Radical Ritual: Spirit and Soul

Part of the blog series for the 2017 theme, Radical Ritual.

Our art theme in 2017 is Radical Ritual. This leads to an obvious question: Just what is so radical about ritual? The word radical occurs three times in the Ten Principles, and most people regard this as referring to a breaking of boundaries and a shedding of restrictions. But radical has a second meaning: It refers to all that is fixed and fundamental in human nature.

I will begin this examination of meaning and experience in ritual with a simple rubric: spirit flies abroad and soul remains at home.

Spirit Flies Abroad

The experience of spirit is identified with breath. The word inspiration has a pedigree that extends back to the middle of 16th century, deriving from the even more ancient Latin word inspirare, which means to breath into, to draw air into the lungs. In this sense, we encounter spirit constantly in daily life in the form of sighs and sobs, snorts and gasps, any involuntary intake or expiration of breath. We speak of high spirits, low sprits, and spirited actions. We also know that spirit is highly contagious — it can spread with lightning speed through great assemblies — and it is identified with states of exaltation, as when we feel we rise above ourselves. Very often an excess of this feeling can produce an upthrusting of the arms.

Burning of the Temple, 2016 (Photo by Stewart Harvey)

One example of this aspect of spirit is revealed by an occurrence at the Temple Burn in 2016. For nearly a year prior to this annual ritual, a very lively debate smoldered like a creeping fire on Burning Man’s discussion lists. The dispute involved community members who viewed this burn as taking place on hallowed ground, as at a wedding or a funeral. Many were particularly impressed by the profound periods of silence that had come to punctuate the ceremony. Their adversaries countered this by advancing the principle of Radical Self-Expression, contending that everyone has an individual right to express his or herself, which in extreme cases might include yelling profanities.

As with many such disputes, this ideological conflict belied a difference in sensibility; both arguments were tied to strong emotions, and after one long summer of intermittent sniping and shouting on the Internet, a breakthrough occurred. The spark that originally ignited this controversy involved the loud playing of “Free Bird” and a fair amount of profanity, and one day a discussant directly addressed what had actually happened. The offending group was made up of members of the DPW, our Department of Public Works, he explained, and they were commemorating the death of a friend whose favorite song was “Free Bird”. The raucous bellowing was of a piece with how this group sang birthday songs to one another. The contending parties did not exactly kiss and make up, but with this empathic insight they established an apparent truce.

This set the stage for the Temple Burn in 2016. This temple, choked with hundreds of remembrances of the dead, was being quietly readied for burning, when a series of unrehearsed actions occurred. The crowd, numbering in the thousands, had gathered around the burn perimeter, when suddenly a sound arose, a sort of treble yipping, like the keening of coyotes; it traveled twice around the circle in a wave. Then a second wave of sound arose, this time pitched in a more dulcet tone, and rippled round the Temple three full times before subsiding into silence.

The crowd then paused, as if in contemplation of itself, when suddenly a single person tossed out a profanity; it hung there in the air, as if it posed a question. Everyone appeared to wonder what might happen next, and then another shout was heard, but this was not a word, more like a stifled proto-word that stuck in someone’s throat. Instantly it felt as if a spell was lifted, and moments later the Temple erupted in flames. One could hear the fire soughing, as a great billowing wind rushed upward. It felt like a long and continuous sigh, a vast exhalation of breath. I was there to witness this, and it occurred to me: If this is not the action of spirit, alive and on the hoof, voiced and freely circulating, what else can it be?

Soul Remains at Home

Soul relates to experience embedded deep in our bodies. It is traditionally regarded as the source of human vitality and is associated with passionate promptings to action: it is muscular, emotional and visceral. In our daily lives we speak of gut feelings, soulful looks, broken hearts, a catching of the throat, a shiver down the spine, and nearly everybody understands that the Soul Train is soulful. Perhaps most fundamentally, this process we call soul seeks always to attach itself to things, as when we love someone.

