DEATH & A BOGUS SWEATLODGE                               © Spring 2010 Douglas Sundling    















   East Quarter
   South Quarter - East Of Door
   South Quarter - West Of Door
   West Quarter
   North Quarter
   Outside The Lodge

























     Laura Souter told detectives that prior to the five-day seminar, she had received a booklet:
I read through that a couple of times.  It did say that there was an expectation you would be by yourself and that also you might be without food for a period of time.  I knew that I was going to be alone.  I think it was explained very clearly this is what's going to happen.  I knew that I was going to be dropped off, and then I would be by myself.  But I also was aware that we weren't very far away.
     She also said that Mr. Ray explained the Vision Quest in detail at the Spiritual Warrior Retreat and that she took very clear notes on tasks they were to perform while on the vision quest. 
     Other participants described not being aware of the Vision Quest in advance typified by Elaine Cerro’s statement:  “It was all explained but just before it.  We were told what to bring on our packing list, but nobody was given advance information.”
     Participant Dr. Jeanne Armstrong probably provided the best detailed explanation on how the participants were prepared for the Vision Quest.
Det. John Johnson:  Did you get printed materials or something as far as the Vision Quest, what that was gonna contain or entail?
Jeanne:  In the printed materials, it outlines some of the things you're gonna be doing.  And based on the things they tell you to bring, sleeping bag, warm gloves, toilet paper, I could assume that we were probably going to be spending overnight outdoors.
Det. Johnson:  It doesn't say specifically though?
Jeanne:  No
Det. Johnson:  So when did you find out what the Vision Quest was?  That you're gonna be out there for this period of time?
Jeanne:  It was that morning they explained it because during lunch one of the things we were supposed to do is pack our bag with the things that we needed in it and also to wear the clothing that we wanted to wear for that experience.
     Apparently, the Vision Quest in previous years had been for three nights and two days.  According to Josh Fredrickson, a key JRI employee, Mr. Ray had shortened the Vision Quest to two nights and one day and had eliminated extended outdoor hikes as a group to accommodate the incorporation of additional exercises into the Spiritual Warrior Retreat, namely the Samurai Game.  Josh said that Tom Cruise’s movie, The Last Samurai, released in 2005, had inspired Mr. Ray to start using clips from the movie at his events and to do the Samurai Game he had done while working at AT&T.  As Mr. Fredrickson stated, “So we incorporated this kind of whole samurai theme which is living with integrity, living with intention, doing everything to perfection at every moment into Spiritual Warrior.” 
     On Tuesday of the 2009 Spiritual Warrior Retreat, James Ray informed his participants they would play the "Samurai Game," and he explained the rules.  Participants finished the day’s schedule of lectures and seminars and ate a light dinner.  Between dinner and the Vision Quest, Mr. Ray conducted the Samurai Game.  A fine fashion to frame what this exercise meant to the Spiritual Warrior Retreat is to let the testimony of the participants render the details. 
      Stephen Ray said that in the Samurai Game participants were split into two groups and they chose a leader, a priest, and a ninja.  He recalled that James Ray called his staff  “angels of death” and James was “the God.”   If anyone violated a rule, James pointed at them and said, “Die.”  That person was supposed to fall on the ground, and then the “angels of death” took that “dead” person to another location and covered them with a blanket.  That person couldn’t move.  If they did, they violated another rule, and another person on their team had to “die.”  Stephen explained that the ninja were supposedly invisible and that someone was killed if he or she looked in the eyes of a ninja.
