Yvonne Draper came to Sedona to kill herself. With a ruptured disc in her back, a hip that slid out of the socket, knees and ankles that constantly went out, Draper was in chronic pain. Also burdened by personal and financial setbacks, Draper was ready to give it up in the place voted by USA Weekend as the most beautiful in America.
“But then,” she says, “something got in the way—Sedona.” Draper said when she arrived in Sedona in 2002 she was seduced by it natural beauty: towering red monoliths, wind-chiseled canyons and breathtaking crimson vistas.
Yet, it wasn’t Sedona’s scenic charm alone that saved her, but it’s spiritual energy. “The vortexes helped blow blockages out of my body,” Draper explains. Vortexes, as understood in Sedona, are locations where the earth’s energy radiates and offers special physical, psychological and spiritual benefits.
Draper visited the vortexes three or four times a month before receiving pain-relieving results. “The best way to experience a vortex is to sit or lay on a rock,” she says. “Squint lightly and look for the energy around you. And if you’re lucky, you might see energy vortexing.”
Draper says she’s seen men sit and weep near vortexes asking, ‘Why am I crying?’ She tells them they are releasing negative energy that’s been blocked in their bodies and affecting their physical and emotional health. “Sedona has done miracles for me and others,” Draper says.
And it’s not hard to find others who agree. With over three million tourists visiting Sedona a year, more and more people are finding spiritual answers, meaning and healing in this small desert community in Northern Arizona.
A Cancer Miracle
After learning she had cancer, Alison Nail, 34, was devastated and decided to spend a weekend at a healing center in Sedona. Not a big believer yet in New Age spirituality, Nail says she went out to a flat, red rock and lay down for four hours, asking the higher powers that be for answers about her cancer. Soon, Nail says, she felt spiritual guides visit her and share stories of how Sedona is a sacred and healing place. Other guides said she would be a catalyst to teach others about Sedona and its healing potential.
A year later, Nail is a spiritual tour guide for Vortex Tours in Sedona and cancer free. “Sedona is really about the healing energy that emanates from Mother Earth,” she says. “You can feel it anywhere in the world, but Sedona has a special degree of concentrated energy.”
But Dr. Michael Shermer, founding publisher of Skeptic magazine, isn’t buying it. “The idea that the earth has energy and vortexes is just nonsense,” says Shermer. Geologists have investigated Sedona and not found any such phenomenon, says Shermer.
“What’s happening is pure psychology,” explains Shermer, who has visited the area several times. “Sedona, Arizona is a gorgeous place and feels spiritual… and that’s what people are picking up on. There’s nothing supernatural about that.”
Shermer also says a percentage of cancer goes into remission automatically. “Nobody understands why,” says Shermer. “But whatever you were doing right before that gets the credit.”
Nevertheless, Nail says that New Age spirituality is about finding what works for you and gets results. “And what’s worked for me,” she says, “was finding Sedona.”
Combining elements of Eastern mysticism, Kabbalah, psychology and Native American beliefs, Nail says New Age spirituality is comprehensive. “And the problem with defining it is that you’re already limiting it.” Nail says New Agers encourage religious experimentation with any sacred path that can bring peace, spiritual insight and healing.
Sedona’s Spiritual Past
“Spending time in nature is like coming home to mama’s cooking on Thanksgiving, it’s getting back to our origins. Nature is where we all came from.”
Sedona’s association with spirituality is not new. Since the 1300s, Native Americans journeyed to Sedona from great distances, seeking spiritual wisdom and visions from the Great Spirit that dwelled among the meandering canyons and rugged cliffs, just as spiritual seekers do today.
But by the late 1800s, after gold was discovered near Sedona, Native Americans were forced off the land by the US government. American homesteaders soon trickled in, slowly setting up residence on the sacred red landscape, raising horses, crops and cattle. And by the early 1930s, Hollywood also discovered Sedona and filmed such classics here as Robert Taylor’s western Billy the Kid (1941), John Wayne’s Angel and The Bad Man (1947), and Joan Crawford’s Johnny Guitar (1954).
Sedona’s spiritual roots wouldn’t be widely rediscovered until numerous books were published in the mid-to late 1970s on the regions’ unusual energy, such as Dick Sutphen’s 1978 Past Lives, Future Loves that hailed the special psychic powers of the area.
By the 1980s, Sedona was popular with tourists and synonymous with breathtaking desert vistas, vortexes, crystals, psychic readers, healers and other icons of New Age culture.
A Southern New Ager?
Taz Reeder, 48, living in Arkansas, says he was on “the path of alcohol, drugs and three marriages” when he longed for a change of course. Heading out West for a fresh start, Reeder says he passed through Sedona and instantly felt at home. “I was just drawn to this place,” he shrugs, not quite sure how to explain it.
After settling in Sedona, spending time outdoors, learning about vortexes and Native American beliefs, Reeder says he was able to quit alcohol and drugs cold turkey. Reeder contributes his transformation to the natural beauty of the area, the high levels of magnetic iron oxide in the rock that heal the body and Sedona’s enduring spiritual legacy.
A long time ago, Reeder says, indigenous people believed Sedona existed in the thin realm that separates the human and spirit worlds. Consequently, he says, “It’s a great place to heal, find one’s self and one’s spiritual center.”
Larry Sprague, 68, agrees. Sprague, a 1960s hippie and tour guide for Earth Wisdom Tours, says people find themselves all the time in Sedona and are increasingly interested in spiritual exploration. For example, in the last seven years, his company has increased their spiritual tours—which trek clients into the Sedona canyons to explore the sacred beliefs, practices and rituals of Native Americans—by 20%.
Sprague says he has stacks of testimonials from people who have taken one of his spiritual tours and tell how it transformed them. Some of them changed careers, repaired friendships or left unhealthy relationships, Sprague says.
And what is so transforming about Sedona? “Nature,” answers Sprague. “Spending time in nature is like coming home to mama’s cooking on Thanksgiving, it’s getting back to our origins. Nature is where we all came from.”
Sprague says that like mama’s cooking, the earth heals, nourishes and takes care of us. “The air, wind and sights all touch and fill the soul with the things it truly needs.”
“There’s a voice to the earth and she’s screaming at us,” Sprague whispers as he waves a hand across the hush, twilit Sedona landscape. “But over all the clatter of technology it is difficult to hear her today.” And what’s she saying? “Come back. Come back and get reconnected to me.”
[Some readers may wonder why Busted Halo®—which is sponsored by a Catholic organization—addresses various approaches to belief (or non-belief) and spirituality like the one above. Busted Halo® is an online magazine for the millions of spiritual seekers who already live in a competitive marketplace of ideas, philosophies and beliefs; our mission is to empower them to explore their own faith journeys through an open, honest discussion of their fellow seekers’ experiences. -Editor]