Friday, June 24, 2011

An Unfortunate Lesson

James Arthur Ray has been convicted of criminally negligent homicide in the deaths of three people attending a sweat lodge event he planned and executed nearly two years ago. The New Age motivational speaker mostly known for his featured appearance in the pseudo-psychobabble blockbuster The Secret has finally learned the real secret to the Law of Attraction: If you put bullshit into the Universe with the intent of  manipulating others and brain-washing them into cultist emotional immobility so you can keep stroking your own expansive ego, the Universe will select whatever means is appropriate to make sure you get what you deserve in an equally large measure. 

While it is true that Liz Neuman, James Shore, and Kirby Brown, and all those other people who were sickened and injured during the  Spiritual Warrior Weekend were all there of their own free will, the freedom to think on their own essentially ended when they plunked down the fee for the event. Their every move was orchestrated and monitored by Ray and his minions once they set foot on the site reserved at Angel Valley Ranch. The sweat lodge was built to specifics Ray conceived, designed and provided. Despite the hubris being touted by Ray, I some how doubt that you are in control of your surroundings when you are being deprived of food and water for more than a day, then shamed into staying in  what is essentially a  canvas pressure cooker until your brain becomes just so much addled mush. Ray, the very personification of megalomania, managed to convince three half-starved, electrolyte imbalanced individuals who were probably already on their way to a low blood sugar coma that the power of their mind was enough to over come the physical effects of the  super-charged thermal heat roiling inside the canvas enclosure. The thing about this type of delusional thinking is that in that type of setting and under those conditions, a false mindset of  deity- a hallucination, if you will-  develops among participants who forget they are mere mortals and subject to the Laws of Physics, Science and Nature. I suspect at that moment it was difficult to tell who was more insane -Neuman, Shore and Brown or James  Ray himself.

And before I go any further, I am going to tell you that  I am among those in the Pagan community who have a very huge problem with those who think that it's okay to bastardize Native American sacred rites, or the sacred rites of any living tradition, for that matter. Many of us have been taught that it's perfectly fine to create eclectic ritual from a variety of religious and cultural traditions- and it is, when it is done with thoughtfulness and  respect.But it is not okay to slap together a medicine wheel ceremony based on what you've gleaned off Wikipedia, or read in a book, any more than it is to perform Holy Eucharist with all the Christian trappings when you are not a Christian. It's fine to study and research living tradition, but it's not okay to 'play Indian' any more than it is to 'play Catholic'. I think that using the  model of  the Hebrew Seder to tell the story of a particular tradition of Paganism is an excellent resource, but using a Haggadah and just changing the words around is plagiarism and disrespectful;  it is never going to be a Pagan Seder. Using sweat techniques such as sauna as an adjunct to spirituality has been used for centuries in many cultures, but it  doesn't make it a sweat lodge...nor should it...ever.

Ray was raised in an evangelical Christian family; his father was an impassioned Church of God minister whose ministry and mission was so central in his personal life that the family had to live in the church office because they could not afford a proper home. Without actually knowing the situation, I can only guess at the level of dysfunction involved for this to be allowed by parishioners. I suspect this minister ruled the parish with an iron first and liberal doses of brimstone. That does not excuse Ray's eventual descent into narcissistic personality disorder, but it does explain where he got the influence for his leadership model. Like father, like son, I'd say.

I have weighed in with my opinion about The Secret in a prior post of this blog. The thing I like least about it and find most offensive is that it implies that  essentially every thing you've been doing  in your life is wrong, wrong, wrong and the only way to remedy that is by following the uber-intelligent advice of it's stable of 'experts'.  This isn't self-help or pop-psychology, it's mind control." Do it our way, it's the only way it works" is the message, and it's delivered with a smiling friendliness that I find suspicious from the first step out of the gate. The smile is frozen and forced, it's sincerity dented by the urgency for you to believe unquestioningly in the message...and I've seen that smile before...on the faces of Marshall Applewhite, David Koresh and Jim Jones. The most recent example of it has been on the face of Harold Camping,whose demand for unflinching devotion was later toned down after his predicted Rapture failed to occur. It's the same song, with a different tune and slightly re-written lyrics, but it's the same song none the less.  According to both The Secret, and Ray, you are the captain of your own ship and you get to sail any body of water you choose. Neither mentions the dangers of  becoming beached on an emotional or financial  shoal, or that you sometimes have to follow the channel markers for your own safety and benefit. Neither ever mentions what to do when your boat develops an unsuspected  leak and you begin to take on water and start to sink, something that is not always under the control of the best of skilled captains and is simply a part of sailing- much as unforeseen obstacles are a part of life in general. 

