Third Sweat Lodge Victim Dies

Another story I missed that seems to have long legs: the New Age retreat run by self-help guru James Arthur Ray. 50 people were crammed like sardines inside a sweat lodge, 21 got sick, and now three have died. Authorities are treating the three deaths as homicides.

According to one of those present:

a channeler at the retreat last Friday said the deceased had an out-of-body experience during the sweat lodge ceremony and "were having so much fun that they chose not to come back."

For a thorough take-down of the new-age scam, see Theresa at Making Light, "$9,695 New Age sweat lodge session kills 2, injures 19"

I wonder how much media attention the story would have garnered if the participants hadn't each paid $9,695. to attend the weekly retreat.

< Sunday Night Open Thread: Back to Reality | Balloon Boy Parents to Be Charged, Hoax Alleged >
  • The Online Magazine with Liberal coverage of crime-related political and injustice news

  • Contribute To TalkLeft

  • Display: Sort:
    It still would have gotten attention (5.00 / 1) (#1)
    by Fabian on Mon Oct 19, 2009 at 04:22:01 AM EST
    The narrative would have been more about Whacked Out New Agers than a Leadership Guru.

    I've read up on the sweat lodge - it was only 53 inches tall in the center and even lower towards the sides.  This means that not even I could stand upright in it.  All participants would have to be seated or lying down.  It was probably dark in there as well.  Imagine trying to monitor the health or physical activity of over fifty people in a dim, cramped, crowded place - if you couldn't even stand upright to get a look around or walk freely around.

    The thing that strikes me as odd is the reports of kidney failure.  I'd expect heat stroke or dehydration or cardiac problems due to electrolyte imbalance - but kidney failure due to physical stresses usually takes a lot more time than a few hours in a sweat lodge.  I hope the authorities test everything that the participants were given to eat and drink.  

    Sadly, this "Purveyor of Positive" (5.00 / 1) (#39)
    by Inspector Gadget on Mon Oct 19, 2009 at 05:38:35 PM EST
    seems to have borrowed the ritual of Sweat Lodges from the Native Americans. These events take place constantly with the numerous tribes in the area. Unfortunately, he didn't seem to find it worthwhile to learn everything he needed to know in order to operate one safely and effectively.

    I respect greatly the spiritual beliefs and rituals of the Native Americans, and wouldn't hesitate to participate in a Sweat Lodge being sponsored by one of the tribes. One sponsored by Mr. Ray, not even on a dare, though.


    About your experience this past week, Jeralyn- (5.00 / 1) (#2)
    by Gerald USN Ret on Mon Oct 19, 2009 at 04:58:37 AM EST
    I trust that your retreat didn't include a sweat lodge!

    As for Kidney failure, that might sound strange, but that kind of heat stress they spoke of can cause many functions of the body to fail.

    Look up "heat stroke" and "heat exhaustion."

    I have had it myself when younger and in very good shape out in the open though in a very hot humid climate.  After hours of hard work, I realized all of a sudden that I felt awful, and just dropped the 80 pound bags of concrete mix I had under each arm on the ground, and just stumbled to the first shady spot I saw and lay there like the dead.  It took me days to feel even close to ok.

    I just tried to do too much to help with a project the engineers had that was way behind schedule due to heavy rains.  

    One of the old Indians that was familiar with the traditional sweat lodges said they they never "sealed" their sweat lodges with "plastic" like was done with the one where the deaths occurred.

    Also I understand that the person running the sweat lodge didn't have the proper permit.

    If you like medical studies (none / 0) (#3)
    by Fabian on Mon Oct 19, 2009 at 06:19:03 AM EST
    here's something I'll be reading today.  Looks interesting.