     While Stephen Ray didn’t share how the game progressed, he said he was one of the last people left.  At that point of the game, the leader of each team had to pick a Samurai to do battle and that person picked a competitor on the other team to battle against.  If the leaders agreed, the two Samurai warriors went to the middle of the room where James Ray staged several types of competitions.  Stephen Ray recollected these competitions involved holding an egg on a spoon, standing on one foot the longest, holding books, and – a touch of cosmic irony given the tragic outcome of the ensuing sweat ceremony – drinking a glass of water the fastest.  Stephen said when he was chosen to be a Samurai warrior, he went to battle holding the books and lost.  He said he was taken away, had a blanket put over him, and didn't move until the game ended.
    Attempting to justify the Samurai Game, Stephen Ray noted that something James Ray always said was “that you show up in game how you show up in life, that you show up as you.”  In other words, as Stephen further explained, “If you come from a place of ego, that shows up in the game.  If you show up as a leader, that shows up in the game.  If you show up as a follower, that shows up in the game.  If you hide in fear, that shows up in the game.”
    Ami Grimes recalled that James Ray had learned the Samurai Game when he had worked at AT&T and described the same format as Stephen Ray did.  She said the game involved challenges.  One challenge Ami described involved a team member who wasn’t the leader or the priest standing in one position, being given five balls, and without using their feet throwing them at people on the other team.  If a ball hit someone on the other team, that hit person “died.”  Ami remembered other challenges such as standing in a karate kick-like position on one leg and not falling – “just simple stuff like that,” she said.  The goal was to have the most people left on your team.
     When asked if James Ray or any of his staff participated in the game, Ami replied that they didn’t, except Mr. Ray was like the leader who told us all the rules, said when somebody had died, and directed his staffers to come lead “dead” people away.   She described  the staffers as wearing “black witch looking costumes” and Mr. Ray dressed in “a white like toga looking thing with a red like band across it.”
     Participant Beverly Bunn, who became an outspoken critic of James Ray after the Spiritual Warrior Retreat, said in the game they were warriors and Mr. Ray was God.  She said the teams could eat dinner but not speak to one another.  Some of the challenges during the game were tests of endurance – who could for the longest stare or stand on one foot or hold books.  Beverly reiterated the “dying” aspect of the game.  At the end of the game, everyone who hadn’t died became one team, and God granted them an honorable death.  Ms. Bunn described the honorable dying being enacted differently by gender:  women were to plunge a pretend knife into their necks and fall to the ground; men were to plunge a pretend sword into their stomach, twist, and fall to the ground.  Beverly didn’t share how she faired in the game.  
    Susan Smyser was a participant in the 2008 Spiritual Warrior Retreat and apparently had a fair amount of knowledge about James Ray’s self-help pursuits.  She recalled that Mr. Ray said the Samurai Game was based on a corporate exercise he learned while working for AT&T.  She said so understated was Mr. Ray’s role of playing God by being the proctor for the game and answering questions about rules.  To her, he was intense and forceful, set apart from the participants by his wearing a white robe.  No concrete details were offered to exemplify what she meant by intense and forceful
     A participant in the 2005 Spiritual Warrior Retreat was Amanda Huffnung.  She practiced a Jewish persuasion and shared with an interviewing detective her account of how James Ray handled his rules for the Samurai Game and her desire to observe Yom Kippur.  While Ms. Huffnung represented only one individual and not the group as a whole, Mr. Ray’s behavior reflected how he as a “leader” handled variants which confront a leader. 
     Ms. Huffnung explained that the Samurai Game in 2005 started at the end of the day and that when the game ended, the participants would go on the Vision Quest during which participants would be encouraged to abstain from food and water.  For her that would mean an extended period of fasting because she had chosen to observe Yom Kippur.  Even though she said she had spoken to some of the JRI staffers about this earlier, she decided to ask Mr. Ray if she could eat something between the end of the game and the beginning of the Vision Quest.  Ms. Huffnung recalled because she asked about fasting right when Mr. Ray had started the game, he killed her off immediately.  She indicated she was told not to look at anything because she was dead.  Apparently while being “dead,” she had time to reflect and told the interviewing detective:  “I need to at least get a snack in between and I am going to fast again because I was not prepared to fast for two days.  I got really upset and let the staff know that that was very inappropriate to somebody who is dealing with an important holiday.”  Ms. Huffnung indicated that she finally walked away because Mr. Ray didn’t realize how disrespectful he had been.  
