A Burner Is Born!

A first-time Burning Man participant shares the magic of New Zealand’s regional Kiwiburn. Meet the Festival Community at the frontiers of culture and see why burners never look back… A 15-minute engaging read, written to the soundtrack of Black Napkins, Happy & Solsbury Hill.

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This guy is what it’s all about. Photo: Randy Brophy

A Passionate Preface

I have lost my virginity to a burning sensation. My mind, body and soul has been cleansed by a week of thorough debauchery so spiritually charged that my life feels many times enhanced. Henceforth I shall identify as a “burner” with the explicit aim of setting large men on fire all around the world. Have I joined a cult? I really couldn’t care less, I just want to burn!

They say that burners leave a burn with instant withdrawal symptoms. I couldn’t agree more. I am literally dancing down the street looking by-passers in the eyes with a big smile for a gift and a heart so open you could pass a galaxy through it. Is this an addiction? I really couldn’t care less, I just want to burn!

Burn those old patterns away, burn away the barriers in my brain and burn up my life in a singularly meaningful, intentional and inspirational blaze of creativity and love. In other words; if you ever doubted that I had gone stark raving mad in the elusive eyes of society; doubt no more, because; I just want to burn!

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Okay, here’s your “naked” shot, now go perv somewhere else ūüėČ

I honestly thought I knew what it would be like to go to a burn. Silly me. I have lived in communities for the past decade, steadily putting on festivals and parties and however many crazy concerts and ceremonies. In my life I have travelled and lived on 5 continents and randomly connected with thousands of beautiful strangers. But I have never seen anything burn so pure as the burning man at Kiwiburn.

Imagine a community without money. Everyone free to be who they are. Every body is respected and every one is welcome. People relying on themselves and spending their days giving what they got, to anyone around them. Where every person you pass is your friend and your family. A place where there are no on-lookers, only fellow journeyers, and where having fun is on the top of everyone’s agenda. Does this sound like an old familiar but Utopian dream? Well my friend; it is real.

This seemingly unrealistic place exists somewhere on a deliciously decorated New Zealand paddock for a week every summer. It also exists in 28 other countries around the world for similarly short time periods. Every year there are more than a hundred burning man events globally. There is even a burn in cyberspace! As more and more people are experiencing this event, regional burns are popping up all over the planet and some burners have even travelled just to be in every one of them.

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This pretty much sums up the whole thing… Photo: Randy Brophy

Of course the mother of all burns is the legendary Burning Man festival in Nevada, USA. What started as a back-yard solstice celebration in San Francisco in the mid-80’s, has now become a global cultural frontier and a lifestyle practised by hundreds of thousands of international burners.

What we are looking at here is really so much more than a new type of festival or sub-culture – it is a new kind of people. The kind of people who’ve tasted absolute freedom in a decommodified and all-inclusive community. These are people who can no longer accept the popular perception and they are among a potentially powerful minority in the world who have experienced anything like it.

Judging by the way this phenomenon has touched me, this is a movement that can significantly contribute to the creation of a post-capitalistic world. You might think now that I should take a look in the nearest mirror and see a delusional dreamer on a post-rave denial trip, but I couldn’t care less; I just want to burn!

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Warmer. Waaaarmer. Burn! Photo: Randy Brophy

Into The New Zealand Festival Loop

A week into my travels in New Zealand I met an acrobat – Gregory – in Auckland, who gave me a list of all the Kiwi festivals he thought were cool. Out of all of them (New Zealand has a surprisingly large festival circuit), Greg singled out Kiwiburn as the one not to miss. I’d heard and read lots about the Burning Man itself, but this was the first so-called Regional Burn I had come across. As it happens, Kiwiburn claims to be the longest running Regional Burn outside of the U.S. and so (short of going to Black Rock City in Nevada) I figured this was the closest I could get to having a real Burning Man experience. You know, real in that hungry way us drifters and outsiders often crave experiencing authentic culture. Was I in for a wake-up call? Ring-a-fucking-ling!

“Welcome Home” said a big happy sign as we wound down a steep and potholed gravel road in a pocket-sized car, packed to the brim with festival essentials. The three of us had been hyping each other for days, running around Wellington to round up vital gear like ginger wine (my new best friend) and rope for the tarpaulin. Now a team of greeters gave us hugs and useful information and verified that we had enough supplies to last us for at least the next 5 days. These guys were serious about following the Burning Man ethos which values self-reliance as one of 10 principles – to leave the paddock would incur a $20 fee.

I regularly choose to volunteer at festivals. I am one of those compulsive toilers who absolutely must work in order to enjoy. Like we say in Denmark; “eat your rye-bread first, then you can have your dessert”. This time, however ironically, I consciously decided not to volunteer at my first 100% volunteer-run festival. After working flat-out for 4 weeks at the beautiful Prana festival, I simply needed time off, but, as I soon realized, there is no such thing as being a paying customer or a punter at a burn. You are the party.

