Tuesday, October 27, 2009

How Abused Children Wind Up in Jail

The transition from abusive father to pimp to jail is very common with our young people who wind up prostituted, or doing other illegal things to survive. This has touched my life personally, as it has happened to multiple girls, boys and young women I've known. Children don't run away for no reason.

That abuse in the home sets these children up for further victimization. It's the pimps and battering/raping fathers that belong in jail, not the kids who are struggling to survive.

ASHLAND, Ore. — She ran away from her group home in Medford, Ore., and spent weeks sleeping in parks and under bridges. Finally, Nicole Clark, 14 years old, grew so desperate that she accepted a young man’s offer of a place to stay. The price would come later.

They had sex, and he soon became her boyfriend. Then one day he threatened to kick her out if she did not have sex with several of his friends in exchange for money.

She agreed, fearing she had no choice. “Where was I going to go?” said Nicole, now 17 and living here, just down the Interstate from Medford. That first exchange of money for sex led to a downward spiral of prostitution that lasted for 14 months, until she escaped last year from a pimp who she said often locked her in his garage apartment for months.

Read full article: For Runaways, Sex Buys Survival by Ian Urbina

Thanks to Quileute Tribe New Beginnings

Saturday, October 24, 2009

New Age Death Sweats IV: Jackboots at the Seder Table

Comparative Genocide 202:
The Nazi at the Seder Table
and the Myth of the Universal Sweat Lodge

I was talking to a Jewish friend about the pretendians. She said she doesn't understand why white people think it's OK to mimic Native American ceremonies. I told her that she gets it, while many other non-Indians do not, because she knows what it's like to have a culture.

Because she has an ethnic cultural identity, she would find it ridiculous if a bunch of white Baptists from Iowa decided, after seeing the movie Yentl and reading some stuff on the Internet, to hold their idea of a Seder with all their Baptist friends. And then if they were really on a roll, to declare themselves Rabbis. Because, you know, they are "Jewish in their hearts".

Rootless people do ridiculous things. And mainstream white Americans often have no sense of what it is to have an ethnic identity. So they have no understanding of how ceremonies, beliefs and customs are rooted in particular cultures. They also don't get it that not all of us are rootless, and that even melanin-deprived people come from somewhere. All of our ancestors had earth-based traditions. If you weren't raised with them, it's just a matter of looking a bit further back and doing some work. Yet too many "white" people just want to take what they think is the easy way out, and steal from other cultures that seem more "exotic" to them. These things are only "exotic" when you're a clueless outsider.

A witty blogger who often has hilarious things to say about newagers disappointed me with this comment: "If non-Natives want to take part in these traditions ... it may be no different from, say, a Presbyterian sitting in on services at a synagogue."

Now, it's not the best idea to compare genocides. I know a number of Native folks who have made comparisons to the Holocaust in these discussions, assuming that it will have more of an emotional impact on white people. Many white people know more about the Holocaust than they do about American history from the perspective of Native Americans. Ironically though, some of the Jews I brought this up with felt it was insulting to Native people to make that comparison, as the genocide against Native peoples in the Americas has not only taken far more lives, but due to the severe, ongoing oppression of Native peoples it is still taking lives. The Native peoples and cultures are in far more immediate danger than the Jewish ones. So, not an exact analogy, but bear with me.

Even if for the moment we leave aside the well-known, unanimous declarations opposing non-Native involvement in Native religion, I think a more apt analogy would be that of a non-Jew inviting themselves to a Seder. More aptly, a non-Jew who has had zero exposure to Jewish culture, and whose grandfather or great-grandfather was a Nazi. Seriously, we're talking about genocide here.

So this German guy with the Grandfather-history-dilemma talks his kind Jewish acquaintance into letting him tag along to the Seder. The outsider, who has never been to anything Jewish in his life, pays close attention and think it's pretty cool. He likes the way it makes him feel. His family are atheists, and for the first time he feels connected to a culture and religion.