The Gospel According to James Arthur Ray is that you will have all the money you will need, all the happiness you can stand, all the glory and all the power, just through sheer mind over matter. You will be able to leap tall buildings in a single bound and transcend the physical forces of nature when you are being roasted alive in an overheated, ill-supervised sweat lodge. You are in absolute control of your situation and surroundings so just keep thinking those good thoughts while another ladle of water is thrown on the rocks and the steam rises. You can pit your will against the elements, and win, and if you don't, you didn't believe enough, you were weak and are at fault. Sound familiar? Maybe Ray was confused and thought he was building a revival tent instead?

The courtroom testimony brought forth from several witnesses was that Ray sat outside the sweat lodge and shouted 'encouragement' to those who wanted to leave; it included chiding them to literally beat the heat and overcome their physical discomfort and symptoms by not wimping out and being a looser. I'm sure these words from their guru were comforting as their skin was blistering and they were foaming at the mouth as all the moisture from their bodies was evaporating from the heat. I wonder if the thought crossed their minds that the person they entrusted their physical, emotional and spiritual health and safety to was a sadistic psychopath.

The story about the incident which is provided  on Ray's website is a masterpiece of  shirking personal responsibility. Whomever wrote the PR should be awarded a PhD in Spin Doctoring. They also need congratulating on cleaning up a raft of bullshit misinformation about Ray's qualifications and certifications in several alternative specifically being trained by Native American elders in the proper use and presentation of a sweat lodge. His new curricula vitae is so vague and lacking in specifics that it seems the only thing he's qualified to do is fold napkins at a potluck supper.

"While numerous indicators from EMTs and emergency room doctors were present [they]  documented [  the presence of ] poisons,[and] the state followed up on none of them." It emphatically states. Anyone who followed the trial on TV can tell you this is not the truth.

This is not only untrue, it's an outrageous outright lie.  I can speak from professional experience as a health care provider that EMT's in the field have no way of identifying this type of poisoning. Identifying a case of poisoning without laboratory support is nearly impossible because usually the symptoms are vague enough to  match those of other physical problems. What was obvious to the EMTS- and Ray's own staff- was that all the victims were suffering from  heat prostration and other heat-related illness due to the extreme  temperature of the sweat lodge.I find it highly doubtful than any single member of the emergency response team were thinking about poisoning that day while they were trying to render aid to the victims of what was primarily a heat-related emergency. The possibility of poisoning was never entertained until the result of the post-mortem examinations of the victims, according to the expert witness giving medical-related testimony during the trial. His statements were recorded by both the court stenographer and CNN, so there is no wiggle room on this for Ray

Ultimately, the jury didn't think so, either.

Sometimes Justice prevails against the arrogance of those who believe they are above the here's "The Secret", Mr Ray...if you prey on the innocent and emotionally needy for monetary gain and ego stroking, eventually the Law of Attraction gives you what you deserve...and not what you want.


  1. Awesome post, I couldn't agree more on both that James Ray is a psycho and I'm glad he will no longer be in the capacity to hurt others and also on the bastardizing use of Native American traditions. I also believe strongly that it is wrong to just "cherry pick" with little thought of where it is coming from or respect for the source.

    Thank you for the great write up about this horrible tragedy.

  2. it's not okay to 'play Indian' any more than it is to 'play Catholic'

    Thank you! Your post is incredibly enlightening and honest. Being of Native American ancestry myself, I am grateful for your words and views. One cannot just "take up" the culture as if it has been ingrained since birth...a way of life. Even I cannot make these claims or "live this life". It may be in my blood, but I was NOT born to it. I don't have the years of "living it" to fully comprehend.

    "Playing Indian"...what a fitting phrase.


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