Sunday, August 05, 2007
AN EMIC INQUIRY INTO SUBALTERN SPIRITUAL PRACTICES OF CONTEMPORARY LARGE NEO-TRIBAL GATHERINGS
I must begin this paper with absolute transparency, as I am writing about a culture which I also identify with. I am observing and investigating a subaltern culture which I have also spent the last ten years co-creating. My interest in this topic is not only because I celebrate within it, but because the written word is powerful. To document a phenomena is to somehow prove its existence, and thus acknowledge its life. I believe that explicit ‘naming’ brings power and identity to that which is being spoken of. Although this culture is changing and expanding as I pen this, and although it cannot be defined by any narrow definition or structure, I hope to bring some insight into a future primitive meme which I see surfacing and wanting to recognize itself. Within this process I openly admit that I recognize myself as a participant in this culture and feel most comfortable among what I can best name this “neo-tribal culture” which is specific to northwestern United States.
In 1991, I was an undergraduate at the University of Rhode Island, studying environmental science, and involved in the culture of the Grateful Dead. My friend suggested that we go on a road trip to the national “Rainbow Gathering” in Vermont. The “Rainbow Gathering” is the largest free, self-organizing, festival in the United States. Every year the national gathering is formed collectively, with no hierarchy of organizational structure. Having never been to a festival as this one I immediately decided to go. Other than Grateful Dead shows, this was the first time I ever experienced a completely self-sufficient, sub-culture that prided itself on its own unique individuality, and celebrated the same “beliefs” as I do. Some of these beliefs are; peaceful collective living, cooperative building and feeding, ecologically sustainable practices, creative self expression, and gathering in mass to create ritual, or spiritual practice. Thousands of people travel from all around the country to pilgrimage to the site which moves every year. It is always held on Federal land, under the auspices expressing our constitutional right to peacefully gather.
Upon arrival, I immediately felt at home, I felt like I had come home to my “tribe”. I will never forget the first day walking down the main trail, as I witnessed a man in his mid-forties running towards me naked, and covered in mud from heard to foot. At that time I was surprised to see such a sight. I began to laugh, and he said to me as he ran passed, “You laugh now, but I was like you three days ago.” As uncomfortable were the days of rain, the mud, strange food, naked people running through the woods covered in mud, and the pig dressed in a police uniform, I experienced a feeling of inclusively, and willingness to peacefully coexist. I felt as if I had been searching for this ‘way of living’ all of my life. Within a container of harmony, there was a strong thread of auto poetic individuality and diversity which was also celebrated. My world was opened up to a possibility of tribal living, in a way I had not imagined. Since that time I have participated as a “full member” of five other Rainbow Gatherings, and countless other festivals, one of which is Burning Man, in Black Rock City, Nevada.
This was my eight time participating at Burning Man, the eight straight year in a row. Why do I keep returning to a harsh and often dangerous environment in the middle of a desert? This I cannot easily explain. One woman I interviewed this time had this to say about a culture that is created in such extreme climate and conditions;
Everyone agrees for their exterior environment to be a certain way, everyone agrees to be operating in a higher dimension, when everything is less material, miracles a more easy to happen when you are here everybody operates with the same intention. For instance there are no cell phones, but you run into that person you want to see. That veil is completely lifted. I think of it like Shambala the enlightened city…Its also about transmutation.
This paper is an exploration and inquiry into the essence of a culture undefined, and yet exploding in its numbers. Burning Man has grown from eighty-five people from the beginning in 1990, to over forty-thousand this past year. It is satisfying a need for expression of individual spiritual self- expression. It is also the unification of many individuals from many places all over the world to gather under one creative, and ritualistic intention. Is the experience created at these events a spiritual neo-tribal revival? Is it something completely new that is coming out of the collective consciousness? Is this evidence of what Ken Keys Jr. called the “100th monkey syndrome” changing consciousness through mass rituals such as Burning Man, which in turn spread the same technology, all around the world? This paper is not going to attempt to answer any of these questions, its intention is to look deeper into a shared experience that people describe as “transcendent” “meaningful” and “spiritual” while participating for a short time in an experiment in an illusory town called “Black Rock City”.
