They gather in the tens of thousands, trekking out from their temporary homes in Black Rock City to an event viewed by some as the world’s greatest party and others as a celebration– a final goodbye to the tall, wooden man who serves as a magnet by day and a beacon by night.
Burners arrive on foot, bike, and mutant vehicles, forming concentric circles around the Man: an inner circle of fire dancers, a second circle of sitting and standing Burners who settle in for the show, a third circle that serves as both a promenade and the world’s largest dance floor, and a fourth circle dominated by huge mutant vehicles that throb with music, shoot fire into the air, and provide convenient viewing stands for various theme camps.
The burning of the Man is sometimes described as a Bacchanalian Revelry, and maybe it is. The Roman God Bacchus would have loved the spectacle. And I suspect most Burners would have liked him. Nobody could throw a better party than the God of Wine. But Bacchus had other traits Burners could agree with as well. In his Greek Dionysian persona he was considered a “protector of those who do not belong to conventional society,” a phrase that might describe a significant number of those who make the trek to Black Rock City. The Romans believed that his wine, music and ecstatic dance freed his followers from fear and cares– and lessened the power of those who sought control over their lives.
Besides the huge party and celebration that take place on Saturday night, there are also ritualistic aspects to the evening. The Burning Man represents the end of the week and the end of his “life.” The Man’s week of dominating Black Rock City is over. Burners go silent just before he tumbles into his fiery grave, the music stops, and the dancers cease their gyrations. A huge shout accompanies his fall. The ashes have hardly cooled and been scooped up off the desert floor when planning starts for next year’s burn. Like the Phoenix, the Man will rise again.
I spend my night of the burn making a full circle of the Man and doing what I do best, wander. I have sat and watched the show of fire dancers but my body has no tolerance for sitting in the dirt for two hours. It never has. Also, I don’t like being hemmed in. And finally, people can be rude. Late-comers occasionally try to force their way to the front. But the primary reason I wander is that I love the show on the outer two circles. The costumes are fantastic, the dancing wild, and the mutant vehicles magnificent. The total walk may be two miles in length and I make an evening of it. I will feature the walk on this blog and the actual burn in the next. The short video below captures some of the action on my walk.