A Church Trap, a Temple for Timothy Leary’s Ashes, and other Unique Burning Man Buildings

The Church Trap was amusing, and possibly a wee bit scary. Scrolls of music are emerging from the windows, roof and steeple.


Did you ever try to catch birds as a kid using a box held up by a stick? Being a curious little boy with dreams of being a mountain man, I did. I baited the trap with birdseed stolen from Budgie, our parakeet, and tied a long string to the stick. When some innocent sparrows followed the trail of seeds into the trap, I yanked on the string and the box fell down, capturing the birds. After announcing my great accomplishment to the world, or at least my mother, I let them go— a bit beat up but wiser.

I had totally forgotten the experience until I discovered the Church Trap at Burning Man in 2013. It was set up the same way. A full-sized church had been raised up on one end with a 4×4 stick ‘holding’ it up. A rope was attached to the stick. Scrolls of paper with religious songs printed on them had been attached to an organ within the church. They poked out the windows, roof and steeple, symbolic of music (bait) emerging from the church to attract people passing by.

The church was solidly set in the ground. It was not about to be pulled down. Had it, however, a lot of burners would have been caught. People stopped by for weddings, to play the organ, and to give sermons from the pulpit.

The Church Trap was one of many unique buildings built on the Playa in 2013 to entertain and engage participants. The next year I found myself checking out the Temple of Confession where Susan Sarandon had placed ashes of LSD guru Timothy Leary. I am featuring the temple in my photo essay today along with several other buildings that have captured my interest and/or amused me.

The Temple of Confession was covered in photographs…

They were very creative, but strange, including this three-breasted woman with a dress of skulls.

The Temple of Confession at night.

This rather impressive goat, along with a confessional, a photo of Timothy Leary, and a portion of ashes from his cremation were found inside.

Eyes like this one that included peepholes were also found in the temple. Naturally, I had to look.

This is what I saw. It spoke to the incredible detail, and surprises, built into so much Burning Man art.

This is the Temple of Photos produced for an earlier Burning Man. Both of the temples were burned.

The Prairie Wind Chapel came with a windmill. Like the Church Trap, it had an organ and hosted weddings for people who wanted to get married at Burning Man.

I was attracted to the Mazu Temple because of its dragons and other mythical creatures. Its large lotus was also rather spectacular. A group from Taiwan brought this temple to Burning Man. It was also burned.

A close up of one of the dragons. The lanterns were lit at night and the dragon breathed fire.

This multi-eyed demon was on one of the side pillars of the Mazu Temple.

And how about a real movie theater out in the deep playa. You could even attend movies there and get popcorn, but I think show time started around 1:00 a.m.

Occasionally, several buildings are included together. Wall Street was built at Burning Man right about the time America was suffering the severe economic crisis that had been brought on by corporate and individual greed.

Here’s the Wall Street Bull backed up by the Bank of UnAmerica. 

A graffiti artist urges people to dream on Wall Street’s main building. I am sure, by now, that you realize that the whole complex was doomed to go up in flames.

Speaking of dreams, the Life Cube Project at Burning Man encouraged people to write their dreams and goals on a sheet of paper and insert them into a slot in the building, with the idea that your dreams and goals are a step closer to realization if you commit them to writing.

The back of the Life Cube building was decorated with art.

I’ll use this close-up to conclude today’s post. Do you have a favorite among the buildings I featured today?


Monday: I’ll finish up my look at Bandon, Oregon with a trip that Peggy and I made out to the Coquille Lighthouse.

Wednesday: Part II of the backpacking trip that led to Bone’s discovery. Remember, it features a raging river and kamikaze mosquitoes.

Friday: The murals of Burning Man and other paintings that may have you scratching your head.

44 thoughts on “A Church Trap, a Temple for Timothy Leary’s Ashes, and other Unique Burning Man Buildings

  1. I have run out of adjectives for the ingenuity and talent of the Burning Man artists!! If I have to pick a favorite, I’m going to go for the Mazu Temple – have no idea why – just do.