Emic or Etic? Methods not Methodology
This paper will focus its inquiry in the container of ritualistic annual festivals where what I will call “neo-tribal” traditions and beliefs are practiced. I have chosen to write this paper as an emic account. Although there is sufficient debate among the academic world because I believe there are multiple ways of knowing. I believe the depth of this experience, can only be ascertained from intrinsic authentic and humoristic voice, which is the emic account.
A great deal has been written on the concept of “emic” or “etic” perspectives when researching a behavioral fields. The terms were first coined by linguist Kennith Pike in his book Language in Relation to a Unified Theory of the Structure of Human Behavior. Pike coined the phrases from the terms phonemics and phonetics. Phonetics is an externally based objective study of speech sounds, and phonemics concentrate on an internal study of speech from which all utterances are connected.
As Marvin Harris writes in his book, Cultural Materialism: The Struggle for a Science of Culture, he defines the two as such;
Emic operations as their hallmark the elevation of the native informant to the status of ultimate judge of the adequacy of the observer’s descriptions and analyses. The test of the adequacy of emic analyses is their ability to generate statements the native accepts as real, meaningful, or appropriate. In carrying out research in the emic mode, the observer attemps to acquire a knowledge of the categories and rules one must know in order to think and act as a native.(32)
Here the author clearly uses the terms “real, meaningful, or appropriate” in regard to the test of the accuracy of the analyses. In the case of my own analyses of neo-tribalism, I am involved in a culture which I am also co-creating. Every gathering, ritual, performance, that I have attended I am also concurrently creating a new tradition. Harris goes on to describe the term “etic” as;
Etic operations have their hallmark the elevation of observers to the status of ultimate judges of the categories and concepts used in the descriptions and analyses. The test of the adequacy of etic accounts is simply their ability to generate scientifically productive theories about the causes of socio-cultural differences and similarities. Rather than employ concepts that are necessarily real, meaningful and appropriate from a native point of view, the observer is free to use alien categories and rules derived from the data language of science. (32)
In addition to emic, and etic research he also creates a distinction between mental and behavioral events by way of the participant verses the observers standpoint. The researcher is left with the quandary of the choice of writing for the participants themselves, or for the observers of the participants. The language and perceptions are very different for each case. I feel that this is most appropriate in this case because of the nature of my relationship of this culture. As C. Scott Littleton writes;
When the ethnographer’s focus shifts to the finite world of meaning that exists within the heads of his informants (Goodenough 1964:39), that is the basic labels and meaning categories shared by the members of a particular culture and in terms of which they define the world, the resulting account is an ‘emic account,’ an account analogous to the phonemic analysis of a specific language.
I can unequivocally say, that I speak the language of this neo-tribal culture. I celebrate its rituals, and I co-create its experience. This is from the voice which I am writing, and this is the context of the inquiry I am presenting.
The literature that I uncovered in my search about neo-tribalism mostly comes from the research that has been conducted by sociologists writing about the ‘rave’ or dance club culture. Though there is that element of dance music that is important within the neo-tribal culture that I am referencing, it is not the single force which yolks this group. It is almost easy to assume that there is no “there, there” however, upon deeper exploration there exists subtleties of feelings, and experiences that are shared. Finding other references for what I am writing about has been challenging. In order to round this paper I am using a combination of my own experience, coupled with the first hand accounts of those I interviewed who are a part of the culture itself. David Hesmondhalgh, in his journal article, “Subcultures, Scenes or Tribes? None of the Above,” may have worded my quandary more succinctly,
Indeed it would be hard to find a concept more imbued with such connotations than ‘tribe.’ The term has been widely used in dance music culture, but as with a great deal of dance music discourse it represents a projection of premodern symbols on to putatively new phenomena. It would be a great mistake to take such projections at face value. (5)
In all transparency I will say in advance that some of what I have written may be riddled with projections. Yet that is not to say that what some may consider a ‘projection’ could be equally true, for others as well as myself.