Burning Man at Baker Beach, 1989 (Photo by Stewart Harvey)

The founding ritual of Burning Man on Baker Beach expressed this sense of soulfulness in action. The group of carpenters that built the Man had hovered over every inch of it, and they had borne its weight on their shoulders. Carrying its dismembered parts down to the shore, they would assemble it, uniting legs and torso, arms and head. When it came time to raise the Man, they had so bonded with it that it felt like an extension of their bodies. These were people who had devoted their working lives to building balloon-frame houses — a wooden effigy built like a house required little explanation, and during these years on the beach no one ever thought to ask me what it meant.

We would raise the Man with a stout hawser, the sort of rope that’s used for mooring ships, and we would attach it to the figure’s solar plexus, since this was its center of gravity. This also meant we had to form a line along the rope that precisely aligned with Burning Man’s spine. Dan Miler, who came to be known as the Man’s man, would coach our effort. “Baby steps, take baby steps”, he’d chant, as thirty pairs of legs edged backwards. Viewing this from the sidelines, I saw tension sing along the tautened line, as if the Man transmitted energy.

When Burning Man approached the apex of its arc, it triggered very powerful emotions made up in equal parts of awe and fear, since at that time the statue had no brakes. I watched their tense, vigilant faces fasten onto the Man, and as the massive figure teetered upward, it was clear that their entire nervous systems were entrained in one great effort; the straining of their limbs, the beating of their hearts, and feelings roiling up from deep inside the solar plexus had united them, as if they shared a common spinal cord — confronted by the Man they’d made, they had become him.

Is Burning Man a Religion?

“The practical needs and experiences of religion seem to me sufficiently met by the belief that beyond each man and in a fashion continuous with him there exists a larger power which is friendly to him and to his ideals. All that the facts require is that the power should be both other and larger than our conscious selves. Anything larger will do, if only it be large enough to trust for the next step.”

—William James, Varieties of Religious Experience

There are two basic views of divinity. The first sees the divine as transcendent; the other views the divine as immanent. Transcendence is from the Latin word transcendentem: it means surmounting, rising above, as if to step up on a ladder. Immanence derives from the Latin immanere and evokes the feeling of an indwelling presence. It refers to all that is inherent in our being. For all practical purposes, the rituals I have described support these feelings and perceptions — they are very nearly textbook examples of religious experience.

The only thing that this leaves out is supernatural agency, an external power that is said to hover over us and inform our deepest feeling of reality. William James has said that, “All the facts require is that this power be both other and larger that our conscious selves. Anything larger will do”, he adds, “if only it be large enough to trust for the next step.” The Man we’ve made, of course, is not a god, nor is the burning of the Temple evidence of supernaturalism. Energy did not flow from the Man into a group of followers. Rather it was their energy, their full-hearted participation that created the Man. When people joined in chorus round the Temple, it was their voiced spirit, and not divine afflatus, that united them.

Were we to remove all soul and all spirit from experience, we would be left with little more than what William James once called, “a cold and a neutral state of intellectual perception.” In such an arid landscape, there would be no urgent meanings, no riveting purposes, and the juice of reality would be squeezed out of the world.

Sometimes I am asked to speak in churches. Many people in religious communities seem to feel we might be onto something. I approach them with a proposition. “What if we gathered people of all faiths,” I say, “and, placing them in a locked room, demanded they settle a question: Which Supreme Being, of all the millions of supremely potent beings mankind has worshiped, is really real?” I pause for a moment to let this sink in, and then continue, “Were we to leave and come back a day later, I am willing to wager that we’d find only hanks of hair and pieces of bone — so fierce would be the force of contradiction. Yet what if we here, now, were to reverse this word order and agree to simply say that being is supreme?” Then I see their eyes begin to faintly glint, their shoulders soften, and some people heave a little sigh of relief.

