The Importance of Fire Ritual

Fire is the very heart and essence of all life, for it is more phenomena than substance that is revealed, seen and touched in ways of ritual and risk. It is the primordial energy of the divine manifesting in matter and we are all part of that primordial ingredient.

Dancing with fire has always been a ritual for me. It is giving thanks to the fire that reaffirmed and strengthens belief in myself. Fire burns in each and every one of us. We are all united by fire; in our spirit, in our blood, in our hearts. Fire is what gives me life, but it is up to me what I do with that energy.

The element of fire has great power to forge will and determination. I am drawn to fire, to stand as close as humanly possible to the heat, to the danger. I warm not only my physical being but my spiritual self. Fire beckons to be released. Fire yearns to come alive. Fire ritual is not new to those who are drawn to the flame, for it is as ancient as humanity itself.

Capturing a Flame from the Sun

In these days of instant everything, and egos thinking that we can control all of it, utilizing a magnifying glass and focusing the sun’s rays to light a fire is a simple way to slow down. Holding the magnifying glass perpendicular to the sun’s rays, a small bright dot will appear, what I call the “sweet spot.” It sounds easy enough, but attempting to find the “sweet spot,” for the heat to engage and a spark to catch, comes with its own challenges.

Extracting a flame from the sun during the opening ceremony, 2011 (Photo by Espressobuzzphoto)

This personal fire ritual, which I started over 25 years ago, will always test me. I cannot assume a fire will light; the wind might come up, a cloud might block the sun, the steadiness of my hand might falter in its attempt to hold the exact distance between the glass and surface to light — my heart pounding, as the last two years were being captured on camera to livestream globally, well that is where patience comes into play. I understand that I am simply the means and hope that a spark will happen.

The flame is captured in El Diabla, a special cauldron created by Seattle’s Iron Monkeys. The flame is sustained, disturbed, and kept alive by participants all week long.

Crimson Rose and El Diabla, 2018 (Photo by Marc Mennie)

The Processional to the Great Circle

On Burn Night, the same flame that has been danced around and stoked will be transferred to the Luminiferous (giant lantern), which will join the Processional as it travels up the 6:00 Promenade to the Great Circle that surrounds the Man.

Lighting a torch from the Luminiferous, 2018 (Photo by Espressobuzzphoto)

As the Processional circumnavigates clockwise, inside the Great Circle, each of the 28 fire groups that have been invited to join the ranks of the Fire Conclave will receive part of that same Fire. As the Great Circle slowly becomes illuminated, the Fire Conclave will dance their fiery dances dedicated to the Man, as they symbolically give fire to the Man before he is released in pyrotechnic delight on Burn Night.

The Fire Conclave troupe Hot CoCo performs in the Great Circle, 2019 (Photo by Bill Klemens)

Burning the Man

Each year we lovingly create this wooden figure we call the Man, and for some it represents nothing. I will let you make up your explanation as to what it means to you. But I am reminded of a quote by Larry Harvey: “It is a blank canvas onto which to project your own thoughts and feelings, a ritual outside of context and unfettered by explanation.”

Our spiritual need desires ceremony; a subconscious dream was driving us, of ceremonies long ago. We may not have even known consciously what we were doing when we designated the first sacred space, being drawn to Black Rock City, or lit the first ceremonial fire — we just acted upon it.

The immolation of the Man marks the ending of the old year and beginning of a new year. It is my birthday, New Year’s, anniversary, all rolled into one. We pour our energy into the Man and then let go. This simple act of releasing one’s art by fire reminds us of the immediacy and of the fleeting nature of existence. We release our ownership over the Man, over any art that we liberate by fire, and give it to the community.


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(Crimson Rose lighting the Man, 2021)

For 31 years I have supported the creative ritual of releasing the Man, and each year I watch the ember cast rise into the air. It is like prayers being sent out into the world. Where will they land to sprout new ideas? The ruins, for me, are just the starting point. With the embers, we can construct new ideas, symbols of a new beginning. Like a Phoenix rising out of its ashes — the desire to burn the old and make way for the new; the cycle of death and rebirth; the opportunity to reinvent oneself anew each year.

The heat of the fire will stay in your heart long after the embers have died.

The Processional to the Great Circle, 2018 (Photo by Espressobuzzphoto)

About the author: Crimson Rose

Crimson Rose

As a co-founder of Burning Man, the Black Rock Arts Foundation and Burning Man Project, Crimson Rose’s life passion and work have focused on the arts and artistic expression. She began participating in the Burning Man event in 1991, and developed the organization’s Art Department, including the infrastructure, financial and other support services that make possible the large-scale participatory art works that Burning Man is renowned for. With Crimson’s guidance, Burning Man serves as an inspirational limitless canvas, the works of which now find public placement in cities around the world and serve as catalytic sparks for community collaboration.

3 Comments on “The Importance of Fire Ritual

  • geomom says:

    Thanks Crimson!

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  • Jaqy brown says:

    A beautiful angel asked for some of my hair to burn in a lantern this year and it was the highlight of my year. I don’t recall his name but his friend was bird and I wish so deeply I could find and thank them for relighting my fire.

    How does one become a lamp lighter?

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  • HD says:

    It is interesting how few people attend the Monday ceremony. One of my very first years out there ( 2004? ) I was hanging out Center Camp when I heard a procession of Asian bells and gongs go by. I got up and tagged along because the sound was so enchanting. They were heralding the ceremony and gathering at the cauldron for it. Your charisma was amazing as you conducted the rite. Unforgettable!

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