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.