THE RAISON D'ĘTRE OF ONE PERSON'S "NO" -
After all the analysis and composing a narrative of this
botched sweat ceremony, I wish to close with the following testimony
given the Yavapai County Sheriff’s Office by participant Else
Hafstad. I have edited her verbal testimony for clarity.
| I arrived at the Angel Valley a little late, so I missed the
introduction that James Ray had. He must have said something that
motivated everybody to have their heads shaved. And so I went up and
watched the last two people who were having it done, and they asked if
I wanted to do it. And I said it doesn’t mean anything to me, it
doesn’t do anything to me to shave my head, so I didn’t do that. |
There were four of us that didn’t [shave our heads], then there were
three of us, and then there were just two of us, and he would look
right at us and smile. It’s group pressure, and I thought, “Why would
I do it now? Is it because I feel like he is making fun of me or does
it mean something to me to shave my head?” And I said it doesn’t make
any sense, it doesn’t give me anything to shave it, the only reason why
I do it now because I don’t want him saying this to me anymore. So I
thought, “No, I am not going to do it.” And I know a couple of those
girls were shivering and scared about having their hair cut off and
they were going to die if they didn’t. And then when they did it, they
stood in front of him gleaming like, “See. Did I do it?” And I felt
like gees, they stand there like little girls getting an acknowledgment
Then everyday it just occurred to me, even that
last day, the girl that died [Kirby Brown] had had that long hair, and
then she was one of the many girls that just they went out and did it
in the break. And then they went straight up to show themselves to
James Ray for some kind of an approval, and he would have everyone
cheering, “Oh, that’s great.” And I thought, “That’s what you get; you
get that ten seconds of cheering, and then you sit there with your head
shaved.” I just didn’t see the whole value of it for myself. I am
always a little wary of group pressure, and it looked like it and it
felt like it. And the theme was to go beyond where you have ever been
before, so I thought, “Why am I not doing this?” Ultimately you are
responsible to know your own body and your own limits.
thought people were being pressure to do stuff. That whole event was
different than the two other ones that I had gone to. It felt like a
lot of pressure.
And no one was told that we were going to
do a sweat lodge after [the Vision Quest], so I don’t think all of us
really tried to hydrate like crazy when we got back. And I hardly ate
anything because I have never been without food and drink or water for
that long, and I was just drained from bleeding [menstruating] so much that I figured
I don’t have anything to go on. But I was also a bit pissed at James
because he knew there were a couple of very obese women and men there
and also one with that blood pressure problem, and he should have
warned people somehow that you are going into very extreme heat and
just go in cautiously. And instead, I had two roommates that were, “I
feel nauseous” and “I feel scared” and all that stuff, and I thought,
“Then why do you go in there?”
I mean you can be spiritual but it has to be a little bit practical and grounded too.
I just didn’t think it seemed safe because he explained that he had
the hottest sweat lodge that he ever done before. And the roof was
lower than it had been before, and I knew it was about sixty of us.
And he explained that you probably had to be prepared to crawl on your
hands and knees because you couldn’t stand up in there. I am an
engineer, so I just thought safety is one of my areas and I just didn’t
think it seemed safe. And then we had just done about 36 hours without
food and water, and I was on my period and had kind of been complaining
that I had never bled so much in my life. I was dehydrated to start
with, and I thought to go in there, I wouldn’t even last five minutes.
So I just didn’t think it was right, and I didn’t think it seemed
safe. And so I just decided I wouldn’t go.
[Before the sweat
ceremony] I actually went to [my] tepee, and my two other roommates
were getting ready and all nervous and all that. And I just sat down
on the bed and said, “Do I want to do this?” And so I just asked
myself if it’s right for me, and I just felt like no. And then, “Why
would I do it? I would be dizzy in there, and what am I proving?
Nothing really.” And so I just thought, “No, it’s not safe, it’s not
going to be good for me, I am not ready for it. I am totally
dehydrated. And I am bleeding like crazy. So what good could it do.”
My thing was I didn’t go there [sweat ceremony], and I felt guilty
about not having gone. And so I sat there and struggled with not
having done it and all that, and I felt kind of silly at that. It
wasn’t right for me and that’s what I knew, but I should have spoken up.
I am a single mother of two children, and that was also one of the
reasons why I didn’t want to take a risk in that lodge because if
anything happened to me, then it would have been very irresponsible and
selfish I thought. There’s nothing I could experience in there that
would excuse that.
is a story that can be told over and over, but never explained.
Three people are dead because of this story. How they died is
fairly self-evident. Why they died isn’t.
A timeless intrigue of this tragedy can be portrayed by
the moments between the Vision Quest and the eight-round endurance test
of a bogus sweatlodge. Up to those moments, while there had been
some risk, none of James Ray’s activities had or probably could have
overwhelmed anyone. But the same inherent flaw that Det. Mike
Poling had sensed as he conducted investigative interviews Else Hafstad
had realized in those moments between the events.
Ms. Hafstad sensed the danger and responded using the very
principles most traditional sweatlodges move through – find clarity of
perception, formulate a response, resolve emotional sensibility, and
respond with integrated action. Yet when she presented that
resolve to her two roommates who felt scared and nauseous, they
responded with blind faith in James Ray. Why?
The clarity of common sense flared up and presented itself
to two anxious people but couldn’t spark the light of good sense in
either one. Why not? Why didn’t one of Else’s roommates
pause, sense the clarity of Else’s perception, formulate a response,
find emotional sensibility, and then respond likewise with a
“no.” If two roommates had decided “no,” then why not the third
one also? And if three Spiritual Warrior participants had
presented themselves to James Ray and his gathering clients and said
they weren’t going to rush into this crazy and intense “sweat lodge,”
would more have responded likewise?
caused everyone to chase after the fanciful impressions Mr. Ray had
conjured for them? Money? Ego? Pride?
Brain-washing? Broken souls? A cult and its cult
leader? The eternal and insatiable human thirst to reach some
unattainable state of existence?
moments between the Vision Quest and James Ray’s bogus sweatlodge, one
person had the insight and the will to say “no,” and the others
didn’t. Explanations abound, but can never fully explain
“Why?” That quality of being human shall always be a