Sedona is a New Age Mecca, attracting alternative-religion followers from around the world to its energy vortices and psychic healers. They seek community, guidance and repair, but sometimes find further injury. The town has recently made national headlines for the deadly sweat lodge run by spiritual growth guru, James Ray, during his Spiritual Warrior Retreat. Ray is disavowing responsibility.
Some residents are certain Sedona is the base of the New World Order, claim to have seen flying objects not of this world, and that the mother-ship is tucked inside one of its red mesas, waiting for 2012 before returning to Alpha Centauri. The area has become sacred ground to New Agers, birthing a brisk business in spiritual guides, psychic healers, tarot readers, astrologers, Tantra practitioners, purveyors of everything from power crystals to aura glasses, and life coaches trying to put you in touch with your inner dolphin. One former psychiatrist called the town “an open ward.”
To be fair, hucksters, swindlers and predators are everywhere; but they seem to like Sedona a lot. The vulnerable and hurt gather here, searching for help and healing, shared faith, or escape from judgment and a conventional life. There is no shortage of those willing to lend a hand, for a fee or for sex, and sometimes both.
This manipulation takes different forms. Cults will wear down your will gradually, using continuous positive suggestion, often seeming innocent at first. “It’s about mind control,” says Stasia, a former cult recruit. (Stasia is not her real name, nor are the names of anyone who agreed to be interviewed for this story.) “These are people you may work with, they can be neighbors, or someone you met at a party. This cult was about two things: surrendering your money and your body.
“They use their most attractive people to lure you in,” she continues. “Persuasion and pressure follow. It’s gentle at first, but the rhetoric and pressure keeps climbing. I was constantly encouraged to join this ‘group of amazing people,’ but they don’t tell you you’re expected to have sex with the whole group, both men and women, sometimes all together, sometimes alone. I was not the only recruit; there were others. I don’t know what happened to them, and I wasn’t hanging around to find out.”
These are the sex slaves of Sedona. There bondage is not literal, but the abuse can be the same. Lost souls searching for a spiritual path are easily misled. “I consider myself an intelligent and informed person,” says William, “but some of these cultists are very practiced at finding what will appeal to you, tell you what you want to hear, entice you with praise and promises of a better way of life, brainwash you with constant propaganda and sleep deprivation, and then after they bring your guard down, they take what they want.”
William was married with a child when he was approached by the high priestess of a cult. “I was interested in her beliefs and respected them, but I do not know how or why I became ‘The Chosen One.’ It was not supposed to be about sex, but it was. She wanted me to rule with her—and for a while, it was very intoxicating.
“Her people pampered me, bathed me, dressed me, made me feel like I was a god and consort to the queen. She explained that it was only through our lovemaking could she nourish her people with love. She drew strength and power from it. I found myself being seduced, swept away by this ‘greater good.’ It almost destroyed my family. And to be honest, had she been more desirable, it might have.”
Amy, who describes herself as a “well-being consultant, hand analyst and light-wave practitioner,” offers this: “I’ve always been aware of how sex plays into spirituality. Most men in the spiritual arena don’t have the ‘balls’ to compete with more macho men. So, they appear to be more sensitive, but they have never impressed me—too soft, too weak, not enough conviction to make anything happen. I admire men who’ve made things happen for themselves and are generally happy in their own skin. I rarely meet a ‘spiritual man’ who’s got his shit together.
“I’ve had two male spiritual teachers,” she adds. “One is an egomaniac. He has a flock of females at his beck and call. Eventually, they leave because it’s demeaning. ‘Be my slave and love it!’ is what he’s brainwashing into these women. It’s insane how he can make women give up their personal power. The other was my teacher, helping me develop my psychic abilities for three to four years, but I was shocked when he announced we belonged together, wanting me to join his spiritual harem. Funny, men don’t do well in these tight little groups. It’s probably that ape thing that happens; you know, only one alpha male in a group thing.
“However, I don’t think there is a thing wrong about enjoying our sexuality. What goes on between two consenting adults is private business. We are all dealing with issues within our mental, emotional, physical and spiritual bodies. If we have hang-ups about any of that, it will play itself out in the way we relate to sex. From the hand analyst’s perspective, we have different ways we want to be loved, depending on what is going on in our hands.”
Going on in our hands? To be sure, there are legitimate therapists helping people with their physical and emotional issues, as well as sexual problems. Part of the trouble is societal. On this planet, sex is not typically discussed openly and honestly. Much of what we think we know is assumed—not based in biology or communication—which creates mistakes and misconceptions that leave an opening for predators to enter.
While living in Sedona, Lorraine said she heard many different ideas concerning sex, like this one: “If a woman had trouble in her life a sexual healing was in order. If she objected, that was proof of the need for this kind of healing, and yes, it often involved the person who suggested the healing, performing the healing, payment optional (because the action of helping another was payment in itself, thank you).
“There were also some ideas I thought empowering. The teaching I found most valuable affirmed the sexual ‘beingness’ of everyone, but cautioned about ‘opening’ your energy to just anyone. The belief was that humans are never more open than when they are engaged in an intimate act with each other. When we have an orgasm, we open up and absorb the energies of the other person. I have known people who look like they would be great in bed but, [in terms of their energy] I would not want to touch them. It helped me understand how to use more patience and make better choices. Sex is good, but bad choices can ruin stuff.”
Felice, a licensed sex therapist notes, “If you check into cults, I would guess that members’ sexuality has been harmed by sex when they are too young or when they have had sex with someone more powerful or of higher social status, or through religious requirements. However, any spiritual practices that get you in touch with your spirituality and sexuality simultaneously probably enhance sexuality.”
When religion is examined, we find that most have placed boundaries on the body, particularly sexuality. Alternative religions can offer a choice, which some healers use as license. Some individuals, though, have felt they’ve experienced a sexual awakening through a spiritual guide. Tantra practitioners believe meditation, yoga, and other practices teach us how to channel our chakras or energy centers. Kundalini yoga, for example, teaches how to tap into the “residual power of pure desire,” according to one local instructor.
“Sex is the door to life. It is how we are created and it can also be a doorway to communion with the divine. Tantra is a broad path that includes our sexuality, instead of denying it,” she explains, “Our life force energy is our sexual energy…we learn to transform sexual energy into spiritual ecstasy.”
Rita, a deeply religious Christian who believes deceit has no place in sex—or any healthy relationship—sums it up: “All I know is that God wants us to be happy and to feel the joy that comes from being truly free. If sex is a part of that complete happiness, then it feels right to me. But if it’s driven by lies and base lust, then that is a sin I don’t want any part of.”