2 Dead After Arizona Sweat Lodge Ceremony

19 hospitalized after cleansing ritual goes wrong at new-age retreat
By Rob Quinn,  Newser Staff
Posted Oct 9, 2009 10:05 PM CDT
This photo provided by the Yavapai County Sheriff's Office shows a "sweatbox" structure at Angel Valley resort in Sedona, Ariz.    (AP Photo/Yavapai County Sheriff's Office)

(Newser) – Two people died and 19 others were taken to hospital after a "sweat lodge" ceremony at a new-age Arizona retreat last night. Some 68 people were packed into a tarpaulin-covered dome for the 2-hour ceremony, which involved pouring water over hot rocks to produce steam in an effort to free the body of toxins. Tests for carbon monoxide were negative and police are investigating whether any criminal action caused the deaths.

Some of the participants—who paid $9,000 for the retreat—are believed to have fasted as part of a "Spiritual Warrior" program run by personal development guru and frequent Oprah guest James Arthur Ray. Sweat domes have proved fatal for elderly people and those with pre-existing medical condititions in the past. "The sweat lodge needs to be respected," Native American author Joseph Bruchac told the AP. "When you imitate someone's tradition and you don't know what you are doing, there's a danger of doing something very wrong."