Burning Man 2017 “In Dust We Trust”

PP95507Burning Man isn’t your usual festival. It’s a city wherein almost everything that happens is created entirely by its citizens, who are active participants in the experience.

“We are among the first peoples in human history who do not broadly inherit religious identity as a given, a matter of kin and tribe, like hair color and hometown. But the very fluidity of this—the possibility of choice that arises, the ability to craft and discern one’s own spiritual bearings—is not leading to the decline of spiritual life but its revival.”

Beyond the dogmas, creeds, and metaphysical ideas of religion, there is immediate experience. It is from this primal world that living faith arises. In 2017, we will invite participants to create interactive rites, ritual processions, elaborate images, shrines, icons, temples, and visions. Our theme will occupy the ambiguous ground that lies between reverence and ridicule, faith and belief, the absurd and the stunningly sublime. The human urge to make events, objects, actions, and personalities sacred is protean. It can fix on and inhabit anyone or anything. This year our art theme will release this spirit in the Black Rock Desert.


In Search of the Sacred

“There is no formal difference between play and ritual, so the consecrated spot cannot be formally distinguished from the playground. The arena, the card table, the magic circle… all are in form and function playgrounds, i.e. forbidden spots, isolated, hedged round, hallowed, within which special rules obtain. All are temporary worlds within the ordinary world, dedicated to the performance of an act apart.”
— Johan Huizinga

Sacred things appear to come from some profoundly other place that is beyond the bounds of space and time. It is as if a window is thrown open on another world that is more real than real. This absolute uniqueness of all sacred things releases powerful emotions: joy, awe, wonder, dread, and, in its most transcendent form, pure exaltation. The sacred speaks to us of vastness and of union with a power larger than our conscious selves. The sacred gives us access, it is felt, to greater being.

This year’s theme is an attempt to reinvent ritual in our post post-modern world. For this purpose, we will disregard assertions of belief and concentrate instead on the immediate experience of play. Beliefs contain, define, and limit meaning. They can reduce truth to a rational commodity. But play can free us to envision truths of which we have no proof or warrant. Such play, as we conceive it, breaks down the distinction that divides belief from make-believe. Whole-hearted and creative play induces self-surrender to experience that is beyond the scope of reasoned thought.

Temple on a Plain

“As one longtime participant wrote, ‘Burning Man employs ritual, but it is ritual removed from the context of theology. Unhindered by dogma, ritual becomes a vessel that can be filled with direct experience.”
―Lee Gilmore, Fires of the Heart


From the playful invitation to make angels in the dust that greets participants who enter Black Rock City, to the Temple Burn that signals its demise, Burning Man is permeated with rituals. These rites speak of soulful need; the desire to belong to a place, to belong to a time, to belong to one another, and to belong to something that is greater than ourselves, even in the midst of impermanence. Throughout all ages temples have been built in order to induce these feelings.

When workers of the DPW, our Department of Public Works, arrive in the Black Rock Desert, their first task is to locate the exact position of the Burning Man, for it is from this very spot that our entire city is surveyed. Then a gilded metal stake is pounded in the ground, and over many years this action has evolved into a ritual. Each member of the crew takes up a hammer, and with a single stroke, imparts an ounce of energy that is confluent with their common effort; in some sense they’ve created Burning Man.

This year we will erect a temple that will commemorate the Golden Spike. Circles surrounding circles will converge immediately beneath the Man. We will mark this space with an omphalos, a sculpture that will represent the navel of our world, its central hub and gathering place. Passing through the spine of Burning Man, this axis will continue upward, emerging high above the temple as a golden spire. Participants are invited to contribute to this shrine, and to the hundred niches that will penetrate the temple’s walls. These offerings should be construed as gifts that will embody what our culture and its city means to you.

With a theme like Radical Ritual, it’s no wonder Burning Man 2017 will be home to 30 different Shrines.

At the center of Black Rock City, 20 Shrines will inscribe a circle around the Man base, known this year as the Temple of the Golden Spike. Throughout the week, the space will be energized with processions and rituals, inviting the denizens of BRC to explore what we as a community consider sacrosanct.

From traditional spirit houses offering protection to playful rituals; from shrines celebrating nature, water, and geographic regions to the exploration of dualities: mortal/divine, virgin/bitch, death/rebirth; from places of quiet reflection to those of simple action; from the importance of touch to the power within our own hands, all Shrines invite participants to engage with the sacred and leave offerings: written, thought, spoken, sung or secret. In the spirit of the sentiment, We don’t burn something to destroy it, we burn it to protect it, when the Man burns on Saturday night, these Shrines and the offerings made unto them will burn with it.

