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by Paul F. Heller
Sunday, Oct. 18, 2009 at 4:06 PM
If you can't stand the heat, stay out of the phony, for-profit sweat lodge. (Heller Mountain)
A strange and fickle relationship exists between Arizona and the national media. The CNNs of the world tend to focus more on the exploits of crazy Sheriff Joe Arpaio, or the fact that we can bring guns into bars, than on anything of true importance. We're the state that had the governor who said "pickaninny". In the overall realm of current events, we usually land somewhere in between Mayberry and Lobster Boy.
The latest news coming out of Arizona - listed under "foreign studies" at Columbia University - is a tragic story involving at least two deaths at a tony Sedona resort called Angel Valley. It was there that a so-called financial guru, James Arthur Ray, conducted a "sweat lodge ceremony" that killed two people and sickened many more (one remains in critical condition).
What were 60-odd people doing in a sweat lodge with a financial guru? They were taking part in Ray's "Spiritual Warrior" seminar, for which they each paid a little under ten thousand dollars. White-collar victims of a red-collar crime.
The sheriff of Yavapai County has declared it a case of homicide. This sparked an indignant outburst from Ray's publicist in Los Angeles, one Howard Bragman. He's in the Arizona Republic today, calling the charges "purposely incendiary", crying about "finger-pointing".
Well, yes; contrary to the media legends, we in Arizona take such fatalities seriously. We don't simply dig holes in the desert and dispose of the corpses (that's actually Nevada). And for some reason, we don't leave the perpetrators hanging from the boughs of mesquite trees, to be discovered at first light.
Ray is certain to be held responsible for the deaths of these people, and may well go to prison for this ridiculous stunt. As for Mr. Bragman and his blustery complaints, please remember that he is an L.A. publicist. You know who else is an L.A. publicist? Balloon Boy's huckster dad. Take it for what it's worth.
I don't mean to disparage the dead, or to antagonize their next of kin, but there might be a silver lining in all of this. Hopefully, this unfortunate news will carry Back East, where these rich flakes came from in search of (quite honestly) ever more money.
Let them now understand that Sedona isn't some psychic vortex location. It's just a seriously expensive, and apparently dangerous, tourist trap. Ask the locals - the ones who aren't hawking rose-quartz crystals and copper bracelets, I mean.
The supposed sweat lodge ceremony that Ray was attempting to recreate for these saps is based upon Native American spirituality. It means something more to them than selling tickets to quack seminars, otherwise there would be billboards all along I-10, like there are for geodes and blankets. They don't need, and likely don't appreciate, $nake Oil Guy exploiting their culture.
Let's face it: Sedona hasn't been a spiritual place since the Yavapai-Apaches were driven from the land, force-marched 180 miles in winter to the San Carlos reservation. Since then it has been nothing but a stunning geological cauldron that, to this very day, steams with the stench of greed and death.
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