Sweat lodge deaths cast pall over Sedona tourism

KTAR News, Arizona/October 19, 2010

Spiritual tourism is taking a hit in Sedona.

While Sedona boasts of its vortexes, it seems that tourists aren't being drawn to them as they have been in years past, according to an article in The New York Times.

Clearly, everyone would assume, and rightly so, that many tourist destinations have been affected by the recession.

But some do not discount the lingering effect of an awful incident from a year ago that put Sedona's New Age community in a bad light and that, to some degree, still lingers, despite efforts by metaphysical people to cast it away.

Motivational speaker James Arthur Ray goes to trial in February on three counts of manslaughter charges. He pleaded not guilty and his trial is set to start February 16.

Prosecutors contend Ray recklessly crammed more than 50 participants of his ``Spiritual Warrior'' event into a 415-square-foot sweat lodge and chided them for wanting to leave, even as people were vomiting, getting burned by hot rocks and lying on the ground.

"It was a very unfortunate and sad situation that could have happened anywhere," said Janelle Sparkman, president of the Sedona Metaphysical Spiritual Association, who attributes the woes that New Age practitioners are experiencing to the lack of disposable income tourists have for spiritual needs and not what happened that awful afternoon. "It was not indicative of Sedona or Sedona's practitioners at all."

While some sweat lodges have been shut down, the paper reports people are looking elsewhere for spiritual fulfillment.

"Initially, I didn't think it was going to affect business and, a year later, I know I was wrong," said Deidre Madsen, who runs a New Age travel company in Sedona and a Web site devoted to inner growth. "I'm shocked at the impact. My business is down 20 percent."

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