Cultural appropriationist and charlatan James Arthur Ray, under whose watch three people died of hyperthermia in a for-profit 2009 sweatlodge “ceremony” in Sedona, AZ, just walked out of prison after 20 months.
From that CNN story:
The 55-year-old son of an Oklahoma preacher, Ray built a multimillion-dollar business as a best-selling author and motivational coach. His book, “Harmonic Wealth: The Secret of Attracting the Life You Want,” made him a New Age star. He was was riding high as he planned his October 2009 Spiritual Warrior weekend at the 70-acre Angel Valley retreat outside Sedona.
According to testimony at his trial, acolytes who flocked to Angel Valley’s red rock foothills were willing to shave their heads, meditate in the desert for 36 hours without food and water and then symbolically die and be reborn in the sweat lodge ritual.
Fifty-five people followed Ray into the sweat lodge; three died from overheating and 19 others were hospitalized after they collapsed, vomited, had trouble breathing, hallucinated, foamed at the mouth or fell unconscious.
Ray was convicted of negligently causing the deaths of Kirby Brown, 38, of Westtown, New York; Lizbeth Neuman, 49, of Prior Lake, Minnesota; and James Shore, 40, of Milwaukee. Ray was found negligent, but acquitted of manslaughter charges that could have sent him to prison for 30 years.
Here we have an unusual example of skeptics and practitioners of Native religions on more or less the same side: I learned of Ray’s release from Native friends who have been commenting on desecration of their culture for profit. Traditionally, sweatlodge ceremonies run for far less time, include far fewer people, and are conducted in structures made of breathable materials — not plastic tarps — and run by people who’ve had eight years of training. There’s still plenty there to trip a skeptic’s trigger, of course, but at least people don’t fucking die from sweatlodge ceremonies run that way.
Ray should be watched like a hawk. It’s clear he’s learned nothing and regrets nothing. Gullibility is a shame, but it shouldn’t be a death sentence.
And for fuck’s sake, don’t ever go 36 hours without water in the desert, even if you’re not going to be crammed into a sauna with 60 other people for several hours by a negligent charlatan afterward.