Top photo: Lamplighters approach the Temple of Transition by International Arts Megacrew (2011), photo by Philip Safarik

About the author: Larry Harvey

Larry Harvey

Born in 1948, Larry Harvey grew up on a small farm on the outskirts of Portland, Oregon. In the late 1970's he moved to San Francisco, and soon discovered the city's thriving underground art scene. In 1986 he founded Burning Man at a local beach, and has guided its progress ever since. Larry is currently Founding Board Member and Chief Philosophic Officer of Burning Man Project. He scripts and co-curates Burning Man's annual art theme and collaborates with artists in creating aspects of the art theme and the design of Black Rock City. Larry also writes articles and essays for the Project's website. As spokesperson for Burning Man, he is frequently interviewed by reporters, and has lectured on subjects as diverse as art, religion, civic planning and the rise of cyber-culture in the era of the Internet. Larry is also a political planner, supervising the organization's lobbying efforts and frequently attending meetings with state, county and federal agencies.

56 Comments on “Radical Ritual: Spirit and Soul

  • roberto dobbisano says:

    your g*d sucks, don’t go™.

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    • Gloria Park says:

      Love the theme. My personal trajectory has been interwoven the themes of Burning Man past fifteen years and this one stands out as among the most poignantly resonant. Radical. Ritual. These days, just even contemplating ritual is radical. Rooting for the theme!

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  • Chowski says:

    Meh. All this spirituality nonsense does nothing for me. I’m sitting out this year’s theme. I wonder if yoga hippy spiritualists understand how incredibly dippy they sound to the rest of us? I have avoided yoga and chakras for my first seven burns, I can avoid this eye-roll inducing babble for my eighth. Next year, let’s have a fun theme.

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    • Flutter Muffin says:

      With all due respect to the comment that the theme is not “fun” and that it’s a bunch of hippie yoga or whatever…Lets get one thing straight, Burning Man is not and should never be viewed as merely a party where every year we are expecting to have a certain amount of “fun”. It’s so much more than a party. It’s a chance to change the world as we know it. Plus if somebody is deciding not to attend based off the theme, that’s pretty whack. The theme is just something that can be used or not used- it doesn’t have to mean anything to you in order to be a citizen of BRC. But cheers to you and that leaves more tickets for others!

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    • Bricktohead says:

      All it takes for a fratboy to stay home is to imply some sense of spirit in the theme? That was easy! Thanks for the tip.

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      • Chowski says:

        I find it amusing that you presume I am a “fratboy” because I do not come to Burning Man for bullshit hippy dippy yoga prayer hands spirituality garbage. Like 60% of the attendees, I am not a religious person. What I am is, in no particular order, an 8-year burner, camp leader, Greeters volunteer, camp MOOP Master, and an art contributor. What I am off-playa is, among many things, a college-educated, home-owner, musician who has sung at Carnegie Hall three times, artist, trouble-maker and community builder. None of these things is Frat Boy. but because I, like 60% of the population of the city return every year not to wallow in some nonsense spirituality, but to make and destroy art – because I *gasp* used the word “fun” I must be some kind of puke-in-your-greywater bucket fratbro? I hope you enjoy your oom chakalaka self-importance. Like the VAST majority of Burners, I am not a fratbro, and like the VAST majority of burners, I am not interested in exploring the tedious and faux-mystical world which arises in the brain of people who take themselves too seriously while doing too many drugs.

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    • Rev says:

      I think that ritual doesn’t need to mean religion, or even spirituality at all. My husband and I like to have toasted sandwiches when we’re skiing. Pulling the bread out, heating up the oven, putting the mustard on, putting on two slices of cheese and three slices of chicken– it’s a ritual. It’s soothing and satisfying. If you’ve sung at Carnegie hall, then you probably have a preparation ritual– scales, a certain dinner at a certain time, a glass of water, etc. To me ritual is whatever soothes or invigorates our particular minds.

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  • Freehand Drawing says:

    This seems like one exceptionally long way to say that unique shared experiences create powerful bonds between people.

