Tuesday, January 26, 2010

Attack of the 39 Foot Woman!

Attack of the 39 Foot Woman!
The Outs- February 2010
Ellen Jo Roberts

Cue scene…and ACTION! A giant woman invades the Verde Valley! Larger than life, a vision in white! The townspeople revolt violently! Chaos! Confusion!…and Cults? How will this story end? Stay tuned!

The Mago towers at the edge of Cottonwood, along Bill Gray Road, 39 feet tall, and standing on a 9 ½ foot base. Part of the Sedona Tao Center’s Mago “Earth Park”, she represents a vision of “earth mother”, gingerly holding a floating globe within her colossal hands. Like many atomic giants that terrorize the tiny townsfolk, Mago’s origins are in Asia. “Soul of the Earth” is the Korean mythology of Mago. Her outsized presence has stirred the Verde Valley into an equally jumbo-sized lather. For months, hundreds of letters to the editor rant and rave against her appearance: some protests reasonable, others prejudiced and hateful.
Reasonable complaints argue that this statue simply violates the building code, design regulations, and height ordinance. While others quote the Bible and argue against the basic tenants of the Constitution. Still others say it blocks the view and could potentially cause visual impairment to the vehicular public due to its dominance along State Highway 89A. Perhaps the biggest problem many Verde Valley residents struggle with in this tale is the center’s connection to controversial Dahn Yoga, its cult-like leader, Ilchi Lee, and his organization’s questionable business practices.

By the time you read this article, the giant Mago may be gone.
Sorry if you missed her. At press time, the park’s lawyer, Flagstaff land use attorney, Willam P. Ring, P.C., had offered a compromise to Cottonwood’s Planning and Zoning Commission offering to remove the 39 foot statue in exchange for a smaller 9 foot version.

“We understood, from the criteria, that monuments of spiritual quality were not subject the height ordinance”, Mr. Ring explained, at the public meeting January 25th, citing various Cottonwood building codes, “We are willing to admit this evening that was OUR misunderstanding. We are willing to retire that statue and replace it with a smaller Mago statue”.

I am a huge fan of roadside kitsch. We travel far and wide to catch sight of highway mascots, folk art, and assorted monuments to bad taste. There is something just so full of silliness, so full of joie de vivre, it makes me just plain happy to be alive on planet earth. When somebody believes in something so strongly and feels so compelled to create something so crazy, it renews my faith in the human spirit. The Mago and the other various religious figures depicted at the Sedona Mago Center’s Earth Park definitely qualify as Kitschville to the max. I half expected Mother Mago would be holding a giant donut, or a muffler, like her fiberglass kin folk across the USA. So, yeah, I gotta admit, I went there, and I kinda loved it. It was so totally over the top that it knocked my socks off.
The Mago is gigantic and glossy. She can be seen from as far away as Jerome, and far out along Highway 260. She is a pale-faced blonde, in a bright white robe. Locals squawk at her blonde “Barbie Doll” looks. It doesn’t meet our traditional notion of an “earth mother”, which is generally more in earth tones-- like the native and natural tribes that make up the majority of the globe. Against the Arizona blue sky, with Sedona’s red rocks in the distance behind her, she is a striking scene. Looking up at the 39 foot tall Mago I imagine this must be how I look to my pet Chihuahua, Floyd.

“The flowing robes, the grace. Striking.”
Carl Spackler, “Caddyshack” c. 1980

It would only be a matter of time before cartoonist Bill Griffiths (a well-known fan of gigantic roadside weirdness) would arrive in Cottonwood, Arizona to draw a “Zippy the Pinhead” comic featuring the Mago. The park, neatly landscaped with shrubs, trees, and stone pathways, is also home of many other not-quite-as-colossal figures, referred to by the city of Cottonwood as “ornaments’. There is a 15 foot tall Kokopelli statue, surrounded by lil’ multicolored children in action, running, kicking jumping in every direction. Naturally, the native North American legend of Kokopelli is one of fertility—the stranger that comes to town with his big “flute” leaving a throng of pregnant women in his wake. That’s where all these childrens came from! Basically, Kokopelli was just a gigolo! Why are we not protesting him? A small side courtyard features 10 foot tall golden figures of “Enlightened Ones” depicting Jesus Christ, Buddha...maybe Zeus, Confucious, and some Native American figure in full Plains feathered regalia.

