[The Civilized Explorer TOC] [The Burning Man TOC]

The Civilized Explorer

The Civilized Explorer

Burning Man 1996

Why Would Anybody Do This to Themselves?

We understand that the Burning Man is performance art. The information packet that comes with the tickets stresses that there are no spectators, only participants. By going to Burning Man, we become a part of the performance. But Burning Man can be an endurance test, if you are not in the right frame of reference. You camp in a real desert with daytime temperatures of 100 degrees Fahrenheit; there is no electricity, no running water, high winds, awesome electrical storms; there is continual noise, loud music all night (they bring gas- powered generators to drive the amplifiers); there are people on trips you have never heard of, much less understand at all, people who are naked, people who are dressed in drag, people with tattoos, pierced body parts, and bizarre hair cuts and colors. The experience can be serious sensory overload.

Why would anybody do this?

What is Burning Man?

We cannot explain it. The Civilized Explorer team went on the weekend of Labor Day (a U.S. holiday coming on the first Monday of September) in 1996. It was our first time at the event, and we plan to go again. But we cannot explain the allure that drew a reported 10,000 people to the middle of a desert in northwest Nevada, about 15 miles north of Gerlach, which is north and a little east of Reno.

Burning Man is the child of Larry Harvey. He has been interviewed countless times about this event and its meaning, and he steadfastly refuses to commit himself to an answer. For links to interviews and several reporters' commentaries, take a look at The Burning Man Archives. No satisfying answer is forthcoming, and we suspect that that is part of Mr. Harvey's plan.

We find Mr. Harvey's position to be Taoist -- the Way which can be described is not the Way. The Burning Man which can be explained is not the Burning Man. What, then, makes the experience worthwhile cannot be stated, and the statements that are made ... are wrong. We humbly accept this, and ask instead

Why should people go to Burning Man?

We asked several participants in the 1996 version of the Man why people should go. The answers we received were --

     Why Go to Burning Man?  by Greg Rodenburg
     Let's say you're unique.
     Maybe you're a misfit.  Maybe you're a genius.  Most likely, you're an 
     artist, one of the misunderstood, an uncompromised visionary with a 
     Look around you.  Do your coworkers, your fellow students, your family 
     share your worldview?  Do they grok your essence?  Or do they side 
     with the forces of conformity, attempting to press you into a mold 
     like so much cherry jello?
     Where are YOUR people, YOUR tribe, O Walker on the Edge?
     Where are your peers??
     They wait for you...at Black Rock.

This was my first year....
I went for the survival, community, art, activity and most importantly, I 
KNEW that I would meet some really amazing people.  It was the new friends 
that I made that is still with me, they help me keep the BM feeling alive.
oh, I was REALLY nervous about the heat, hell I live in SF for a reason....I 
HATE THE HEAT!!!    Imagine my amazement when I discovered that I fell 
deeply, head over heels in love with the desert.  Never seemed like it was 
really hot.  Lounging under shade during the middle of the day may have 
helped though.


Hello Phil.  My name is Maureen and I have been to BM three times now.
Why go?  Teacher plant (mushrooms), ceremonially speaking, I find that the 
seemingly infinite vastness of the playa's land and sky acts as a 
further catalyst in my odyssey towards expanded consciousness and 
personal healing.  No place so far has compared to my journeys there.

Would I go again.  Definitely, however I probably would not bring any 
medicine objects along the next time.  This year someone stole a 22" 
medicine drum, double sided, which was full of the juice from many 
profound healing ceremonies 1990-1996, among other things, a medicine 
blanket given to me for singing at three sundances, pelts, a Guatemalan 
rug and fancy sticks.  My heart aches for her.  Also out at Gateway's 
Stonehenge (Rave Camp) people defaced my female alien black light 
sculpture and someone stole her dress.  

While these things hurt my heart, I will return...  :)

If you should go to Burning Man, you will know why. I felt a calling to
be there, almost as if The Man had requested me to attend. The small
effort and sacrifices I made in order to attend were repaid a thousand
times over.


.........cuz it's FUN. FUN, FUN, FUN.
		...having a tiny sparkly fairy resplendant in  blonde 
ringlets and transluscent wings come flitting up to my lawn chair and 
feeding me ice cold grapes on a 105 degree afternoon is another very GOOD 
reason. But that's only *my* opinion.

             That is all, go back to your regularly scheduled replies....


I wanted to send Email about this for a while . Never did. Never took
the time. and probably also because I don't like to be exposed to the crowd.
But maybe these days, things push me.

Yes this year Burning Man is in all the newspapers, on TV. They call it an
"Event", a "New Holiday", compare it with other existing or past events. 
They basically try to describe it and try to make it to be a big spectacle. 
But Burning man IS NOT A SPECTACLE. In fact the main rule is "NO SPECTATORS".
Yes it's true that with its growth it's hard to keep this rule alive.
But more than that it's growth may scare a lot of people. BURNING MAN
rules are against most of the rules of our society.
Yes Burning Man is also those things that you can see on TV (videos) or
in all those pictures. But what you see is just the outward expression 
of something deeper.

The other day at a party, this guy was telling me that this year he had to 
go to burning man because he needed to straighten up some stuff in his life.
Most people I know come back from burning man and start to question
their life, well at least I do. It made me move, change my life, change my 
way of seeing things.
Helped me to realize who I am.
The past 3 years, I burnt with the MAN some of those things that were
not ok in my life.


Burning Man is really a lot more. It's freedom, hope, life, feelings,
happiness, sadness. It has this huge power of people doing things together. 
It always suprise me how much effort people can put to build the Black Rock 
City, when they know that in some way this is just temporary.
Burning Man is the inverse of our society. Nobody to tell you that what
you are doing is stupid, dangerous, ... and that if you don't follow the 
rules then you'll be punished.

But all this cannot be shown on any pictures or TVs or Movies.
Last friday at the Mermen Show they played a song for the people who were
at Burning Man.
And this girl next to me said: " Oh Yes! I saw it on TV!!!"
First I laughed, but then I thought that this is really sad, because if
things continue like that Yes Burning Man will be what they show us on TV or 
the paper, Just an EVENT.
I have no solution for that, but I think that we should not let them KILL


Should you go?

Among other things, the Burning Man is about permission. We gave ourselves permission to be ourselves. Many of us put aside the mask of civilization and left ourselves exposed as ourselves. If you cannot give yourself permission to be unmediated, you will likely not benefit from participating in the Man. You should not go. If you cannot accept others being themselves, you will likely harm their participation in the Man. You should not go. If you look at the photographs of the people in these pages and you do not understand, you should not go.

If you would like to be free to be and to express yourself with wild abandon, if you would like to be free just to be, you should go. If you would like to be with amazing, creative, talented people, you should go. If you would like to challenge yourself, expand your understanding of yourself, you should go. If you look at the photographs of the people in these pages and you feel the call, you should go.

Why do lemmings go to the sea, why do salmon spawn, why do slow toxic amphibians
make their way back to the same spot to mate, why do some people have an 
internal driving desire to participate in the weirdest show on earth. There
is no answer to these whys.

The Newt King