Mary Annette Pember: Selling Indian spirituality
"The recent tragic deaths of two people inside a sweat lodge at Angel Valley near Sedona, Arizona, (a third participant died on Saturday) compelled me finally to write something about an issue that has long haunted me: the expropriation of American Indian culture and ritual by New Age entrepreneurs.

This is a touchy subject for a lot of people. I am putting myself out there for some major blowback, mostly from New Age folks who make a living by marketing enlightenment to those who may be desperately seeking some sort of meaningful spiritual experience in this often spiritually bereft place called 21st century America.

The Angel Valley incident is not the first of its kind. Two people also perished in a presciently named “death sweat” in remote El Dorado County, California, in 2002. A New Age shaman promising a vision quest that would result in a spiritual rebirth performed the “death sweat.” Dr. Alton Carroll of San Antonio College and the moderator of the website “” reports that at least seven others have died in so-called ceremonial sweat lodges since 1993.

A number of tribes use the sweat lodge; similar to a sauna, it takes place in a small, handmade space covered with cloth and/or hides. Usually only natural materials are used. Water is poured over heated rocks placed in the center of the lodge, which produces steam and is intended to cleanse and purify the body, heart and mind. I have been told that leading a lodge, either for ceremony or therapy, is a big responsibility."

Get the Story:
Mary Annette Pember: Speak Your Piece: Selling Indian Spirituality (The Daily Yonder 10/19)

Related Stories:
Arvol Looking Horse: Respect sacred traditions (10/16)
Valerie Taliman: Selling the sacred for a big price (10/15)
Johnny Flynn: A new sweat lodge movement (10/13)
Two dead after 'sweat' incident in Arizona (10/9)