The Gathering of the Neo-Tribes
Tribe – 1. Any of various systems of social organization comprising several local villages, bands, districts, lineages, or other groups and sharing a common ancestry, language, culture, and name. NOTE: In this Dictionary, tribe is used for convenience to designate all North American Indian peoples, even through only about half of them actually had tribal organization. 2. A political, ethnic, or ancestral division of ancient states and cultures, specifically: a. Any of the three divisions of the ancient Romans, namely the Latin, Sabine, and Etruscan. B. Any of the three 12 divisions of ancient Israel. C. A phyla of ancient Greece. 3. A group of persons with a common occupation, interest, or habit: a tribe of beggars. 4. Informal. A large family. 5. Biology. A taxonomic category sometimes placed between a family and a genus. (Middle English, tribu, tribe, from Old French tribu, from Latin triubus, division of the Roman people from Etruscan.)
American Heritage Dictionary 1969. American Heritage Publishing Co. New York, NY
In reflection to this definition of tribe, I cannot say that the neo-tribal culture fits perfectly. Yet there are many ways in which the cultural and behavioral adapations are threaded together as a concept of bricolage. This culture has adapted and adopted certain ways of behavior, certain rituals, and language. For instance, the culture of attending ritually based gatherings such as Burning Man or the Rainbow Gatherings, or other festivals where there is a central ritualistic theme or event as a part of a “spiritual practice”. For Burning Man it’s the Saturday night burning of the man, and/or the Sunday night ‘Temple Burn” where a temple that was built and embed with messeges of people who have passed on previously that year. For the national Rainbow Gathering the ‘fourth of July prayer circle’ in which the entire gathering of thousands forms a circle for peace at noon in the main meadow, is the main ritual for that festival every year.
Astrologist, radio personality and author Caroline Casey defines “ritual” as; “anything that we do physically that we imbue with imaginative symbolism.” At both events people come intentionally to experience those “rituals” in which they participate. People pilgrimage from all over the world to attend both of these gatherings which both focus on a ritual that culminates on a specific day. Overall, the culture is a one of a profound sentiment for peaceful coexistence as a shared belief system, and shared creativity, either through art, performance, workshops, or gift giving. One participant I talked to described the structure of Burning Man as;
Burning man is also very fractal, there is a container that has been set up, and then there are all these little activities and rituals and ceremonies that people do that mimic the vibe of the whole thing.
As the architecture of some indigenous villages are intentionally set up in fractals, (an example being the Dagaraa of West Africa), these festivals are set up as an imaginative or metaphor of fractals. Within the container of the festival there are many smaller events happening simultaneously
Are these festivals invoking some cultural resemblance to tribal or so called “neo-tribal” spiritual ritual? The term neo-tribal was first coined by French sociologist Michel Maffesoli, in his book, The Time of the Tribes, The Decline of Individualism in Mass Society. Maffesoli writes;
We may apply this analysis to our research: there are times when the social ‘divide’ is embodied in a collective emotion that recognizes itself in one or another typification. In this scenario, the proletariat and the bourgeoiseie could be ‘historical subjects’ with a task to accomplish. A certain scientific, artistic, or political genius could deliver a message indicating the path to follow; however, they could remain abstract and inaccessible entities, setting a goal to be achieved. In contrast, the mythical type has the simple role of collective spirit. This is the main distinction to be drawn between abstract, rational, periods and ‘empathetic’ periods of history. The rational era is built on the principle of individuation and of separation, whereas the empathetic period is marked by the lack of differentiation, the ‘loss’ in a collective subject: in other words, what I shall call neo-tribalism.(11)
To what extent do the neo-tribes are able to evoke this “empathetic period”? Could this period also be that which defines this Kali Yuga? There are tens of thousands of people flocking from all over the world to a central site to celebrate an event at the same moment. Burning Man, and Rainbow Gatherings satisfy a craving for “community”, “shared experience”, a place where they are welcomed beyond their individual experience. As author Ben Maybon writes in . Clubbing : Clubbing Culture and Experience;
