Fire and Ritual — Guidelines for Building and Burning Your Own Man

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

A ritual is speaking words, using gestures, performing actions or using traditional objects in a set sequence. This sequence is repeated over and over, becoming something important to the group and held in reverence.

It’s clear which was the first Burning Man ritual. It’s the one that has formed the actual epicenter or fixed point of the event. And these days, for the most part, this ritual is conducted by unknown persons in ways you do not observe…

Well, this year, you’re invited to to be those people — to build and burn your own Burning Man or Woman and create your own ritual or meaning… or simply to gather with a group of friends who want to set up a funky wooden Man to burn and invite all of their friends to join.

Larry Harvey, a guy who has done that very thing several times, wrote this introduction to the history and meaning of the Man Burn ritual. Below you’ll find Part Two: the details about when and how to actually do this yourselves.

Building and Burning your own Burning Man: Important Days and Times

Friday, September 1

6 pm — Waxing Your Man

Join us for the Burning Man ritual of waxing the Man. Meet about 400 feet towards the Temple from the Man — look for the flag.

For years, the Man has gone up like a candle, and that is because he is one!

Learn this age-old skill and hear tales from those who know the ways of the wax. Make your own wax packets to fuel your burn.

Bring burlap to be waxed and some leather gloves.

Waxing the Man (Photo by Todd Gardiner)

Sunday, September 3

8 am to 10 am — Set Up Your Burning Man

Meet at the ashes of the Man in the center of Black Rock City and raise your own Burning Man

10:15 am — Burn Your Man!

Required Materials and Dimensions

DaveX and Christopher Breedlove assess their mini-Man (Photo by Jon “Argus” Mitchell)

Each Burning Man will be given an area on the decomposed granite pad where the Man stood the night before. The width of this area is limited, so please plan to arrive early to ensure a place alongside the others.

  • Projects should be within the size constraints of the original Burning Man on Baker Beach and be no larger than eight feet tall and four feet wide. Base or outrigger structures may be up to six feet by six feet.
  • All projects must be able to stand on their own. We recommend 2″x 6″ plank outriggers or other base structures that will allow the project to be placed unsupported on the decomposed granite burn protection.
  • Because of the risk of blowing embers causing unintended fires, don’t use materials that can create this kind of risk. Materials not to be used include cardboard, chipboard, Oriented Strand Board (OSB), fabric, or thin sheets of wood.
  • Do not use engineered laminated wood products including support timbers that have fire resistant glue used in their manufacturing. These can be difficult to burn and should be avoided.
  • Please remove all plastics and other materials including zip ties, EL wire or other decorations that are not made of wood or clean-burning materials.
  • Due to the close proximity of our perimeter for this burn, the use of fireworks will not be allowed.

The Ritual of Safely Fueling Your Burning Man

Over the years of performing a ritual, you learn a lot of lessons on how the experience can be intensified yet be done safely. In the repetition of a ritual, there are learnings that can only be gained in the “OWWWW Wow we won’t be doing that again” Moment. Here are a few ritual tips we learned the Burning Man way.

Built to Burn

Through trial and error, we learned that a fire needs fuel and air. Wood should be spaced with enough space for air pass through, but not so sparse as to prevent the fire from propagating. Think about a campfire with just the right amount of smaller kindling wood elements, as well as larger timbers ignited by the heat of that kindling.

Waxed Burlap, The Man (Photo by CameraGirl a.k.a. Heather Gallagher)

Waxing Your Man

We have found that one of the safest ways to fuel your effigy is to used waxed materials such as burlap secured in strategic locations on your project. Strips of the material can be coated with wax and shaped. Once hardened, these can be screwed and wired to strategic points within your effigy to help start and maintain a strong fire.

Fueling on the Morning of Your Burn

Beginning at 8 am Sunday, Experienced Burning Man Fire Ritualists will be on hand to help you to fuel and prepare your Burning Man or Woman. Please bring your Effigy dry and without fuel. The Ritualists provide appropriate liquid fuel and help with it’s safe application. No other fuel besides firewood and waxed burlap should be used. Please do not bring additional fuel.

The Ritual of Perimeter

The effects of heat and the risks of falling debris are all challenges when creating a bonfire of any type. At 9:45 am, before we begin final fueling of our effigies, we will set a small safety perimeter around them.

Holding the perimeter — protecting our community by looking not at the burn itself but rather gazing outward with the intention of protecting others — is one of the most important roles in this ritual. Please plan to help with this perimeter as needed.

