Radical Ritual


2017 Art Theme

  • 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 …Read More
  • Burning Man 2017: Radical Ritual

    “We are among the first peoples in human history who do not broadly inherit religious identity as a given, a matter of kin and tribe, like hair color and hometown. But the very fluidity of this—the possibility of choice that arises, the ability to craft and discern one’s own spiritual bearings—is not leading to the …Read More

What Rituals Do

  • How “Awe,” “Ritual,” and “Risk” Are Psychological Necessities

    We don’t usually think of “Awe” as one of the essential human emotions, but licensed psychologist and American Psychological Association Fellow Dr. Kirk Schneider’s research suggests that we should. Schneider, President Elect of the Existential-Humanistic Institute and past president of the APA’s Society for Humanistic Psychology, says that awe is a contradictory emotion — one …Read More
  • Coyote Nose: Two Strikes and the Golden Spike

    This year will be the 20th Black Rock City that I have etched into the desert, but it will be the 22nd Golden Spike that I will set. That’s because there was a county line border dispute in 1998 — the first year of the Golden Spike Ceremony — and I ended up setting it …Read More
  • Rituals of Stress, Gratitude for Flush Toilets, and Roman Philosophy

    When was the last time you were grateful for running water? For your refrigerator? For any number of modern conveniences? If you’ve been to Burning Man, you’re probably familiar with the joy of that first porcelain flush toilet after days of porta-potties. The smile on your face as you wash your hands with real soap …Read More
  • (Re)Discovering Ritual’s Role in Medicine

    The term “healing ritual” often gets thrown around in ways that suggest it would be better if it were thrown out. But let’s put New Age woo and dusty theology aside for a moment (although I enjoy dusty theology the way some people enjoy runny cheese) and ask the question on a more basic level: …Read More
  • All Ritual Is Radical

    There’s something about the desert. This is not a new revelation; human civilizations have been telling the same stories of supremely weird experiences in the desert for thousands of years. People are still going out there, too. For some people, it’s not enough to hear tell of revelations; they have to go out to the …Read More
  • Is Going to Burning Man a Hero’s Journey?

    “There are only two or three human stories, and they go on repeating themselves as fiercely as if they had never happened before.” – Willa Cather   Do you have a story of how you got to Burning Man? I do. It started with an artist friend leaving the city where we’d met and travelling …Read More
  • The Connection Between Ritual, Art, and Play

    UCLA Anthropologist Dr. Megan Heller studies play — how we do it, why we do it, what impact is has — and when I asked her if she had any thoughts about this year’s theme, “Radical Ritual,” she came back with a challenging question: What’s the difference between “ritual” and “play?” Think about that question for …Read More
  • How Rituals Help Us Navigate the World — and Our Psyches

    Ritual, Dr. Tanya Luhrmann says, is the way we connect the world as it ought to be with the world as it is – and orient ourselves to it. Her anthropological work has taken Luhrmann into communities ranging from contemporary witches in England to Zorostrians in India; instructors and students studying psychiatry in America; and …Read More
  • On Radical Repetition — or, Is Larry Trolling or Enlightening Everyone by Recycling Past Themes?

    You don’t need to be a Burning Man veteran to realize that Radical Ritual, the 2017 art theme, shamelessly rips off Beyond Belief, the 2003 theme. Don’t believe me? Look it up. Sure, that year’s Man stood on top of a vaguely Mesoamerican pyramid, and this year’s Man will be shrouded by a vaguely East …Read More
  • Across This Line, Everything Will Be Different

    Consider the tea ceremony. The elegance of each stylized gesture. The deliberate pace. The simple beauty of its rustic implements. How is it that this ancient ritual is so definitively and quintessentially Japanese? Viewed through the lens of mass culture, it can be hard to understand. Why not just microwave some water, dunk in a …Read More
  • Why Ritual is Relevant

    If the crisis of Western Culture could be reduced to a bumper sticker, it might be this one: “Nietzsche Was Right.” In 1882, Nietzsche put some stunning words in the mouth of a character: God is dead, we have killed him, and the implications are staggering. Let me quote from the passage: “Is not the …Read More
  • Radical Ritual: Spirit and Soul

    Our art theme in 2017 is Radical Ritual. This leads to an obvious question: Just what is so radical about ritual? …Read More

Case Studies

  • Radical Ritual: “I Do”

    This is my 20th year at Burning Man. My Burniversary. My Burn Mitzvah. My Black Rock City education is now longer than my formal education by a long shot. I’ve spent more of my adult life as a Burner than not. (Some would argue that I never really grew up until I found Burning Man. …Read More
  • Dress to Impress, Bless, and Process: Clothing as Ritual in Black Rock City

    It’s Tutu Tuesday, and you know what that looks like: An inordinate number of participants gleefully donning elasticized circlets of tulle and trim, just because it’s that day. The most ebullient, of course, are the unlikely ones, those who have never had the formative experience of ballet recitals, or tightrope walking, or playing gender-normative dress …Read More
  • How to Invite Sacred Moments

    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 …Read More
  • Fire and Ritual — Guidelines for Building and Burning Your Own Man

    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 …Read More
  • Ritual Principles of Milk + Honey, Purveyors of Radical Shabbat Since 2008

    By Alessandra Wollner and H. Connor Moss When Burning Man’s 2017 theme became public, a collective YAAAAAAAAAY! rang through the Facebook Group for the Theme Camp, Milk + Honey. We Honeys (as we who belong to this community call ourselves) were amped. Radical Ritual happens to be our raison d’etre. For the past 10 Burns, …Read More
  • Losing My Non-Religion: Chronicle of an Emerging Sacrament Among Native Burning Nerds

    By S. Megan Heller, BRC Census Researcher / Manager 2004-2015 (with a shit load of help from Picky!)   Like a lot of good stories about projects with academic origins, this one starts with a research problem. In the early years of the Black Rock City Census, we handed out questionnaires at gathering spots like …Read More
  • Camp Loveland – a Case Study in Radical Rituals

    A guest post by Dragonfly and Jenny Bee, managers at Camp Loveland Loveland Village formed out of a collection of playa camps in 2011, and now comprises a global community of 250+ citizens of Black Rock City spread across three continents.  Each year 65 “Lovelanders” work for months to organize and bring together a community …Read More
  • Decentralized Dance Party: A Case Study in Radical Rituals

    Editor’s Note:  Decentralized Dance Parties (DDPs) are brilliant in their simplicity.  One person carries a low-power FM transmitter on his back.  A bunch of other people carry portable radios tuned to that station.  The transmitter broadcasts music to the radios, and everyone goes through public spaces, often in colorful costumes, dancing to that music – …Read More
  • Finding My Humanity in a Red Tea Ceremony

    Of the many rituals that happen at Burning Man, the one that sparked my curiosity most was the one that I came to participate in myself. …Read More
  • The Gold Spike

    “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, …Read More

Radical Reading