Seeking Divine Truth at Burning Man

“Even if you are in a minority of one, the Truth is still the Truth” – Ghandi

Welcome to another one of those long posts, that half my friends tell me I shouldn’t do because they can’t be fucked reading all the way to the end. Well skip it if you want, Ritalin kids! You might find the Happy Saturday video a bit more your speed. The rest of you, burn one down, kick back and contemplate my musings…

Many Burners tell me that to them, Burning Man is more than just a dance party. It’s not just a rave in the desert, where nudity is permissible and you have to bring your own drinks.

Robot Heart, photo by Peter Ruprecht

And I agree with them. See, I love to dance, I love electronic music, I’m pretty comfortable with nudity, and the more lasers and bass the better. It’s all part of radical self-expression and radical inclusion. It means, like it or not, you have to have ravers there at your party too…and since EDC eats Burning Man for breakfast, I’m hardly in a minority with this viewpoint. Hippies will love to read 5 Things an EDM Diva can learn from Burning Man, recently posted in OC Weekly. The ravers are coming there, all the way from Newport Beach, dude! And they’re learning our culture, and stuff. The hippies perhaps have a bit more time to slag me off on this blog than the (usually silent, rarely verbose) ravers. They’re too busy recovering from the weekend (or still on it).

You give me my right to enjoy my doof (even if there’s no psytrance) – and I will give you your right to enjoy the yoga, the sitar singalongs, the ultramarathons, the art, the free cuisine, the waterboarding at Camp Guantanamo, or whatever else it is about Burning Man that floats your boat. Just like San Francisco, there’s something in our city for everyone.

Do I see a deeper side of Burning Man? Hell, yes! Not only do I see those sides, but I explore them, in depth, in this blog. This is post #333#, which means we’ve been producing more than one post a day since we started in February this year. If you find an aspect of Burning Man that you feel Burners.Me *hasn’t* covered yet, please let us know, we’ll see if we can fill in the blanks. Naturally we default to writing about the parts of Burner culture that are most interesting to us.

One big aspect of Burning Man, for many participants, is spirituality.

Just look at us; everything is backwards; everything is upside down. Doctors destroy health, lawyers destroy justice, universities destroy knowledge, governments destroy freedom, the major media destroy information, and religions destroy spirituality” – Michael Ellner.

Some of our previous posts on this topic:

Finding Jesus at Burning Man – a Christian perspective

“Theater in a Crowded Fire” – Spirituality, Burning Man, and the Apocalypse – Neo-Paganism

Hidden Dangers of the Rainbow – Paganism, Wicca, Druids, Lucifer

Exploring the Other (Part III – the Sacrifice of a Ritual) – we speculate on the Occult Symbology behind “Fertility 2.0”, the ticket crisis, changing of the guard at Burning Man, and the intersection between Burners and the Occupy movement

Ghost Trancing on Sacred Lands – Native American

Burner Principles vs the 10 Native American Commandments – Native American

Burner Fundamentalism – Burning Man’s own religion

Looking for the Next Evolutionary Step – Buddhism and consciousness

I understand why some people dismiss me when I say “Burning Man is the world’s best party”. Because they don’t value that aspect, and value others more highly, they think that by making such a statement I am somehow undervaluing the other aspects. But I’m not. It’s great that Burning Man means a lot of special things to a lot of special people.

So what about when I say “Burning Man is the world’s biggest occult ritual“? Outside of organized religion, who have a couple of thousand years head start on their parties.

This year word has it a lot of people left our party early, whether through disappointment or boredom, or not being prepared for the dust despite as many warnings as the Burner community could get to them. But still, estimates are around 40,000 people were still there for the annual ritual of the Man Burning. We also had spin-off occult rituals in the burning of a 50-ft tall high Anubis the Jackal (Egyptian death cult symbolism), the Temple of Juno (Graeco-Roman pantheon) and Burn Wall Street (directing the pent-up rage of the Occupy Movement and the Tea Party into a voodoo Kolossos-effigy burn).

Did all this fire magic work? Did it achieve anything? Well, some folks out there certainly believe so.

