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Today we’re going to visit central Arizona in the American Southwest, along a wet green valley cutting through the red rock desert. This is the town of Sedona, once a humble ranching and retirement community, later popular with art galleries, and today a full-blown, prices-through-the-roof home to the rich and famous and opulent resorts, overrun with private jets and Range Rovers. What catapulted this remote hamlet into stardom? In large part, it was Sedona’s reputation among the New Age elite as a mystical Mecca, a place where the Earth breathes its energy in and out, invigorating the enlightened and enriching the meditative. For the city of Sedona is virtually synonymous with what the faithful call an energy vortex.
Normally, the plural of vortex is vortices, but people in Sedona have a slightly abnormal view of what a vortex is. Accordingly, they refer to them in the plural as vortexes. Although most vortex believers are genuine, a huge tourism industry has been built up around these mystical constructs. Most tourist maps describe four main vortexes in Sedona: the Airport Vortex, the Boynton Canyon Vortex, the Cathedral Rock Vortex, and the Bell Rock Vortex. What exactly are they?
Sedona Vortex Tours says:
A vortex is a place of concentrated energy that people can sense.
These vortexes are subtle energy centers where spiritual and psychic powers are enhanced.
Love Sedona says:
The energy resonates with and strengthens the Inner Being of each person that comes within about a quarter to a half mile of it. This resonance happens because the vortex energy is very similar to the subtle energy operating in the energy centers inside each person.
Sedona.net even warns of potential physical effects:
…You may feel a range of sensations from a slight tingling on exposed skin, to a vibration emanating from the ground when you encounter a vortex. Most often a vortex is felt by palpable sensation across the nape of the neck and the shoulder blades.
A vortex is an exquisite manifestation of fluid dynamics. You see them around the edge of your paddle when you canoe; you see them in the storm clouds of Jupiter; you see them when someone blows a smoke ring; you even see them when you stir your coffee. Vortices can occur in any fluid; air, water, magma, so long as there is some force stirring it. A vortex is the most common way that a fluid converts the energy put into it by the stirring motion into potential energy. Pressure is highest at the edge of the stirring spoon, the tip of the aircraft wing, or whatever is doing the stirring. As the pressure is reduced the further you go from the axis, these differentials in pressure cause movement at different speeds. The formation of vortices follows Bernoulli’s Principle, set forth in Daniel Bernoulli‘s 1738 magnum opus on fluid dynamics, Hydrodynamica.
So from a physics perspective, we see there are two necessary ingredients for a vortex to exist: first, a fluid; and second, some stirring influence. When we try to match up a real vortex with the Sedona version, we quickly find there are no matches to be made. The “energy field” described by the vortex proponents is not the air or anything else that has the physical properties of a fluid; therefore there can be no pressure differentials or fluid dynamics in play. Since the fluid is not there, there is no canoe paddle or stirring spoon or uplifting warm air against falling cold air to initiate turbulent flow. Physically, anyway, a Sedona-type vortex does not exist. If there’s no physical fluid, there are no fluid dynamics.
But many vortex proponents will be the first to acknowledge this. It is a vortex of spiritual energy, not of any physical force. You’re not likely to have any success trying to pin down a vortex believer by discussing the properties of this alleged energy field. The whole idea is, of course, completely unscientific; as we discussed at length in the very first Skeptoid episode #1, New Age Energy. Energy is simply a measurement of work capability, it is not a physical thing unto itself. It is not a glowing cloud of power. It’s a measurement, not a fluid that swirls and flows. There is no such thing as an energy field. Yet, a few vortex proponents buck the trend and do attempt to ascribe physical properties to them.
The usual suspect is magnetism, as discussed at length by independent researchers such as Ben Lonetree, who has gone to great lengths to analyze US Geological Survey magnetometer readings of the region. A 2002 USGS report says:
Volcanic rocks are the most prevalent magnetic lithology of this region, and we expect high-amplitude, short-wavelength anomalies over volcanic terranes, especially in the Black Hills and the area between Page Springs and Sedona.
This is referencing paleomagnetism. When volcanic lava comes to the surface as liquid, its ferromagnetic particles align themselves with the Earth’s magnetic field like so many tiny compass needles. As it cools and hardens into rock, these alignments become fixed. When later tectonic processes disrupt the placement and orientation of this rock, a magnetic anomaly results, which is basically just a tiny variance in the local magnetic field.
The problem with trying to associate such magnetic variances with the vortexes is that Sedona’s variances are not especially remarkable, certainly not unique, and certainly nowhere near the magnitude of much greater variances all around the world.
Also See: I Tried to Have a Spiritual Experience in the Desert (Vice.com)