Catharsis 2016: Burning and Healing on the National Mall

By Vladimir Herrera (The Prophet)

Catharsis on the Mall, an unofficial Burner-driven event on the National Mall in Washington, D.C., just took place, and it was as moving as it was timely.

The 2016 event offered a lot more than last year. It was packed with lectures, discussions, workshops, community art, art cars, and amazing music, all seeking to facilitate healing for each other and our society at large. The 48-hour vigil was the culmination of an entire year of planning and organizing.

Check out Tim Clark’s short documentary film about Catharsis 2016 on Facebook.

The event began on Veteran’s Day at 11:11 am, November 11 — three days after Election Day — and ended on Sunday, November 13. This year’s theme, “Our Journey Home”, was inspired by the healing journey embarked upon by all who have been torn away from their safety and security by trauma. Set amongst the Washington Monument, the World War II Memorial and the White House, it was just the perfect place to showcase what those 10 Principles of Burning Man can do anywhere they are applied. Adam Eidinger, D.C. community activist and organizer of the event put it in these words: “This event is a secular humanist spiritual experience at which all are welcome. Our country will benefit from the healing and unity Catharsis on the Mall will bring.”

Seeing the healing power that the vigil brought to this city was so incredible. I could not have been more proud to be a part of this community. “People often say that they would like to attend a Burn but do not have the resources to do so,” Nikolas Schiller, a Catharsis on the Mall producer, says. “With Catharsis on the Mall being entirely free, we were able to show thousands of tourists, friends, and participants, a glimpse of the magic we can create when we work together.”

Here are some images of the gathering and reflections from participants.

The Immersive Igloo was a space dedicated to providing a peaceful and comfortable sonic sanctuary that allowed participants to explore both the inner space of their consciousness and well as the outer space of the universe. – (Photo by Kris Northern)

“I melted into a huge cuddle puddle in the sound tent Saturday night with friends old and new, then met a musical brother with a Hang drum. Always wanted to play one. We got coffee and jammed on it, and it was pure magic. People were mesmerized. I met a martial artist, and we practiced capoeira and hand balancing. I danced with friends old and new on a dragon, people would ask me what it was, and then they’d be dancing along with us. My friend Jeremy and I helped break down everything after, and we met someone who showed us how to play our bodies like a drum. He called us warriors and inspired us… The love and radiant warmth of the people who made this happen was magnificent. It grew as the sun rose, and we all shined along with it. I think D.C. was glowing on Sunday morning”
— Andy Freebird.

Andy was invited to Catharsis by one of his friends. He has never been to Burning Man or any Regional Event. He later on added a comment on one of the pictures I took of the event: “I found my family that day that I never knew I was missing.”

(Photo by Matt LeClair‎)
Abraxas at Catharsis (Photo by Matt LeClair‎)

“There is a misperception that Burning Man is confined to the borders of Black Rock City. But as it changes people, it changes the way those people live in the world. Once you learn that the world is a do-ocracy, there is little difference between helping set up a neighbor’s dome, helping clothe a neighbor in need, or helping mobilize a community in crisis. The participants at Catharsis on The Mall took the healing magic of the playa and shared it where it was needed most.”
— John “Halcyon” Styn (see his post about Catharsis)

“It couldn’t have come a better time. … Technically this was my first Burn. I couldn’t [ask] for a better introduction. I felt the crowd was very inclusive and positive to be around as well.”
— Stéphanie Vink

(Photo by Doug Sanford)
(Photo by Doug Sanford)
Michael Verdon also created “The Temple of Rebirth”. The 30-foot-tall structure gave us a space for personal and collective healing and will burn in a future event. (Photo by Kris Northern)
Michael Verdon’s Temple of Rebirth (Photo by Kris Northern)

Veteran and artist Michael Verdon created three effigies: The Moon and The Sun to represent the passage of time, and an Egg to represent renewal.

The meaning of the burn was a personal experience. For some it was a way to letting go of their frustrations, and for other it was the catalyst they needed to heal. To this day, this is the only event permitted to burn a structure at the National Mall.

Verdon also created the Temple of Rebirth. The 30-foot-tall structure gave us a space for personal and collective healing and will burn in a future event.

