Arizona Sweat Lodge: The Inside Story of James Ray's Fatal Retreat

On the fourth day of the event, the group played a game inspired by the Tom Cruise film, "The Last Samurai,'' in which Ray played the part of "God." He was dressed in a white robe. No one was permitted to speak with him. His staff played Angels of Death, in black lipstick and grim reaper costumes.

Participants had to learn how to kill themselves in the way of the samurai. And once dead, they had to lie still. Kirby Brown, 38, one of the women who would die two days later, was killed early in the game, and suffered significant pain while playing dead, according to her mother, Ginny Brown.

Arizona Sweat Lodge: 'Better Lives'

After the Samurai game, most of the group was marched out into the desert for something called "Vision Quest,'' where each participant spent 36 hours alone, with no food or water, in a secluded spot in the desert.

Participants said these exercises were powerful and worth the discomfort.

"I got away from all the people, and I could be with nature, I could just sit there and actually contemplate things,'' said Brandy Amstel.

Another participant, Kristina Bivins said, "We're there to try to create better lives for ourselves, to look at whatever is holding us back, and to push through that stuff so that we can create a better, more successful life."

But Salerno, among others, believe these high-demand exercises can be manipulative. And dangerous.

These weren't the first risky activities at Ray events.

In Hawaii, in 2008, several participants playing "full-on" broke their hands after Ray asked them to punch through a brick.

No medical staff was there to help in Hawaii, said Brian Essad, an attendee at both the Hawaii conference and the Sedona Spiritual Warrior event.

And in San Diego, just months before the Spiritual Warrior conference, another group spent a day pretending to be homeless.

"We put grease in their hair and dirt on their face and we dropped them off on a bus in downtown San Diego, where they would walk around and try to survive or thrive as a homeless person," said Martin.

But one woman, 46-year-old Colleen Conaway, from Minn., with no history of mental illness or depression, went to a shopping mall in her homeless outfit and jumped from a third story window, killing herself.

Someone from Ray's staff identified the body, but Martin says neither she nor any of the participants was told, and the group enjoyed a black tie dinner that night as if nothing had happened.

Inside the Arizona Sweat Lodge: 'It Was Like Breathing Fire'

At the Spiritual Warrior retreat in Sedona, the group was able to freshen up after their Vision Quest. And then Ray revealed the final challenge, the sweat lodge.

By all accounts the Spiritual Warrior sweat lodge included dozens of people, packed tightly around a large pit of hot rocks.

Ray began with some ceremonial chanting and it quickly became clear that the followers were in for something very hot and very intense.

"He said, um, and you know, you may feel like you're gonna die, but you're not. That's just your body reacting," said Brandy Amstel. "I trusted him 100 percent."

When Ray dumped the water on the rocks, "You could hear it sizzling, you could see the, the pit turn red,'' said Brian Essad. "And then, I just, I just remember almost seeing the, the steam just kinda roll. And it was just, it was like inhaling fire.

"I mean instantly difficult to breathe, 'cause I'm not used to breathing fire."

Ray repeatedly called for more stones.

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