     When asked if Mr. Ray was “kind of a God person” in the Samurai Game, Ms. Huffnung replied, “Oh yeah, absolutely.”
     A 2009 participant, Else Hafstad told YCSO officers that the Samurai Game
was very tiring physically and mentally, and James Ray was playing God, and that's when I got so scared.  He really thought he was.  I just thought, "Jesus, something happened to him; he is totally out there now.  I think he is very wise and he's got a lot of stuff to teach and I really have benefited a lot from his teachings, but there is no excuse for that behavior.
     Dr. Soheya Marzvaan and her sister departed the Spiritual Warrior Retreat on Tuesday, sometime during or after the Samurai Game and before the start of the Vision Quest.  The 2009 Spiritual Warrior Retreat was the sixth James Ray event to be attended by Dr. Marzvaan.  She said that she attended his seminars because she wanted to learn about Quantum Physics.  Dr. Marzvaan shared with investigators her experience with the Samurai Game.  She had believed the game would start later on Tuesday, but when she returned from the kitchen, Mr. Ray told her she was "dead" because she had looked at one of the ninjas.  She was told to close her eyes, and she described being led to a golf cart, told to keep her eyes closed, transported to another location on the Angel Valley property, and told to lay motionless until Mr. Ray said she could move.  While lying on the ground and covered with a blanket, she said she realized the Spiritual Warrior program wasn’t benefiting her and she wanted to leave early.  So she said she approached Megan Fredrickson and told her she wanted to leave, but Megan tried to persuade her to stay.  Eventually Dr. Marzvaan told Megan to ask Mr. Ray, and apparently Mr. Ray told Megan it would be all right for Dr. Marzvaan to leave. 
     On November 9, 2009, just a month after Mr. Ray’s tragic sweat ceremony, Det. Mike Poling interviewed Lance Giroux from Allied Ronin Leadership Training and Consulting in reference to the "Samurai Game."  Mr. Giroux explained that the game is owned by George Leonard and his wife Anne and their family trust, that the term Samurai Game is a registered trademark, and that the game is copyrighted intellectual property.   When Det. Poling asked if someone had to be certified to use this registered and copyrighted intellectual property, Mr. Giroux replied, “That’s correct.”  Lance had been acting in Mr. Leonard’s behalf since about 2000 to develop a training and certification method.   Det. Poling asked, “Would you know if James Ray had ever been certified through your program?”  Mr. Giroux answered, “No.  He has not.  I have no recollection of him at all.” 
     Mr. Giroux sketched an overview of the Samurai Game
The facilitator takes the role of what's called the war god, that's small w small g.  You can also describe that person as representing fate, fate of war. The facilitator never takes on the role of God.  The primary things on the facilitator's mind should be the safety of the people, and the facilitator should always by the design of the game give those people at least three honorable opportunities to choose out of playing and in that way never badger, coerce, cajole, or anything else. This game is supposed to be played in an atmosphere of respect.  Although it is intense, the people's well being has to be held uppermost in the mind of facilitator.
     Based on the interview with Mr. Giroux and the descriptions provided by Spiritual Warrior participants, George Leonard’s Samurai Game inspired Mr. Ray to design a variation that apparently deviated from its registered and copyrighted inspiration.  Fortunately, dismissal of certain safety factors in this “game” didn’t lead to death being a participant rather than a metaphor. 
     After the Samurai Game finished, somewhere around 10:30 to 11 PM on Tuesday, the participants were lead to their individual Vision Quest spots.  Josh Fredrickson explained that since the participants hadn’t walked the trail before and since it was nighttime, they would have a sense of being “isolated and completely alone.”  He also stated that participants weren’t supposed to bring food or water with them, but they could if they wanted to because no one inspected them or their gear.  