Now the German guy could have chosen to be humble and patient; he could have continued to participate in his friend's life in a mutually supportive and respectful way over time, and maybe he would have been invited back to other things if the people liked him. Not that that would make him a Jew, but maybe he could have been an ally. But he wasn't patient, he didn't really care about his new friend's family, and he didn't much care for all those restrictive rules and customs. And there were ways that the cultural differences made him uncomfortable. So, three months later he decides to hold a Seder himself. With modifications and "improvements". After all, he's been to a REAL SEDER before. He knows his stuff now. He even learned from Elders! (His friend's grandmother was there and said hello to him.)

His Jewish friend tells him that's not cool, and anyway, it's the wrong time of year to hold a Seder, even if he was a Jew, and even if he had a community of Jews supporting him in this endeavour. The non-Jew calls the Jew "a hater", declares himself a Rabbi, puts an ad on Craigslist for participants ("Everyone Welcome! We're no haters here!") and charges other non-Jews money to attend his "Seder". It's a great success.... among the non-Jews.

It's wrong and disgusting even if he stopped before advertising and charging for it. But imagine the insult if he goes on to set up a multimillion-dollar business, selling pieces of this Jewish family's history and customs in get-rich-quick schemes. Imagine if then he goes so far as to kill people by telling them to fast in the desert like that Jew, Jesus, while drinking communion wine, singing songs from "Fiddler on the Roof" and chanting Islamic prayers (because, you know, they're all "desert cultures"). And yeah, he's still calling his made-up ceremony a "Seder". Maybe now it's the "Seder Warrior Training". And for part of the $10,000 fee, you'll get a rabbi costume, too. What?

This is how ridiculous James Arthur Ray and his ilk look to those who are part of ethnic cultures. Obviously, with the cult leader thing and the deaths, DeathRay is one of the worst examples. But it's a continuum of ridiculousness and offensiveness.

"But Sweatlodge is Universal"

On one Neopagan blog where the Death Sweats were discussed, a number of people spoke out against cultural appropriation. What a relief. Maybe things are slowly changing in some quarters. Maybe it's taking something this drastic for people to wise up. But of course there were more than a few comments to the effect that Sweat Lodge is "universal", and that James Ray's criminally negligent homicides had nothing to do with cultural appropriation.

Most of our ancestors were hip to the fact that fire and water together make steam. Many of them figured out that steam can be enclosed in some sort of structure for bathing and humidifying purposes. Not that hard to figure out, really. Even white people can manage that. But steam alone does not a religious ritual make. And for those cultures that had, or still have, prayers and songs and ceremonies associated with sweating, beyond those basics of steam and a structure of some sort to hold it, the ceremonies are culturally-specific; they are based on the unique cosmologies and beliefs of a particular group of people. Steam does not mean the same thing in every culture. Fire does not mean the same thing. Darkness does not mean the same thing. The Earth and the Sun are not conceptualized in the same way, or gendered the same way... ditto for all the other natural phenomena and spirits and powers that may be called on or named in a ceremony.

If some non-Native is going on about their "universal" or "European" sweat that involves "rounds", a "lodge", "grandfather stones", "sacred bundles", "sage", "animal powers", "all my relations", and "the four directions".... sorry, that's a fake Plains-style sweatlodge. Even if they've tacked misused and misunderstood names from European cultures onto it.

"Celtic Sweatlodge"

More recently some have tried to claim sweatlodges are also "Celtic". Here we go again. Unless the participants are heating up a small, drystone, dirt-floored, taigh an fhallais or teach an allais structure with a fire inside, then once the floor and entire structure is hot sweeping the fire out completely and covering the floor with particular plant matter, then lying on the floor and praying in Gaelic ... no, it's not Celtic.

A note for those outside the Celtic field: "Celtic" does not always equal Gaelic. "Gaelic" is a subset of the broader, "Celtic" language grouping.

The only surviving "Celtic" sweathouse structures I am aware of are found in the historically Gaelic-speaking areas of Ireland and Scotland. While we have many old Gaelic prayers for healing, and an understanding of how the spirits work in Gaelic traditions, we have only fragments of Gaelic sweathouse ceremonies; and beyond the bare bones of prayer in a warm, enclosed space, what we have really bears no resemblance to Inipi (or sweat lodge ceremonies by other Native American cultures).

