PHOENIX – A sauna-like sweat lodge at an Arizona resort meant to provide spiritual cleansing became the scene of a police investigation Friday when more than a dozen people became ill during a two-hour session and two later died.
In all, 21 of the 64 people crowded inside the sweat lodge Thursday evening received medical care at hospitals and a fire station. Four remained hospitalized Friday evening – one in critical condition and the others in fair condition.
Authorities haven’t determined the cause of the deaths and illnesses; tests for carbon monoxide and other contaminants were negative. Yavapai County sheriff’s spokesman Dwight D’Evelyn said authorities were checking into whether any of the attendees had medical conditions or were fasting.
“It’s not something you’d normally see at one of the resorts there, and it’s unfortunate regardless of the cause,” D’Evelyn said.
The Angel Valley Retreat Center sits on 70 acres nestled in a scrub forest just outside Sedona, a resort town 115 miles north of Phoenix that draws many in the New Age spiritual movement.
Self-help expert and author James Arthur Ray rented the facility as part of his “Spiritual Warrior” retreat that began Oct. 3 and that promised to “absolutely change your life.”
Authorities said Ray was inside the sweat lodge Thursday evening and was interviewed at the scene.
Sweat lodges, like that held on the final day of the Angel Valley retreat, are commonly used by American Indian tribes to cleanse the body and prepare for hunts, ceremonies and other events. The structure used Thursday was crudely built and covered with tarps and blankets.