Navajo Artist Shonto Begay Talks About Sweat Lodge Tragedy

Navajo artist and Flagstaff, AZ resident Shonto Begay commented on the Sedona Sweat Lodge tragedy in a recent news column. An October 8 sweat lodge ceremony conducted by self-help guru James Arthur Ray ended when 21 retreat participants were transported by air and ambulance to area hospitals. Three people died.

Native Americans for whom the sweat lodge is a cleansing ceremony are talking about the Anglo version that went bad. Says Begay in a Flagstaff Live! magazine commentary:

  For us, sweat lodge ceremonies are always serious undertakings. They involve the elements of water, wood, fire, rock. In ancient stories, they are presented to us by bighorn sheep, by beaver, by horsefly, by blue heron. Sweat lodge ceremony was the gateway into the fourth world, much like the airline security gate, I suppose. Back in the time when the third world was flooded and beings were forced into the fourth world, when cicada claimed the grounds between the four sacred mountains by tricking the monster beings, by defying death, this is where the beings earned the right to enter the sweat lodge. In the sweat lodge, we put to rest our demons. In the heavy and dark heat, in a tight space, strong prayers are uttered and pains are talked through. It’s a place of transcending your pain. It is not a $9,000 place of enlightenment. It never was. The price is your reverence, not your gold.

Begay goes on to explain:

That’s all that has ever been asked to live in harmony in this fourth world. Sweat lodge symbolically places us back in the beauty and the holiness of the womb, in the protection and in the company of the great mystery. It is not the place to cheer on your pain. It is not the place to give command. It is certainly not the place to mix genders. A long and ancient set of tenets have always ruled the use of sweat lodge. Upon reading the details of the Sedona incident, everything that could possibly go wrong was encouraged: two hours rather than 20-minute increments; mixing genders; a goal of enlightenment rather than spiritual cleansing; a dictatorial prophet/profit.

 …Continue to love us and our culture, but tread carefully and with great respect. You cannot appropriate all without a price.

The article appeared at but is no longer live.

Read Stacey Wittig’s commentary at
Romanticism of Native Traditions goes bad in Sedona Sweat Lodge

Stacey Wittig is an Arizona travel writer who shares FREE travel tips and travel advice about Flagstaff, Sedona and the Grand Canyon. Don’t miss your free travel tips or travel-savvy hot topics by subscribing to her blog in the right column.

Today I can’t stop exploring the world (I blame it on my father’s Viking blood) and write about my adventures – many as a solo woman traveler. Life isn’t always rosy; I lost my firecracker reasoning skill to head injury in a horrific rollover accident that should have taken my life. Brain injury hasn’t stopped me from traveling, although it sometimes makes for amusing travel antidotes that I hope you will enjoy. That’s why they call me “UNSTOPPABLE!”

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