The Man, Ignites (Photo by DZM)

The Ritual of Ignition

At 10 am on Sunday, torches will be distributed to each project. The timing of the ignition of all of the projects at the same moment is important, as once the first Man is ablaze, it will be much harder to approach to ignite the others. Once a signal is given by the Experienced Burning Man Fire Ritualists, we will light our torches first and then approach as a group to apply fire to the effigies. Please do not ignite your Burning Man before the ritual has begun!

The Ritual of Clean-Up and Leaving No Trace

Perhaps the second most recognizable ritual of our event is that of Clean-Up.

It is through the act of Clean-Up that we can return year after year to the blank palette that is the Black Rock Desert. Once your Man has fallen and the coals have cooled, join us in Leaving No Trace. Bring work gloves, a magnet rake to share, a metal trash can for hot metal scrap, and water and snacks for those helping out. Experienced Clean-Up Ritualists will be on hand to help direct your efforts. The act of Clean-Up will teach you much about your community and its commitment to the ritual.

A Ritual Window on Our Past

Participating in a ritual can give us a glimpse into the past.

We see how the ritual was performed and how it evolved throughout the years. You can experience it the same way it was experienced in the beginning. You can then pass that same ritual on to others new to the community for years to come. We hope to see you build and burn your own Burning Man at the Man Base Sunday morning!

For more information on building and burning your own Burning Man, email fire-art@burningman.org.


Top photo: Mini-Man in the Dust (In walk-in camping, by the airport road.) (Photo by Ricochet)

About the author: DaveX

DaveX

As a child Dave X sought out activities considered naughty by some, including his parents. In doing so he noticed that through the organization of others he could achieve greater levels of naughtiness. As he grew older Dave X was always looking behind the curtain to see who the wizard really was and how his mysterious machines worked. It was only natural that he would bring the traits of organization and mechanical curiosity together in his future work. In 1992 he was lured to the Black Rock Desert when he discovered a strange group called The Cacophony Society. Wonders and curiosities were discovered as he crossed to a new reality and he knew he had seen the future. This future was made of wood and stood tall and proud on the desert floor before taking flight to the spirits in a blaze of fire. In 1999 after several years of creating large-scale fire installations he realized that the use of fire and fuel had grown to a tipping point. He saw that the time had come to either self regulate its use or face outside regulation. Under the guidance of Crimson Rose he began his career with the Performance Safety Team and sought trainings and licensing so that he could create guidelines for the use of fire and fuels that would ensure the spectacle and ritual of their use while preventing their misuse. Dave X is now the Manager of the Fire Art Safety Team and holds several certifications for fuel management as well as being a licensed Pyrotechnic Operator.

8 Comments on “Fire and Ritual — Guidelines for Building and Burning Your Own Man

  • Gerflash says:

    Do I take it correctly that your fire prep helpers will be providing all our effigies and effigettes with all the proper fuel and wax and waxed burlap they will be needing? And that we are not to bring our own effigy prewaxed, prefueled, and preburlapped?

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  • Dave X says:

    Howdy

    For fueling yes you may bring your effigy pre-waxed and with burlap attached but do not add liquid fuels.
    We will be having a Waxing Party and storytelling night at 6pm 400′ north of the Man Friday night. Look for the light and flag. Bring burlap that you bring to be waxed and learn from old waxers… The key is to make bundles with the burlap that are soaked in wax then screwed or attached with bailing wire to the effigy.

    On Sunday before we burn all of the projects the Experienced Burning Man Fire Ritualists will provide and help you to apply the liquid fuel for the projects right before we burn.

    Hope that helps!
    Can’t wait to see your effigy ablaze!

    Dave X

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  • Buddha says:

    Is there any blueprints/plans on building ‘the man’?

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    • Larry Harvey says:

      The building of the original Man was an impetuous gesture. We had no kit or ready plan to guide us. This doesn’t mean that you must make a slapdash effort, but it does mean this should be an act of Radical Self- Expression.

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  • Brittany says:

    I accidently bought a $1,200 Leonardo Patron Burning Man ticket through the Burner website instead of a regular ticket and the organization won’t help me get a refund!

    I’ve never been to Burning Man before and was confused when I was buying my ticket. That is 2 Months rent for me!

    If anyone was looking to buy this type of ticket, please purchase it for me. It’s so expensive because it is for people that want to give a generous contribution. As a recent college graduate, I can’t be one of those people!

    Please help me enjoy my first Burning Man experience by trading tickets, buying my ticket, or suggesting other solutions! Burning Man organization has been very unfriendly and unhelpful when I approached them.

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  • Lara love says:

    Dave X
    ,
    I know this is last second though I believe in manifestation in spite of timelines.
    I have three friends that are fire walk instructors that are interested in bringing the fire walk to this year’s radical ritual. We have everything we need everything we need to keep the land safe and just need an OK to bring this radical ritual home.

    Report comment

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