In addition to the 20 Shrines at the Man Pavilion, there will be 10 Shrines in the city Plazas, five in the 4:30 plaza and five at 7:30. The vision is to create small Art Parks within these plazas that work to slow traffic, encourage exploration, and engender interaction as a pathway to discovery. Here you will find an assortment of show-stoppers such as the bronze casting of a shy but helpful animal deity, the makings of a Bacchanalian disco, the physical tracings of our emotional journeys, and an interactive altar to psychedelic Buddhism.

Check out the full listing and descriptions of the Man Pavillion Shrines and Processionals.

The breadth of what these Shrines represent can be attributed to the diversity of their origin of vision. Of the 30 Shrine projects, nine come to us from different U.S. states and seven from countries that span the globe: Argentina, England, Estonia, Germany, Japan, Mexico, and the United States. Six of the Shrines are from recognized Regional Groups, seven are represented by returning groups, and four of the Shrines will be brought by members of our own Department of Public Works!The 2017 Shrines are part of the evolution of projects at the Man Pavillion: C.O.R.E., Souk, Midway, Guilds, and now Shrines. What began as an invitation to the Burning Man Regionals to contribute community projects has grown to incorporate artists and makers of all kinds: Regionals, community groups, individual artists and collectives. What’s more, the art at the Man Pavilion has taken on the role of encouraging new artists, introducing them to the Burning Man granting process, and providing smaller-scale opportunities to get acquainted with what it takes to bring a project to fruition in the often unrelenting and unpredictable conditions on playa. Five of the 2017 Honoraria Grants were made to groups that got their start in the Man Pavilion program!

Water protector? Transcendentalist? Looking for your best near future self? In search of a quiet place of reflection? Seeking ancestors? A keeper for your secrets? The help of a Huldre? Somewhere in the dust is a Shrine for every seeker.

Mystic Huldre — Steffin Griswold & MN Regional Burning Arts Cooperative — Minneapolis, MN

How Did “Burning Man” Start?

Before we dive in, it’s important to understand just what the hell Burning Man, or a regional Burn such as that which I attended recently, is all about, and what it is patently not about.

Dating back to 1986, Burning Man was originally inspired by a few friends – Larry Harvey and Jerry James – building and burning a human effigy on a beach in San Francisco. Witnessing the crowd that formed, and experiencing the bonding, almost tribal experience of people sharing a then unclear ritual, Burning Man was born.

Over the next few years, Harvey and a growing group of folks expanded the scope of the ritual – and the size of “the man,” until in 1990, the event was moved to Black Rock Desert, in rural Nevada. There, participants and organizers alike would collaborate to form a sort of temporary, dadaist, autonomous zone; a temporary city, built for just one week, with it’s own economic, cultural, and political systems. Judgement, money, and inhibitions were left at the gate in an earth-shattering sociocultural experiment with no clear destination nor agenda. And, true to the original “burn,” art structures including the effigy would be burned to signal the end of the gathering.

Once a small gathering for free thinkers, modern Black Rock City is so big you can see it from space.

Throughout the 1990 and early 2000’s, Burning Man slowly grew from a few hundred radical freethinkers into a proper cultural movement. By 1996, the event had 8,000 attendees. In 1997, an official Department of Public Works was established. Temporary roads, based on the face of a clock, were designed to create order and improve the increasing flow of human – and “mutant vehicle” traffic. An FAA-Approved Airport was created. Billionaires and business leaders from all over the world began attending. Popular magazines and TV shows began referencing the cultural phenomenon. By 2000, law enforcement took notice, too, and a steady stream of citations and arrests begins to increase every year. After all, outlandish art, loud music, nudity, and even a psychedelic drug counterculture had become instrumental parts of the “burn.” By 2004, Burning Man’s future was extremely uncertain: that same year, there were 218 citation from the Bureau of Land Management, 217 citations from police, 246 warnings, and numerous arrests. The city’s population that year? A mind-boggling 35,000 people.

To reign in the chaos of a rapidly expanding and ever-scrutinized population, Larry Harvey and the Burning Man Organization sat down and created the now-infamous “10 Principles.” A set of guidelines that would govern the behavior of “Burners” both in Black Rock City, and in future “Regional” burns around the world.

