Over a year ago I was flown out to Hawaii to give a workshop for an organization run by a man who has been described as a “New Age Self-Help Guru,” James Arthur Ray. Mr. Ray has appeared on Oprah and Larry King, and was seen in the film version of the book, The Secret, which, like some popular New Age books, takes one aspect occultism, the “law” of attraction, and focuses on it (often superficially). Although I was glad to give the workshop, I actually think—without any proof—that Mr. Ray may have wanted me there primarily to legitimize the title he used for his week-long session, “Modern Magick,” even though his training had nothing directly to do with my book.
My workshop went very well. The set-up, in a huge hotel auditorium, was incredibly professional, including a surprisingly massive sound system and several video cameras, including one on a large boom. Although the material was essentially the same as what I give any time I give a workshop on the topic (Sex Magick), there were a few minor and acceptable changes I was asked to make in order to use some of Mr. Ray’s terminology. Again, I think, this may have been to legitimize what he was doing in relation to my own work.
The several hundred people there each paid about $5,000 to attend.
That may seem like a lot of money, but as the commercials say, “But wait, there’s more!”
Recently, Mr. Ray’s organization rented a location near Sedona, Arizona to put on another training. Again, this was a multi-day training. This time, the goal was to become a “spiritual warrior.” Fewer people attended, but the price of the training was between $9,000 and $10,000 dollars.
The event culminated with a sweat lodge. It has been reported that inside the lodge were 64 people. Two hours after the sweat began, paramedics were called. Two people were dead. Nineteen were hospitalized, “suffering from burns, dehydration, respiratory arrest, kidney failure or elevated body temperature.”
As of this writing, the exact cause of the deaths has not been given. I have been told by several people that a two-hour sweat by beginners is inordinately long, however I have seen others claiming this is not so. Usually, sweat lodges hold only a dozen people or less. This one held more than five times that number. Is it possible that this was a cause of the disaster? I don’t know. Sweat lodges are usually built using natural covers that allow oxygen into the small building. Mr. Ray’s organization allegedly used lots of plastic sheeting. If this is accurate, the incorrect building of the lodge might have been part of the cause of the problem.
Even the often maligned Wikipedia says, “There have been reports of lodge-related deaths resulting from overexposure to heat, dehydration, smoke inhalation, or improper lodge construction leading to suffocation. Even people who are experienced with sweats could suddenly experience problems due to underlying health issues. It is recommended that a physician check people intending to have a sweat lodge experience.” I wonder, did all of the people involved have such a check up? Relatives of one of the person’s who died claim she was in “top physical shape,” but often people don’t know that they have some underlying problem with no symptoms—until the body is put under heavy stress.
I wasn’t there. I don’t know what happened. I have no doubt that there will be several court cases (and possibly criminal cases) as a result of this disaster. My deepest condolences to everyone involved in this tragedy.
It appears that the lodge may have been built incorrectly and that it may have not been run properly. This is only a guess, but at this time, with the information that has been made public, it does seem to explain the situation. In the weeks to come we will discover the actual details.
But for the sake of argument, let’s just assume that this guess is correct. It reveals several things which I feel are important, when it comes to New Age or Occult workshops, classes, and trainings:
First: Do not assume your teacher knows more than you. A teacher may have more experience and may be better able to share that information than you, but if you know something, stand up for what you know. At the beginning of each of my workshops I put up the letters: T.F. Y. Q. A. This stands for “Think For Yourself. Question Authority.” Just because I or anyone else says or writes something doesn’t mean it will work for you. That doesn’t mean teachers are lying, it only means that we are doing the best we can to communicate the information we have. If you have different information, question what the teacher says.
Second: Teachers or gurus are not gods. We’re not heroes. Our only special qualities are that we have acquired information and have a skill for sharing it. If all you can do is copy or blindly follow everything any teacher (including me!) says or does, you are not being spiritual or magickal, you’re just doing hero worship. When people have told me or written to me that they want to “follow” me I tell them that I’d much rather have a friend who walks by my side than a follower who crawls in my shadow. Friends can help you when you fall. Followers can only become disappointed when you fall and the shadow they are in is dispersed by the light of clarity.
Third: Along with learning what any teacher has to share, it’s important to learn everything you can about yourself. You should consider having a thorough physical before going through any training that might stress your body. Israel Regardie suggested that any person following an occult path should get some psychological counseling. While I agree with the intent (he and I briefly discussed the subject), I think that today there are alternatives to such counseling that are also appropriate. As was written at the temple of Apollo at Delphi, “Know Thyself.”
Finally, I’d like to point out that the material I presented for Mr. Ray is the same as I would have presented at other locations. If you want to experience a sweat lodge you can do so for a lot less than $10,000.
And that brings me to the major difference between occult workshops that cost $100 or less and New Age workshops that cost $10,000 or more.
That major difference is…the location of the decimal point.