This Day in History

On Oct. 8, 2009, two people lost their lives in a sweat lodge ceremony that went wrong. Over 12 sweat lodge participants were sent to the hospital and two people were killed during a ceremony led by James Arthur Ray, outside of Sedona, Arizona. Another person who attended the ceremony passed away nine days later.

The sweat lodge ceremony was held during a spiritual retreat, which Ray called his "Spiritual Warrior" event. It took place at a retreat center that Ray rented for the occasion, just six miles away from Sedona. The cost of participation in the 5-day retreat was $9,000 per person. Ray is a spiritual and self-help author who released the best-selling book "Harmonic Wealth: The Secret to Attracting the Life You Want" in 2008. He has also appeared on various television programs, and "The Oprah Winfrey Show."

Ceremony Intended to Purify Body and Spirit

According to Ray, his sweat lodge ceremony was done in the traditional Native American fashion and it was supposed to purify the spirits and bodies of participants. The sweat lodge itself was a blanket-covered wood-frame structure. Participants entered the enclosed space where water was dumped on top of hot rocks, which produced steam. Not long into the ceremony, the temperature in the sweat lodge became extremely hot -- dangerously so.

The 50 people inside the lodge had been fasting for a period of 36 hours before the sweat lodge ceremony. The heat and steam caused them to be disoriented and have difficulty breathing. Meanwhile, Ray told people to stay inside and muscle through the dangerously high heat as a kind of personal challenge.

A 38-year-old man and a 40-year-old man fainted in the lodge, but no one pulled them out and they died of heat stroke. Over 12 people required hospital care for different medical problems, including dehydration, after the incident. A third person died on Oct. 17, nine days after the ceremony.

Sentenced to 6 Years in Prison

In June 2011, Ray was convicted of negligent homicide on three counts. He was sentenced to serve six years of prison. He was also forced to pay $57,000 worth of restitution to family members of the deceased victims of the tragedy.

After serving several years of his prison sentence, he was released early. Here is a clip from an interview with Ray done by Piers Morgan after his release where Ray discusses his experience and time in prison, and here is another clip where Ray discusses the tragedy itself.

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