James Arthur Ray Trial: The Trust Fraud

Here’s a summary of the first week of James Arthur Ray’s trial. Ray is the motivational guru charged with involuntary manslaughter in the deaths of 3 people during a sweat lodge ceremony in Oct. 2009. Last week, the first witnesses were called; survivors of that sweat lodge. They described the intensity of the heat, the unfolding sickness and watching their friends die.

Ray’s attorneys asked these witnesses if they could have left the lodge at any time. They said yes, and explained the reason they chose to stay in was because they wanted to experience these events that they believed were meant to help them gain control over their lives. They liked James Ray, believed he had something to teach that they wanted to learn, and they trusted him.

The participants signed the waivers saying they knew the experience came with dangers. Ray told them about the risks, even exaggerated them telling participants his sweat lodges were “not for wimps”, they were so hot they would feel as if their “flesh was falling off their bones”. His sweats were not for wimps. This was a Spiritual Warrior retreat and if they dropped out they weren’t committed to making the changes they said they wanted to. Ray told them that this was the ultimate battle and that they “could live an honorable life, devote themselves 100% to everything they do, or they could exit dishonorably.

This experience bears no resemblance to an authentic Native American sweat lodge; a sacred ceremony intended to open your mind/body/spirit to seeing something that you need to know, not potentially kill you. The leader doesn’t decide what you need to see or learn, that’s between you and the ‘stone people’ whose steam is the breath of your ancestors. The Native sweat lodge is intended to illuminate the spirit, not eliminate it.

Ray may have outlined the risks, and he may not have physically kept them from leaving, but he made it difficult to do so. Those participants paid up to $9,000 to participate and they wanted to get their money’s worth. They signed the waiver believing he would deliver what he promised, taking them on a journey of intense experience, and leading them out the other side.

This was more than an intense experience; it was a fraudulent violation of trust.