The neo-tribes thesis (Maffesoli, 1995) is useful in beginning to understand the less rigid structuring to which moves beyond narrowly prescribed identities can give rise, but it must be qualified by noting how notions of ‘freedom’ are always contextual. Belongings and identifications are thus about much more than questions of cultural capital and social structure (Bourdieu, 1984; Warde, 1994a; 1994b).(202)
The “sense of belonging” and identification in these neo-tribal cultures comes from an identity of ‘community’, ‘living lightly on the earth/leave no trace’, and celebrating a large ritual together in mass. In these environments, individuality is encouraged and expected. Social capital is not only based upon who you know, but how many you can get to know, or how open one is to meeting and engaging with everyone else. As much as there is a certain aesthetic with piercing and tattoos, there is also a meme of inclusion under collective understanding that we are all in this together, and a desire to create a peaceful experience with each other, regardless of if someone is a new acquaintance or old friends. The culture of camaraderie is a result of a container which is created in either of these festivals in particular. Author Edward A. Tiryakian writes in, Rethinking Civilizational Analysis;
A dynamic picture has emerged in relation to its pre-state form of alliance networks that involved ‘the mediating role of ceremonial and inter-group gatherings and exchange systems that helped to regulate social relations between competing populations and networks’, and bound together societies that otherwise lacked centralized political controls. (219)
Author Ben Melbon comments on this by writing, (a) “revived from of communality premised upon notions of neo-tribalism, in which individuals are free to move within many social groupings with which they wish to feel an affective identity.” The freedom to come and go among each other and acceptance is the new cultural ‘bond’ which we all share. Maffesoli writes about the phenomena of the “bond” of the neo-tribe;
It is precisely this network which binds, as I have said, the group and the mass. This bond is without rigidity of the forms of organization with which we are familiar; it is a case of a kind of collective unconscious (non-conscious) which acts as a matrix for the varied group experiences, situations, actions or wanderings. It is striking in this regard to note that contemporary mass rites are the result of micro-groups that are both highly distinctive at the same time as forming an indistinct and rather muddled whole- to which we are referred by the orgasmic metaphor and the surpassing of individual identity. (98)
The process which has been occurring for the past twenty years, exemplified by these festival experiments is what Ken Wilber refers to in regard to the spiritual evolution of humanity. Wilber refers to “the original breakthrough creativity- that allowed humans to rise above a given nature and begin building a noosphere, the very process of which would bring Heaven down to Earth, and exalt the Earth to Heaven, the very process of which would eventually bind all peoples of the world together in, if you will, one global tribe.” The new rituals and new mythology that these festivals provide a framework for what Ken Wilber would describe as a way to go “transtribal” in doing so tribes would “transcend their isolated tribal kinship lineages” and “provide the key for this new transcendence.” It is these communal rituals, mythology, and a culture of acceptance that creates a greater sense of one global tribe. The act of coming together from all different places on the planet, different backgrounds, and experience to amass in one place and deconstruct our own boundaries makes this shift from isolation to transtribal possible. There is a solidarity that is derived from this shared sentiment of a global tribe.
A man in his mid thirties who is a Zen monk at the San Francisco Zen Center comes to Burning Man once a year from his cloister. I asked him if he considered it a part of his spiritual practice,
I live in a monastery at the moment, as a monk. Its formal practice about the non-duel about learning to live in the non-duel. And to come and play here is kind of a testing ground like can I enter the market place in the extreme still be meeting people, still be awake to the phenomenal world, not be a fixed tangible thing and myself not being a fixed isolated individual. And the more intense the stimulation gets the more challenging it is and sometimes I wonder if this is too much, and yet this time has been really extraordinary, this year I’ve been really playing and really delighting.
This is the adventure at its best. This is the experiment of Burning Man in its highest form, an entity of multiplicities of the whole.
Rituals and Community
The ritual perpetuates itself, and through the variety of routine of everyday gestures the community is reminded that it is a whole.
