Burnal Equinox: The Halfway Point

Hey, we’re halfway Home!

That’s right, we’ve made it to the Burnal Equinox, that point during the year when we’re halfway from the last Burn, and halfway to the next one. And maybe we’re spending a little less time looking backward, and more time looking forward.


It’s an occasion that doesn’t go unnoticed, of course. Like so many things about Burning Man, it’s marked with … wait for it … a rite of passage.

So hundreds of folks showed up on a warm but wet evening Saturday at Kelly’s Mission Rock in San Francisco to show off their finery, ogle some art (and each other), and dance the night away.

There’s an art theme to each Burning Man, and this year ringmaster Larry Harvey has chosen Rites of Passage. As he put it:

“… Moving from one state of being into an unknown other can be frightening. This is not a facile transformation; it obliges us to face our innermost insecurities, and it requires faith, a willingness to leap off the ladder of ordered existence. Our theme this year invites participants to join with others in creating rites of passage.”

Think of all the passages you make in your life — from young to old, from poor to rich (and maybe back again), from novice to expert. The transitions are endless, whether we acknowledge them or not.

And Burning Man itself is in a rite of passage, from what it was and is, to what it must become. But what is that thing?

Marcia is there, as always — setting things up and checking them twice.

Well, it’ll be the same, of course. We won’t need ten new principles to describe (not proscribe) what happens out there in the desert.

But it’ll be different, too, because it has to be. The organization is talking about the need to pass this thing along to the next generation, to the people who will take it wherever it will go next.

So the passages this year will be both individual and communal.

The new blood will have new ideas for what needs to be done, what directions need to be taken. And those new ideas might conflict with your own ideas, but that’s the way it works, in Burning Man as in life.

There’s been a fairly good amount written about the organization looking for a new home. There are rough plans under way to move the headquarters to a sad-sack area of San Francisco, in the Mid Market region. There are dreams of setting up a think tank at Fly Ranch, down the road from the event site. And there are plans to transform the organization into a nonprofit enterprise.

All these things will mean a new life for the organization, and maybe a new life for a down-on-its-luck part of San Francisco.

With all this going on, you might want to make note of your own passages and transitions, and the rites associated with them.

There are many people who provide a way to make your personal experience of Burning Man become part of the community’s experience. I’m speaking about the people who plan and execute things like the Burnal Equinox and Decompression and Precompression and all the other events that surround the big one in Black Rock City.

The Special Events team, under the direction of $teven Ra$pa, who is ably and tirelessly assisted by Griffin and Lumina and scores of other people, do all the things that need to get done to stage events like the Burnal. They wrangle the performers and artists and DJs and volunteers and support staff, secure the right space, and make sure that everyone who’d like to play a role in an effort like this has the chance to do so.

I’ve always had a better time at the Burn when I had a role to play. The event is all about participation and self-expression (and of course radical self-reliance), but you can participate by making sure that OTHERS have what they need to build their art, host their parties, and build their camps.

So to that end we’ve been meeting with the Special Events team the past couple of months, watching how the various contingents come together to make the experiences better for you. We’ve seen Bobzilla take the BMIR broadcasts to new heights. We’ve watched Blondie do so much of the heavy lifting with the Decor crew. We’ve watched Paula Jayne and Plex and others provide the vittles to feed the battalions of volunteers.

And we’ve wondered if all of you know about this very direct way to get inside, to take part in, what happens at Burning Man.

People are always needed — to perform, to set up, to tear down. Think of it — an event like the Equinox opens early and finishes late. At 3:30 in the morning, there have to be plenty of people around clear out the venue in a matter of hours. So while you’re gobbling pancakes at the 24-hour IHOP, other people are packing the lights and AV equipment, disassembling the stages, and carrying LOTS of heavy stuff to the trucks and vans waiting outside.

Are you getting the idea that it’s a lot of work? It is. And it’s not done in the relatively bright glow of the desert, with the stardust of the event sprinkling down on everyone involved, all shiny-eyed and full of anticipation. Nah, this is the low-wattage Dogpatch neighborhood on a rainy dawn. Is it easy? No. Can you help? Yes. Are you needed? You are. Will you feel good about yourself for offering your talents? You will.

So if one of your passages this year is about transitioning from individual to communal participation, the Special Events team might be what you are looking for. Drop them an email. They’re waiting for you.


About the author: John Curley

John Curley (that's me) has been Burning since the relatively late date of 2004, and in 2008 I spent the better part of a month on the playa, documenting the building and burning of Black Rock City in words and pictures. I loved it, and I've been doing it ever since. I was a newspaper person in a previous life, and I spent many years at the San Francisco Chronicle. At the time I left, in 2007, I was the deputy managing editor in charge of Page One and the news sections of the paper. Since then, I've turned a passion for photography into a second career. I shoot for editorial, commercial and private clients. I've also taught a little bit, including two years at UC Berkeley's Graduate School of Journalism and a year at San Francisco State University. I live on the San Mateo coast, just south of San Francisco in California.

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