    Acute Renal Failure and Heat Stroke


    Interesting. (none / 0) (#4)
    by Fabian on Mon Oct 19, 2009 at 06:46:49 AM EST
    From the linked study:
    What are the clinical implications from this study? Unlike classic HS, ExHS usually occurs typically in younger, physically active patients with no predisposing diseases, not only in military service, but also in settings such as jogging, football sports and marathon running. Limited sun exposure, adequate and electrolyte replacement and acclimatization are the key factors for prevention. Rapid evaporative cooling and support of vital organs are the essential factors in the management of ExHS.

    This was a study done on extreme heat stroke induced partly by exercise related overheating.  However, it implies that fit people who have their core temperatures raised too high by other means can suffer the same results - extreme heat stroke and acute renal failure.  If that's what happened at the sweat lodge, it was dangerously hot in there.

    (Unfortunately, these style of seminars may encourage people to push themselves to their limits and discourage them from paying attention to their bodies' signs that something is wrong.  I wouldn't be surprised to find out that people were told that signs of physical distress were a normal part of the experience and to be expected - instead of a sign they should leave and cool off until they felt better.)


    no sweat lodge (none / 0) (#6)
    by Jeralyn on Mon Oct 19, 2009 at 10:51:38 AM EST
    there is some "new age" stuff but it's mostly optional and nothing like a "sweat lodge" or a "vision quest." It was all very Asian. Aside from traditional aerobics and weights, I stuck to strengthening the "core" muscles and spine through stretching, different kinds of yoga and the pilates reformer.

    There was lots of "positive psychology" teaching how to reduce stress, find joy and reawaken or discovery new passions for things in your life, but that was mostly in the optional evening programs.

    One study I found fascinating was one about alzheimer's, published in a book called Aging With Grace, known as "the nuns study". I highly recommend it.


    An amazing project...his book (none / 0) (#38)
    by oldpro on Mon Oct 19, 2009 at 04:38:38 PM EST
    has quite good reviews across the board.

    Homicide? (none / 0) (#5)
    by kdog on Mon Oct 19, 2009 at 09:58:45 AM EST
    That sounds like a stretch unless the participants were dragged into the sweat-lodge at gun-point or something.

    Informed consent. (5.00 / 2) (#7)
    by Fabian on Mon Oct 19, 2009 at 11:08:05 AM EST
    If I tell someone to do something and when they complain that they don't feel well, I tell them that they are fine, keep going - am I complicit?  If I put people in a situation that could cause health problems, should I be held liable if people are injured or worse?

    If I put people in a situation that could result in heat exhaustion, heat stroke, extreme heat stroke, renal failure or death - am I responsible for giving them information that enables them to recognize symptoms so that they can seek help?

    You can not assume that people are making informed decisions IF there is no evidence that they have been properly educated as to the risks of any decision.  


    If I don't feel well... (none / 0) (#8)
    by kdog on Mon Oct 19, 2009 at 11:21:31 AM EST
    doing a voluntary activity, I don't ask permission to leave...I just leave.

    The people who died/were injured put themselves in that position seeking out this guru clown, and paying good money for the priveledge to boot...to charge the guy with homicide is insane.

    It is the responsibility of the attendee to inform themselves on what exactly they are attending...I mean c'mon.  They coulda walked away at any time.


    Well, you (probably) have an IQ (5.00 / 3) (#9)
    by oldpro on Mon Oct 19, 2009 at 12:04:22 PM EST
    above the temperature of the room while others...

    Do you not think that the hapless/helpless deserve ANY protection from the negligence of those who would take advantage of them?  Are there no limits...no standards to which you would hold these charlatans?

    Don't get me wrong...I think stupidity is forever and deliberate stupidity almost unforgiveable...and that people usually deserve what they get as a result.  Improving the gene pool the hard way...

    Still...there are limits, no?


    It's a less savory aspect (5.00 / 2) (#12)
    by Fabian on Mon Oct 19, 2009 at 12:32:05 PM EST
    of libertarians - social darwinism.  

    The famous psychology experiment showed how easy it is to get people to do something that if you asked them about before, they would deny that they would do voluntarily.  Add a few modest psychological pressures and they did it.