Every year on the first weekend in September, thousands of people gather in the middle of a dried lake bed, and within a few weeks collectively build a town, which is called Black Rock City. This is Burning Man, an event that began with a handful of people on Ocean Beach in San Francisco, and then migrated out to Nevada, now approximately 40,000 strong. Its roots is the ritual of the “Wicker Man” festival of old Europe. Burning Man is an experiment in community as much as it is a festival based around a ritual. Its mantra, “There are no spectators” which means that the culture invites everyone to create through visual art, performance, or giving, and definitely through costumery. The culmination of the event is the burning of a thirty foot man on Saturday night. Most everyone who attends the festival culminates around the man. The ritual begins with the fire brigade, five hundred or more fire dancers wielding staffs, clubs, ropes, poi, and other ornaments begin their spectacle. Then the whole crowd watches for the arms to rise, and then the fireworks, and finally the man burns down to the ground. It takes about an hour to fall, and is so hot creates its own weather patterns and heat vortices. It is an “awesome” display of fire and intensity. The “awful” quality which Rudolf Otto writes about in The Idea of The Holy,
…let us give a little further consideration to the first crude, primitive forms in which this ‘numinous dread’ or awe shows itself. It is the mark which really characterizes the so-called ‘religion of primitive man’, and there appears as ‘daemonic dred’. This crudely naïve and primordial emotional disturbance, and the fantastic images to which gives rise, are later overborne and ousted by more highly developed form of the numinous emotion, with all its mysteriously impelling power.(15-16)
What is inspired by such a display of elemental alchemical transformation, is felt among the whole as a powerful catharsis. I call this the biggest simultaneous puja on the planet. There is power in a collective experience. People find “meaning” and “spiritual experience” in the “ritual” of the burn. One man I interviewed, who was returning for his fifth year had this to say;
Its definitely a ritual, it’s a holiday and a ritual. Its definitely a turning point. It’s the beginning and end of my year. And the fact that a lot of people are doing it at the same time is incredible.”
“Would you consider BM as part of your spiritual practice?” I asked.
Absolutely. BM is a crucial part of my spiritual practice. Its rooted in creativity and love and those are the two anchors of my practice. Here we have ritual, and we have celebration and we have art that is moving and uplifting in a spiritual sense, as well as an emotional sense. BM is a beautiful evolution of new spirituality that is rising up from the void of not enough spirituality in our lives, not enough uplifting spiritual bliss in our lives.
In his words I hear a longing for a spirituality that he can relate to which is “uplifting” rather than fear based, celebratory, and creative. There is a fusion of spiritual expression with a form of self expression.
As many rituals throughout the world; from the Hindu goddess sites of India, to those of the Black Madonna of Poland and other parts of Europe, people “pilgrimage” to this site, from all over the world. Said one participant who is also a Rabbi from Los Angeles,
I consider it a pilgrimage…a pilgrimage is something that you undertaker in order to experience a transformation., this certainly does that in a very powerful way. I think many people experience that.
When I asked him if he felt it was also a pilgrimage for him, he responded;
Yea. And this whole thing about the playa providing, people come here with a belief that the parts that they hate an d make them miserable are as important as the parts that they enjoy. And those two things together create a lot of opportunities reach something spiritual although it is really not very well defined. When you have a lot of people thinking that way the kind of meaningful experiences happen automatically.
The temple burn is spiritual. (This is an event that happens the next day after the man has been burned and is smaller because some people have already left during the day and more somber in its intentions). What makes it spiritual is the burning of all the beliefs and feelings and such. But you have what 10,000 people that are left? and you have them standing in silence for an hour just to witness. To get that many people to be witnessing an d be present is almost impossible to find in the modern world. It comes out of the tribal stuff with the burning, but is created by something more than the tribalism of it.
One popular author of psychedelic fame had this to say about his experience;
The whole thing acts as a shamanic transformer. Whenever I come here I have a very visceral and actual experience of going through a process and I end up coming back to the default world, changed. You put all these people together who are vibrating at “higher frequency of consciousness” more awareness, more mysticism more awareness, more openness to intuitive realities and synchronicities and when you bring them together they can step into an even higher frequency.
I the asked him if he found a spiritual connection here?