The alert went out on Christwire, courtesy of Reverend Clyde Higgins, that Burning Man caused 70 earthquakes in California AND a Category 1 Hurricane on the East Coast.

Holy twisters, batman, that’s quite some power! I mean, I know the bass on Robot Heart is pretty bad ass, and there probably are more than enough subwoofers in total at Burning Man to create a few earthquakes, however it would be hard to get them all playing the same note at the exact same time. Perhaps the FM transmission from the Disorient Art Car Armada could be used to test this? Not that I would really want to make an earthquake or anything. But, as the song says, I’m totally addicted to bass. More so than Jesus, Buddha, Krishna, Karma Sutra, Nihil, or whoever your one is that you like. Enjoy some classic beats from the Puretones while you read the Reverend’s true story:


Image Credit:  Wikipedia – Burning Man, 2012

Heathen children utter the written lyrics from post-modern Satan-worship bands the The Atheist Phish, Snoop Lion and DJ Kalafi, until sweat drips down their brow and they summon The Burning Man himself, Satan. 

Every year, pagan anarchists gather in the Black Rock Desert area of nothern Nevada to do the unthinkable.  Equipped with ancient knowledge passed down from the times of Vlad Tepes, The Church of the Devil’s modern followers mix ancient, dark rites with modern electronica music, lurid drugs and wanton carnality, calling the festival The Burning Man.  At the end of their ceremonies, beyond the hazy musk of unwed baby creation and armpits devoid deodarant, smolders a tall, imposing figure.  It is Satan, called to Earth to celebrate ‘his chosen birthday’ if the festival has met his approval.  And since 1989, is has.

Historians report that the reemergence of the Burning Man cult started in Malibu, California, during the summer of 1989.  Several friends from Brentwood were diving off the coast and came across a decrepit old chest that had stone-engraved tablets within.  The tablets were written in ancient Romanian, with close inspection of the artifacts revealing human bone fragments were likely done to do the engraving.

After getting the tablets translated, the friends performed the rituals as demanded — playing songs by Chris DeBurgh and Sinead O’Connor while doing flesh touching ritual with each other – – and to their shock, Satan appeared before them and applauded.  Several of the friends thought perhaps it was all the copious amounts of drugs the ritual demanded to be consumed, but a VHS tape confirmed the impossible:  written on their tablets were instructions on how to call Satan to Earth, on the scientific day of his birth:  the Summer Solstice.

Evil Satan drums and keeps cadence. When not summoning Satan, it is not uncommon for parishioners of unholy ceremonies to dress the part and welcome their Dark Lord to party with them. Here we see the Red Hot Chili Pepper’s David Grohl causing the crowd’s heart to beat to the foottaps of Satan at Burning Man 2011. David Grohl personally caused the real Satan to appear only 4 hours later.

It’s estimated that by week’s end, over 70,000 people will descend into the depths of this madness at Black Rock Desert and allow themselves to be taken over by all the demonic ritual that takes place. The event is equally dangerous for men and women, girls and boys. All in attendance have a key, evil role to play in summoning the Burning Man, Satan.

Men: Married men are required to throw their wedding bands into a giant smeltering pot, so that their symbols of vows can be melted down and reformed into false idols that resemble Emmy awards. After ‘throwing off the shackles of marriage’, married men are allowed to join up with single men in Viagral lines, where they are given handfuls of the medicine along with potently addictive mind altering drugs like Cannabis.

Women: Women at Burning Man are not allowed to wear clothing. If you have a girlfriend or daughter who is just ‘spending a fun weekend at with friends’, congratulations, you’ve got a Satanic harlot in your life. After she is pumped full of Quaaludes and Uncle Tweety’s liquid Flipper LSD, her mind will be just a pliable, loose and willing as her body. She won’t remember a thing and remember, every single man has permastiff within his pants. Add the thrusting, bumping beats of all the musicians in attendance and the women’s timing method will be just right for a Satanic explosion of illicit impregnation and disease propogation.