    Many group seminars are about getting people to buy into some philosophy.  They are half sold on the idea by the time they write the check and the seminar is just closing the deal.  (And generating leads on others who may want to experience this amazing revolutionary experience.)  These are people who want to believe.  Add more than a little psychological pressure and you have people who do things that they probably wouldn't do outside of that environment.  

    How many of us voluntarily would sit in a dim, stifling hot room for hours, while our body temperatures rise to dangerous levels?

    I wouldn't but I'm a skeptic, a cynic and loathe the heat.  


    I once attended a meditation/religious (5.00 / 3) (#29)
    by vml68 on Mon Oct 19, 2009 at 01:56:00 PM EST
    course because a friend of mine had been bugging me about it for a year. This friend of mine was totally hooked on the "Guru" running this thing.
    At the end of it, I watched in horror as even more friends and others fell under his influence. To top it of, this "Guru" informed my friends that I was a very troubled person who should be encouraged to attend as many sessions as possible till I was spiritually healed and able to accept him the way they had. Needless to say, I lost a few friends very quickly when I refused

    That would be my reaction too. (5.00 / 3) (#32)
    by Fabian on Mon Oct 19, 2009 at 02:44:14 PM EST
    And that's exactly the reaction I would expect as well - that I would be "resisting" something that was in my best interests.

    I don't know if you got hit with the idea that you were hurting others with your unbelief.  That way if the pressure to conform doesn't work, you might bend to the idea that others were suffering from your actions.

    My sister keeps sending me invites to a couples weekend that worked for her.  Women must embrace their feminine, nurturing side and allow men to be the strong, silent masculine types.  I wouldn't waste the time and money on something that I might be kicked out of!  ;-)


    Believer people...who want to (none / 0) (#18)
    by oldpro on Mon Oct 19, 2009 at 12:46:30 PM EST
    believe.  You called it.

    The most dangerous people on earth, in my view, for once you are able to believe one totally wacky thing, making you believe the next one is easier.  From Hale Bop to suicide bombers...speaking of which, what do they promise those females whom they convince to blow themselves up?


    I seriously doubt any of these people are (none / 0) (#19)
    by Inspector Gadget on Mon Oct 19, 2009 at 01:01:25 PM EST
    dangerous because they fell for this, or could be walked into believing anything because they believe what this one group was selling.

    You can say the very same thing about every person who follows a religion or philosophy that has no absolute proof....Christianity to Wicca, and beyond. Heck, even those who refuse to believe in any religion are still "believer people" of aetheism.


    Strange choice of words... (5.00 / 1) (#27)
    by oldpro on Mon Oct 19, 2009 at 01:48:18 PM EST
    do you really think people "refuse" to believe?  And that you can turn language and meaning inside out and upside down by calling non-believers "believers" in atheism?

    Time for a philosophy class in logic.


    Suicide bombers (none / 0) (#24)
    by Fabian on Mon Oct 19, 2009 at 01:27:06 PM EST
    are most likely mentally ill - depressives who find little meaningful in their current lives.  Going out with a bang is a strange, desperate attempt at self empowerment.  It's a fine line though - mentally ill enough to consider suicide, but stable enough to be dependable.

    A nanny-state... (none / 0) (#25)
    by kdog on Mon Oct 19, 2009 at 01:39:44 PM EST
    is an unsavory way to live too...imo.

    Is it? Hmmm...depends on (none / 0) (#30)
    by oldpro on Mon Oct 19, 2009 at 02:01:47 PM EST
    more than its public investments to call that bet.

