Why so many flock to Sedona’s vortexes — and what to really expect when you get there

The small town has long been a destination for New Age seekers.

SEDONA, ARIZONA — The Kachina Woman rock formation rises like an obelisk from a cool green canyon. More than a dozen women are tucked into crevices in the rust-colored stone at its base, their faces turned toward the warm Arizona sun. Some people prefer to sit with their legs crossed. Others are in the fetal position. They did not all come together, but they all came for the same reason: to soak up the energy of one of Sedona’s most popular vortexes.

The small town of Sedona, located on the ancestral home of the Yavapai people and surrounded by towering mesas and spectacular vistas, has long been a destination for New Age seekers and the astrologers, psychics, tarot readers, shamans, and healers who cater to them. These spiritual pilgrims have been drawn to the region for the last 40 years by stories of its mysterious and amorphous energy vortexes. Although definitions differ, Sedona’s vortexes are generally understood to be geographical locations of invisible and potent spiritual energy, usually associated with specific rock formations.

The shelves of the town’s many crystal shops and metaphysical bookstores are stacked with books about vortexes — what they are, where to find them, and the unique energies you might encounter at each one. Visitors may also select from a variety of vortex tours, which may include a jeep ride, sound healing, guided meditation, yoga, or all of the above.

However, as spiritual tourism in Sedona grows, the region’s most famous vortexes have become more popular and crowded. As traffic clogs the town’s throughways and trailside parking becomes scarce, some longtime vortex guides say a new understanding of Sedona’s vortex energy — and how to tap into it — is required.

“It feels good when someone can point to a spot and say, ‘This is it,'” said Dennis Andres, a.k.a. Mr. Sedona and author of “What is a Vortex?” and the upcoming “Experience the Vortex.” “But it’s not a location. Sedona is alive with energy.”

Big vortex energy

Historians trace Sedona’s New Age roots back to the late 1950s, when a group of local women interested in metaphysics began hosting meditations in their homes, but the land’s spiritual history dates back much further. This red rock country is also sacred to the Yavapai people, who were forced to leave in 1875 and do not believe in vortexes.

“I call it a tourist trap because it’s really overcrowded,” said Gertrude Smith, Yavapai-Apache Nation culture director. “But it’s a very important part of our people and our history for us.” That is where many of our creation stories originate.”

Members of the nation gather in the Sedona area each February to commemorate what they call “the Great Exodus,” when the band was forced to trek 240 miles southwest across rugged terrain to another reservation. Many elderly people and babies died during the journey. Members of the community go up to the site before the ceremony to clear the land of the medicine wheels, crystals, and other talismans that are inevitably left by New Age seekers.

“I know for them that’s their belief, that they want to believe in something,” he said. “But these are our sacred sites and it makes our medicine man upset.”

Yavapai religious practices have little in common with the four, seven, or nine vortex locations (depending on the map) that spiritual tourists seek today. These locations, all of which are easily accessible via short trails near parking lots, were named by psychic channeler Page Bryant in 1980 and popularized by California psychic and self-help guru Dick Sutphen. Airport Mesa (great for sunsets), Bell Rock (shaped like a bell), Cathedral Rock (which glows when the sun hits it), and Boynton Canyon (home to caves and ancient dwellings) are the most well-known.

Bryant labeled the vortex locations as electric, magnetic, or electromagnetic when she identified them. The names were supposed to be symbolic. Electric vortexes are thought to radiate a stimulating and uplifting energy, whereas magnetic vortexes are thought to radiate a more receptive, focused, and grounding energy. Electromagnetic vortexes are a hybrid of the two. Individuals’ experiences with vortexes, however, are frequently more varied.

Gail Brown, a Long Island grandmother who was among the women meditating at Kachina Woman in Boynton Canyon (electromagnetic vortex), said she felt peaceful and grounded during her time there, as if the Earth was emitting a calming energy. Lynn Debaw, an 80-year-old retired gym teacher, described it as a more spiritual feeling of opening and awakening in her heart.

LeeAnn Rigau, a retired teacher from Virginia, said the ground around the Bell Rock vortex (electric) felt charged with a strong current to her. “I was lying on bare rock, but when I put my arms down it felt like I was lying on six inches of grass because of the energy shooting up around my arms,” she told me.

Anjuli Mahendra, a yoga and massage instructor in the Bay Area, described the energy at the Courthouse vortex (magnetic) as earthy, downward, and slow. “I felt like I was inside a womb,” she explained.

Then there are those who have no feelings at all.

“This isn’t going to work for me,” said a woman from Maryland who declined to give her name as she looked on in disbelief as a retreat group engaged in spontaneous movement and dance to process messages received from the vortex at Boynton Canyon. “I guess you have to be a believer.”

Even as she joked with her husband about “scrambling the energies” by taking a selfie, she marveled at the grandeur of the surroundings — the red rocks carved by the elements over millions of years, the bright green of the forest below, the expansive blue sky.

“It’s lovely,” she said, the sarcasm leaving her voice. “I’m soaking up the beauty.”

Some claim that the energy of Sedona’s vortexes is measurable, that it is amplified by a bed of quartz beneath the ground, that it can affect your brain waves and lower your blood pressure, and that it is linked to the intersection of ley lines, which some believe crisscross the Earth. However, an open-minded skeptic may find a different perspective on the vortex easier to swallow.

