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Fake sweat lodge, sexual/spiritual abuse, Northern NM
Posted by: Missbee ()
Date: March 09, 2009 07:50AM

Okay, I named a name, and apparently my post wasn't accepted. I still feel I need to talk about this.

Some time ago I was attending a sweat lodge which at the time visited a small off-the-grid women's community in which I lived. The sweat was run by a woman who claimed to be Yacqui, but who wasn't affiliated with any tribe. (Thus, no oversight.)

There were several problems with this lodge. For one thing, the leader did her best to cultivate a false sense of power. She refused to allow participants to leave the ceremony once it was underway. (This is not common practice in tribal sweats and constitutes a health hazard.) Instead, she preferred to "work with you" if you were in physical distress. By this, she meant she would lay her hands on whoever was ailing, thus relieving all symptoms. Unfortunately, it didn't always work. (One woman had to be carried out of the lodge in severe respiratory distress.) The odd thing: no one seemed to notice. In the minds of attendees, this woman was still a "healer."

At times while leading ceremony she would belch repeatedly. (I think it says something about the level of suggestibility in sweats that no one thought this was strange.) According to her, the repeated belching meant "something was trying to get through." Attendees generally believed she had a line to some Powers That Be.

Funny set of coincidences: at one point in her water-pouring career, she was on the outs from a difficult relationship. There were several women in the lodge who clearly had crushes on this leader. The Powers That Be (as conveyed in a belching session) were extremely interested in having all attractions expressed openly. "If you're attracted to someone, now's the time to be honest! It's time to act! It's time to tell someone!"

Another strange coincidence: according to Leader herself, several women from the lodge expressed an attraction to her shortly thereafter. I was one of them. We began "seeing each other." Really this was no more than a series of sexual encounters which she called "friendship" and told me to keep a secret.

Kind of a warning sign, that: being told to keep things secret. Even I had my doubts about that one. When I expressed them, she immediately became the 'victim.' "You don't understand," she said defensively. "People see me as this big spiritual leader. My life is under such scrutiny!"

Several problems with that. In general, Leader refused to admit she had any authority at all: she chose to see her role of "spiritual leader" as a matter of perception on the part of others. This despite the fact that she did her best to cultivate an illusion of power in the lodge. Not to mention that sweat lodge leader and water pourer are, by their nature, positions of authority. She seemed to want to deny that she had any power which might then be abused.

The second problem: why did she care if anyone knew or not?

I have no proof that I was the only one exploited in this way, but I suspect I'm not unique.

The further complication to this story is that Leader is now head dancer for an extremely widely attended women's sun dance. Thus she has even more power and authority which might be abused.

I don't think this situation was a cult in the classic sense. It didn't seem to demand all time and money, for one thing. However, there were obvious abuses and absolutely no recourse to hold her accountable. I wasn't sure what else to do, so I brought this here.

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Re: Fake sweat lodge, sexual/spiritual abuse, Northern NM
Posted by: notanantiGnostic ()
Date: March 11, 2009 12:49PM

Ok I have some background working with Native communities so perhaps I can help a bit,

The main purpose of this website is to spread awareness of cults or cult like activity. It is really hard to do that if you don't want to give any details about the person or organization. Who was this person, what Nation (tribe) did this involve, and was there an organization involved.

Have you tried talking to other people who were at this sweat? Have you taken your concerns to your community leaders or trusted spiritual elders, if the community has them?

Also What are you lasting concerns from this event? From what you say there seems to be some barrier issues similar to a client/patient relationship. From what I remember when I was in sweats that the person who conducted it was responsible for everyone there and in a temporary place of authority. Everyone who went it was well prepared for it. As far as I remember there wasn't much talk of leaving, but that also tied in with the level of selection and preparing that went on. However I am sure that if someone really had to leave they could.

There appears to be a level of sexual misconduct on behalf of this authority figure. And her denial of having authority seems to be an attempt to be in a position to misuse it.

I don't think your encounter would be described as a cult as it is not an organization but a cult like relationship.

This is the best advise I can think of, perhaps others can be of more help.

