I am often asked, “What is Burning Man?”. And it is challenging to answer, because it’s so many things. So I thought I would try and explain it a little in a blog post.
I first found out about the annual festival known as ‘Burning Man’, while I was in Novi Sad, Serbia in 2008. I was Couchsurfing at a Serbian guy’s house along with two Australians, two Kiwis, a couple from Greece and an American. Why were we all in this small town in Serbia at the same time?
For the annual Exit Festival (one of the largest annual music festivals in Europe).
David, the American, pretty much went on about Burning Man festival the entire four or five days. I didn’t quite understand why at the time, and truthfully, I assumed he was just trying to promote a festival in his native land of the U.S.A..
Long story short, after researching Burning Man more and deciding to make the pilgrimage in 2011, I can now understand why he was going on and on about it, why I sometimes find myself doing the same thing when Burning Man is brought up in conversation and why there is such a hardcore following of ‘Burners’.
On the surface, Burning Man is a week-long annual event held in the Black Rock Desert in northern Nevada, in the United States (The image at the top of the page is Burning Man pictured from space!). The event begins on the last Monday in August, and ends on the first Monday in September. It takes its name from the ritual burning of a large wooden effigy on Saturday evening. The event is described as an experiment in community, art, radical self-expression, and radical self-reliance. Burning Man is organized by Black Rock City, LLC. In recent years the number of attendees has surpassed 50,000 people per year.
Most people who have not been to a ‘Burn’ think, “So basically a week long rave in the dessert where hippies go to prance around naked and trip out on mushrooms and ecstasy?”. Wrong. Although music and parties (which I might add range from jazz to hip hop and just about every other genre, not just electronic dance music) are a big component of the week long festival, however they are a relatively small part of the greater picture. And although some attendees choose to be naked or wear costumes or partake in mind-altering substances, not everyone does and it’s certainly not an expectation or requirement.
So what is it about below the surface? Burning Man is something different for everyone. For some it’s a place to go and feel uninhibited by societies expectations and judgement. For others it’s a place to go an express themselves and share their art. For others it’s a test of self reliance and being able to support and sustain ones self. The list of things that Burning Man is for different people goes on and on, and for most, it is a combination. But to peg it as just a rave in the middle of the dessert, is nowhere near the reality of what it is.
Burning Man is built around 10 principles. And these 10 principles might help give you insight into what kinds of experiences people can get from going to Burning Man.
- Radical Inclusion
- Radical Self-reliance
- Radical Self-expression
- Communal Effort
- Civic Responsibility
- Leaving No Trace
Anyone may be a part of Burning Man. We welcome and respect the stranger. No prerequisites exist for participation in our community.
Burning Man is devoted to acts of gift giving. The value of a gift is unconditional. Gifting does not contemplate a return or an exchange for something of equal value.
In order to preserve the spirit of gifting, our community seeks to create social environments that are unmediated by commercial sponsorships, transactions, or advertising. We stand ready to protect our culture from such exploitation. We resist the substitution of consumption for participatory experience.
Burning Man encourages the individual to discover, exercise and rely on his or her inner resources.
Radical self-expression arises from the unique gifts of the individual. No one other than the individual or a collaborating group can determine its content. It is offered as a gift to others. In this spirit, the giver should respect the rights and liberties of the recipient.
Our community values creative cooperation and collaboration. We strive to produce, promote and protect social networks, public spaces, works of art, and methods of communication that support such interaction.
We value civil society. Community members who organize events should assume responsibility for public welfare and endeavor to communicate civic responsibilities to participants. They must also assume responsibility for conducting events in accordance with local, state and federal laws.
Our community respects the environment. We are committed to leaving no physical trace of our activities wherever we gather. We clean up after ourselves and endeavor, whenever possible, to leave such places in a better state than when we found them.
Our community is committed to a radically participatory ethic. We believe that transformative change, whether in the individual or in society, can occur only through the medium of deeply personal participation. We achieve being through doing. Everyone is invited to work. Everyone is invited to play. We make the world real through actions that open the heart.
Immediate experience is, in many ways, the most important touchstone of value in our culture. We seek to overcome barriers that stand between us and a recognition of our inner selves, the reality of those around us, participation in society, and contact with a natural world exceeding human powers. No idea can substitute for this experience.
For me personally, Burning Man is a chance to come together with a community of open minded people and take time to get away and disconnect from the ‘default world’ and celebrate the imagination and wonder that exists in all of us. It is a chance to meet others in a truly unique and open environment while participating in various activities and experiences which one might not normally come across. It is an exploration of ones self, of living concepts and of endless possibilities. It is anything you want it to be and so much more.
Have you been to Burning Man? If so, I’d love to hear what Burning Man is to you? Please feel free to share what Burning Man is to you in the comments section below.
Read about the time I drove across America with three friends and my Mom to go to Burning Man.