Some have claimed the Burnt Mound (fulachtaí fia) sites in Ireland and Scotland were once "sweatlodge" sites. While these sites may have been used for bathing (and cooking, and dying cloth, and brewing beer - basically an outdoor, multi-purpose kitchen), reconstructions have shown that the structures probably resembled (surprise!) Irish dwellings and camps more than any Plains-style sweatlodges. The oft-cited but faulty Birmingham "reconstruction" was nothing of the sort. An English youth group tried building a sweatlodge based on their ideas of Inipi; they didn't even base it on the English archaelogical site they were "reconstructing". Serious archaeology fail. But some Neopagans and Newagers still cite it, as they want to believe they have a right to do fake Inipis.

You will find people on the Internet, even some I was once on good terms with, who are trying to tack Gaelic names on their outsider fantasies of Inipi. Don't buy it.

I have a work-in-progress article about the use of Gaelic sweat traditions, but I haven't finished it as I am so dismayed about the appropriation out there, and concerned that anything I put out about it will just be abused. You can read it if you want. Maybe one of these days I'll finish it.

Of course there are some ceremonies associated with traditional saunas in the countries where they originated: protocols of use, stories of spirits who attend, songs that are sung at particular times, and sometimes prayers. Some of these rituals still survive in Latvia, and I've heard of survivals in related cultures. Due to the Northern influence in Scotland and Ireland, it's quite possible that the stone sweat houses in Gaelic-speaking areas were based on sauna, and are not even indigenous to Ireland or Scotland. If anyone is seriously interested in Gaelic sweat traditions, that's where they should probably look for parallels, or to the sweathouses in Portugal, rather than trying to co-opt what they think Indians do.

Perhaps the biggest mistake these appropriators make, both in the Americas and in Europe, is the assumption that commonalities of steam and sweat somehow override the fact we're talking about different religions. Even if the structures did turn out to be similar (which they haven't), why would that mean the ceremonies would be the same?

If someone is telling you their eclectic rituals which are clearly based on First Nations ceremonies are "universal," or "Celtic," they're just showing their ignorance.

In closing, In community

If you're going to learn anything from Native ceremonial ways, or Jewish or Gaelic ones for that matter, let it be this: the importance of community, culture and tradition: the songs you grow up singing and hearing, the foods your family eats, the ways you have of speaking to one another, what you do when someone is sick, or a death has happened, or a child born; the phrases or words from your native language that are still used even if you aren't fluent in the language, the political and intellectual things that matter to you because of the hardships your people have survived as well as the victories they've won, and all the ways you are different from the homogenized mainstream melting pot. The ceremonies grew from this matrix, and that's how they have survived. Without that cultural matrix, without the particular religious and cultural beliefs that surround them, you cannot fully understand the ceremonies. And even if you could, the ceremonies are part of the lifeblood of the communities where they live. They can't be bought and sold in watered-down form by outsiders.

Or, rather, there are newage hucksters doing exactly that. But it's bad craziness and junk-food for the soul.

Worse, it's carrying on a tradition of imperialism.

If you come with the intent to steal, there's nothing spiritual about being the Nazi at the Seder table.

And I just know someone will read that and say, "But if we have the sincere Nazis, or descendants of Nazis (Not their fault!) at the table, we will heal them!" Sorry, but someone who really wants to heal from that ancestral wrongdoing will not force their way into where they are not wanted. And if they are truly spiritual and invited in good faith, they won't pretend to be something they are not, they won't steal, and they won't tell the Jews (or Indians) to STFU when they are told to take their hands out of the cookie jar.

And guess what. I was just about to post this when I found this: Qabalah Tree of Life Journeys. Wow. Looks like old DeathRay is a fake Jew, too. The Newage cult leader will sell you the Kabbalah, and he guarantees that if you do it his way, it will make you money. Because for him and his ilk, that is their only god, and the ring of the cash register their only prayer.



And in a cool bit of synchronicity, in the time between my writing this, sending it around to friends for feedback, and finally posting it, Jim Kent of The Rapid City Journal wrote something very similar: "Stealing religion ignored if it’s Native". I'm glad to see others covering this. And, given the degree of training and community recognition required, his comparison of Native ceremonial people to Catholic Priests is in some ways more apt than my comparison to Rabbis. But I chose to stick with the Jewish analogy for the genocide parallels. No analogy is exact. But as so many non-Natives are so clueless about this, we are all struggling with analogies to try to get people to see what's going on here. Check it out; it's a good piece.

