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Burning Man: Religious Event or Sheer Hedonism?

Ten Questions for Lee Gilmore

Burning Man started as an impromptu gathering among a handful of friends on a San Francisco beach in 1986 and was moved to an obscure corner of Nevada called the Black Rock Desert in 1990, where it eventually grew into an internationally renowned event that draws close to 50,000 participants annually.

For one week in late August and early September, an elaborate civic infrastructure called “Black Rock City” is constructed, featuring a carefully laid out grid of streets in which participants set up hundreds of different “theme camps.” Organizers provide some basic services (camp placement, public information, and porta-potties being just a few), but participants must still supply all of their own gear, food, and water; sufficient to survive for one week in a very harsh desert environment. The Black Rock Desert is dominated by a dry lake bed called the playa—an absolutely flat and desolate expanse of cracked alkali clay—and the experience of camping there can be extreme.

At the center of the Black Rock City is the Burning Man icon itself: a towering wooden sculpture that is lit with multicolored shafts of neon and ultimately filled with fireworks and other incendiaries that detonate at the festival’s climax. Even more intriguing is the incredible array of art and ritual contributed by participants that often creatively appropriates symbols and motifs from the infinite well of humanity’s cultural and historical experiences—temples, labyrinths, demons, angels, gods, goddesses, priests, corporate logos, and more—almost anything imaginable is cobbled together in an incredible display of bricolage.

Read the original article at: Religion Dispatches

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