    These epic discourses on trace fence and radical whatever depart from the simplest premis: participate. “No Spectators” was by far the strongest central element of bonding and the great benefit to go to BM. This essential ethos and experiential reference point was set by the roadside years ago.

    “God knows why”, Participate Damn It!, is not the first principle, but it’s now smothered in a metaphysics’s tango of lingo.

    The one time participant is now on a lofty scaffold observing the masses below. A swirl of words as an observation of what others do, what others feel and of what others have said, is to explain a dance to those that just had the most amazing dance of their own design and energy.

    It might be better to just participate in the dance, sweat, sing and swirl….than using the podium for the dissection of the dance with the crude knife of metaphysics.

    It can be just a dance.

    “If I could explain it, I wouldn’t have to dance it” – Isadora Duncan

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    • Bricktohead says:

      Larry is many things but concise and to-the-point is not one of them :)

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    • Larry Harvey says:

      I actually like your phrase “tango of lingo”. Words, as they evoke experience, can indeed dance. Mind is the penthouse of the soul: come on up sometime, as Mae West said, and see the view. There are many ways to participate, and language is one of them.

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      • Sparks says:

        “Participate” – check.
        “Radical inclusion” – check.
        Nice to have the artist here interacting with the art. :)

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      • Simi says:

        I cannot wait to realise your vision for the theme this year Larry. 2016 was my first Burn. I was present for pre-burn and saw the temple build and was amongst the first to enter when it opened. I realised there was much more to the fun and partying – the end is in sight – the identification of the soul and its parts are going to awaken a lot of minds to what we’re here for. Wait – what are we here for? I sighed when the temple burned – because then it was all back to ‘normal’, The return was outrageously difficult. ShamanDome (my home camp) had prepared me for everything but the return.

        We’ll be doing some radical rituals at the ShamanDome camp, Shamanic Death Ritual was our most popular, Soul Retrievals and Spirit Journeys. Although I’m also finding my way in all of these – I know there’s something much deeper in the experiences, In the end – it is all so simple.

        Super grateful. And very excited to meet you in this dimension. Come and find me.

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    • WILLIE FIELDS says:

      This is by far one of the best explanations of what Burning Man is and should be. Burning Man is what you want it to be, never what others tell you it is, or should be. Themes, plug and play camps, folks who come to party, folks who don’t participate, none of this has or ever will influence my burn.

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  • Abe Petrow says:

    It is all moot to me, I cant get a ticket. Last year during Burning man, I went to Kyoto, Japan, where there are over 1,000 temples, unburnt by the bombers during WWIl. They dont burn temples there. I have been to Burning man, the year before, watched the Leary temple burn and the flames dance with each other. I can take it or leave it. If I dont get a ticket this year there are lots of temples in Scotland, Greece, Italy, or Bali. They dont burn them.

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    • Bricktohead says:

      For some people, Burningman is the gateway to a sense of community, connection, spirituality, creativity, and sense of “oneness” with all things. If you can get that same sense of wonder and connection through travel to Greece or wherever, then you should do that! Wherever you can find it is just fine.

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  • Lynn Vind says:

    Re-attaching, re-connecting, re-confirming, re-addressing personal rituals I’ve experienced over the course of my life. Bringing them all together into one healthy bond. I’m looking forward to this years “Radical Ritual: Spirit and Soul”
    Thanks Larry, see you on the playa.
    Lynn Vind~

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  • poetschmoet (aka petal) says:

    Thank you, Larry, for your radical self expression. I ask others to suspend their judgements and join me in honoring and acknowledging you.

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  • Wm Smith says:

    as a burn virgin(never been) and an old i gotta say that there are rituals that work. walk your dog. let your dog walk you. be outside…

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  • Chowski says:

    I think it is telling that this blogpost has virtually no responses when compared to almost any other post made by Larry or anyone. Larry, I am intensely grateful for what you have inspired in my life and the lives of my friends, but wow this is a stinker of an art theme.