It’s estimated that after Burning Man, STD rates for America suddenly jump by 9% and unplanned pregnancy by 24%.

Children: Children whose parents are rotten enough to bring them to Burning Man are forced into hard labor. Cleaning the spots of sin, fetching water for the bands and purportedly, but not confirmed, one must be thrown into Satan’s burning arms when he appears.

With all this evil taking place in the Nevada desert, it’s no wonder God is so angry that he’s giving us clear signs that we should be intervening and making this festival come to an end.

To the West, where Burning Man was first created, God has repeatedly banged his hands on his desk and caused 70 earthquakes in one day. To the East, God has postponed the GOP convention because there are more pressing matters. God has grabbed our attention with Hurricane Isaac and letting us know he has the power to ‘drench out’ any Burning Man, no matter the size.

Tropical Storm Isaac is seen in this August 26, 2012 NASA handout satellite image as it approaches the Florida Keys. (Reuters)

Taking place in the mysterious Black Rock Desert of Las Vegas, Burning Man is considered one of the greatest mysteries of modern times.  Hurricane Isaac is proof that God can drown any Burning Man, including Satan himself.

A Category One – not so bad. God warning us of his displeasure – perhaps we didn’t take enough notice when Satan appeared to applaud Chris DeBurgh and Sinead O’Connor?

Did Burners really cause Hurricane Isaac, as a lesson from God for our sins? I doubt it. He would have taken care of Las Vegas long ago, if he was really that upset by all the shenanigans going on in Nevada. If I were omnipotent, I would find a better way for Burners to get the message. Like, the Call of Cthulhu

I was at Burning Man that other time, when Burners exited Exodus and hit the Default World to find that Hurricane Katrina had just about wiped out New Orleans. The haters will be pleased to know that it wasn’t a
surprise to me because I had CNN out there. Following Reverend Clyde’s knowledge, we must have done some really bad things at that 2005 Burn for God to want to punish us so much more severely that time.

This “warning from the Gods” comes at the same time that a couple of quite scholarly papers about Burning Man and Spirituality have been published. Both are from a Christian perspective, one is quite anti-Burning Man and the other is more supportive.

First, cult analyst (means: he writes about cults) Steve Matthews has written a long essay about Burning Man over at The Worldview Center. What is the Worldview Center?

We are a group of experts on a variety of worldviews and who are all concerned about one thing – TRUTH.  In a postmodern age where pluralists and relativists are teaching our generation that there are many truths and that opposing truth claims can both be correct at the same time, we proclaim that truth is narrow, absolute, and exclusive by definition.

 Our website is a continuing work in progress where we will host cutting-edge content in the form of articles, videos, printable resources, and downloadable audio.  Our vision is huge and such an undertaking is vast, but our team is working hard to bring you everything you need to learn about and evaluate today’s worldviews, world religions, the occult, and cults and new religious movements.

I’m sure Burners who read that far will enjoy the neutral perspective TWC brings to the topic of Burning Man. Steve starts by name dropping some celebrity Burners:

Sting (solo artist formerly of the band The Police), Adam Lambert (American Idol runner-up), Perry Farrell (founder of the annual Lollapalooza music festival and vocalist for band Jane’s Addiction), Joan Baez, Michael Franti, Todd Rungren (solo artist and member of band Utopia), actors Robin Williams, Rosario Dawson and Amy Smart, as well as a number of others.  Google founders Larry Page and Sergey Brin are said to be such enthusiastic “burners” that they reportedly chose Eric Schmidt to become the CEO of Google based on his involvement in Burning Man[i].  Jeff Bezos, CEO of Amazon

Then he starts baring his fangs and getting stuck into us. First, he challenges the generally accepted creation myth. What is truth, what is fiction, and what is blurred beyond all recognition by decades of Playa sand?

A study of the true origins of Burning Man show that the official story of its beginnings are nothing more than a mere creation myth.  Executive Director Larry Harvey is generally portrayed as the sole creative mind behind Burning Man, but history shows that he was influenced by a number of people and groups most of whom he has never given credit or whom he has completely written out of the history of the movement.