    Borrowing from Chris Bowers survey last April, I'd say some are, some aren't:

    Levels of socialism in G-20 nations, plus selected other economies
    Cuba: 81.4%*
    France: 61.1%
    Sweden: 58.1%*
    Italy: 55.3%
    Netherlands: 54.7%
    Libya: 53.0%*
    Germany: 48.8%
    Canada: 48.2%
    Spain: 47.3%
    Angola: 44.8%*
    United States: 44.7% (2009)
    United Kingdom: 42.1% (2009)
    Australia: 43.6%
    Venezuela: 41.1%*
    Saudi Arabia: 40.4%
    Turkey: 39.1%
    United States: 35.5% (2007)
    South Africa: 33.9%*
    Indonesia: 33.2%
    Japan: 30.9%
    South Korea: 29.3%
    Mexico: 26.7%
    China: 22.0%*
    Russia: 20.9%
    India: 20.4%
    Argentina: 19.1%
    Brazil: 17.3%
    * = officially, or at least famed for being, communist or socialist

    "Even though I don't entirely trust the CIA World Factbook's numbers (not to mention the blog to which I linked, which seems highly dubious, but unfortunately there wasn't much else available for international public spending information), there is still a lot of fascinating bits in these numbers:

    The G-7 is practically socialist: The G-7 nations of large, wealthy democracies (Canada, France, Germany, Italy, Japan, United Kingdom, United States) is actually the most socialist force on the planet right now. Collectively, the combined economy of those seven countries is 45.2% socialist, and the median in 48.2%, for nearly an even mix between socialism and capitalism. Forget the Soviet Union and forget China--the new face of socialism is wealthy, largely post-industrial, liberal democracies."


    this is quite off topic (none / 0) (#31)
    by Jeralyn on Mon Oct 19, 2009 at 02:27:22 PM EST
    the topic is the sweat lodge deaths. Thanks.

    Sorry. Quite right. n/t (none / 0) (#37)
    by oldpro on Mon Oct 19, 2009 at 04:20:41 PM EST
    About all I can see here... (none / 0) (#21)
    by kdog on Mon Oct 19, 2009 at 01:05:24 PM EST
    is maybe a reckless endangerment charge...maybe.  Homicide it ain't...not by any stretch.

    With the greater freedom I desire comes greater personal responsibility, no doubt.  But these aren't minors or elderly people or the "helpless" in need of special protection here, that would be the limit...these are, as far as I know, able-bodied and able-minded people who signed up for some sweat-lodge time.  

    You guys don't think homicide fits here, do you?  


    You make it sound like... (none / 0) (#35)
    by kdog on Mon Oct 19, 2009 at 03:43:09 PM EST
    this quack was throwing random people in the hot-box DA...what more consent do ya need than the signed check for almost 10 large?  

    I pay to play football every Sunday, and yesterday I caught a cleat to the face...got a fat lip and all scratched up.  I was not specifically informed this might happen...should the guy who runs the league get charged with assault?  Of course not, it is reasonable to expect people who pay to play to know there are risks involved...be it a football field or a sweat-lodge.

    If this guru clown goes to jail it will be a travesty.


    I disagree... (none / 0) (#41)
    by kdog on Tue Oct 20, 2009 at 09:28:06 AM EST
    I think most people on the street know that exposure to high temps is potentially life threatening...I learned that the first time I went in a sauna as a kid, stay in here too long you're dead...it ain't rocket science brother.

    Don't get me wrong...this guru sounds like a real quack, but that don't make him a murderer...just a quack.

    I might be annoyed with you if you didn't warn me about the jellyfish problem at the beach, but the blame would be on me...entering the ocean implies the risk of encountering unfriendly sea creatures.  


    You can be sure there are attorneys (5.00 / 1) (#16)
    by Inspector Gadget on Mon Oct 19, 2009 at 12:41:24 PM EST
    working with the families of the victims preparing a wrongful death suit against the multi-millionaire.

    Even manslaughter doesn't seem right for this case. Although, if they've done this ritual many times before, nothing being different this time, and no one has previously died, I can't imagine how they could claim the sponsors should have known better.

    I've been in a seminar with James Arthur Ray. Wouldn't trust him with my life or my money. He's a fast talking scheister - IMHO.