    Based solely on the 2015 census results, 71.3% of attendees identify as having NO religion, 70.1% report NEVER attending church of any kind, 60% report NEVER engaging in any ritual, a full 48% percent self-identify as atheist, agnostic or “don’t know”, and a mere 5.4% identify as “religious”.

    One would have to work pretty hard to come up with an art theme that has less significance to the attendees of Burning Man. But hey, what’s done is done. That’s the theme we’re stuck with. The majority of us will simply walk past the ohm chakalaka nonsense like we do every year. Perhaps next year, we can get an art theme that has some relevance to the vast majority of people who attend. Or maybe next year, Larry will look deep into the Census and declare 2018’s theme “African-American Republicans Who Arrived by Plane “.

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    • Larry Harvey says:

      I think your analysis is flawed. It may be that, “71.3% of attendees identify as having NO religion, 70.1% report NEVER attending church of any kind, 60% report NEVER engaging in any ritual, a full 48% percent self-identify as atheist, agnostic or don’t know, and a mere 5.4% identify as religious”, but masses of people, whether or not they are participants, are inclined to say they are attached to or looking for some form of spirituality. Like a lot of people, you are mistaking spirituality for religion, as if religious faiths had some sort of trademark on soul and spirit. Furthermore, to state that the majority of people surveyed say they have never engaged in any form of ritual is ridiculous. Have they never celebrated a birthday? Have they never attended a funeral? To tell the whole truth, the majority of artists I know who build temples at the event are de facto atheists or agnostics, but this does not deter them from presenting heartfelt and compelling visions that affect thousands of people.

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      • Chowski says:

        It’s not MY analysis. It is not “ridiculous” to assert that a majority of the people surveyed claim little ties to ritual. That is published fact. That is self-reporting by people who attend Burning Man. In 2015, 60% self-report not engaging in ritual (technically, I think it was 59.9).

        What I CAN analyze is that of my campmates, most of whom are 8+year Burners, none of them are talking about this theme. Not one. It has little resonance for us, and is not informing our plans for the year. For a group of people who are significantly less likely than the general population to wallow in “spirituality”, this theme is just not that interesting or inspiring.

        I am sure the yoga and prayer-hands-namaste crowd will be delighted by this theme. It just seems, based upon the census facts (not the alternative facts), and the general lack of response to this blog, that this theme is very narrow in appeal to large majority of Burners.

        But not every thing has to be for every person. This year, the spiritualists can take the thematic lead, and maybe next year we can have a theme which is inspiring to more Burners.

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      • Smalarpi says:

        Agree with Larry here. And Ritual has always been part of Burning Man and Chowski I think you’re just simply misunderstanding of what ritual means for you. You most likely participated in a ritual of sorts at any of your previous burns.

        This is a wonderful theme, and NEEDED. Bring back the human rituals that have permeated our existance on this planet. I’m looking forward to seeing all the ceremony and ritual manifest.

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      • champagne says:

        This theme is challenging. Definitely not fun. There are probably not a lot of responses because there are other concerns absorbing energy like a black hole. But, I think, Chowski, those of us who like to reside in the “cold and neutral state of intellectual perception” might like to investigate how we use ritual in our lives. Does habit = ritual? Habits reside deep in brain tissue. Obsessive Compulsive behavior is said to be ritualistic. No need to resort solely to Oom chakalaka…..Also, just want to say here I believe we are witnessing the birth of a religion. How cool is that?

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      • Heidi Oleson aka hihoreno says:

        My religion includes tolerance, love of the earth, choosing to be happy every day and Burning Man. This will be my 22nd year and I thank you for continuing to host the best party, religious experience and art festival in the world. Everyone has there own take on it and the most asked and unanswered question I get is what is it like? it is different for every person and there is no one way to experience Burning Man. All are correct and nothing is ever the same.