 The influence of the Cacophony Society has already been noted, but a summary of some of the other sources are:

Burning art on Baker Beach           –     San Francisco artist Mary Grauberger

Burning a human figure                  –     The Golden Bough book & The Wicker Man movie
Moving the event to the Playa      –    The Cacophony Society
Zone Trips                                           –    The Cacophonists & author Hakim Bey
The “Leave No Trace” principle       –    The Suicide Club (forerunner to Cacophony)
Temporary Community                    –    William Benzin & Desert Siteworks
Art exhibits                                         –    William Benzin & Desert Siteworks

Furthermore, according to Michael “Flash” Hopkins the very foundations of the Burning Man movement are based upon a lie.  Hopkins worked with Harvey, lived with him as a roommate, and helped to build the first Man.  According to Hopkins,

“Larry and Jerry and I built the first one…It’s not a man, it’s a woman and her name is Patricia.  And Larry was upset that she wasn’t letting him see his child…He was really upset with it, so he decided to build an effigy of Pat and burn her, and we decided it wouldn’t be good to do it out in front of her house.  We decided it would be better if we brought it down to the beach and did it down at the beach.  So we burned her, because Mary Grauberger at the time was down there doing this sort of witchy-poo kind of rituals down there, sort of a Wicker Man style spring thing there, and so we decided to bring it down there and burn it down there.  And it’s never been a man, it’s always been a woman.  And you can just look at the shape of it and you’ll notice that it’s has, like, really shapely hips.  It’s always been a secret joke with us, because it’s never been a man, it was always a woman.  But, you know, we realized though that if we ever said it was a Burning Woman…you’d never have any women out there…they’d think that we were just, you know, he-man women haters.  And so by calling it Burning Man, I mean, girls were definitely into that.  They were, like…“Oh yeah, burn the Man!”  As long as the Man isn’t named, you know, Matthew or something, you know, it’s like…“Hey, I don’t care who it is, burn him!”…It was a kind of a funny way to do it… calling it a Burning Man…It was much more sociably acceptable, especially in San Francisco.  So, it was kind of a joke, and it was a joke to begin with…In one respect it wasn’t the sacredness of it all, or the spiritualness of it all…We weren’t on a journey to the sacred, he was just a little upset with Patricia and decided that he should, you know, burn her and this would get it out of his soul or whatever…another way of venting his anger, so we built Patricia…in my mother in law’s basement, and took it out to the beach and burnt it where Mary was burning her stuff…It didn’t even look like the Wicker Man.  Mary was building something that looked like the Wicker Man, but we built something that looked like Pat. ”

According to Hopkins who continues to be friends with Harvey’s ex-wife Pat, Larry has allegedly made her sign a paper promising that she would not speak about this to the media.

Burning Man Festival: a Life-Enhancing, Post Christendom “Middle Way” by John Morehead

He doesn’t quite go so far (yet) as to name Burning Man as a Pagan festival, but he doesn’t think it’s very friendly towards monotheism:

Burning Man spirituality although generally Eastern and pantheistic, is very diverse and tolerant of just about anything but monotheism and Christianity.

I’d be interested to know if there are many Muslims there. I’ve certainly never heard a muezzin.

It’s not a cult, but there are lots of cult-like behaviors going on there:

While many of the events and workshops are centered around a very outrageous and extreme sexual deviancy, many deal with spiritual topics.  Favorite spiritual themes among these workshops tend to be yoga, tantra, shamanism, and meditation.  Examples of workshops from the 2011 lineup included:

On Attaining Buddhahood in this Lifetime.  The potential for Buddhahood exists within everyone.  Come join us for a discussion about a Buddhist practice that opens this door for all persons .

Losing My Religion.  Religious dogma can serve to uplift and inspire or separate and control.  This ritual will help you to strip away the confining, controlling aspects .

Atheist/Agnostic Soiree at Uli Babas.  We invite all hedonists, heretics, infidels and cosmically confused to a holy communion of His Noodly Body and savory blood of blended herbs .

Channeling Voices from Other Dimensions.  Hear, feel, experience other dimensions, learn to channel from different sources.  Contact spirits for healings .

