The dark side of "The Secret"?

harmonicTwo people died and 21 people were injured -- some quite seriously -- during an incident at a sweat lodge at an Arizona resort. There is a spiritual component to this story. It turns out that self-help expert and author James Arthur Ray rented the facility as part of a "Spiritual Warrior" retreat that promised to "absolutely change your life." The incident is still under investigation and stories about the matter reflect that. Here's an early report from the Arizona Republic. And here's a good report from the Associated Press.

Every story I read relied on analysis from Joseph Bruchac, author of "The Native American Sweat Lodge: History and Legends." The title alone would suggest he's a good source but it might be nice to see a wider variety of sources who can speak about sweat lodges.

The stories included very little about how Ray is regarded in the New Age community. He was featured in "The Secret" film. And that got him featured on the Oprah Winfrey show multiple times. He's considered by some to be a huckster who peddles prosperity shamanism and practices his craft unethically by charging participants for his retreats. Folks apparently paid close to $10,000 to be part of this retreat that was marred by the deaths and injuries.

I'm sure there will be more discussed about his particular approach as the story continues and when it does, it would be good for reporters to note the criticisms of Ray. Via Jason Pitzl-Water's Wild Hunt blog, I found a site called Beyond Growth that has raised questions about Ray's teachings and methodology for some time. This recent post has some thoughtful discussion of how this event might be viewed "through the eyes of magick." (I also stole the title of this post from Beyond Growth.)

Another aspect of the media coverage that is interesting to look at is how reporters place the event in geographic context. I noticed how the New York Times handled it at the end of their story:

New Age programs like the ones Mr. Ray offers are common in Sedona. Anna Lisa Brown, a resident, told the Phoenix television station KNXV that people are always coming to the area for such retreats.

"I was surprised that people would put themselves in that situation, but not surprised, because people are looking for things to fulfill themselves and give themselves purpose," Ms. Brown said.

The somewhat dismissive comment is safely encapsulated in quotes but it is not balanced out by any other perspective. By contrast, here is how the Arizona Republic discussed the location:

Sedona is an international mecca for New Age beliefs and purportedly the site of numerous "vortexes," or natural energy confluences thought to enhance spirituality and well-being.

Purportedly has a negative connotation and the definition of the word says it's often used to describe a false allegation. The description also suffers by being in the passive voice. It's better to ascribe the belief of the vortexes to the specific group or groups of people who hold the view. Still, it's a better answer to the question of "Why Sedona?" than the one the Times provides.

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