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    • Sparks says:

      Having read this and other comments reflecting disappointment about the “ritual” aspect of this theme from veteran burners, I must reflect…

      How is an annual pilgrimmage to the desert in August, with its buckets of rebar, dusty fur, and hauling coolers of uneaten food stinking its way back NOT a ritual?? That first shower when you get back and the dirt falls out of your ears, wowwie. It’s better than a birthday.

      Pretty damn meaningless from the outside though, if you ask me. Maybe some meta-reflection will help this theme resonate more. Or the meek will inherit the playa this year. Peace and wish you a cool art car next year.

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      • Orange Mike says:

        As Larry wrote in his essay intro, I find myself realizing the multiple meanings of ritual — and radical. Specifically I am startled to find how much of the art I make and admire is in fact pysychomagical expression that felt critical to perform. I bet you come to burns with the same feeling. Let us perform these critical, radical rituals together this year, with more multi and marvel than ever.

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  • Society needs to fill the hole left by the erosion of organized faith. Rituals were bringing together groups for millenia on “Sundays” for worship, prayer, exchange about social issues, flirting, drinking, letting the kids learn something in Sunday School. Personal faith – the pinnacle of self-expression and the excuse today for spiritual people shunning organized faith to stop exchange about faith with others – can only cover a part of the positive effect the rituals organized faith provided for society.

    Lost me at that point? Google for the background of the “School of Life” of Alain de Botton. THIS will spell out above argument for you.

    Burning Man is no religion. Our rituals and gatherings are to us as important as religion is for organized-faith-followers. It keeps us busy bustling with projects.

    I think I got the idea. I love it. I expect some useful rituals popping up that will spread through our community – and like peertopeer wifi – spread through the world.

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  • RoadRunner says:

    I hate to see Radical Ritual reduced to conversations about faith or religion. Another comment writer referenced Isadora Duncan – ah, yes, genius and movement. Radical ritual for me is making my bed and packing a lunch – took ages to take care of myself in that way. Hiking is up there. Getting up for early early morning Black Rock Desert moments (as opposed to staying up all night), or going naked into water after being parched in playa dust, these are rituals for me. Hugging my friends. Applying my make-up and other ornamentation. Cooking. Radical is in my own way, ritual is with ceremony or practice, or ability to sense meaning in even the smallest of things. Not so much the om shanti shanti thing another person referenced as a celebration of my actually being alive and connecting with others. Circles, dance, flowers, beads, 1960’s Berkeley or the ancient rites at Stonehenge, or washing my face at night before bed. The earth goes round the sun, the moon goes round the earth, the sea returns to shore. Radical. Ritual.

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    • Yarrow says:

      I appreciate this response very much. I think if we came to life in this way, we would all find a deeper sense of relativity to all which people in this thread are speaking too… Value of personal experience..

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  • Brother says:

    Spirit is synonymous with breath. Energy. Consciousness. Life itself.

    In this way, we are all living spirit. Naturally.
    Whether you believe it or understand it or practice it or pay attention to it is up to you.
    But that doesn’t make it any less true.

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    • Brian Muresan says:

      AS a soon to be be virgin burner, I think this years theme will help me find out who I am, What my boundaries are and what and who the real me is.

      I’m only 22 and want to see what Burning Man can show me.

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  • Mystry says:

    Ritual. An art wholly lost in our modern society. An ancient ritual was an act so profound and meaningful, it was celebrated and benchmarked by the entire community. A boys’ first hunted goat, which would feed his family, evoked a ritual of celebration, a tattoo or a woven blanket was a reward. A girls first period, celebrated for her ability to give life, a moon so bright you could plant seeds by it, giving food. Death, marriage, circumcision. These where at one time accompanied by sacred rituals of vast importance. Those scared rituals of life demarcation and notority are no longer part of our society. It is such a lost art to even name a ritual in our life, one that we honor over and over with humble scaredness. If it bothers you that your BM annual party could be associated with a concept so foreign, then Try very hard to imagine your life now with at least one life celebration of such deep meaning that it defines your remaining years. Then you may find ritual in the simple, the scared and sublime.