Analyzing the events and workshops and the spirituality associated with the Temple, we find the spirituality of Burning Man generally to be cultic, occultic, hedonistic, or steeped in Eastern mysticism.

Before he said Burning Man was Eastern and polytheistic, now to Matthews that means OK, let’s face it, actually they are really Pagans…

Not all burners would identify themselves as being Pagans (even though huge numbers of Pagans and Neopagan Wiccans do attend), but the spirituality of Burning Man tends to be that of a general Paganism (as opposed to the more specific Pagan traditions of Neopaganism, Shamanism, or Druidism).  Paganism is pantheistic (and usually polytheistic) and is about the worship of nature.  The divine is often expressed as feminine and Pagans concern themselves with the seasons, fertility, and relating with the interconnectedness of all living things within nature.  God is not over and apart from creation, but is to be identified with nature itself.

It’s going to be hard to argue that Burners aren’t concerned with Fertility or polytheism, given what just happened.

In conclusion, Burners are doomed to hell…

and therefore bash-able (gotta love that Christian charity – “turn the other cheek…so I can spank it!”):

Burning Man is certainly not for everyone, and especially not for children.  Apart from the difficulty and unpleasantness of surviving in the desert for a week without easy access to electricity, water, telephones, the Internet, and other comforts, the “radical self-expression” on the playa leads to a lot of nudity, profanity, sacrilege, irreverence, partying, drugs, alcohol, perversion, deviancy, and other things which will offend all but the most desensitized moral relativist.  Black Rock City is clearly the most pagan (in the common sense of the word) place on Earth.  There are rapes, fights, cars and tents broken into, drug overdoses, occultism, sexual promiscuity and reckless living.

Overkill Girl, 2010 – photo by Tomas Loewy

…and that’s just at Overkill! LOL just kidding…mostly…  😉

Anyway, luckily, and perhaps inevitably with an essay like this, there is one way, ONLY one way, to discover truth.

Only the God of the Bible as one who is both immanent and transcendent can satisfactorily explain the role of the Divine in our world and in our lives.  A transcendent deity can answer how He can be over all creation and able to judge all moral actions which occur within cultures and individuals.  He is separate from mankind as the Creator, and is providential and sovereign over that creation.  His immanence and transcendence allow Him to hear our cries and then intervene in our lives.  His immanence allows Him to be involved in the affairs of men.  The God who is described in the Bible is clearly the most rational explanation of the Divine, as the one which best fits the facts in both our experience and in our minds.

Clearly! I’m reminded of the stand-up comedian’s joke (warning: vulgar!), “if God’s so fucking smart, how come he can’t teach his people how to make money”.

John Morehead has written an essay in response, published at Religion Dispatches, entitled Burning Man: Fear of an Alternative Pagan Social Order.

the gathering in Nevada’s Black Rock Desert is considered by many to be a deviant event, and a harbinger of spiritual and societal decay

Love it! That’s one extra reason to go, on top of the raves. But, hate to break it to you, “harbinger” means “someone who brings a warning” – we don’t need a warning that society is decaying, we’re in the middle of the worst Depression this country has ever experienced.

Matthews also portrays Burning Man participants as marginalized individuals with “countercultural leanings,” including “adherents of the New Age and Paganism, along with scores of partiers, nudists, and those who like to ‘get high.’” The presence of this kind of reveler can’t be denied, but Matthews’ stereotype neglects the depth of the festival’s demographics. This includes not just those outside the cultural mainstream, but also a number of professionals connected to the social movement called the Cultural Creatives, discussed by Paul Ray and Sherry Ruth Anderson, which includes “writers, artists, musicians, psychotherapists, environmentalists, feminists, alternative health care providers, and other professionals.

Pros? Feminists? That’s the least of our worries at Burning Man. Whatever our religion might be. What about frat boys and Jersey Shores? That’s the real threat to the culture.