    I think it depends (none / 0) (#22)
    by nyjets on Mon Oct 19, 2009 at 01:17:58 PM EST

    You are right, if they have done this ritual many times and this time is no difference from previous tries, this may simply be a civil matter not criminal. IOW, I hope the guru has lots of insurance.
    However, we do not have all of the information as of yet. It could be manslaughter if the people who ran this acted in a reckless manner. Or they did something different. Or they added something to the ritual that caused the ritual to become dangerous and failed to tell there guests.
    We simply do not know as of yet. It is to early to tell at this point. Until we know all of facts, any conclusions would be premature.

    It will be a long time (none / 0) (#23)
    by Fabian on Mon Oct 19, 2009 at 01:24:06 PM EST
    before any real information gets out.

    The causes of death should be predictable.  I doubt anyone will talk.  Participants are probably consulting with each other and lawyers.  The Guru is not going to do anything but offer cautious press releases.  It will be weeks.


    Three runners died after running in Detroit (none / 0) (#10)
    by oculus on Mon Oct 19, 2009 at 12:05:13 PM EST
    half marathon yesterday.  

    Any cause yet? (none / 0) (#11)
    by Fabian on Mon Oct 19, 2009 at 12:20:00 PM EST
    Usually runners are pros at what they do, including after care.  Wonder if any performance enhancing substances will be found.

    One fell and hit his head. Two others (none / 0) (#13)
    by oculus on Mon Oct 19, 2009 at 12:34:29 PM EST
    taken to hospital.  Could be genetic heart condition.  Autopsies planned for all three per news.  

    It was cool weather though! (none / 0) (#15)
    by Fabian on Mon Oct 19, 2009 at 12:40:34 PM EST
    Usually this kind of thing happens during hot weather.

    Then again, they could have been competing while ill with the flu.  I've been following the H1N1 discussion at dkos.  Good news - H1N1 has probably peaked.  Bad news - we haven't started the seasonal flu yet.


    w/o even googling the story (none / 0) (#14)
    by sarcastic unnamed one on Mon Oct 19, 2009 at 12:39:47 PM EST
    I am pretty confident that the 3 were non-pro average Joes.

    It was a 1/2 marathon, only 13.1 miles. Short enough that many people seem to think they can just got out and do it w/o much (any?) training.

    Probably the only drug they took that might "enhance" their performance was a cup of coffee that morning...


    Could be. (5.00 / 1) (#17)
    by Fabian on Mon Oct 19, 2009 at 12:42:56 PM EST
    I loathe running too much to do even a half marathon, let alone train for one.

    I used to run 10ks Can't imagine doing (5.00 / 1) (#20)
    by oculus on Mon Oct 19, 2009 at 01:02:54 PM EST
    a half marathon.  

    Fabian, the more I read your comments, (none / 0) (#26)
    by vml68 on Mon Oct 19, 2009 at 01:44:39 PM EST
    the more I am convinced that you and I are twins separated at birth... :-)!

    I'm very tolerant (5.00 / 2) (#33)
    by Fabian on Mon Oct 19, 2009 at 02:47:13 PM EST
    of others' beliefs, but I can't stand anyone who takes advantage of other peoples' need to find meaning in their lives.  

    Who is gonna... (none / 0) (#28)
    by kdog on Mon Oct 19, 2009 at 01:50:38 PM EST
    face the murder rap for these 3 deaths?

    How do you prevent (none / 0) (#36)
    by jondee on Mon Oct 19, 2009 at 03:57:35 PM EST
    tough on crime grandstanders and the emotionally overwrought bereft from getting together and launching a crusade in order to "get closure"?

    Add on to it the fact that the guru is a satanic (sic) New Ager in a country in which half the people believe the Bible is literally true, and the persecution momentum becomes nere to unstoppable.

    Btw, Who's gonna get charged for mugging Edwards yesterday?