Oh, and thanks to everyone, of a variety of ethnicities and perspectives, who gave me feedback on this. Any mistakes are my own.

Wannabe NDN

Rezerella brings us this commentary on DeathRay and his DeathTrap. Show it to all the others out there doing the same thing, but who just haven't killed anyone yet.

Tara Symposium - Live Stream


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Wednesday, October 21, 2009

Cultural Appropriation Post #949 (but with quotes from Sherman Alexie!)

Sick of reading about Cultural Appropriation? Bet you're not as sick of hearing about it as I am of having to write about it. But guess what? I'm going to do it some more.

There's nothing new about the James Ray Plastic Death "Sweats". Over the years at least a dozen other newagers have died, and many more have become violently ill, in these pretendian ceremonies with various plastic shamans. You will note however that, with only one exception,* those who have died have not been Indians.

This is almost wholly an appropriator's phenomena. It's what clueless outsiders do when they are messing with something they don't understand; something they don't realize that you can't learn from a book or the Internet; something that is sacred and can't be bought.

It is vitally important that people remember the James Ray Death Camp was not a Native American thing. What happened there were not Native American ceremonies. This was a racist white man exploiting non-Indian people's fantasies of "Vision Quests", "Lodges", "Spiritual Warriors" and wind through their hair while wolves howl and vast desert vistas sweep away from their yin-yang painted tipis. They didn't want to know anything about real Indians, real Indian lives, and real Indian ceremonies; they want Dances with Wolves and they were gullible and desperate enough to pay some predatory cult leader over $9,000 to get that fantasy. The sick irony is that they thought it would make them rich.

Angel Valley Retreat Center. James Ray's DeathLodge at lower left.

In 1992, the "Men's Movement" amped up the white fascination with romanticized fantasies of Indians. Sherman Alexie - Spokane poet, fiction writer and filmmaker - was often asked to speak at these gatherings, and has written about why he chose not to. I appreciate Alexie's ability to handle these things with such humour and candidness.

From "White Men Can't Drum"

My friend John and I were sitting in the sweatlodge. No. we were actually sitting in the sauna of the Y.M.C.A. when he turned to me. "Sherman," he said, "considering the chemicals, the stuff we eat, the stuff that hangs in the air, I think the sweatlodge has come to be a purifying ceremony, you know? White men need that, to use an Indian thing to get rid of all the pollution in our bodies. Sort of a spiritual enema."

"That's a lot of bull," I replied savagely.

"What do you mean?"

"I mean that the sweatlodge is a church, not a free clinic."

The men's movement seems designed to appropriate and mutate so many aspects of Native traditions. I worry about the possibilities: men's movement chain stores specializing in portable sweatlodges; the "Indians 'R' Us" commodification of ritual and artifact; white men who continue to show up at powwows in full regalia and dance.
... ... ...
Perhaps these white men should learn to dance within their own circle before they so rudely jump into other circles. Perhaps white men need to learn more about patience before they can learn what it means to be a man, Indian or otherwise.


In a wonderfully candid 2001 interview with the Iowa Review, Alexie discusses the problem of writing across the lines of ethnicity and gender, as well as how to handle the issue of writing about ceremony.
SA: And about women's experience — I'm better than most male writers. They see the Madonna-whore — it's incredible: these progressive, liberal intelligent, highly-educated men are writing complex, diverse, wonderful male characters in the same book where the female characters are like women in a 3 a.m. movie on Showtime.

JF: You've said having come from a matriarchal culture gives you more insight.

SA: I think it helps. And I give my stuff to the women around me. 'Does this work?' I spend my whole life around women—I should know something. If I don't know it, I ask. It has to be a conscious effort. It's too easy to fall back on stereotypes and myths, and I think that's what most writers do about Indians and what most men do when they write about women.
... ... ...
JF: You said once that universality is a misnomer, that it's really a Western sense of the word.

SA: Well, when people say universal they mean white people get it.
... ... ...
... "universal" is often a way to negate the particularity of a project, of an art. I hate that term; it's insulting. I don't want to be universal.
... ... ...
JF: Along those lines, I'm wondering about a seeming paradox. You often say during readings and talks that you want to honor your culture's privacy, and yet your work is so public. It seems like you protect it and expose it at the same time. There's a tension created.