“The word ‘vortex’ is a simplified one-word label for a place that makes it easier to do prayer, mind-body healing, meditation, tapping higher consciousness, or oneness with the infinite,” said Pete A. Sanders Jr., founder of the Sedona Metaphysical Spiritual Assn. and author of “Scientific Vortex Information.”

“But it’s easier to say ‘Go to the vortex,'” he went on to say.

The Hollywood Hills are a vortex, too?

Sanders, who has a trim white beard and the demeanor of a math teacher (he keeps his phone in a case clipped to his belt), has been teaching people how to work with vortex energy — what he refers to as “the vortex effect” — since 1980. However, his attitude toward these sites has shifted in recent years. He still believes that the conditions in Sedona are among the best in the world for creating the energy that supercharges prayer, meditation, and mind-body healing, owing to the inspiring greens and reds of the landscape, but he contends that Sedona does not have a monopoly on the phenomenon.

He teaches visitors not only how to tap into the energy of Sedona’s vortex sites, but also how to seek that energy closer to their own homes, at the weekly vortex talks he gives at hotels around town. “Being inspired by a hillside you see or a nature picture can do it,” he went on to say. “An upflow vortex is formed by pyramidal topography.” You are drawn up by the visual.”

Sanders, who grew up in the San Fernando Valley, described the Hollywood Hills as a vortex. Griffith Observatory is also nearby. The San Gabriel and Santa Monica Mountains are also nearby.

“We love having people’s tourist money here,” he went on to say. “But if people never come to Sedona, they can still have a vortex experience.”

While this viewpoint is not universally shared among Sedona’s vortex tour guides, many agree that focusing on only a few sites misses the point.

Banah Winn, a musician, sound healer, and vortex guide who relocated to Sedona from Los Angeles in May, claims that Boynton Canyon alone has 60 different vortex sites. He’s been to ten of them. While he doesn’t believe there are any Sedona-level vortexes in Los Angeles, he believes the Self-Realization Fellowship’s Lake Shrine in the Pacific Palisades comes close.

Andres stated that after 18 years of leading vortex tours in the area, he has come to the conclusion that focusing on a few specific and overly crowded locations will only lead to disappointment.

“They are not going to levitate when they get there,” he added.

To get the most out of their visit to Sedona, visitors should expect to participate actively in the spiritual experience they seek, rather than simply sitting at the base of a red rock and hoping for a miracle, he said. Show up with an open mind and an intention. Perform a meditation. Attend a retreat.

“What’s more interesting to me, and what’s happening now, is helping people connect with this energy,” he went on to say. “Instead of being passive, how can they be intentional?”

Tune in, relax and surrender

Kim Sieb, a former national park ranger who is now a vortex tour guide and spiritual healer, took over Sedona Mystical Tours in 2020 after the previous owner approached her in a trailside parking lot. An astrologer and psychic had predicted that she would be his successor.

On a recent Wednesday, she met three people at the Courthouse Vista trailhead who had signed up for a two-hour vortex tour ($200 for the first person, $75 for each additional person). The parking lot was already full at 8 a.m.

She walked for a quarter-mile before stepping off the path, dressed in tan pants and tan lace-up moccasins with a pale blue shawl wrapped around her shoulders. She spritzed the attendees, including me, with a fragrance she made herself from native plants while standing beneath a twisted juniper tree. She encouraged us to take deep breaths and imagine ourselves rooted in the earth. Then she placed a tuning fork on top of our heads.

The day was lovely, crisp and bright, but I couldn’t concentrate. I’ll let you decide whether it’s because of the energy coming from nearby Bell Rock (an electric vortex), the steady stream of other hikers passing by, or the sudden and uncontrollable coughing fit that seized me just then.

After we arrived at another clearing near Courthouse Rock, which is said to be a magnetic vortex, I felt much better. Sieb spread out blankets on a sandy wash and invited us to lie down for a sound healing after warning us not to step on the biodynamic crust that is essential to Sedona’s ecosystem.

The sun was warm but not yet hot, and the ground was more pliable than I had anticipated. Sieb began by striking a wide flat drum above us, which reverberated in my chest. She then began to strike the Tibetan bowls she’d placed around our heads and on our bellies gently.

As she guided us through a meditation, I felt myself relax more and more, perhaps more than I ever had. She instructed us to imagine the Earth rising up to meet our bodies in the same way that our bodies were reaching down to the Earth. That iron was present in the red rock all around us, just as it is in our blood. That water was moving beneath the ground where we were lying, just as it was moving through us.

I felt a tremendous sense of surrender and merging into the Earth, as well as a strong desire to never leave this spot again. I would later describe it as “sticky.”

I felt the same stickiness that evening while watching the sunset at Airport Mesa, and again after the other meditators had left, when I tucked myself into a crevice at the bottom of Kachina Woman. I felt it again when I awoke early on my final day in Sedona to watch the sun rise over Cathedral Rock.

Some might argue that it was the scenery. Some might say I was simply exhausted. Some may attribute it to vortexes.

Who knows, I say?

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