A search warrant was executed Wednesday at the James Ray International offices in Carlsbad, California, the sheriff said. Authorities were attempting to determine whether documents exist on how to construct sweat lodges and on their proper use, as well as documents showing whether participants were advised of the risks of sweat lodges either before or during the program.
One of the things that I did not realize when I first heard the story is that James Arthur Ray is one of the more prominant individuals teaching the spiritual method that Rhonda Byrne wrote about in "The Secret," a modern interpretation of the New Thought Movement of the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries that has recently been embraced as part of New Age theology. New Thought postulates that the universe is made of thought, and as a result you attract positive situations to yourself by thinking positive thoughts and attract negative situations to yourself by thinking negative thoughts. Physics never even enters into the equation.
I've criticized "The Secret" a number of times on this blog, and this case is a perfect example of everything that's wrong with it - what negative thoughts was Ray thinking that killed two of his students and has landed him in the middle of a murder investigation? If the model of the universe proposed by "The Secret" is correct he must have drawn this experience to himself and clearly should not be teaching others because he has not even mastered his own mind. On the other hand, if the postulates that make up "The Secret" are wrong Ray shouldn't be teaching either because the subject matter is bunk.
I'll say it one more time in the hopes of moving my comments further up in the search engine listings. "The Secret" is based on a fundamental misunderstanding of magick. Reality isn't made of thought, reality is made of energy. Thought is less substantial than energy. There's a reason that it's easier to light a fire with a lighter than it is with a thought, even for experienced magical practitioners. That doesn't mean thought is useless for manipulating the physical world, but rather that it is limited in its effectiveness.
My friend Frater Barrabbas posted an article on his blog earlier this month about practical magick. I'll repeat an excerpt from my comment on that article here because it explains the basic truth that "The Secret" completely glosses over.
The laws of probability make the role of mundane action in practical magical operations abundantly clear. To use the lottery example at the beginning of the article, it is possible for a lottery spell to be successful even if the magician doesn't buy a ticket - he or she could, say, happen upon a winning ticket lying on the sidewalk while out for a stroll. It's just that such a thing is very unlikely, much more so than picking a jackpot winning number. If your magical powers are such that you can produce a probability shift of 100 to 1 against or even 1000 to 1 against there's really no point in bothering unless you shift the odds into a more reasonable range by buying a ticket. Similarly, you can do a spell for a better job and there's a possibility that you will just happen to be out at a party or something one evening and meet the right person, but again your odds are a lot better if you send out resumes and go through the usual job-hunting steps in addition to casting a spell.
The key to understanding this is that magick is not all-powerful, despite the fallacious arguments of skeptics that imply if you can do anything paranormal it automatically implies that you can do everything paranormal. In my experience, there is a limit to the probability shift that any given magician can produce and the key to successful practical magick is to take enough mundane actions that your goal falls within that probability range.
The positive visualization advocated by "The Secret" can be useful, but many of the teachers who talk about the method treat it as all-powerful. The idea that any bad circumstance you experience must have been drawn to you by your own negative thinking is a wonderful exercise in victim-blaming that I encourage James Arthur Ray and others to clarify, especially in light of the "circumstances" that Ray apparently "drew to himself" in conducting this deadly sweat lodge ceremony.
My guess is that in this case "The Secret" will prove to be the root of negligence on the part of Ray and his staff. After all, if the universe is made of thought and ruled by good intentions as long as none of the people working on the sweat lodge ceremony wanted anyone to be killed nobody would be, even if serious errors were made in the lodge's construction. Unfortunately for the victims the universe is made of energy, heat is energy, and energy is a lot more tangible than thought.
UPDATE: Just to clarify, in this article I'm using the term "energy" to mean tangible, physical energy - in this particular case heat. I'm not talking about "psychic energy" or "magical energy," which I agree are terms that get thrown around pretty freely among magicians and often don't correspond to anything physical. I think the last sentence makes that pretty clear, but at least a couple of readers seem to have gotten the impression that I was saying "thought is less substantial than psychic energy." Obviously, that's a meaningless statement without some way to physically quantify "psychic energy."