    A vision quest is simple:  pick a spot in a wilderness type setting away from civilization and fast.  Sometimes the fast is from food and water, sometimes just food, sometimes just civilization.  Usually someone provides guidance and any necessary support for the person doing the vision quest.
     Angel Valley co-owner, Amayra Hamilton described the initial Spiritual Warrior Vision Quest at Angel Valley:
And then [James] also wanted to do the Vision Quest, and we said what do you have in mind.  Let’s sit down and see how we can do it because traditionally you would have a person that wants to do the Vision Quest and then I am the guide who guides that.  The person goes out and finds a spot somewhere out in nature, and I am in meditation, in kind of communication with that person and it depends on how long you want to do that.  It can be half a day, it can be a day, it can be up to seven days or something.  I said to James how are you going to do that with so many people?  You cannot just send them out and go find and sit under a tree kind of thing.  So from that time I was involved every year. 
Ms. Hamilton recalled that she needed a couple of days to create those initial spots because she accounted for shade to sit under, sandy and level ground to sit upon, minimum exposure to any lights from nearby buildings, and no visibility of other spots for Mr. Ray’s multiple person Vision Quest.  JRI volunteer Barbara Waters testified that they eliminated any spot if it appeared it could receive two to three hours of direct sun and several more hours of tilted sun.  On October 28, twenty days after the botched sweat ceremony, Amayra Hamilton showed Yavapai County Sgt. Dan Winslow and US Forest Service LE and Investigations Special Agent Lisa Lewman the 50-some individual spots for the Vision Quest.  Most of the spots were on the neighboring U.S. Forest Service land. 
     Mr. Ray had designed a vision quest of being alone without any shelter for 36 hours in a circle about six feet (two meters) in diameter in the wilderness area surrounding Angel Valley with the strong suggestion of going without food or water.  Several participants identified the circle they had been instructed to make at their spot as a Medicine Wheel.  Mr. Ray’s format emulated an ageless exercise humans have pursued to seek clarity.  JRI event veteran, Barbara Waters, summarized the Vision Quest’s purpose:  “You're out there in the vision quest, basically sitting in one spot to be with your mind.”   No distractions – just you and your own thoughts and feelings.
     Most participants simply took the cloths they were wearing, a backpack, a sleeping bag, and something to write with and on. 
     Since James Ray had begun using Angel Valley Retreat, Amayra Hamilton had prepared these Vision Quest sites and had helped take Spiritual Warrior participants out to their individual sites, but she hadn’t realized till 2009 that participants were without water.  She summarized for detectives: 
     The first year when we did that, they were set out in the evening, and then James' staff would go out walking to all of them, go visit them with water in the morning.  The next year they did not go visit the people, and I have all those years thought that they had water with them because when I would help setting them out, they had luggage which was a big sleeping bag of course and I was thinking that they had water. 
     This time, the last person that I set out was a young woman, and she was very nervous.  And even though we're not supposed to talk with them, I just had to talk with her, calm her down, and say, "Okay, sit down and breathe.  Before you leave take some water and calm yourself down."  She says we don't have water with us. 
     Then when I came back and I talked with his volunteer assistants who are called the Dream Team and they have all done this retreat before, so I said when you did the Vision Quest, did you have water with you?  No.  I go, "Oh shit, I never knew that." 
     Everybody could find their way back. You know there was nothing big deal about it.  It was more psychological because they were set out in the dark, so they didn't know where they were going.  That feeling was more that they were out in the middle of nowhere and all by themselves then they actually were.  When they would go back afterwards they would often say, "My gosh, it's not as far away as I thought."  But you know, for me that was very okay.  But not having water there – had I'd known that, I'm just saying James you can't do that.
     Several participants indicated that anyone could at anytime leave his or her circle to get a drink of water or to end their Vision Quest.  