Morehead critiques Matthews further:

Matthews draws upon an evangelical counter-cult methodology that views most spiritual alternatives as heretical and deviant. Douglas Cowan has described this apologetic framework as a form of reality construction and boundary maintenance. The use of this approach often leads to a misunderstanding of a given religion (usually various new religious movements) and we see a good example of these failings in Matthews’ interpretations of Burning Man spirituality—as well as his representation of Paganism. This includes his confused distinction between various forms of Paganism, and his faulty critique of Paganism, claiming that it “denies the dignity of man,” “leads to hedonism and self-indulgence,” and “ignores the problem of evil,” to name a few.

This methodology is called on this blog, “Burner than thou”. For example, “I’m more of a Burner than you because you’re a raver”, or “you’re not a real Burner because you stay in an RV”, or “you’re not a real Burner because you typed ‘steampunk goggles’ into the Internet and bought those from a web site, you didn’t travel back in time to the 1800’s and personally enlist a team of Dwarvish craftsmen to create them from recycled components as a gift”.

Morehead feels that Christianity has much in common with Burning Man, and much to learn from it:

early Christianity—a movement that arose as a counterculture in the desert long ago, was viewed by the dominant culture as deviant, and engaged in a variety of bizarre beliefs and rituals—might learn from another desert counterculture.

…Christianity in America has much to learn from Burning Man, including the need to rediscover its own countercultural origins and the practice of speaking truth to power, concepts of self and community in postmodernity, the significance of play as a possible “signal of transcendence,” the importance of festivals with their rituals of inversion and the critique of society, and utopian considerations.

Peggy Fletcher Stack, writing in the Salt Lake City Tribune, published an article titled “The Church of Burning Man”, which backs up Morehead like a wingwoman.

Many see Burning Man as a drug-filled haze of hedonism — long on self-expression and exhibitionism, short on morals and restraint. Some Christian pastors have condemned it as a “tool of Satan.”

Indeed, satanic revelry may be the appeal for some devotees, but others go there looking for their better natures. Either way, the gathering has tapped into a need and continues to swell.

Either way? I’m pointing out some of the occult, ritualistic elements of Burning Man, as well as it’s broad spiritual appeal to people of any or no religion. But even I’m not going so far as to postulate that there are devotees going there for Satanic revelry. Wicca yes, but even that is in a tiny minority – at least in terms of conscious practice.
Morehead shares the opinion of Burning Man’s founders, that it is not a Pagan event.

it is certainly a mistake to characterize Burning Man and its adherents in general as Pagan. The festival invokes a multiplicity of spiritual perspectives—including the New Spirituality and Paganism—but it is by no means a Pagan event. 

Although that statement is hard to refute, it doesn’t directly address the occult ritual elements of the event – the major elements, being the Burn, the Layout, and the date. We’re all entranced participants in someone else’s giant occult rituals. So, why not bring your own? Take your power back, cast your magic with love and light. Seek the divine in whatever way connects you to it. Experiment with new pathways, substances, movements, paradigms. The main point of Burning Man to me is throwing all negativity out, Burning it, getting rid of it. Coming out the other side covered in dust, barely functioning, but cleansed and better than ever.

Does all the arguing about “whose God is right”, really get us any closer to the truth – or a good Burn? Burning Man has taught me to embrace everyone, no matter how freaky they might be, or how strange I find their behavior. “Radical Inclusion” could be the greatest Divine Truth of all – we are all God’s creatures, or the Universe’s, or we all came from nothing and will return there. Believe what you want, let me believe what I want, and let’s party!


17 comments on “Seeking Divine Truth at Burning Man

  1. Luke 12:49: I have come to bring fire on the earth, and how I wish it were already kindled!
    1 Peter 5:8
    Be alert and of sober mind. Your enemy the devil prowls around like a roaring lion looking for someone to devour.

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  16. Great post. Thanks for mentioning my thesis/book and my Religion Dispatches essay. I was contacted by someone about the book, probably as a result of this post. As a result I’ve contacted my publisher about lowering the cost set by them for the overpriced textbook. I’d like to make it available to more people. Thanks again for this piece, and the opportunity to discuss the various meanings of Burning Man.

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