The organiser of a US spiritual retreat, during which two people died and another 19 had to be admitted to hospital, has been caught deleting potentially incriminating tweets he published during the event.
US authorities are trying to determine if criminal negligence played a role in the deaths, which occurred in a sauna-like sweat lodge at a resort in Arizona during a two-hour “spiritual cleansing ceremony” last Thursday evening.
The organiser of the “Spiritual Warrior” retreat, James Arthur Ray, is an author who holds seminars on wealth creation and was interviewed in the 2006 film The Secret. He has appeared as a guest on shows including Oprah and Larry King Live.
Ray is also an avid tweeter and, even while attendees were falling ill at the retreat, he made several posts to Twitter that were later deleted but not completely removed from the site.
“The Spiritual Warrior has conquered death and therefore has no enemies, and no fear, in this life or the next,” he wrote in one.
In another he wrote: “… for anything new to live something first must die. What needs to die in you so that new life can emerge?”
After deleting those tweets Ray published new Twitter messages saying he was “shocked & saddened by the tragedy occurring in Sedona”.
He offered “deeply heartfelt” condolences to family and friends of those who died and hoped for a “speedy recovery” for those who fell ill.
He said there were “more questions than answers at this time”.
Yavapai County Sheriff Steve Waugh said that Ray refused to speak to authorities and had since left the state.
[T]he deaths of two people in a sweat lodge last week at Angel Valley, a New Age spiritual retreat about six miles south of West Sedona, is causing more soul-searching among New Age practitioners and concern among town leaders.
“We are severely impacted by the fact that this happened,” said Sedona’s mayor, Rob Adams. “We need to get to the bottom of what happened.”
Kirby Brown, 38, of Westtown, N.Y., and James Shore, 40, of Milwaukee, died on Thursday after collapsing inside the Angel Valley sweat lodge. Three other people were airlifted in critical condition to Flagstaff Medical Center.
“The people in the field will take a close look at their operations, absolutely,” said Marcus, an intuitive counselor — a kind of spiritual guide — who goes by only his first name. “This is ridiculous, it shouldn’t have happened.”
At 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.
Sheriff Steve Waugh of Yavapai County said a death investigation would continue for several weeks. Mr. Ray, the Angel Valley owners, Michael and Amayra Hamilton, and all the participants are part of the investigation, the sheriff said. The results from autopsies that were conducted Friday have not been released and results from toxicology tests are not expected for several weeks.
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.
• New Age Tragedy in Sedona: Non-Indians in the Sweat Lodge – Wealth creation guru James Arthur Ray is under investigation for criminal negligence in the deaths of two participants in a sweat lodge last week. Is this the inevitable result of outsider appropriation of a sacred ritual, or is the story more complex? At Religion Dispatches Johnny P. Flynn, whose own tradition includes the sweat lodge ceremony, explains the nuances.
Flynn is an Assistant Professor of Religious Studies at Indiana University Purdue University Indianapolis. He is also Director of American Indian Programs and an enrolled member of the Citizen Potawatomi Nation in Oklahoma.