Self-help guru James Arthur Ray in court on manslaughter charges

james ray mug shot

The Secret contributor James Arthur Ray has been arrested after the deaths of 3 people at a $9,000+ “purification ceremony”:

Self-help guru James Arthur Ray says it was all a tragic accident when his followers began collapsing one by one in a sweat lodge at his retreat, with three of them dying. As unfortunate as the ordeal was, he says the participants knew about the risks the ceremony presented.

Prosecutors say it’s a blatant case of manslaughter by a man who recklessly crammed dozens of people in a 400-square-foot sweat lodge and chided them for wanting to leave, even as people were vomiting, getting burned by hot rocks and lying lifeless on the ground.

The two sides will be on display in coming months now that prosecutors have charged Ray with manslaughter in a case that could send him to prison for more than 35 years. The 52-year-old Ray said nothing during his first court appearance Thursday, and his lawyer entered a not guilty plea.

Business Week: Self-help guru in court on manslaughter charges

It’s a sad but interesting case. Ray is obviously an asshole, but is he also a murderer? If so, what about the people in the sweat lodge who didn’t die or pass-out? Are they also liable?

1 Comment

  1. Well, I’m not sure how all of this sorts out legally, but it sounds like he was arrogant and stupid. Traditional initiations (not new agey modern initiations) are typically dangerous because they are intended as spiritual vaccination against fear, despair, and death. That is, they are designed to put people under real stress, real fear, and real danger, but just enough to teach them that they can handle themselves and get through it, not so much that they actually die. Usually. …but this gets deeply problematic in modern times. First, how many people around here are up for that? Even when you say “this can be dangerous”, most people aren’t ready to take responsibility for themselves in that sort of situation. How many times have you fasted for several days? Done it enough to know when you are in trouble and when you’re just feeling rough? Second, no amount of liability waivers will get you through this sort of thing if you are the organizer and people die. At the very least, he’s going to get nailed because he didn’t have a physician on premises while this was going on. Anyone with any sense and real experience in this area is going to know that a long fast followed by a sweat lodge is serious business. I occassionally think of a picture I saw of an African shamanic initiation. About a dozen initiates where laying in small depressions in the ground, tended by several shaman. They had been doing this for about three days when the picture was taken. Each initiate had a stick stuck in the ground by their head. Three sticks were broken in half, inidcating that those three intiates had kicked the bucket. In my opinion, if you are going to do this type of thing, you do it by yourself or with people you know very, very well, not people you pay a few thousand for a week retreat. Now, I don’t know that it has to be this way — many of the classical Greek and Roman initiations (like the Eleusinian mysteries) probably involved initiates giving fees and defraying expenses, but the mystery centers were established temples with traditional practices. Given that, paying for initiation doesn’t seem completely unreasonable. Unfortunately, in the modern US at least, it seems like the money tends to end up as the uppermost priority. Everyone who attended that event and lived probably learned something, but probably not what they were anticipating.

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