SA: Yes, of course there is. One of the ways I've dealt with it is that I don't write about anything sacred. I don't write about any ceremonies; I don't use any Indian songs.

JF: True. You mention sweat lodges but only obliquely. I'm thinking of the image of the old woman in the poem who emerges from the sweat lodge.

SA: Yes, I'm outside the sweat lodge. In Reservation Blues I'm in it and I realized I didn't like it. I approach my writing the same way I approach my life. It's what I've been taught and how I behave with regard to my spirituality.

JF: How do you draw the line as to what is off limits?

SA: My tribe drew that line for me a long time ago. It's not written down, but I know it. If you're Catholic you wouldn't tell anybody about the confessional. I feel a heavy personal responsibility, and I accept it, and I honor it. It's part of the beauty of my culture. I've been called fascist a couple of times, at panels. I've censored myself. I've written things that I have since known to be wrong.

JF: What kind of things . . . I guess you can't say.

SA: (Laughs). All I can say is that I've written about cultural events inappropriately.

JF: How did you know?

SA: The people involved told me. After considering it, I realized they were right. In a few instances. Not every instance, but in a few. I can't take them out of what they're in, but I'm not going to republish them, or perform them in public, no anthologizing: they've died for me. There are Indian writers who write about things they aren't supposed to. They know. They'll pay for it. I'm a firm believer in what people call 'karma.' Even some of the writing I really admire, like Leslie Silko's Ceremony, steps on all sorts of sacred toes. I wouldn't go near that kind of writing. I'd be afraid of the repercussions. I write about a drunk in a bar, or a guy who plays basketball.

JF: So the only flak you get is from individuals who say, "I think you're making fun of me." Do you try to soothe things over?

SA: Some people are unsoothable. But I'm a nice enough guy, and I think people know that. If I weren't pissing people off I wouldn't be doing my job. I just want to piss off the right people. I try not to pick on the people who have less power than I. It's one of the guidelines of my life. And if I have, then I feel badly about it. I try to make amends.



* Note - As archived by Heather at Don't Pay to Pray, one 2009 death in a "lodge" was a First Nations man in Canada, Lawrence Catholique. However, there were some very odd and suspicious things about that incident. Despite being a traditional healer, nothing about the circumstances resemble a sweatlodge ceremony from any First Nations culture that I am aware of. A later article says he had changed the ceremony, "experimenting with wood embers in the lodge". It was a tragic death, but if reports are true, he had changed the ceremony, deviating from the time-tested safety protocols. Also, add third James Ray Death Trap victim, Liz Neumann, to the list of dead newagers. She is the woman who was in a coma, who died after the Don't Pay to Pray blog post.

Thanks to Kooshdakaa for forwarding the Utne Reader article that contained some of these quotes and links: What Happens in the Sweat Lodge Stays in the Sweat Lodge

Wednesday, October 14, 2009

New Age Death Sweat III - Response by Chief Arvol Looking Horse (Lakota)


Chief Arvol Looking Horse's statement, released today:


Lakota Pipekeeper’s Statement Concerning Sweatlodge Deaths

As Keeper of our Sacred White Buffalo Calf Pipe Bundle, I am concerned for the 2 deaths and illnesses of the many people that participated in a sweat lodge in Sedona, Arizona that brought our sacred rite under fire in the news. I would like to clarify that this lodge and many others, are not our ceremonial way of life, because of the way they are being conducted. My prayers go out for their families and loved ones for their loss.

Our ceremonies are about life and healing, from the time this ancient ceremonial rite was given to our people, never has death been a part of our inikag'a (life within) when conducted properly. Today the rite is interpreted as a sweat lodge, it is much more then that. So the term does not fit our real meaning of purification.