I think it’s a fulcrum for the evolution of human consciousness. Human beings really don’t know how to communicate with each other, its obvious when you look at the world, and here it’s an experiment in place of generosity and playfulness aggressive behaviors get transmuted into playful gestures. And it’s a place where we are trying to learn how to communicate with each other…
Burning Man: The Embodiment of Kali Yuga
Hedonism vs. Heretics
There is a growing need for universal truth living a way that is affecting everything. …I consider this year BM going from organized hedonism to heretic bliss…
Its a microcosm, there’s some of everything here, light, dark, pretty, ugly, its all here. - Malcolm, Black Rock City resident, 2006
In the face of community endeavor, and new intentional ritualistic celebration, I must pause and reflect upon what is created as a whole. I feel caught up in the middle of the sandstorm of praise and celebration, without questioning how we arrived here, and where it is that we as a tribal community are going. There is a great deal to be said about the depth of this movement. Although there is a sense that this culture is deriving its rituals from the past pagan and other tribal belief systems, there is no coherency, nor enough evidence to prove this. That same author reminds of the difference between cultures who have invested thousands of years in their rituals, and what the neo-tribalists are attempting to evoke,
One aspect of this neo-tribal ritual culture we have been talking about, I feel like compared with the real rituals of the Hopi or the Egyptians would do, they’re not as deep in terms of what their intentions are an how that connects to astronomic patterns and why you would do something on a certain day…
On the one hand, throughout the extended weekend the celebration is of the present moment, as if this is all that exists. Its as if these rites are being created for the first time. On the other, tribal drumming, music, and dance with the combination of fire are what has come through since humans have evolved from apes. The alchemy of a shared experience within a large group is an effective part of community building. In the light of all of this united celebration of what Wilber calls, “transtribal”, is there a consciousness of where we have been which enables us to go boldly into the next twenty years? Or is what that is wanting to be recognized simply a fad, or a transitional momentary conditional culture?
Burning Man exists in a vast lifeless dried lakebed inhabited by a sea of bodies searching for love with open hearts looking for meaning with each other in the wake of post consumer religion. It is a blank pallet to be filled with each other, the extreme overtone of humanity broadcasting itself in expressive ways. This is the time of Kali Yuga, where there is no roadmap only a vast template of expanse to drive across. According to the Mahanirvaana Tantra; “Now the sinful Kali Yuga is upon them, when Dharma is destroyed, an age full of evil customs and deceit.”
There are no set examples, only the now moment on the desert floor in a dried white canvas lakebed that extends for miles.
During the festivities this year I was invited to two ceremonies. One, couple were having a hand fasting ceremony, committing together for the next three months. This was a big commitment for them. Another was a separation ritual for friends who had been together for three years and were cutting their cords in order to proceed on with their lives, separately, as individuals. Each of the couples wanted and needed the support of the community in order to fulfill their mission. One was transcending their relationship and moving on in their lives, and the other was creating a union. Each of them created their own ritual at specific places like the temple structure, or the cathedral to perform these rites. These were both examples of rites of passage. Each of them picked a certain time, and day for these to occur.
In the age of Kali Yuga there is no one way, right or wrong of union, only different methods to navigate whatever has lead us to this moment in time. There are few nuclear families that I know of amongst our peers, and mostly what I see as "coping mechanisms" as a strategy for the confusion. Polyandry has resurfaced as "truth", multiple partners yielding to individual agreements; resulting in the de-secularization of the concept of "relationship". Instead of one monogamous couple there are many multiple loves, from an auto poetic standpoint, each sharing their individual expression for a night, week, a few months, and then moving on. Its as if we are caught up in some zeitgeist in the middle of a sandstorm. While lost in the whiteout we are left feeling for each other, hoping to find each other in the void, with only the sense of touch. I can't help but wonder if we are all shrouded in confusion, in the desert feeling our way to the next body to hold for a moment of safety.
We are calling into the wind, and the wind is blowing back into our faces asking us to look deeper within ourselves, instead of toward each other for salvation.