“We all have had things happen in our lives that have made coping/reconciling/staying on our feet challenging. Having a sense of unity — no matter how different our traumatic experiences are — is extremely powerful and healing. We need to be open to our neighbors. We need to recognize that we are never truly alone. This extends to our current political situation, and that extension was certainly felt throughout the event… It was a beautiful event that I am extremely grateful to have been a part of.”
— Alx Olson

Sample writings inside the Temple of Rebirth (Photo by Vladimir Herrera)
Dj Shango (Photo by Doug Sanford)
DJ Shango (Photo by Doug Sanford)

Amongst the DJs was Dom Rafael Rodriguez (DJ Shango), a Marines veteran, someone who served his country in a desert land and came back. He told me he was extremely honored to be able to spin in front of the Washington Monument, especially in light of the recent presidential election. For him, “Playing an array beats aboard Burning Man’s big dragon, Abraxas, was a priceless experience.” He added, “A lot of healing was needed that night, and I thoroughly enjoyed being the catalyst for these elevated vibrations. The Washington Monument holds a special place in my heart. [I] spun [there] around the same time last year for a Native American ceremony honoring veterans. I too am a war veteran, serving my country in the Marines. I continue to serve the people with high vibrational healing beats and will do so as long as I’m on this Earth plane.”

(Photo by Matt LeClair‎ )
(Photo by Matt LeClair‎ )

We were honored by the participation of two amazing Mutant Vehicles, the Anti-War Machine, a two-level art car surrounded in rainbow fabric and topped with a geodesic All-Sphere; and Abraxas, a 60-foot golden dragon, equipped with a 10,000-watt sound system and three viewing levels, making it’s second appearance in Washington D.C.

(Photo by Ben Droz)
(Photo by Ben Droz)

On Sunday, while most people in the nation’s capital were sleeping, something amazing went down on Constitution Avenue. A golden dragon took over the city, playing music from the Washington Monument to the U.S. Capitol and back, and hundreds marched and danced and had one of the most magical moments they could have ever imagined. A true cathartic moment in time! Abraxas’ first visit to D.C. was six years ago for the Rally to Restore Sanity and/or Fear, a gathering that took place on October 30, 2010.

Roman, Michael and Adam, thank you for your vision and for everything you put into making this event a magical moment in time. (Photo by Ben Droz)
Roman, Michael and Adam, thank you for your vision and for everything you put into making this event a magical moment in time. (Photo by Ben Droz)

It takes events like this to spread the spirit of Burning Man beyond the playa. The mission of this event was accomplished and is living proof that when a community of Burners gets together to create something based on the core principles, playa magic can heal and inspire people to open their consciousness to a better understanding of the world and everything that surrounds them.

(Photo by Kris Northern)
(Photo by Kris Northern)

I am looking forward for next year’s Catharsis at the National Mall, when more art cars and even more Burners from all over the globe will come enjoy this beautiful city and its beautiful people.

“Sisters of Liberty” by Natalie White (Photo by Vladimir Herrera)
“Sisters of Liberty” by Natalie White (Photo by Vladimir Herrera)

“I wanted to share the huge amount of appreciation and gratitude I feel for our community and everyone involved: artists, musicians, speakers, performers, volunteers, fellow organizers, people who donated their money, things, or expertise, and the couple thousand open-hearted participants who showed up and experienced it with us. And especially, everyone who found me at some point in the weekend and offered a hand or a hug or a moment to take a breath and take in what we were creating together.”
— Josh Carroll, Catharsis organizer.


For more information on the event, please visit the Catharsis on the Mall website.

(Top photo by Kris Northern)

About the author: Vladimir Herrera (The Prophet) is a community leader who has worked on many regional projects since 2014. He is an avid photographer an award-winning designer with over 20 years of experience creating and conceiving works for an array of federal agencies and international organizations. More about him at

3 Comments on “Catharsis 2016: Burning and Healing on the National Mall

  • Eliana says:

    Excellent work Bro!

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  • Dexter says:

    Last year, the closest I could come to getting involved was to stop in on the way home from work on Friday night, and leave a note in the Temple.

    This year, I was off on Friday for Vets’ Day, and could participate. I got to participate a bit in the do-ocracy, and after a 10-hour Saturday in class (Wilderness First Aid), made it to the Burn on Saturday night.

    Sunday night, after class, and breaking down my part of the event setup, I was a crispy critter. And it was Totally. Worth. It.

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  • Guidance says:

    Much love to everyone who organized this beautiful event and Vlady for the writeup!

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