While I was at the park avidly snapping photos, a pleasant man cheerfully introduced himself as “Alex, the owner”. We chatted a bit. He explained that the center, their own private property, was something they wanted to open up for everyone to enjoy, for the public’s use. He then invited me to come into a small building for more information and some tea. I saw the pile of shoes outside the door, and lost my nerve. If there were strings attached to this park, I didn’t want to be tangled up in them.

The Earth Park, consisting of 6 acres of land at Bill Gray Road and Highway 89A, was originally issued a permit in 2006 simply as a welcome center, parking lot, and shuttle staging area, to bring visitors from Highway 89A back out to the organization's retreat center many miles along the unpaved and wild Bill Gray Road. The Tao Center of Sedona opened its Mago Retreat in a remote area of the Coconino National Forest between Sedona and Cottonwood back in 1998. The retreat center is renowned for its “green” practices, using solar energy, grey water, and installing thousands of native trees and plants. They have an organic garden, fertilized by compost from their dining hall and manure from their horse stables.

In the past 3 years additional interim permits were approved allowing for such things as small events at the Earth Park, things like farmers markets, weddings, and parties. Landscaping was improved, and small gazebos were constructed. A conditional use permit legally allowed the Mago Center to erect the 50 foot Mago for their opening celebration, December 16th 2009. Once the permit expired, as it now has, the statue would have to be removed. These interim and conditional use permits assumed a final permanent design for the property would be presented within 3 years. It has not been. This makes the Cottonwood Planning and Zoning Commission testy. A stop order has been placed on various additional unapproved projects. .
The public hearing to review the statue’s conditional use permit needed to be postponed a month, when crowds too large to be seated arrived to protest. The meeting location was rescheduled for a much larger venue, Cottonwood’s Mingus Union High School auditorium.

“It’s incredible that you are the only planning and zoning commission in the U.S. to be gullible enough to allow this,” said feisty Cottonwood resident Judy Love, calling the Mago an ”incredibly ugly” statue, “That statue is a free advertising sign to get people into their compound, and relieve them of their money. It’s all about the money. It’s a business, not a faith based church, but it’s along the same lines as Jonestown, the Moonies, David Koresh, and the recent sweat lodge incident in Sedona. We should not allow this to happen in our community.”

“Why not give your neighbors a chance?” asks Dahn Yoga spokesman Joseph Alexander from Mesa AZ, “I have volunteered at the Mago Earth Park. It is designed to share with all people. This is not about religion, or one religion. It’s about recognizing each other as fellow citizens of the earth.”

Johhny LeDoux from Cottonwood declared himself as a member of the Nazarene Church, “To me this is an affront. This is an idol. This is a graven image.”

“I am opposed,” said Cottonwood businessman, Mark Avery, “I did not come here to talk about religious aspects. It should be known that the Tao Center is a for profit business.” Mr. Avery then sited the recent CNN report and investigation of Ilchi Lee. “If you put up a 4 foot statue it is not going to attract anybody. It’s not about religion. It’s about sign code. How can I attract people? It’s my business. I need to attract people. If you don’t enforce this, how can you control it when the hardware store wants to put up a 50 foot hammer?…It’s a business and it’s getting bigger by the minute.”

Ilchi Lee, a legalized American citizen born in South Korea in 1950, is a “brain philosopher”, and founder of a series of brain and body training programs, some criticized for their intensity and danger. Dahn Yoga includes traditional elements of yoga already familiar to us: stretching, meditation, circulation, and “chi” representing human energy flow. The Korean word “Dahn” translates as “primal, vital energy.” But, the program also allegedly features overexertion, sleep deprivation, dehydration, numbing repetition, and other tactics commonly used for breaking the spirit and controlling the mind. Various lawsuits were brought to court and dismissed throughout the ‘00s, including wrongful death, sexual assault, and unfair business practices. A current Arizona lawsuit, filed in May 2009, includes claims against Ilchi Lee from 26 former Dahn members and masters from throughout the United States, and Korea. All plaintiffs claim that after lengthy association with Dahn Yoga (sometimes years worth of various studies and programs, with aggressive encouragement to recruit new members and new money) they were finally “able the break the psychological manipulation and indoctrination sufficiently to leave Dahn.”

