Three months ago a tragedy took place during a sweat lodge ceremony in Sedona, Arizona, leaving three people dead and many others ill. The Arizona Republic (January 13, 2010) reports on the release of hundreds of documents providing the most complete picture yet of what took place at this tragic event.

Transcripts of interviews with participants tell the story of spiritual guru James Arthur Ray and his conduct of this sacred Native American ceremony. Investigators asked participants if Ray told them about his preparation and training to perform this ceremony; about how they themselves were prepared, and whether his organization was medically prepared and trained. Authorities are preparing a case against Ray, and contemplating filing charges against him for at least negligent homicide.

Spinning the story in the media, Ray’s lawyers are saying there is no evidence to suggest reckless or negligent homicide. They say people came to this event voluntarily; they understood the intention and purpose of the ceremony; they could have chosen not to participate or leave whenever they wanted.

For many participants, this was their first experience with this sacred Native American purification and healing ritual. Ray told them that Native American shaman and spiritual leaders taught him how to perform the ritual. Most, it seems learned afterwards that a traditional sweat lodge might hold 15 people (theirs had room for 60, each paying $9,000 to get in), and are never held for profit.

James Arthur Ray can afford top-notch lawyers, and he will likely spend the last dime in his empire to convince a jury that he is not in any way responsible for those people’s deaths. But in my heart I feel he was negligent, and that he profaned this holy ritual. Every Indian traditionalist, spiritual leader and healer to whom I have spoken, says that what James Arthur Ray did was unrecognizable as sacred ceremony. They are incensed that their ceremonies are being perverted by greed and driven by ego.

Could I have a change of heart? Yes, if James Arthur Ray tells me the names of his Native American shaman and spiritual leaders (even just one), who taught him how to perform this ritual; and if one comes forward and tell us that this is what they taught him. If that happened I’d change heart, eat crow, and trumpet his innocence.