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  • Nina Roth says:

    My father enlisted in the Navy as an 18 year old. World War II. He served on the USS Silversides, a submarine. One of our favorite stories was of a sailor, whose job was to bring a cup of Java to the captain. This required climbing a ladder. The sailor would take a gulp of coffee, climb the ladder and spit the coffee back, into the mug. The story delighted us kids. My ritual: climb down my ladder, make coffee, and climb back, so I can have “coffee in bed”. I never miss CIB. I am planning to gift CIB 2017. I hope I can share my ritual with you, with a coffee. BYOS. Bring your own spirits.

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  • Goldmine says:

    “Zen and the Art of Motorcycle Maintenace ”
    Book by Robert M. Pirsig
    It’s the experience of here and now that allow you to evolve . Everything in your life can become a ritual, you don’t have to be religious to reach the your own enlightenment . You can just love what you do and do it with such a passion that every single step of your journey will allow you to get the answers you seek. Humans have always accomplished their higher goals through rituals allowing them to discover who they really are .
    It’s a glourious theme full of possibilities. There are a lot to ponder and to create. Radical Ritual does not lie in the answer it gives, but in the questions it raises and the way it raises them .

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  • Justin says:

    Radical Ritual =
    “Rad like Definition of rad”
    : a unit of absorbed dose of ionizing radiation equal to an energy of 100 ergs per gram of irradiated material …’rad’ is generally considered to be a higher praise Also used as a general expression of awe.

    Eye Sea California

    Rhode Island plus you all;
    think for a moment what is Rhode Island famous for…..
    “””””””spin ”’spin”’ twril”’twrill…radical self reliance…magic source sage and presto you have an art theme

    think…use your phone.. art is @ just the tip of your creative research

    Justin Shelton

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  • Justin says:

    one more note of keep…. great article Harvey..
    big shoes too fill…

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  • Rob Smiley says:

    Well, I might try and come then.

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  • lenseoflove says:

    my observation is: its pretty evident that this theme stirs up many things inside some, which seems evident in the flustered response :) here’s to humble discomfort transforming into growth. signs of a good theme, i say.

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  • I was gonna try to stay off-playa this year, but… the theme is so perfect. It’s great to read Larry’s thoughts on the matter, too. Ritual is everywhere, incidentally: when you tie your shoe or make your bed, you are repeating an action. Add a little glimmer of intention to the action, and you may find that meaning erupts from its repetition.

    Not to say we should confine ourselves to the shoe-tying sort of ritual. Let us burn men. Let us drown rats. Let us tear down temples with our teeth and eat libraries page by page, panting, sweating, and laughing.

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  • Timeless says:

    Larry is one of my all time favorite writers and this year’s theme bangs it!

    I began calling my “Fire Inside” burns performances but as we developed this new art form I realized it’s not about me, just like Larry said, it’s about everyone there. Over the years we naturally sort of fell on “ritual ceremony” instead, but with out the aggrandizing outfit…just a dusty ol’ Fire Mister here with a chainsaw habit.

    Yep, been carving big ol’ monuments here in the High Sierras with a chainsaw since before I could squirt. That’s until I ran into the fun house in my desert. The damn thing twisted my whole life around and soon I was having frightening urges to burn up my cherished “masterworks” — the ones that go for tens of thousands, yikes! But how does one start, essentially a whole log on fire — and then all that mess!

    Now I was raised in the forest, got sap in my veins, so I knew that tree stumps can stay burning inside after a forest fire is out, sometimes for weeks — it’s a problem. So I whispered to the wood and listened to my burner friends and together we figured out how create Fire Inside the massive works. (That was easy, I’m still learning how to control the burn.) and it wasn’t long till we began noticing some other-worldly effects.

    I swear to my idols, when a whole tree gives up it’s essence, still assembled in its original form it whispers back! Right into the ears of all who are there….

