"Since the horrible tragedy involving 3 deaths and more than 20 injuries relating to a Sweat Lodge at a James Ray retreat in October of 2009, I have been contacted widely for commentary and education about sweat lodges and ceremonial steam baths. I continue to get questions by email and from the media and so I am posting here my answers to some of the more common and critical questions. You can read my answers and come to your own conclusions. If you know someone who has been hurt by a lodge or has fears about lodges and you think I can be of support, they are welcome to contact me through my website www.jonathanellerby.com
What went wrong at the James Ray event?
Having not been there, nor had a chance to meet or interview witnesses or James Ray, there is really no way for me to be able to know for certain what when wrong. I don't know what tradition of Lodge James Ray was trained in and I don't know how long he has been running these lodges. I also don't know enough about the other events during the retreat that may have been even bigger factors in the deaths. All I can say is that there were many elements of the process that he led them through that appear, from the outside, to be extremely unusual from the perspective of a person who has been involved in wilderness fasting and ceremonial steam baths for over 20 years.
How did you become an expert on Sweat Lodges?
First off, I don't call myself and expert on Sweat Lodges. The media calls me that because according to western standards I have all the qualities of an expert: I have been personally involved in nearly a thousand sweat lodges for over 20 years, I have participated in a wide number of cultural variations of lodges, including in Mexico, South Africa and Zimbabwe. As a part of my graduate work in Comparative Religion I have studied the history and anthropological literature on ceremonial steam baths in cultures around the world. And, I was "recognized" by an established Native American community and mentor as being "qualified" to run Lodges about 6 years ago.
I run two types of Lodges, a traditional Lakota Inipi which I only do with and for my own Native American extended family and friends (not for non-Native people and never for a fee) and I run an Interfaith form of Lodge which is similar to a Native American Lodge, but is also distinctly separate and draws on my training in African Lodges and as an Interfaith minister. The Interfaith Lodge I run is for all people of all cultures and is not a simple copy of a Native American Lodge."
Get the Story:
Jonathan Ellerby: Sweat Lodge Expert Answers Important Questions: Indigenous, Interfaith and New Age
(The Huffington Post 2/1)
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