“The Dahn organization (“Dahn”), which is controlled by Defendant Ilchi Lee, operates under a complex web of corporate names, and is comprised of myriad for-profit and not-profit business entities and organizations, including but not limited to the Corporate Defendants, Dahn Yoga & Health Centers Inc., Tao Fellowship, BR Consulting, Inc., Mago Earth, Inc., Vortex, Inc., and CGI, Inc., all of which collectively operate and control more than 130 “Dahn Yoga” Centers in the United States, including 6 in Arizona, as well as more than 300 Dahn Yoga Centers in South Korea, 350 in Japan, and approximately 20 in Canada and the United Kingdom.”
-Case number 2:09-cv-01115-SRB in the United States District Court for the District of Arizona

The Sedona retreat hosts about 3000 guests each year, as the primary training facility for Dahn worldwide, and is noted many times throughout the current lawsuit. In the legal documents the essence of the organization comes across as a giant pyramid scheme, an aggressive business plan. Members are encouraged to attend more and more classes, and programs, sometimes going into great debt in order to do so. They’re encouraged to enlist new members into the fold, for more money. Dahn defendants deny all claims made in the lawsuit, referring to the plaintiffs as “disgruntled employees”.

“When Defendants deemed that they had been sufficiently indoctrinated, Plaintiffs were coercively induced to attend an extended Dahn Yoga training retreat in Sedona, Arizona, called ‘Master’s Training’. This retreat was designed by Defendants to further indoctrinate Plaintiffs into Dahn and reinforce a Dahn members 100% devotion to Dahn, and Defendant Ilchi Lee and his ‘Vision’”.
-Case number 2:09-cv-01115-SRB in the United States District Court for the District of Arizona

“When I look at Mago statue I see hope. Hope for unity. Hope for the future I had not seen before I began this practice,” said Johnell Moore a Dahn devotee from Mesa, Arizona. “The United States Constitution gives me the right to practice my spirituality in any way I like, as long as it doesn’t interfere with your rights.”

Danny DeBose, “an American Citizen and Veteran” of Cottonwood said, “One of the things I was fighting for was freedom of religion, for people to worship how they wish. That’s why we came here to this country. I’d like our constitution to be held up. I’m in favor of the Mago Park…Sometimes people don’t like what they see in art. But perhaps this is because they don’t like what they see in themselves.”

Many feel the Mago could become a major tourist draw benefiting the entire Verde Valley. The Mago Center is a for profit organization, with future plans for a motel, restaurant, gift shop and horse back riding at the site of their Earth Park. Hiding behind religion when it suits them, the Tao Center seems to want to play both sides of the coin depending on what side is more advantageous at the moment. In the end, it’s not about religion, business, good art or bad art. It’s about Cottonwood building codes, zoning, and design review. Rules, plain and simple.

5’9’’ Ellen Jo Roberts lives in a historic brick bungalow that meets all Clarkdale building codes.
She shares her home with 6’4’’ Bike daddy Chad, and several rambunctious pets that are all up to date on their vaccinations and fully licensed by local authorities.
Read all about it at ellenjo.com


  1. If you want more truth about Ilchi Lee and this organization than in the CNN report go to dahnyogavoice dot com
    See without the twists and bias of CNN's sensationalism.
    Almost all items of the suit have already been dismissed by the Arizona court as it is lead by a disgruntled ring leader and her subordonates. The remaining 2 will be shortly. Please do not report the same way as CNN did. Get the full story first.
    Could all of you after reading the facts of the situation formulate your opnion. Not before please.
    Thank you for this post.

  2. What scares me more than anonymous posts is the massive Catholic church right next door to Mother Mago. Yikes!

  3. I heard this was coming, but wholy shitola! is this next to the sewage treatment center?

  4. It is gone now. Dismantled piece by piece.

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