  2. Once again, I had NO IDEA … some unbelievable stuff here. I was intrigued by your bird trap memories. I played outdoors all day every day and do not know about this contraption. We trapped just about every other living thing (and let it go), but I’d never heard about this bird catching device. In any case, the mere words “church trap” grabbed my interest, so I’m glad I got the background info also!

    • The bird traps were very effective, Lexi. My bother ran a real trap line. Not good from my perspective… How did you trap your animals?
      I found the Church Trap amusing, and thought provoking. Not sure everyone would see the humor. See my comment to Ann Coleman above for my experience with a real “Church Trap.” –Curt

  3. I used to set up those box traps, but I was after rabbits. Never did catch one… And thanks for the photos. I’ve never seen a church trap before. I guess that’s one way to get the membership up!

    • Would you have eaten the rabbit? 🙂
      Once, Ann, right about the time I was catching birds, I attended one of those summer Bible programs for kids. Our parents thought we needed a little religion. At the end of the week, the minister held a ‘graduation’ ceremony in the church. At the very end, he told all of us little kids to close our eyes and not open them until he told us to. Everyone did except my brother, sister and me. We watched the minister tip toe to the back of the church, knock loudly on the door, and then tip toe back to the front of the church where he told the kids they could open their eyes. “Did you hear the Lord knocking?” he asked to numerous oohs and aahs. That, to me, was a Church Trap. (grin) He held the three of us after and threatened us with damnation. –Curt

  4. Curt as I was scrolling through, with my jaw hanging open at the incredible photos and astounding buildings, I couldnt help but be amazed or horrified at the fact they all went up in flames. Can you explain that a bit more. You like have in a post but I have missed it. I get the ‘Burning Man’ theme but on the last night is it one big inferno?

    • The burns start on Thursday, Sue. Saturday is more or less reserved for the Man and Sunday for the main temple. Part of the explanation lies in the fact that Burning Man got its start on a beach in San Francisco when some of Burning Man’s founders burned an effigy of a man as part celebration, part party, and part saying goodbye in the late 80s. The tradition continues for much the same reason. I usually add that the art is burned as a symbol of impermanence, following Eastern Philosophy, i.e. every thing passes, don’t hold on to them, let them go. Live in the presence. Does this help? –Curt

  5. This time, my favorite was the movie theater. Of course my first thought was of Larry McMurtry — and the addition of Rosebud to the side was a special treat. I don’t “get” a lot about Burning Man, but I certainly appreciate all the sly cultural referrences that are tucked into the sculptures. I’m still amused by the church trap, too. More than a few have lost a few tail feathers in the process of escaping.

    • (For folks who weren’t around like Linda, when I included Archer City, Larry McMurtry and the Last Picture Show in a post last year, the creators of the Black Rock City Bijou credited McMurtry and the theater in Archer for their inspiration.)
      I think the jury is still out on what there is to get about Burning Man, Linda. 🙂 To me it is something like a happening and I get what I want to, which is the creativity. The founders of the event take it much more seriously.
      Losing your tail feathers when caught in a church trap isn’t much fun. Laughing. –Curt

    • I agree, Dave. The theme this year for Burning Man is Radical Ritual. I can’t wait to see what is created in response. Here’s what Burning Man says, “Beyond the dogmas, creeds, and metaphysical ideas of religion, there is immediate experience. It is from this primal world that living faith arises. In 2017, we will invite participants to create interactive rites, ritual processions, elaborate images, shrines, icons, temples, and visions. Our theme will occupy the ambiguous ground that lies between reverence and ridicule, faith and belief, the absurd and the stunningly sublime.” It should be interesting… –Curt

  6. 🙂 –Curt Part of the explanation lies in the fact that Burning Man got its start on a beach in San Francisco when some of Burning Man’s founders burned an effigy of a man as part celebration, part party, and part saying goodbye in the late 80s.

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