Inikag'a is the oldest ceremony brought to us by Wakan Tanka (Great Spirit). 19 generations ago, the Lakota/Dakota/Nakota Oyate (people), were given seven sacred rites of healing by a Spirit Woman Pte San Win (White Buffalo Calf Woman). She brought these rites along with our sacred C'anupa (pipe) to our People, when our ancestors were suffering from a difficult time. It was also brought for the future to help us for much more difficult times to come. They were brought to help us stay connected to who we are as a traditional cultural People. The values of conduct are very strict in any of these ceremonies, because we work with spirit. The way the Creator, Wakan Tanka told us; that if we stay humble and sincere, we will keep that connection with the inyan oyate (the stone people), who we call the Grandfathers, to be able to heal our selves and loved ones. We have a gift of prayer and healing and have to stay humble with our Unc'i Maka (Grandmother Earth) and with one another. The inikag'a is used in all of the seven sacred rites to prepare and finish the ceremonies, along with the sacred eagle feather. The feather represents the sacred knowledge of our ancestors.

Our First Nations People have to earn the right to pour the mini wic'oni (water of life) upon the inyan oyate (the stone people) in creating Inikag'a - by going on the vision quest for four years and four years Sundance. Then you are put through a ceremony to be painted - to recognize that you have now earned that right to take care of someone's life through purification. They should also be able to understand our sacred language, to be able to understand the messages from the Grandfathers, because they are ancient, they are our spirit ancestors. They walk and teach the values of our culture; in being humble, wise, caring and compassionate.

What has happened in the news with the make shift sauna called the sweat lodge is not our ceremonial way of life!

When you do ceremony - you can not have money on your mind. We deal with the pure sincere energy to create healing that comes from everyone in that circle of ceremony. The heart and mind must be connected. When you involve money, it changes the energy of healing. The person wants to get what they paid for; the Spirit Grandfathers will not be there, our way of life is now being exploited! You do more damage then good. No mention of monetary energy should exist in healing, not even with a can of love donations. When that energy exists, they will not even come. Only after the ceremony, between the person that is being healed and the Intercessor who has helped connect with the Great Spirit, the energy of money can be given out of appreciation. That exchange of energy is from the heart; it is private and does not involve the Grandfathers! Whatever gift of appreciation the person who received the help, can now give the Intercessor what ever they feel their healing is worth.

In our Prophesy of the White Buffalo Calf Woman, she told us that she would return and stand upon the earth when we are having a hard time. In 1994 this began to happen with the birth of the white buffalo, not only their nation, but many animal nations began to show their sacred color, which is white. She predicted that at this time there would be many changes upon Grandmother Earth. There would be things that we never experienced or heard of before; climate changes, earth changes, diseases, disrespect for life and one another would be shocking and there would be also many false prophets!

My Grandmother that passed the bundle to me said I would be the last Keeper if the Oyate (people) do not straighten up. The assaults upon Grandmother Earth are horrendous, the assaults toward one another was not in our culture, the assaults against our People (Oyate) have been termed as genocide, and now we are experiencing spiritual genocide!

Because of the problems that began to arise with our rebirth of being able to do our ceremonies in the open since the Freedom of Religion Act of 1978, our Elders began talking to me about the abuses they seen in our ceremonial way of life, which was once very strict. After many years of witnessing their warnings, we held a meeting to address this very issue of lack of protocol in our ceremonies. After reaching an agreement of addressing the misconduct of our ceremonies and reminding of the proper protocols, a statement was made in March 2003. Every effort was made to insure our way of life of who we are as traditional cultural People was made, because these ways are for our future and all life upon the Grandmother Earth (Mitakuye Oyasin All my relations), so that they may have good health. Because these atrocities are being mocked and practiced all over the world, there was even a film we made called Spirits for Sale.

The non-native people have a right to seek help from our First Nation Intercessors for good health and well-being, it is up to that Intercessor. That is a privilege for all People that we gift for being able to have good health and understand that their protocol is to have respect and appreciate what we have to share. The First Nations Intercessor has to earn that right to our ceremonial way of life in the ways I have explained.

At this time, I would like to ask all Nations upon Grandmother Earth to please respect our sacred ceremonial way of life and stop the exploitation of our Tunka Oyate (Spiritual Grandfathers).

In a Sacred Hoop of Life, where there is no ending and no beginning!

Namah'u yo (hear my words),
Chief Arvol Looking Horse, 19th Generation Keeper of the Sacred White
Buffalo Calf Pipe Bundle.



spiritsforsale.com


Note: This statement was released before the third person died as a result of James Arthur Ray's fraudulent ceremony. Ray is also implicated in another death at one of his earlier seminars - a woman who died mysteriously during one of the events. Additionally, it has come out that in at least two previous plastic sweats he led, many people became very ill. There were many warnings that this was coming. There are still many others leading these untrained, unethical, confused attempts at sweats at newage and Neopagan events around the world. If people don't face up to what's going on here, there will be more deaths.

