The Gold Spike

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

“A common cause, a common activity, a common ritual — a thing we do — may be a more effective bond for community than a thing we think or believe.”

— Caveat Magister

Pepe Ozan was a man steeped in ritual. In 1996, ’97, and ’98, he had brought his opera performances to Black Rock City, with a vision to recreate ancient rituals as they were reenacted around forty foot flaming clay castles. In ’96, just before the performance was to begin, a newswoman from a Reno TV station asked if she could film the event.

“I will not allow you to film this ritual,” Pepe told her in a thick Argentinian accent. “Its spirit will be destroyed if taken out of context by a camera lens.”

He then offered that she join the ceremony, but only if she got naked and understood the meaning of its purpose. She refused the offer.

Many years later, a film crew asked the Department of Public Works of BRC if they could record the “Gold Spike Ceremony,” which is where we plant the initial marking post at the exact center of BRC of which everything is measured from. It signifies the starting point of the building of our city in the desert.

We turned them down too. We didn’t go so far as to offer them the ‘get naked’ option, but our reasons for refusal were similar. We felt that the heart and spirit of the ritual would wither under the scrutiny of the camera lens.

The Gold Spike ceremony has always belonged to the moment. It’s an inception. It’s shared with those whom are entrusted to build another wheel of time. It’s a baptism.

The Gold Spike itself will become the hub for all things to come. Our world pivots on it from the start, as it delineates the center of our survey station campsite where we sleep around it in close circle under the stars.

The ceremony itself is uncomplicated. After a modest benediction, I tap in a spike at an agreed upon coordinate that will become the eventual location of the Man, and the center of Black Rock City itself. The sledgehammer that is used to pound the stake is then handed off to the next person in an organic pecking order. The hammer becomes the “talking hammer,” and gets passed from person to person as each says what they like, which is always from the heart. We open ourselves and show our respect to one another. We show respect to the power of the community we are about to embrace. We show respect to the beauty and spirit of the land itself.

This year around the end of July, I plan to be standing in the vacant heart of the west out on the playa with yet another Gold Spike in hand. It will be the nineteenth time we do this ceremony, (not counting the three times we did it in ’99 — but that’s a different story), and it’s sure to be as heartfelt and real as the first time. In this ceremony, the Gold Spike will become a roman candle of exuberance that shoots a spark into the hearts that attend.

About the author: Tony “Coyote” Perez-Banuet

Tony “Coyote” Perez-Banuet

Tony “Coyote” Perez-Banuet has been coming to the desert to build and strike Black Rock City since 1996. A professional musician for over twenty years, Burning Man culture was an easy shift for him. He co-founded the Department of Public Works of BRC in 1998 and has been the City Superintendent ever since. Known as the “Bard of the Desert”, telling stories around the campfire is among the things he does best. He has been blogging under the moniker of “Coyote Nose” for many years, and he is Burning Man’s first Storytelling Fellow.

11 Comments on “The Gold Spike

  • Au79 says:

    Looking forward to getting a golden spark shot into my heart – thanks for all you do – tap that thing once extra for me would ya

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  • Stitch says:

    And hoping you’ll not need SCUBA equipment to drive the spike…although adding synchronized swimming to the ritual might be nice.

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  • HoneyBee says:

    I like to believe that each ring of that hammer ripples through our community, on a global scale.

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  • samson says:

    what’s with the 3 way spike in 99? we demand answers!

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  • Capt. Paul says:

    Beautiful. I’ve been itching to go since the beginning, but work always kept me away, UNTIL this year. 2017, I will walk the playa. The time is now.

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  • Suz says:

    This is why I take mostly nature pictures while attending. Photographing is spectating…perhaps participation, but from a distance. People outside BRC want to see all the crazy, amazing stuff, but I can’t do that for them. Burning ethos says NO. I do have a zillion gorgeous sky and mountain and playa pics, and whatever I take for my own recollection (Usually the DPW parade and a few art cars) But now you have me thinking of my own personal rituals while in BRC. Thank you for that. It was a cold liftoff for me when the theme was announced. This helps.

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  • This is extremely helpful info!! Very good work. Everything is very interesting to learn and easy to understood. Thank you for giving information.

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  • Mish says:

    As always, this sounds amazing. I knew what the
    “Gold Spike” was but not so much history.

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  • Did says:

    How can we participate in this ceremony ? I ‘ll be coming from France, already asked to be part of dpw, I’d like to plant the spike with you all. I know rituals, I plan to make one for the theme, and this year I’d love to participate from the golden spike ceremony. Is it possible? When should I plan to be on the playa ?
    Thank you :)

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