Part of the blog series for the 2017 theme, Radical Ritual.
We don’t usually think of rituals as dangerous, but Crimson Rose literally dances with fire. Her ritual practice has clear and obvious stakes: if something goes wrong, people get burnt.
Crimson, who over time has created (or she might say “discovered”) most of Burning Man’s most prominent fire-rituals, sees ritual practice not as a way of going through the motions of what you already know, but as the process of setting the conditions by which you can approach the sacred — and the sacred is the opposite of just going through the motions.
You don’t have to be religious to understand the sacred, she says, but you do have to acknowledge that there are forces — in the world, in yourself — that you cannot predict, that you cannot summarize, and that you cannot control. You can only channel. That, for Crimson, is what ritual is meant to tap into, and it’s very much like fire. Illuminating, beautiful, and dangerous if you handle it poorly.
Successful ritual, she suggests, involves a three-step process:
- Set your intention: be clear on what it is you want to do and why.
- Prepare the ritual space: what do you need to have around you to help you engage with the forces beyond your control? This isn’t about the rest of the world, it’s about what puts you in the proper frame of mind.
- Let go: you’re aligning yourself with a capacity greater than your own, and while the activities you’re doing may require great precision, your psyche can’t really engage if you’re striving to stay in control.
When it works, you can enter a flow state. When it works, you can access states of mind that are creative, therapeutic, connecting, even blissful. But for all that ritual carries the stigma of rote repetition, a truly successful ritual is never the same thing twice. Even if you’re doing literally the same things, the moment-to-moment experience is vastly different, and that’s the moment you’re living in.
The proper attitude with which to approach both ritual and fire, she suggests, is humility: it’s a very similar mental state to both openness and competence.
Crimson Rose discusses ritual, fire, the sacred, and the origins of some of Burning Man’s rituals, in a Philosophical Center podcast.