New Age Death Sweat II - NYT Editorial by Dr. Al Carroll

The New York Times has asked Dr. Al Carroll of NAFPS to write an editorial on the Newage Death Sweats. The following is scheduled to appear this coming Thursday or Friday. Al has given permission for this to be reposted or quoted from: original post on NAFPS, and on Oprah Winfrey's forum.




Oprah Winfrey Should Apologize for Promoting Dangerous Fraud James Arthur Ray

By Al Carroll

Two people died in a distorted New Age version of a Native sweatlodge in Sedona. Dozens more were badly injured. They each paid over $9000 for a bastardized version of a ceremony which by tradition must never be charged for. Natives don't believe in "pay to pray," but apparently the New Age movement does. It is far more of a consumerist phenomena than a genuine spiritual movement. Many lost, misguided, and genuinely sincere seekers get caught up in the idea of paying cash for shortcuts to salvation, and Oprah Winfrey seems to be among them.

Winfrey promoted New Age leader James Arthur Ray on her program a number of times. It was Ray who jammed over sixty people into a "sweatbox." Traditionally perhaps a dozen people are in a sweatlodge. The lodge is made from natural materials so the heat will not be too intense. But not Ray's "sweatbox." It was sealed with heavy plastic tarp to deliberately make the heat as intense as possible. People even competed to see who could withstand the highest temperatures, making it a bizarre contest rather than a ceremony to heal. Traditionally most of those in a sweatlodge have been through it before so they could guide novices, but seemingly the clients/victims of Ray's outnumbered those conducting it by at least twenty to one.

Traditionally, you don't charge for spiritual ceremony. You also don't do it out of curiosity, because you think it would be "cool," or for any reason except to heal. Survivors of alcoholism or PTSD are often healed by a sweatlodge. Thrill seekers should go elsewhere, hopefully to some self examination.

Spiritual exploiters like James Arthur Ray should be ashamed of themselves, but rarely are. After all, they get rich and have cult followings of the naïve or lost. Ray may belong in prison for negligent homicide, along with others who conduct extremely dangerous false versions of a sweatlodge. Ray's operation likely knew that a sweatlodge, when run by anyone other than an extensively trained Native traditionalist, routinely results in deaths or injuries. There are deaths from phony New Age sweatlodges in Texas, Britain, Australia, and in California multiple times. The Australian Medical Association issued a warning about phony sweatlodges, something that American and European medical associations should do.

A sweatlodge that is not properly run can result in death from asphyxiation, heart attack, or dehydration. Hapless New Agers routinely get burned or scalded. There are also many cases of psychological damage. You can relive traumas in a sweatlodge, such as child molestation or rape, as well as manic episodes. The rocks heated in a sweatlodge, if not properly chosen, can explode. Finally, many of the worst exploiters sexually abuse their followers. It's easy to pass out in the heat of a sweatlodge. Many women (and men) are molested or raped. No one should trust any operator who insists on a sweatlodge alone or in the nude.

Don't trust anyone who advertises or charges for ceremony. There's a simple standard that non-Natives should use when thinking about going to an alleged "Native" ceremony: If the operators seek out non-Native peoples, they are frauds looking to take your money. Actual Native traditionalists neither seek nor want converts. Native ceremonies are intended for Native communities, always. They lose their power and meaning once taken outside that context.

For her part in promoting the dangerous fraud James Arthur Ray, Oprah Winfrey should publicly apologize and vow to be more careful about who she endorses in the future. How many of the victims in Sedona would never have gone there had they not seen Winfrey's program? How wealthy did Ray become off of his victims because of Winfrey's repeated endorsement of Ray, both on her show and online? Why didn't her show's researchers take the time to look carefully and see what they should have known, that Ray was potentially dangerous to his followers?

