed takes a deadly twist.


The only difference I can see is that this was far pricier poisoned Kool-Aid.


Sadly, there really are no shortcuts to spiritual grace, and the best way to have material success is to work very hard for it.


I hadn't thought of that. We have a long history of destroying Native Americans but preserving their names for streets in housing developments, and stealing whatever seems "cool" from their culture.

Laura Lee,

I see you're from Arizona. It's an incredibly gorgeous state. I think Sedona will survive - it's used to people utilizing its natural resources to make money off other people. They come and go, but the red rocks remain forever.

Thank you for your visit here.

Sweet Pea,

You're one of the smart ones. I've learned that when things sound too good to be true, they usually are.


So many people hope to jumpstart their spiritual progress as well as to streamline their route to material success. Such a mindset opens one to being taken advantage of by charlatans, although it doesn't always end in death, thankfully.

TechnoBabe said...

I have been following that story too, and was surprised to see the structure used for the sweat lodge. My hubby and I share a major interest in Native American culture and rituals and know of the spiritual experience associated with a sweat lodge. Your writing is clear and concise and I for one appreciate your writing this post.

heartinsanfrancisco said...


I've had a deep lifelong connection with Native American culture and was shocked at the horrific abuse of the sweat lodge ceremony as well as the structure itself, which resembled a cattle car in which animals are crammed on their way to the slaughterhouse with no concern that there be sufficient oxygen for all.

nick said...

I hadn't heard about this. It is truly shocking, particularly with the two deaths of previously fit and healthy attendees. There are too many of these charlatans about, making huge sums out of well-meaning people simply seeking to enrich their lives. Once again it shows how complete strangers with slick publicity machines and glossy books can dupe people into thinking they're wise, enlightened individuals rather than greedy egotists.

I didn't know anything about sweat lodges either. How typical that an inspiring traditional ritual was turned into a cynical money machine by someone completely insensitive to its original context.

heartinsanfrancisco said...


I agree completely with your beautifully expressed comment. Until we all, individually and as a culture, take back our power and trust in ourselves and our own abilities to create rich, meaningful lives for ourselves, we will continue to be at the mercy of such self-styled gurus.

the walking man said...

I must be a fool of a man because I never inquired of another man how I could improve my being and how, other than work, I could improve my financial straights.

I go to a book store and see shelves and shelves of advice books and wonder who would need to read about the life within. Have we come to a point that we don't feel our own pulse anymore 'cept someone tell us how?

The two who unfortunately died I find incomprehensible what more they were looking for. They, by all accounts, were already on a path worthy of contentment.

secret agent woman said...

That's really pathetic, for a number of reasons. So sad that people felt compelled to stay and endanger their health, so sad that a spiritual tradition was used to make money off others, so sad that he is being allowed to refuse to answer for what happened.

Maria said...

Holy cow.

Molly said...

I can't believe he wasn't arrested. You say he was allowed to leave the state?? Greed makes people do strange things.....

TaraDharma said...

See Barbara Ehrenreich's interview on the Daily Show. The downside of positive thinking/magical thinking, attracting wealth to you.

heartinsanfrancisco said...


It's true, the self-help field has spawned a million self-appointed gurus who are too ready to convince the world that they alone have built a better mouse trap.

Whatever happened to that old virtue of self-reliance?


I agree with all your points, so well-stated.


I'm sorry, miss, but if you want to worship the holy cow, it will cost you.


I assume they know where to find him, but it just gets worse and worse. A third person has died of complete organ failure - it was in the news this morning.


I'll watch it. Thank you for the heads-up!

Warty Mammal said...

Any title with the words secret, attraction, and life in it is suspect, as is its author.

People will insist on hooking up with gurus/prophets/spiritual guides, though, and there are plenty of charlatans out there who are happy to take their money.

Anonymous said...

That's so very sad :(

Meggie said...

It seems there will always be charletons among us, ready to dupe the gullible, and steal from their longings.

On a limb with Claudia said...

I am shocked by this! When I worked in the Open Grove, I met so many of these jerks. In fact, I was thinking of going back to the Open Grove and had an 'encounter' with one of these folks. I got what I used to call the "open grove headache." I hate this crap.

I'm so sorry for the families of these two people and everyone who suffered. How awful!

heartinsanfrancisco said...


Your formula works for me. "Life-changing" is probably another because people tend to think it means something incredibly wonderful, whereas earthquakes, hurricanes and death are all life-changing events.


It's always sad when well-meaning people get bilked by those who only mean well for themselves.


There should be truly dire consequences for stealing from someone's longings.


It's always shocking no matter how often this kind of thing happens. And by the way, three people have now died as a result of this badly handled event, and many others are still in grave danger.

Wanderlust Scarlett said...

I am physically disgusted.

He is absolutely responsible for the safety and well being of anyone attending his functions, and it is not only duty but moral obligation that he must answer to.

Scarlett & Viaggiatore

Wanderlust Scarlett said...


When will people learn that spiritualism cannot be bought?


S & V

Jocelyn said...

Holy crikey. I hadn't heard about this. It's awkward to sputter and type, so I'll just sputter now. Whoa.

heartinsanfrancisco said...


Something tells me he has a finely-tuned instinct and lots of help avoiding responsibility for anything. He might throw that help under the bus, though.

People will learn when they fully grasp that spiritualism is an inside job - we all need to do the work ourselves.


You sputter more articulately than anyone I know.

Angela said...

Oh, dear. She's really getting angry. Thanks for posting this. Probably would've never seen it otherwise.

heartinsanfrancisco said...


It's impossible not to feel anger when someone so blatantly abuses trust and puts others at risk through his own greed.

seventh sister said...

I have never heard of a sweat lodge going more than 4 round although they may last longer than 15 minutes. There is always someone who looks out for those who are having a difficult time. Obviously,no one in that organization knew what they were doing and they were extremely irresponsible.

heartinsanfrancisco said...


I've never been to one with so many bodies stuffed inside either. The whole thing was managed very badly with disastrous results.

miss*R said...

very sad.. but your post pretty much sums up what I feel about many of these people who profit from self-help things.. like Echart Tolle etc...

and to charge so much for a spiritual experience.. very sad..

heartinsanfrancisco said...

Miss R,

There is something terribly wrong when spiritual experiences are available only to the wealthy. That to me seems the exact antithesis of spiritual.

Thank you for your visit!