Ghost Trancing on Sacred Lands


This weekend will see a lot of Burners trekking out to the Black Rock Desert, to celebrate the 2012 Super Moon eclipse at Symbiosis Gathering.

The festival takes place at Pyramid Lake, on ancient lands of the Paiute Indians, who trace their history back 40,000 years. They were trance dancing at eclipses long before electricity was ever used to produce music:

The Ghost Dance, an important spiritual revival movement amongst native peoples that involved trance dancing and prophesying, began among the Nevada Paiute in 1889. The practice then swept throughout much of the Western United States.

What is particularly significant about the timing of Symbiosis being held during an eclipse and on tribal land is that Jack Wilson, the Pauite prophet known as Wovoka, received the vision of the Ghost Dance during a solar eclipse on January 1, 1889. Wovoka was a true visionary who spoke of creating peace with the invading Europeans and the creation of a new cross-cultural coexistence. He preached that if the five-day dance was performed in the proper intervals, the performers would secure their happiness and hasten the reunion of the living and deceased.

It seems that some of the tribe have expressed concern about the use of their lands for this type of event:

“What concerns me is that there are spirits out there and when you bring in different substances and people who are partaking of these substances then those spirits that are already there are being disturbed!” 

Uh-oh…could be a spooky acid trip.

The ghosts could be from the largest battle between Indians and settlers, which took place on the site:

The Pyramid Lake region experienced contact by European-Americans beginning in the 1820s. According to Wikipedia, this eventually erupted into “the Pyramid Lake War of 1860, Owens Valley Indian War 1861-1864, Snake War 1864-1868; and the Bannock War of 1878. These incidents generally began with a disagreement between settlers and the Paiute (singly or in a group) regarding property, retaliation by one group against the other, and finally counter-retaliation by the opposite party, frequently culminating in the armed involvement of the U.S. Army. Many more Paiutes died from newly introduced infectious diseases such as smallpox than in warfare.”

The Pyramid Lake War is the single greatest confrontation between Native Americans and European-Americans in Nevada’s history. It was caused by the onrush of thousands of settlers to the Washoe country, lured by reports of valuable silver and gold deposits in the Comstock Lode, combined with the lack of any effective organized government in the area. By the spring of 1860, the influx of often unruly European-Americans approximately equaled the Northern Paiute population in the area, impinging on their scarce resources and food supply. At present the area around Pyramid Lake is an Indian reservation of about 2,000 enrolled members centered on Pyramid Lake, which comprises 25% of the reservation area. This means that these people will be dwarfed in numbers by the incoming 8,000 festival goers

It’s not just the presence of such a large Burner contingent at this event that concern the tribal elders. It is the sensitivity of the community towards their culture and land:

The process here is a creative culture clash. The Neo-Tribal dance community, which has an approximately 20-year-old span of development, has long been enamored of a glamorized, idealized tribal existence that nods to the indigenous experience, but doesn’t always have the time or the education to deal with the actual complexities of tribal protocol and history.

…Modesty and sobriety are important and ubiquitous parts of Native American spiritual practice. From a casual Burner/raver perspective, this could be misinterpreted as prudishness and inhibition, whereas the native peoples can feel that the land itself is not being treated sacredly when they encounter partying extroverts.

Given the circumstances and honoring the protocol of the land where Symbiosis is happening, it might be something worth considering to choose to forsake alcohol and substances and really show the Paiute that there is something more to this culture than partying…For those who do choose to use substances and alcohol it would be good if they were to exercise great discretion and consider that Paiute children and youth may be exposed to their behavior throughout the event and either positively or negatively influenced by what they see. Not only this, but the festival will be enforced by tribal officers from the reservation, which should be well understood by all attendees.


This is not the place to get publicly naked or intoxicated as part of your own, personal “shamanic” ceremony. And this is definitely not the place to bring that crazy Indian headdress you got from the costume store and wore at the Burn one year!  If you want to know more, read this excellent blog.

via The Symbiosis Eclipse Festival: Neo-Tribal Dance Culture Meets Tribal Reality | Reality Sandwich.

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