There seems to be little rhyme nor reason to what we are searching for individually or collectively. Right now we are creating new paradigms, we are caught in the middle of this shift unable to see what is happening around us. We have only the experiments of the sixties to draw from, yet we are so far from them that few remember, their legacy seems to have ended up in monogamy once again. Here we are at the dawn of the new century with only a little bits of information to draw on from the past. The concept of "family" is becoming extended deep communities of friends. Loving communities where we receive our needs from various people, not only one. Many people fulfilling different pieces. This is a new understanding.
Many of us share the collective vision of living together. To live in community with each other. Once we travel beyond this period of uncertainty maybe we will all begin having children together and all take care of each other. Perhaps it will look somewhat like what began in the sixties, but with an intentional focus, a life that we are co-creating, not by default.
A friend confided in me that he has no idea how love in this age, and observing the wake of disappointed women left in his path I would say that he is right. Not that he has purposefully decided to hurt anyone, but that he is just as lost between old paradigms of 'commitment or monogamy' and 'what feels good in the moment.' Its as if right now we are searching for an intelligence to mediate between these two extremes.
Perhaps we are caught and blinded in the midst of this sandstorm of change, searching for others who are searching. Until the wind dies down, and we can open our eyes we wont know what the landscape actually looks like.
There is a lot of experimentation, and we don’t know about the outcome in fact we don’t know the road. In the documentary, “Beyond Black Rock” organizer and founder of Burning Man, Larry Harvey says in an interview, “I’m still trying to find out what it is., and I hope one day I will…” Other quotes from the movie, are from the media who tries to treat the phenomena as a “Hippy, neo-pagan festival”, and even the website of the filmmaker reads, “In less than two decades, it has evolved from a fringe counter-culture event into a global community of artists and social revolutionaries. Even as its marginalized and sensationalized by mainstream media, it continues to grow at an exponential rate.” Throughout the film there is this thread of “life as art”, or “creativity as a life” that which is not as apparent living in the world outside of this festival. This becomes apparent in comments from various participants throughout the film. (i.e.; “Just about everything is hard, but everything is beautiful,” “..its [Burning Man] a sculpture you live in.” “It gives people the chance to get out of themselves.” “There is so much spirituality and freedom here, more than I have ever experienced before.” “We lovingly make this beautiful sculpture, we burn it and let it go.” “Someday people are going to find out we were out here,…and they’ll say ‘those people were worshiping something’, but I’m not sure what that is.”)
And In the End…
…the love you take, is equal to the love you make..”- John Lennon
My last day at Burning Man this year, I biked out into the middle of the desert and found a single bust of a woman made of clay. It was a simple sculpture, of just her breasts and head looking up to the sky. I dropped my bike and knelt before her. I looked up at the sky and began to wail. This year had been the most challenging of my eight years. I was facing the most upset, and emotional discordance I had yet to encounter at this event. The theme this year was “Hope and Fear” and that summed up my experience. I screamed, cried, yelled, and sobbed for over forty minutes under her shadow. If this was the path to clearing lifetimes of Parabda Karma, I was well on my way. My goal of this catharsis was to leave all the pain I had experienced there, there, in the desert. After the emotion subsided, I looked around, at the emptiness, remnants of camps and art installations, and realized that soon there will be nothing here. It was that moment that I realized the container for all of the ritual and magic which tens of thousands pilgrimage to every year is a simple blank palate. It’s the emptiness which is this cathedral, the harshness which creates community, and creativity that honors the divine in us all. In six months this dried lakebed will be submerged in water. All of the residual blood, sweat, and tears will be washed clean, ready for another round of experimentation.
These festivals seem to create its own intelligence. I would like to believe in the future the neo-tribes will grow into a greater shared vision of whatever inspiration is coming through us, and in doing so collectively create a unified “trans-tribe”, a global community of tolerance.
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Film, Beyond Black Rock, Damen Brown. Gone Off Deep Productions, 2005
“Winter Solstice December 21st 2006”. Visionary Activist . Caroline Casey. KPFA,
Berkeley CA, Dec. 21st 2006