     When Det. Mike Poling asked Josh Fredrickson what did James Ray say was the goal of the Vision Quest, Josh explained:
     The whole Spiritual Warrior week is set up to really dig deep into and release all these unconscious issues, and we have lot of people dealing with these really deep issues from childhood with rape or abuse or that kind of thing that's starting to come out at Spiritual Warrior.  So the first part of the week is they're just journaling and writing through all these issues and working on it. 
     So the idea of the Vision Quest in the context of Spiritual Warrior is that you've been working through all this stuff, now you can finally put all that stuff behind you and you can choose who you want to be.  So when you come back from the Vision Quest, you're kind of like a new person.  So it's like a renewing.  So it's that chance to really spend time with yourself and to be yourself and find out who you really are and let all that crap go and move forward.
     Kim Brinkley assumed people who attended James Ray events knew that these were intense events meant to help them work through unresolved emotional issues.
     Laura Souter echoed Josh’s account when she stated that Mr. Ray wanted the participants to continue writing in their journals and that he provided a list of questions to use as a guide to “expand memories of situations that were emotional or had negative energy involved.”  She explained that they were supposed to be “getting all of that out of ourselves and on paper” and to set new intentions.  Souter also brought a significantly beneficial prejudice:  her father’s family was Cherokee, and she explained that the purpose of a vision quest in the Native American culture was “to shed an old life and create a new life in your mind.”
     Participants had been instructed to bring to the Spiritual Warrior Retreat about six feet of string and seven pieces of fabric that were three inches square.  Mr. Ray instructed the participants how to create, while on their vision quest, seven pouches of tobacco ceremonially attuned to a direction.  Folks put a little bit of tobacco in the center of the square piece of fabric and tied it together to make a pouch.  Each pouch represented an intention a participant wished to overcome or to pursue.  It wasn’t clear from testimony if the participants were to bring their own tobacco or if JRI provided tobacco, but one participant indicated that chewing tobacco was used.  As a way to minimize overhead, Mr. Ray had instructed the participants to bring their own string and square pieces of fabric, so he likely instructed them to bring tobacco also.  And the tobacco product most readily usable to make these pouches is a can of chewing tobacco. 
     Both Josh and Megan Fredrickson related that prior to the start of the Vision Quest, a participant had asked about her high blood pressure medication.  Lynette Wachterhauser suffered from hypertension (high blood pressure) and had queried Mr. Ray.  Megan recalled that he had asked Lynette if she could dry swallow the medication and then told her to do what she needed to do to take care of herself, something both Josh and Megan said several times that Mr. Ray would repeatedly tell folks attending his events to do.  Other participants also recapitulated that a woman had asked if she could take water because she was on medication for high blood pressure and that Mr. Ray had asked if she could dry swallow the medication, but had said it was up to her and she had to take care of her own biology and do what she needed to do to feel safe.  Megan remembered that someone else asked about bringing along chapstick and said Mr. Ray said something like, “Do you need to bring chapstick?”  And then he said something like, “Okay, fine.  Do whatever you need to do to take care of yourself.” 
     While participants were on the Vision Quest, James Ray’s Dream Team split into two groups – a morning and an evening shift.  They were instructed to stay in the dining hall area with a walkie-talkie just in case someone came back or they needed help or Angel Valley required something in regards to the participants.   They also were to “hold space,” to be aware and be respectful that the participants were experiencing a Vision Quest.  For Wednesday, the morning shift apparently was covered by Mark Rock and Aaron Bennett, and the evening shift was covered by four women – Christine Jobe, Liz Neuman, Lisa Rondan, and Barbara Waters.  These six folks were members of James Ray’s Dream Team, volunteers who had previous experience with Mr. Ray’s events and who wanted to assist.  During the five-day event, for the mornings, Josh was assigned to be the JRI team member on call for the Dream Team; for the evenings, that responsibility was for Melinda Martin, JRI Events Coordinator.

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