The organizers of this yearly event describe it as "an annual experiment in temporary community dedicated to radical self-expression and radical self-reliance".
The radical self-reliance is laid on people by its location in the desert, which in late August is a furnace and dust extravaganza. Getting 45,000 people back to the garden takes an amazing amount of organization, and costs an estimated $222 per person. Applying good intentional socialist doctrine to their event, people can pay on a tiered system, somewhat according to how much they have or feel like paying.
The Burning Man people even have a list of ten guiding principles, which include such radical chic as: decommodification, radical inclusion, and immediacy. Dude.
Back in the late eighties--ancient history--a couple of California boys looked at each other and said, "Let's burn a man on the beach!" Makes sense to me. And they did. A--well--a stick man, that is. What started out as just a cool beach thing: fire, water, wind (What young lady can resist dudes burning a stick man on the beach after sunset--am I right here?), has now turned into a massive open-sourced modern day Woodstock, except everyone is a performer, and no one merely observer. Even if you have to have a ticket to get in.
So the first idea was just this fun cool experience. There was no philosophy, no New Age implications to a glorified fire on a beach. It is somehow inevitable, however, that a "Burning Man" event will accrue special, nuanced meanings as time goes on. Now we have talk of the "Community of Burning Man"; the "Art of Burning Man"; "Burners Without Borders". It is now an art extravaganza, and as you might imagine attracts every sort of free-thinker that America has been able to produce. Some element of Mad Max: Beyond Thunderdome -meets-Easy Rider is at work here. There is that strange phenomenon of wealthy, powerful nations: a sizable population of adults who refuse to grow up.
Except for the fact that I'd be breaking a major rule of nonparticipation, I'd love to sit and watch this for a day and a night. I'm sure it would rival Rio on Fat Tuesday for bizarre characters. I suspect the population sleeps in, mornings. Interestingly, because of the stark environment, alcohol and other trip-makers are fairly actively discouraged. Gettin' high on the desert and all that lovin' vibe seems to suffice. "We achieve being through doing" is one of many mantras of the Burning Man people. "Community" as an idealized entity is deified. The real world is refered to as "The Default World".
But here's the thing: it only lasts a week. To try to sustain it would be impossible. In one week, it is possible for all beautiful possibilities to be sought, for all spiritual systems to commingle. The dark side of human nature--sin--can be held at bay to a large extent. What results is pure experience, a Nevada mountain high that tastes of heaven for many a west coast pilgrim.
They're spiritual, not religious. Catherine Gacad, a Catholic who has attended the event, makes sure that her religious practice is not in evidence there.
“There is this mind-set that Burning Man and burners are open and welcoming. That’s true to a certain extent, but I find that people have to be spiritual and liberal to be accepted. I’m not spiritual, I’m just plain religious.”So. The BM Community probably wouldn't immediately warm to an overweight, pasty-white middle-aged Lutheran guy wearing a New Reformation Press t-shirt reading Simul Iustus et Peccator on its front. Just a guess.