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Re: Fake sweat lodge, sexual/spiritual abuse, Northern NM
Posted by: Missbee ()
Date: March 11, 2009 02:20PM


I think this was one of the problems with this sweat. There was no tribal affiliation. There wasn't any oversight. There really was nowhere to take the concerns. And the members of the sweat itself were so bonded to the leader that you really couldn't speak against her without some pretty serious social consequences.

I did give identifying details in my first post. It was rejected.

One of the main concerns I have with this sweat lodge leader is that she's now head dancer of a sizable woman's sun dance. (Again: not linked to any tribe. Thus no tribal oversight.) She now has a whole lot more authority to abuse.

Maybe I can say this: this is Northern New Mexico. There aren't too many women's sun dances in northern NM. In fact, I believe there's only one. (That's all I'm going to say.)

I'm just tired of carrying the secret. I'm tired of worrying what might happen to someone else. I just outed all this to the off-the-grid women's community I just left, and in which this sweat lodge leader played a prominent role. There's a sizable social overlap between the town to which I just moved and the community I just left. Word got around. Now I'm socially isolated.

I would love to name names. In fact I did. That post was rejected.

The sweat itself may not have been a cult. But there was a lot of manipulation of perceptions in general. (This woman was NOT a healer and she did NOT have some kind of line to any transcendent forces.) Taken as a whole with the other communities in which she was involved--and the general level of dogma and hierarchy within those communities--the whole of it was quite cult like. I often feel the need to change my whole zeitgeist around spirituality as well as my way of relating to the world as a whole.

Again: I'm tired. I'm tired. I'm tired.

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Re: Fake sweat lodge, sexual/spiritual abuse, Northern NM
Posted by: corboy ()
Date: March 11, 2009 10:17PM

See if this website is still active and go to the forum and see if anyone has mentioned
this group.

'New Age Frauds and Plastic Shamans'


If not, you may be able to find someone by e-mailing the website moderator.

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Re: Fake sweat lodge, sexual/spiritual abuse, Northern NM
Posted by: Missbee ()
Date: March 12, 2009 12:19AM

Yes. I've visited that page several times. "Known Frauds" is "coming soon."

And yes, I'm aware of the whole cultural rip-off thing. Sadly, in many segments of the women's spiritual community, these sweats are common. If I knew then what I know now? Hey. I wouldn't be in this position. What can I say? I F'ed up.

I'm just trying to get rid of the secret. I'm just trying to do what I can so that no one else gets hurt.

I will look for other venues to post. In the mean time, this seems like my most likely shot.

Trust me. If the moderator would let me name names, I'd be naming names all f'ing day and into next week. The problem: my credibility is low. I'm a jobless wreck and a poster child for PTSD. (I seem to keep finding replicas of my abusive family again and again. I'm rattled.) She's a respectable community leader who may (or may not) still work for a community rape crisis center.

She's in a position to sue the s*** out of anyone who crosses her. She also has all the credibility in the world.

I've crossed her, and now I'm a social pariah in this (very small town). I may have moved from the old community, but guess what? I went ahead and picked a place where's there's a social overlap between this town and the community I just left. In fact, the planned site of this year's women's sun dance is at a "Sister" community to the one I just left less than ten miles down the road. One of the members of that community is really active in this village, both socially and politically (community organizing.) I'm toast here.

Again: I f'ed up in picking this place. Can't go back and change it. Can only move.

Sorry if my language is raw. But after spending eight years of having to figure out what the rules were and who they applied to (generally only me; I was one of the scapegoats), I'm sick sick sick to death of being oh so Appropriate. Frankly, this is my mantra now:

I will not mind my place. For anyone. For any reason. At any time.

That's just the way it is.

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Re: Fake sweat lodge, sexual/spiritual abuse, Northern NM
Posted by: notanantiGnostic ()
Date: March 12, 2009 01:55AM

Hi Missbee,

Sorry if I gave you feeling that I was putting down your concerns or manner of speaking or anything like that. My efforts were simply to help you understand how to deal with your situation, to the best of my ability. I am in no way an expert, I am just another user who was trying to help.