The 10 Principles:

The 10 principles today are something of a bible for burners everywhere. It’s not uncommon to be reminded of these values, or to hear them articulated.

Here, I will quote them directly from Burning Man’s Official doctrine:

  1. Radical Inclusion: Anyone may be a part of Burning Man. We welcome and respect the stranger. No prerequisites exist for participation in our community.
  2. Gifting: Burning Man is devoted to acts of gift giving. The value of a gift is unconditional. Gifting does not contemplate a return or an exchange for something of equal value.
  3. Decommodification: In order to preserve the spirit of gifting, our community seeks to create social environments that are unmediated by commercial sponsorships, transactions, or advertising. We stand ready to protect our culture from such exploitation. We resist the substitution of consumption for participatory experience.
  4. Radical Self-reliance: Burning Man encourages the individual to discover, exercise and rely on his or her inner resources.
  5. Radical Self-expression: Radical self-expression arises from the unique gifts of the individual. No one other than the individual or a collaborating group can determine its content. It is offered as a gift to others. In this spirit, the giver should respect the rights and liberties of the recipient.
  6. Communal Effort: Our community values creative cooperation and collaboration. We strive to produce, promote and protect social networks, public spaces, works of art, and methods of communication that support such interaction.
  7. Civic Responsibility: We value civil society. Community members who organize events should assume responsibility for public welfare and endeavor to communicate civic responsibilities to participants. They must also assume responsibility for conducting events in accordance with local, state and federal laws.
  8. Leaving No Trace: Our community respects the environment. We are committed to leaving no physical trace of our activities wherever we gather. We clean up after ourselves and endeavor, whenever possible, to leave such places in a better state than when we found them.
  9. Participation: Our community is committed to a radically participatory ethic. We believe that transformative change, whether in the individual or in society, can occur only through the medium of deeply personal participation. We achieve being through doing. Everyone is invited to work. Everyone is invited to play. We make the world real through actions that open the heart.
  10. Immediacy: Immediate experience is, in many ways, the most important touchstone of value in our culture. We seek to overcome barriers that stand between us and a recognition of our inner selves, the reality of those around us, participation in society, and contact with a natural world exceeding human powers. No idea can substitute for this experience.

If these values sound like a handbook for indoctrinating new people into a cult, it’s not a coincidence.

Since 2004, Burning Man itself has grown to a staggering 65,000 attendees. But that’s not all. Through the support of the Burning Man Organization – which became a registered nonprofit in 2011, those attendance numbers are easily doubled or even tripled by the tens of thousands of people who attend regional burns everywhere from Israel, to South Africa, to Europe and Asia. In fact, in Israel alone, the Midburn regional event grew to an impressive 11,000 people this year, and it’s expected that AfrikaBurn will see 13,000 attendees this year.

Which leads me back to the 10 principles.

Burning Man has stayed true to it’s principles – including burning dozens of art installations every year to promote immediately and decommodification.

Whereas most events – the Coachella’s, Tomorrowlands, and even Woodstocks of the world, have a tendency to become diluted, commercialized, or otherwise polluted versions of themselves, Burning Man, as a whole, has remained pure – metaphorically and quite literally. But for a few rare exceptions, it’s not only possible, but rather likely, to spend an entire week in Black Rock City without seeing a single argument, advertisement, dollar bill, or piece of litter.

Sure, there are many old-school burners who will tell you about the glory days in the 90’s, before theme camps and rich technocrats ruled the playa (a general term for Black Rock City), but for the most part, the 10 principles have allowed Burning Man – both the event and the global organization – to grow tremendously without losing it’s magic.


What Exactly Is So Magical About Burning Man? (And How Can It Change Us For The Better?)

Is it the larger-than-life, interactive art and music that melt your mind and show you levels of beauty and human expression you previously were incapable of imagining?

The freedom to express yourself  – including previously undiscovered sides of yourself – more fully, and experience acceptance and affection more completely than any modern, socialized human could possibly experience in the “default world?”

Or perhaps the disconnection from the digital world of Likes and Shares, and the opportunity to experience the natural, connected, loving, present, and endlessly curious state of the

human spirit at play?

A real-life Wonderland? Burning Man distorts one’s concept of what is “real,” “possible,” or “normal.”

The ability – or even the likelihood – to fall in love with someone for a minute, an hour, or even a lifetime, based solely on the deep and unencumbered connection you create in this state of sheer mindfulness?

