Burning Man Festival: The Ultimate Retreat

Posted on 06. Sep, 2012 by in General Mystic Fare, Spiritual Journey

Burning Man, 9/6/12

This festival has been going since 1986 in the United States and has grown amazingly each year. It’s now held in the northern Nevada desert called Black Rock Desert. It opens every year on the last Monday of August and goes till the first Monday in September, a holiday in the US (Labor Day). The name comes from a large 40 foot or 12 meter high wooden effigy of a man that is burned on Saturday night each year. Here is an article by Derek Beres writing for the Huffington Post (“Religion Canada” section) about this year’s celebration.

Burning Man Festival: The Ultimate Retreat

The annual ritual known as Burning Man probably had 60,900 meanings for everyone in attendance this year. But my second sojourn to the festival in the desert verified what I recalled from my first: This is the most widespread example that America has at consciously creating a modern mythology. Myths have always had conscious and unconscious elements — the ritual is consciously constructed, but what happens within the container of the construction is anyone’s guess. This is the empty space where magic happens.

To dive further into this idea, I’d like to use Joseph Campbell’s four functions of a mythology to show how beyond a party and getting f’d up in the desert, Burning Man is a mythology in the making, creating a social order relevant to our time, right now, 2012 America.

The Mystical Function

Campbell’s first requirement was that mythology must inspire awe in the universe. Modern America was built on biblical desert mythologies, even if most Americans would want to do anything but live in such an environment today. Standing in the middle of the Playa — the art-driven center of the camp — at 2 a.m., whipping yourself around to find a perfect circumference of lights, mutant vehicles and sound systems the size of midtown Manhattan clubs is, to say the least, awe-inspiring. All mythologies were created by humans; I hope we’re evolved enough to understand that no god rushed down from wherever to “give” a human some special message. Therefore, what really matters is imagination. Burning Man is a safe space to fully explore and share your creative edge. Seeing what 60,000 humans can create in the span of a week, only to be destroyed (explained later), is more mystical to the human mind than reading stories of a man who might have done this or that thousands of years ago.

The Cosmological Function

Campbell’s second function was that a mythology had to explain the shape of the universe. Obviously, we’ve had many different shapes offered to us. The shape of Burning Man is impermanence, a principle deeply entwined with Buddhism. While the entire gathering has been written off as wasteful — it is not cheap to attend; I spent $1,200 for six days — the festival is a living example of what art and life can be when we move beyond the bottom line. Think about this: In the span of two weeks (including build and breakdown), a city is constructed, celebrated and deconstructed. This is the exact representation of the triune deities of Brahma, Vishnu and Shiva in Indian mythology. Creation, destruction and, yes, sustainability; the ritual occurs yearly as an annual reminder of the transience of life, much like the Mexican myths of the corn goddess or the eternal return of Osiris. Theology teaches us the importance of the afterlife, which often serves as a way of not taking responsibility for the life we are living now; think of the anti-global warming furor of the GOP, for one example. When the man burns on Saturday evening, we are reminded not only of very old fire mythologies, designed to represent the impermanence of nature, but that we are part of an extremely long process that did not begin nor end with us. Celebrating the process for what it is defines our cosmological outlook.

To read the original post click here.

He goes on to describe the other two functions of Campbell’s mythology, the sociological and pedagogical functions. A bit more about this festival to give you some idea of what is is all about. There is a city constructed with streets where people camp. There are different theme camps (now over 700 of them) and art displays, including “mutant vehicles”, the only cars allowed on the site. A mutant vehicle must be so altered as to mask entirely the original body. For example, a VW van that has doll heads and paint stuck to the sides is considered a decorated vehicle but not a mutant vehicle. There are now over 600 approved mutant vehicles. Bicycles are allowed, especially decorated ones and the Green Tortoise Bus Line provides transportation from nearby towns. There is a more complete description of this festival on Wikipedia. If you have ever been to this festival please leave a comment, OK?

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3 Responses to “Burning Man Festival: The Ultimate Retreat”

  1. gold price

    18. Sep, 2012

    oh please, I’ve been going to BM and building the city for 12 years and while you may see some mythology, the reality is it is an art festival and an act of building a temporary city something that folks who are so obsessed with “spirituality” and navel grazing that they don’t leave their little woo woo theme camps seem to miss every year. I’m happy you found your spiritual enlightenment at Burning Man but don’t try to make it all about your personal beliefs. The fact that you spent 1200 to go when you can easily spend far less and have a great time makes me think you need to spend more time actually explore all of what Burning Man is. Finally living in an RV for a week in a city with a working airport, six different police agencies, a power grid larger than most small towns is hardly preparing you or anyone else to survive any kind of apocalyptic event. How about dealing with the problems we have in the default world by I don’t know-ACTUALLY dealing with them in the default world. Also while the man does burn (which isn’t even the biggest burn, that would be the Temple but perhaps you didn’t even stay until Sunday night), much of the art and certainly all the infrastructure is reused from year to year. If anything the event is about trying to have the least impact possible on the playa not about just destroying stuff.

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    • Vicki Starfire

      24. Sep, 2012

      Dear Rita,
      I received more than 30 posts regarding the Burning Man Festival, most of them obviously adverts and thus SPAM. I’ve posted your comments as they seemed more authentic and with good points. I suspect the Burning Man Festival has different meanings to different groups including the “woo woo” people who read my blog posts. I do realize that the community surrounding this festival is growing in strength each year and in positive, creative ways. More power to all of you!
      Blessings, Vicki

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  2. Vicki Starfire

    24. Sep, 2012

    Dear Friend,
    I think if you do indeed want to know more about the Burning Man Festival you will have to go there some August. However, if that’s not possible, visit their website: http://www.burningman.com/ You can find there a First Timer’s Guide as well as information about the art exhibits.
    Blessings, Vicki

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