You certainly belong on this site from what I can see. The matter of your situation being a cult, a cult like group or an abusive relationship was just a point for discussion so that others could better help you. The point was not meant to put you down, just try to help you get the assistance you need. I think Corboy's advise seems to be pretty good for a start.

Your situation is quite likely one part of a greater problem in your community. A First Nations community that doesn't have a means to deal with abusive situations is definitely missing something.

I wish you the best. If you need to communicate with me I should see what ever is posted on this chat and you can also send me a private message through this site.

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Re: Fake sweat lodge, sexual/spiritual abuse, Northern NM
Posted by: Keir ()
Date: March 12, 2009 07:38AM

Theres stuff on wikipedia and the web on "Plastic shamans" or fake 'shaman' types out there.

I have not heard of Yaqui Indians building sweat lodges (this alone I would find highly suspect).
My gut feeling is that they were trying to cash in with the Carlos Castenada* theme by mentioning "Yaqui". They also sound like some of these new age shaman type of groups trying to sell pseudo Native Practices to scam people.
The manipulation of perception with "transcendent forces", dogmas, heirarchy, position of authority, members tighlty bounded to leader etc. does sounds very cultish.

[As for naming names. I think you could but you have to word it in a way to prevent any legal problems. You could say your 'personal views' or 'personal perceptions' or use 'In my opinion..." etc. types of wording.
For example "In my opinion this group led by John Fisher is cult like...."
eg "My experience with this group lead by John Thompsom......has been very manipulative...." ]

(*note: I believe there are very strong evidence that suggests that Castenada was a charalatan (you can check out the Sustain Action website).

Edited 1 time(s). Last edit at 03/12/2009 07:40AM by Keir.

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Re: Fake sweat lodge, sexual/spiritual abuse, Northern NM
Posted by: Missbee ()
Date: March 12, 2009 09:08AM

Thank you for the input. Just wanted to clear up a few things. This wasn't in any way, shape or form a Native sweat (although the leader did claim to be Yaqui.) I don't want anyone's reputation in the Native community to suffer.

I think she was trying to "cash in" in a sense, but not in monetary terms. It's one of the strange qualities that I think separates this situation from a full-blown cult. She was actually pretty reasonable and only asked for donations for wood, pretty small. Neither was she selling anything.

It was, however, a huge abuse of power. Lots of manipulation of perceptions. Huge overstepping of boundaries, including sexual ones: at least in my case. I (strongly, strongly) suspect in others, but have no hard proof of that.

I can't say, either, that she's responsible for the level of dogma and hierarchy in the communities with which she was often tied. She had a brief history of doing lodges on the "women's land" on which I resided. Years after she left it, it was still the same. I think the dogma level there was pretty good at keeping its own self-sufficiency. I think she was drawn to it, rather than having caused it.

What I want to say is, with both of these experiences together: the crazy sweat lodge, the rigid women's land, the need to maintain silence for many years, the repercussions for breaking silence: all of this put together gives me the sense of having left something very cultish. I tend to relate to the stories of those just exiting cults: the vast confusion about spirituality, identity, and even day-to-day communication. I'm starting life all over again. I'm both hopeful and terrified.

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Re: Fake sweat lodge, sexual/spiritual abuse, Northern NM
Posted by: rob ()
Date: March 12, 2009 07:10PM

If you go to the site, you can subscribe to the forum and post under the item 'research needed'. They will research and take action if necessary. The mainpage 'known frauds' is empty, but the forum is working well.

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Re: Fake sweat lodge, sexual/spiritual abuse, Northern NM
Posted by: corboy ()
Date: March 12, 2009 10:05PM

That claim of her being 'Yaqui' sounds like a lure to attract people interested in the dubious material of Carlos Castaneda.

Castaneda claimed his alleged 'teacher' Don Juan Matus was Yaqui.

And unless I am very mistaken, sweat lodges do not seem to be part of the rituals of the Yaqui or tribes further south in Mexico, such as the Huichol.

Sweat Lodges were part of ritual practices of the Northern American tribes--Lakota, etc.

So that in and of itself indicates that X' use of the material was fraudulent--the kind of thing bringing fury and anguish to nations whose rituals are being intruded upon, faked, and worst of all, marketed.

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