How about the uniquely amplified and intertwined magic of kismet, the law of attraction, karma, and coincidence that allows “the playa” to somehow provide you exactly what you need, in the exact moment you need it – as if you were living in a real-world fairytale?

Or is it maybe even the omnipresence of powerful, psychedelic drugs that change your grasp on the human experience, combined with the ideal, safe space to explore radically altered states of consciousness?

In reality, it’s all of that. But it’s much, much more.

Man Pavillion Shrines

Abuelo Fuego — Philip DePoala & Intrepid Arts — Saugerties, NY

Ahimsa Hamsa — Cat Dunleavy, Joe Taylor & Cafe Diem — Kings Beach, CA

Altar de Carroñero/Scavenger Altar — Deadneck West / Carina Botanik — Reno, NV

Ayni Despacho: Planting the Seeds of of Man’s Becoming — Lorraine Esther & the ‘eL Womyn — Gardnerville-Sierra, NV

Buddha Bank — Denver Burners — Denver, CO

Gauchito Gil and the Pagan Gang — Tati Perkins & Gauchos del Fuego — Mexico City, Mexico & Buenos Aires, Argentina

House of the Golden Raven — Eva Reiska with the Estonian Burners — Tallinn, Estonia

Morning Ritual — Camp Furry Gorilla Warfare — Irvine, CA

Northern Spork — Kellie Larson & Tom Mays  with MN Regional Burning Arts Cooperative — Minneapolis, MN

Pagan Bunny Shrine — Sunshine Rae Kelly & Pagan Bunny Builders — Elk Creek, CA

Sacrarium of Serendipity — Singe & Nubbin — Minneapolis, MN

Shrine de Vine — Elizabeth Marley + the Growing Architecture Collective — San Francisco, CA

Shrine of Brotherly Love — Philly Burners — Philadelphia, PA

Shrine of Dough — Andrew Sczesnak & Chris Swimmer — Berkeley, CA

Silent Lotus — Kyle Larrain — Truckee, CA

The Aquarian Shrine — Jade Fusco, The DMZL — Austin, TX

The Gilded Brine Shrimp — Vaughn Perkins — Elk Creek, CA

The Shrine of Lost Moments — German & Berlin Burners — Germany

The Temple of the Inner Bitch — Anna Metcalf & the Bitch Collective — New Orleans, LA

Wings of Eos — Roxane Bounce Williams — Redwood City, CA

Plaza Shrines

AS-IF Shrine — Francesca Gaskin and Panda Camp — London, Great Britain

ASURA Bike — ASURA Bike Team — Japan

Barry the Disco Goat — Christina Solis — Houston, TX

Emotional Journeys — Alexander “Wolf” Griffin — Portland, OR

Internal Flame — Kyle Stryker — Occidental, CA

Leave No Spirit — Bend and Central Oregon Network (BACON) of Burners — Oregon

My Daily, and Lifelong, Hiawatha #1 — Jimmy Descant & Amalgamated Debris Assemblage — Salida, CO

Mystic Huldre — Steffin Griswold & MN Regional Burning Arts Cooperative — Minneapolis, MN

Shrine of the Singing Sun — Servants of the Secret Fire — San Francisco, CA

The Messenger Shrine — Gabriel Allan and The Emissaries of the Burning Heart — Charlottesville, VA

Special call out to our DPW folks

Altar de Carroñero/Scavenger Altar — Deadneck West / Carina Botanik — Reno, NV

House of the Golden Raven — Eva Reiska with the Estonian Burners — Tallinn, Estonia

Internal Flame — Kyle Stryker — Occidental, CA

Silent Lotus — Kyle Larrain — Truckee, CA

Honoraria projects with roots in the Man Pavilion program

Blacksmith Shop — Anton Standteiner & Blacksmith Shop — Truckee, CA

Dance For The Dawn — Karolis Misevicius & Lithuania Burners — Vilnius, Lithuania

Hispatext — Mariano Rodriguez Ribas & Gauchos del Fuego — Buenos Aires, Argentina

The Dragonfly Mating Ritual — Ed VanDyne & Rocky Mountain High Flyers Guild — Loveland, CO

The Temple of Awareness — Bobby Gittins & Utah Builders Community (UBC) — Salt Lake City, UT

This artical is dedicated to my loving Boo. He could not go this year so I have tried to bring Burning Man to him and all of you. Welcome Home.

Lou Ceffer

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