    Watch for us in front of the Temple burning a 30′ man enveloped in carved flames, arms up, carved out of a twin tree stump, standing roots up. (If we can raise the money, click my name and see how you or your group could own it. Click “Fundiversify” there.) Come join our ritual, I’ll be the scruffy big guy with a beard and a wild look in my eyes from all the mind-cracking stuff people say to me and to one another. Everyone’s suddenly a guru! I mean it’s some kinda metaphysical force of nature.

    Which brings us to rain. We were asked, by a Tahoe Resort to burn holes in one of my monuments, right on the beach. It was billed as a “Pray for Snow Burn” in the previous week’s paper so I thought I’d really try to bring snow.

    It’s Friday the 13th, the mood goes intensely introspective when someone interrupts the ceremony with news of the Paris attacks that same day. The Fire Mister recites aloud a poem he’d written about a vote between Order and Anarchy, one he calls “The Choice”. The fire cracks loudly, the release is palpable when suddenly a damn gunman stumbles onto the beach demanding wallets, a warning shot fires skyward! No lie!! It seems like only minutes when a freaking swat team stomps in, all in formation, all in black, M16’s towards the sky. They take chase, apprehending the gunman out on the street — what a night!

    Strange occurrences for a peaceful little ritual, but stranger still, as I pack up the last of my burn tools, alone there on the beach, everyone has left when what do I feel — what? Wait for it … snow flakes falling lightly from he November sky.

    By morning the fist snow of the season stood four inches, as documented in the paper. Crazily, that storm ended a 12 year, debilitating drought. It snowed all last winter and all this winter too … jus say’n.

    Yep, Larry you’re on to something with this Radical Ritual gig … I’ll be there.

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  • robert m says:

    Rise up this mornin’
    Smiled with the risin’ sun…

    an all time favorite ritual that must be completed. It’s right up there with cooking hunks of meat over the open campfire. The oldest ritual of all.

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  • Mercedes....playa name...Momma says:

    Went to Burning Man….years of 2008 through 2014… found and kept Beautiful Memories of a smaller and freeing time there…not going anymore as it has lost much of the feeling it had for me….. I will always love my life there and what it taught me about who I am

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  • Greeter Lulu says:

    Thanks for this Larry,
    I remember clearly the Free Bird temple burn incident. In fact that night, somehow synchronicity had me walking directly into the Free Bird fight. That was confirmation for me, and it changed so much about my future. I was sitting with a small group. We were waiting for the temple burn to start, when the shushing began. I was horrified, we were enjoying each others company and sitting and talking. Then my trigger became bigger when a “choral” of what seemed to me churchy singers singing churchy songs went by on a two story bus. The shushing became almost violent at anyone who was talking. The group I was with was not with me on this perspective but having a “be appropriate” posture, giving in to the most demanding rank. Not my things AT ALL -EVER! I got up and took off saying “I come to burning man to get away from this shit!”. On my angry walk out of the mass of shushing bodies I heard Free Bird and it’s song came as a great relief and lifted my spirit. I knew I needed to be with “them”. Whoever they were. As I approached, the infamous fight broke out with the DPW truck soon pulling away in desperation. I couldn’t believe it. I walked away from it all too. That was the last Temple Burn up close for me…

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  • Barbara says:

    Are you not worried about cultural appropriation?

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  • The Holy Spirit and Soul live and breathe within every one of us. In fact, they are what unite us when we argue amongst ourselves about whose ideology beats out someone else’s.

    Let us never forget why we are able to get out to the desert in the first place, and experience something that nearly the entire rest of the world will never be able to do:

    Spirit has graced us with the ability to freely, creatively, express ourselves. Let us maintain our higher vision and purpose for humanity as we do just this.

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  • Tom Wade says:

    Hey, Fluffy Muffin, or whatever.. Guess what? There are about 60 of us, who host a couple of very popular bars at the Burn every year, and don’t give a shit what the theme is, we roll with it no matter what because we come for the PARTY PARTY PARTY and to have the most incredible FUN, FUN, FUN, and we have zero apologies. BM never disappoints.

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