Participate in Radical Ritual

The Temple of the Golden Spike


“Consider the Golden Spike. Each year, the re-creation of Black Rock City from the empty desert is celebrated by driving a gold-painted length of steel into the playa at the spot where the Burning Man will stand, and from which point the entire city is surveyed.”

— Stuart Mangrum

“This may be the essential genius of Burning Man:
Out of nothing,
We created everything.”

— Larry Harvey

This year the Burning Man will reside in a temple that is dedicated to the Golden Spike. Every space and turning, the entire grid of our collective home, derives from this singular point in space. We will mark this spot with an omphalos, a sculpture that will represent the navel of our world. Aligning with the spine of Burning Man, this will create an axis that continues upward, emerging high above the temple as a gilded spire. The sculpture of the Man will stand directly on the ground, and it will be like every one of us; he will live in a house, he will inhabit a home, and should you wish to visit him, you must get up close and personal. Participants will witness the figure in intimate detail, including every beveled edge and compound joint our Man Krew has employed in fashioning its body.

At night, this Temple of the Golden Spike will throb with light. A pulsing beam, ascending from its altar, will pass through shrines imbedded in the giant figure’s spine. Five hundred and forty-four ceremonial niches will wrap around the altar. Lit by eight thousand flickering LED lights, they will form a luminous honeycomb. These lights will look like votive candles, but are flameless. Anything that smokes or burns — wax candles, incense sticks or smoldering sage — will not be allowed in the temple.

In contrast with our city’s traditional Temple at the 12 o’clock position, which fastens our attention on the end of life, this temple is about life’s origin. This is not a place of grieving, but will instead evoke nativity and new beginnings. Participants are invited to place offerings in the many niches that will perforate the inner and outer walls of this structure. If the Temple is about spirit, release and transcendence, this year’s Temple of the Golden Spike will be devoted to the human soul and all that issues out of it — or to put this even more simply: bring a housewarming gift.

Build and Burn Your Own Burning Man

Baker Beach, 1989 (photo by Stewart Harvey)
Baker Beach, 1989 (photo by Stewart Harvey)

The original Burning Man was the work of an afternoon. Crafted from scrap lumber, it was transported to the beach and installed near the tideline. This was a spontaneous effort; it did not require a grant, and it exemplified the principles of Radical Self-reliance and Communal Effort. This year we invite participants to create their own burning woman or man. Our theme is Radical Ritual, and what could be more appropriate than to reenact the ritual that founded Burning Man?

These figures may be constructed prior to the event, but perhaps an even better option is to craft one in your camp. Rather than hiding your effort away, consider doing this in full view of the street and inviting your neighbors to join in. Should you choose this option, be sure to lay down tarp in your work area to prevent the spread of matter out of place, otherwise known as MOOP — this is a Leave No Trace event. Because these sculptures can’t be burned within our crowded city, we propose to ignite them at the site of Burning Man on Sunday morning, the day after the Man burns. To ensure ease of installation, we will limit their height to eight feet, the dimension of the original sculpture.

These wooden figures may be transported to Burning Man’s burn circle via art cars, but we suggest that you consider carrying your sculpture to its destination. At Baker Beach, the workers who created the Man carried it down a sand dune. This was certainly a labor, but we have found that when community members work and play together, authentic rituals begin to coalesce. Look at it this way: This is an opportunity to literally walk the walk of Burning Man, rather than talking its talk. Organize a procession, and parade your effigy through our city’s streets — you will be following in the footsteps of the carpenters who first built Burning Man.

Make sure to read this second post with specific information about safety, cleanup, and how to mount an effigy around the Man’s Burn perimeter.

About the author: Larry Harvey

Larry Harvey

Born in 1948, Larry Harvey grew up on a small farm on the outskirts of Portland, Oregon. In the late 1970s he moved to San Francisco, and soon discovered the city's thriving underground art scene. In 1986 he founded Burning Man at a local beach, and guided its progress from that moment until his death in 2018. Larry was Founding Board Member and Chief Philosophic Officer of Burning Man Project. He scripted and co-curated Burning Man's annual art theme and collaborated with artists in creating aspects of the art theme and the design of Black Rock City. Larry also wrote articles and essays for the Project's website. As spokesperson for Burning Man, he was frequently interviewed by reporters, and lectured on subjects as diverse as art, religion, civic planning and the rise of cyber-culture in the era of the Internet. Larry was also a political planner, supervising the organization's lobbying efforts and frequently attending meetings with state, county and federal agencies.

16 Comments on “Participate in Radical Ritual

  • Lisa Wilson says:

    I love this idea. I have wanted to attend Burning Man for years but have never been. 4 years ago I started a family camp weekend with about 18 family members and I made a man to burn. I have everyone write or draw on him before we burn him: things you want to send into the universe, memorials to those that passed, etc. At first they weren’t sure, now they all look forward to the man. This year will be special as I lost my dad 2 months ago. Thank you Burning Man for the continued inspiration. Hopefully I’ll make it one of these years with my son.

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  • Tristan Harvey says:

    I fully supported this idea when my father (Larry Harvey) first mentioned the thought. I was present at the first Burn at Baker Beach along with a very small number of others and I’ve missed the simplicity of that night. My separation from the fire that consumed him was the equivalent of his height, a mere 8 or 9 feet, and the proximity to this man on fire left me with a sense of awe that has endured many years. I have not attended the event for the past two years due to work and the all of the small misshapen bits of our world, but this will bring me back to that vast emptiness out in the West to celebrate once again with my friends and my family.

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  • Michael Conn says:

    Any chance of getting a CAD file of The Man? I FB messaged Andrew Johnstone a couple weeks ago asking for a CAD file, either no response or, highly likely, I don’t know how to use FB very well. I’m sure many people would like to build a Man of their own. I’ve tried modeling one for years and they’ve never looked right. It’s not as easy as it looks. Thanks.

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  • Pooh Bear says:

    Will the offerings be burnt with the man or will they be removed before the burn? I would very much like to have my offering burnt as a re-birth ritual, but I realize some people may choose to make their offering out of materials that shouldn’t be burned.

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    • Larry Harvey says:

      Nice to see you comment Pooh Bear,

      The offerings in the temple will be burned with the Man. Before that occurs, we will inspect the niches for plastic items or anything else that shouldn’t be incinerated. The Build Your Own Man sculptures will not burn with the Man. That burn has a lot of moving parts. Wrangling many smaller burns would be too complicated and chaotic. These burns will occur on Sunday morning at the burn circle, after the big burn. The above post states that we’ll follow up with more detailed instructions, and we’ll be sure to tell people what they can burn (wood, nails and burlap) and what they cannot burn (anything remotely toxic or explosive). We’ll also set up a fueling station at the Man site, because we don’t want people carrying around sculptures soaked in accelerant.

      Thanks for your question,


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  • David S. says:

    Burning Men

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  • John Clark says:

    We are making an artwork for Burning Man and we are interested in producing something for this rituals.

    We have a question about materials. Wood, metal fasteners, seem to be ok, but what about painted wood?

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    • Larry Harvey says:

      I think painted wood is okay. This year we intend to paint the framing of the shrines that are imbedded in the Man’s spine. The temple that will house him will also be partially painted, so I don’t see why we should stint your creativity. We will publish further guidelines in an upcoming Jack Rabbit Speaks. If you subscribe to this, it will provide you with answers to other key questions.

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  • Magic Mike says:

    Magic Mike says “FYBLH”

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