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There are many centers of the New Age in the U.S. -- Greenwich Village in New York, Boulder in Colorado, parts of San Francisco, and the Sangre de Cristo Mountains -- but few if any are as blatant as the occult mecca of Sedona, Arizona.

That's on our minds with the recent news of three who died and more than a dozen who were injured near Sedona in a Native American "sweat box" -- sort of like a sauna but for "spiritual" as well as physical cleansing. It was all done at the direction of a New Ager.

Sedona is about ninety miles north of Phoenix (where, God-willing, we look forward to a retreat next month), and like many areas with mystical issues has a strong Indian history.

The first Native Americans were there ten thousand years ago. There were the paleo-indians, the Anansazi, and the Navajos (who contrived devices known as "dream catchers"). Other influences came from Apache and Hopi tribes -- all with their good qualities and usually believing in one Great Spirit but with beliefs which included nature "spirits" that could be compared to European paganism (and even druidism).

Those beliefs now hang in the dry air of Sedona like spiritual heritage (or baggage).

For so steeped is Sedona with the modern version of nature worship that the city even has a "Metaphysical Spiritual Association" and "Center for the New Age"!

As VisitSedona, a website promoting the city, notes, "Sedona's world-wide reputation as a spiritual mecca and global power spot has drawn some of our planet's most amazing healers, intuitives, artists, and spiritual guides. Come to Mother Nature's red-rock temples to experience their life-transforming, soul-nourishing work in person. 

"Sedona is a perfect place  for spiritual and personal enrichment of the body and the soul. From healing massage treatments, yoga, spas, and salons to hypnotherapy and retreats, surely Sedona has something to offer."

That all sounds good -- but the basis for many such esoteric practices hearkens back to Indian occultism (Navajo practices included restoring health, balance, and harmony to a person's life -- "holistic" wellness) and even darker pagan beliefs that interweave with witchcraft.

The spirits or "gods," of course, can be demons. We note images on totem poles -- or from ancient Egypt.

Did the recent deaths hint at such hidden dangers?

In Sedona you can find healing crystals, reiki, hypnosis, Mayan calendars, violet flame sound healing, at least three places for aura readings, seven shops for psychic or card readings, wellness centers, past life regression, mind-body-spirit synchronization, soul mind healing, gemstones, Tarot, chakras, aromatherapy, Thai Yoga, and Shamanism.

There is feng shui. There is "angel channeling."

To the northwest, the Devil's Bridge Trail is an easy trek offering glimpses across a wide valley "into the geologic treasures of the Red Rock/Secret Mountain Wilderness," notes another website.

Native Americans say their ancient rituals are often misused here -- including, it would seem, the sweat lodge. Do spirits also hover near old burial mounds?

The recent deaths occurred when James Arthur Ray -- a self-help New Ager from California who has appeared on "Oprah" -- led what was billed as a five-day "spiritual warrior" experience at Angel Valley, which concluded with a tightly-packed sweat lodge ceremony.

About sixty-five participants attended the weeklong retreat, which included seminars, a 36-hour fast, and solo "experiences" in the forest.

"Sedona is also internationally known for the uplifting power of its Vortex meditation sites," says the promotional website we previously referenced, using an editorial authorized for use by the Sedona-Oak Creek Chamber of Commerce. "Two aspects of those sites make Sedona truly special.

"First within a very small geographical radius you can easily access all the different types of vortexes..." 

"Second, the Vortex sites are interwoven with the real world of a growing city.

"As a result, seekers have experiences in how to live their spirituality as they go through their daily lives. Rather than having to escape from civilization to find peace, visitors discover that Sedona's splendor gives them insights for how to create an inner harmony they can maintain once at home."

And so we see the deception.

Are there really "power spots" (another Indian concept)?

Or is it psychic hokum?

The influence can be seen all the way to Phoenix and Scottsdale.

In some cases, it's more dangerous than outright occultism -- because it is so refined and hidden.

Is it really as bad a place as New York -- where witches wearing pentagrams can be seen in full regalia on Friday night, where occult shops sell skulls, and where they have the annual demonic Halloween parade in Greenwich Village -- which leaves nothing to the imagination?

"Let the spirits of the land speak to you," says the website promoting Sedona.

Let them not speak to you. They are a deception in part from past mystical residue and a spiritual cleansing is needed, all right -- a cleansing with Holy Water and blessed salt.

[see also: A New Age tragedy, VisitSedona, and Sweat lodge occultism]

[resources: Prayer of the Warrior and Spiritual Warfare Prayers]

[Prophecy, spiritual warfare, afterlife retreat in Arizona]

[from the mail: "Just a brief note regarding today's story on Sedona, from a 20-year resident faithful Catholic.  While nearly everything you report is certainly true (the Devil's Bridge Trail is a great hike that received it's name from early residents that predate the new age presence here), you failed to mention how the new age "spirit" has infiltrated the local Catholic parish.  There is a labyrinth made of stones outside the rear door of the church.  Parish adult education includes classes on centering prayer, yoga and other phenomena.  Of course, unfortunately, this is not necessarily unique among many modern parishes. Sedona's parish does have an Eucharistic Adoration Chapel, however, where some of us gather on First Fridays to pray a rosary and St. Michael chaplet to specifically fight the new age demons here.  We are also well-armed with blessed salt.  Pax Christi."

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