Sedona, Arizona reminded of the scene in Independence Day where a bunch of New Agers armed with placards reading “Take Me” crowd onto a roof, anticipating the arrival of extra-terrestrials. It doesn’t end well. We later learned that in 1987 – the year of the “Harmonic Convergence” – New Age followers across the globe amassed at so-called mystical places, optimistically anticipating a global spiritual shift. 5000 descended on Sedona, waiting for the famous Bell Rock to open its “lid” to open and reveal a UFO. Needless to say, this didn’t happen but the New Agers stayed in Sedona, creating a sort of crystal Shangri-La.
It’s hard for me to write this with any degree of neutrality, so triggered was I and disappointed by Sedona. Friends had been telling us we had to go for years. And, of course, as someone in the wellness industry, tales of Sedona’s vortex energy are legend. You’re not anyone in New Age circles until you have had your aura wafted by Sedona.
It started well enough. Sedona is stunningly beautiful – we drove from Palm Springs to Sedona, passing through desert before entering the lush greenery of Verde Valley. As we descended into the valley, the car was full of expletives as the scenery unfolded before us. Out of the greenery rose red rock formations, surrounding the town on all sides. It has the appearance of a natural cathedral – every time you look up an ancient monument gazed back to you – and it is clear why the place has been revered for so many centuries. Without question it is a place of outstanding natural beauty and presence.
The town itself isn’t big, snaking along a main drag of shops and cafes, winding its way through the valley. It isn’t ugly, but it isn’t beautiful either – it reminded me of a designer outlet centre, if I’m honest.
Venturing into the vortex
We had only 2 nights there so I had splashed out on a guide for our first morning to introduce us to the vortex energy of the area. Sedona is allegedly surrounded by areas of dense energy that either spiral outward from the earth or inward. It is said to be a place of healing, where meditation is effortless. People flock to the place looking for transformation and blessings. The vortex tour wasn’t cheap, but was at the lower end of what’s available. A yoga teacher showed us around the start of a trail on the edge of town.
In all honesty, I didn’t feel the vortex energy. I wish I could wax lyrical about it and claim to have had mystical insights, but I felt nothing. The scenery was wonderful, and the information provided about the area interesting, but other than a sense of enjoying a walk in the sunshine, my experience was pretty pedestrian. Alex, on the other hand, who didn’t want to be there had an almost Messianic vision, then fell in love with a rock. I suspect my cynicism coupled with the feeling that I had been ripped off provided a barrier to any spiritual experience.
Only the Special
Our guide explained that Sedona represents the root chakra of the planet. Except it doesn’t – Mount Shasta in California holds that title. So, the New Agers of Sedona have concocted a handy myth of ley-lines connecting it to Mount Shasta to justify this claim. She also spoke of how Sedona is built on a huge expanse of quartz, hence, I suppose, the scourge of crystal shops in the town. She directed our attention to trees growing in a spiral, following the path of the vortex energy. A crow swooped overheard, checking us out. A butterfly appeared, a sign, we were told, of rebirth. People are drawn to Sedona, apparently, as part of the Earth healing itself. Our guide claimed thousands had arrived there since the pandemic, seeking answers. It was also claimed that Covid hadn’t affected the residents.
Selling the Sacred
We spent the afternoon in the town – a succession of high-end spas, crystal shops, and Native American galleries. It was depressing stuff. Every shop was hard sell. In one crystal shop, I watched the shop assistant sell a $500 crystal to a lady, telling her that he had placed one on his desk and seen his commissions grow six-fold.
In the late 1800s Native Americans, who saw the land around Sedona as so sacred they only ventured onto it for healing, were cleared by European settlers who had originally arrived in the valley in search of gold. The search for riches continues, but ironically, it is now the very sacredness of the site that is being plundered. Healing ground, developed, embellished, and sold back to us. Property prices in the area are so high that few can afford to live there. Those that do have to work so hard to survive, that any spiritual sentiments they may once have had, have been replaced by the need to turn a buck.
In Sedona the commercialisation of the sacred was as in your face as I have ever seen it. Tourists there looking for something – a meaning, a cure, a miracle. I can’t help but think that the answer does not lie in the vortex tours, spas, fortune telling, or sweat lodges. It lies in the land, gazing in at the abomination that is the town itself. Reflecting on what we have become, the lunacy of monetising even the sacred. There is no denying the free and abundant beauty & majesty of Sedona. I’m sure, if I hadn’t been so triggered, I would have eventually felt a connection to the energy there. That that isn’t enough for us, is incredibly sad. We need angel healing, sacred drumming circles, smoke and mirrors to feel “spiritual”. Sitting in nature and seeing things as they are no longer cuts it.
Before leaving Sedona, we experienced one of the most remarkable instances of serendipity that blew our minds. I also came face to face with a deer. There is undoubtedly something special about the place if you can see beyond the New Age nonsense. Joni Mitchell sang “They paved paradise, put up a parking lot” – nowhere is that truer than in Sedona.