Winfrey, I believe, is a good hearted person who sincerely wants to help her audience. She apologized for promoting an author who lied about the life he described in his books and strongly criticized him on her own show. Why can't she do the same to James Arthur Ray and confront him also? She should do the right thing and retract all endorsements of Ray and vow to take greater care in the future and never promote New Age exploiters again.




Bio: Al Carroll is a historian, Fulbright Scholar, and one of the founders of New Age Frauds Plastic Shamans (NAFPS) an activist group dedicated to warning the public about exploiters and imposters who pose as Native medicine people, located online at http://www.newagefraud.org/. His first book is Medicine Bags and Dog Tags: Native Veterans from Colonial Times to the Second Iraq War from University of Nebraska Press.

Saturday, October 10, 2009

Plastic Death Sweat - 2 Dead, 3 Critical, 16 More Hospitalized


James Arthur Ray promised to make them Spiritual Warriors.

The newage, pyramid-scheming, scam artist crammed 65 people into a plastic death tent, which he claimed was a sweatlodge. In the hot, wet dark with the man who had no idea how to lead an Indian ceremony, and no connection to any culture that could have taught him how (or told him this was a really bad idea), they sweated for two hours... till two were dead, three were unconscious, and 21 others went to the hospital.

Hazmat teams and crime scene tape now surround the site. Native American ceremonial people from the area are saying that, by imitating a ceremony he was not trained to perform, this newage plastic shaman killed these people. I agree. They used materials in this fake ceremony that should not be used, they used things that were physically and spiritually dangerous. They paid $9,000 for a sad death at the hands of a greedy con man.

I have no idea if they prayed in this fake ceremony, or how. I don't think this guy knows any prayers beyond, "Gimme Gimme Money Money".

James Arthur Ray made them to Pay to Pray. And Michael and Amayra Hamilton provided the place to do it.

James Ray makes his living as a self-styled, newage "prosperity" guru. He sells pyramid schemes and "you create your own reality" guilt trips to rich people. He's been on Oprah.

Even if this shameon knew how to run a small sweat, even if by some miracle this non-Native had been authorized to do so (not going to happen, but we're playing "what if") there's no way one person can keep track of 65 people in the dark. Especially 65 people who've never done this before, and been told they have to suffer to learn. 65 ignorant people who thought paying a newage guru for a weekend retreat would make them "warriors". I'm sure these seekers were all trying to out-macho each other; they were dehydrated and suffocating, and may not have said anything about how much distress they were in. And even if this creep were able to tell they were in distress, maybe he just didn't care. I've seen some really ugly, psychopathic predators among these types. These are the sort of callous exploiters who blame suffering people for their illnesses, and claim victims of holocausts and genocide brought it upon themselves with their "negative thoughts".

From James Arthur Ray's webpage:
"Many so-called successful people make a tremendous amount of money, but their relationships are on the rocks. That's not real wealth.

Likewise, there are others who qualify as a creative genius, and they're physically sick all the time. That's not real wealth!

Then there are those who claim to be really "spiritual," and they're always financially broke. That's not wealth either!"

Then he goes on to promise that if you pay him lots of money, he will show you how to fix all this. If it doesn't work, well, you just weren't spiritual enough.

No compassion, no spirituality, just greed.

And the people were willing to pay him so much because he's been on Oprah. Are you listening, Oprah? I know some kick-ass Indian women who could come on your show and talk about how dangerous it is to Pay to Pray.




This is all over the news now, but for analysis that doesn't mislabel this new age fraud as a "Native American" ceremony, I'd suggest the ongoing discussion and posting of links in this thread on the New Age Frauds and Plastic Shamans site.

More mainstream coverage via The Huffington Post, AP Video, and this video of the 911 calls.

Note: When I first wrote this, initial reports were unclear, but most said there were 21 people in DeathRay's DeathTrap. Now that we know more, I've changed this to reflect the number that survivors are saying he crammed into the fake lodge (approximately 65). As of this update (Oct 26, 2009) three people have died, and more are suffering with neurological damage and possible organ failure. We now have multiple survivors stating that Ray forced these people to stay in the death tent even when they were severely disoriented, crying for help and passing out, and that he told people to not get medical help for those who were sick and dying. Criminal charges appear to be pending.

Thanks to Diana, LaDonna, Sarah, Lierre, the Iktome Returns Collective, and everyone else who has emailed and posted about this.