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If you like understanding the world in symbols and omens, a Burn is your kind of place. Photo: Petter Jennings

Giving Yourself Away Is Good

I didn’t, of course, come entirely unprepared. In the gift-giving spirit of the event, I conveniently turned my rampant coffee addiction into a daily act of community service. With a small gas-burner, a stove-top espresso maker, milk, raw sugar, honey and ground cardamom, I became the wandering coffee man and I have no way of recounting all the happy people I fixed up a cup of joe. There were, in turn, hundreds of other services being offered for free at any given time and spot. From feathers in your hair, a shoulder rub, a solid meal, new clothes, various eye-openers and hugs galore, there was no point where I felt any needs or wants.

It was a joyful week-long exercise in trust-falling with hundreds of hands to catch you. Simply no reason to question the support or acceptance of every person around you, random strangers as most of them they were to me. I was basking in this altruistic energy and unconditional love. If you know me, you know that chatting and flirting for the fun of it, is one of my greatest pleasures in life. Ladies, guys, pensioners, bus drivers, dogs, shop-clerks, teachers, road-workers. Any set of eyes that will reflect a happy spark is an opportunity for me to love my¬†neighbour. At Kiwiburn this meant a non-stop appreciation between me and the world of burners around me. I must have fallen in love a hundred times over that week…

Every day I would walk up and down the paddock in awe of the positively unashamed and uninhibited way Kiwiburners express themselves. Great Mystery knows that my home in Denmark – the 1000-people strong anarchist intentional community of Christiania – sees its share of out-there people. But even for a seasoned and hard-tried people-watcher like myself, a congregation of burners beats anything my imagination could possibly conjure up: From pixies and gargoyles to pirates and mirror-men, mud-covered manics and wholesome grannies, prickly punks and Czech nudists, this place had seven kinds of crazy for every ten steps you took.

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Not everything was about the man. This feminine space was a gentle and unassuming reminder that women actually rule, at least my world.

A Global Family Gathering

Let’s take a quick look at the “official” program which was merely the latest collection of possible events that might or might not happen: Advanced Fire Eating Workshop. Home Brewers Contest. Mikey’s Hug Deli. Dream Amplifier. Prayer Flag Painting. Can Crushing Contest. Pirate Olympics. Tai Chi. Beggars Banquet. Boobie Appreciation Hour. The 3rd Annual Kiwiburn Prom. Museum of the Oddities of Time and Space. Rockstar Dreams, a fully equipped recording studio on a paddock. Need I say more?

I went to an officially announced event called Euroburners Meet and Greet (yes I also went to the Boobie Appreciation Hour, get over it). It was hosted by the Ambassador of Nowhere who poured sangria on everyone regardless of their geographic origins. It was held on the auspicious hour of 20 minutes past 4 (that’s four twenty¬†if you need it spelled out) and through the hazes I realized that these guys were in fact representatives from a most interesting community of burners in the north of Spain. The Nowhere event draws in just short of 1200 people each year and according to their 2013 census¬†the participants came from more than 15 different countries and generally seemed to have had a fucking incredibly amazing time. I think I just found another good excuse to visit the Iberian peninsula next time I am in Europe!

On the evening of the 4th day, the Man was set to be burned. Around dusk there was a building sense of excitement all over the paddock as everybody made their way in small groups, up the hill to the site of the effigy. The sudden presence of 2 police cars gave many a wide-eyed burner an extra edge to their experience, but it turned out that they were only there to do what police is meant for; helping the public. Apparently an emotionally unstable man had made some rather mean sounding threats while sporting a machete, and the police had promptly been called. They dealt with the matter most efficiently (no one got hurt and no charges were made) and some of them even stayed to watch the Burning of the Man.

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No photo-shop, no digital trips, just pure and simple energetic flow. Lots of people got laid that night, I’m just sayin’.

Shit Gets Real

And what a burn it was. This was by far the biggest fire I have ever seen lit on purpose. Not just a massive fireplace, mind you, but a 30-foot tall man of wood going up in flames. The local fire department had a truck on stand-by, that’s how big this fire was. We all stood in a huge circle at a safe distance. The crowd was reaching unseen levels of anticipation as scores of drummers were pumping out tribal rhythms so fat that you could lean on the vibrations. Wild cries unified hundreds of voices and the air was strangely electric.

As I reached the circle I quickly recognized the fully fledged ceremony that this fire was. Fishing out my shaker I made my way to a group of drummers who were already staring starry-eyed into eternity while fully possessed by the all-pervasive beat. My hair stood straight on my arms and neck and I started feeling waves of energy passing through me and the whole circle in great swoops.

A parade of fire-twirlers (gotta love those aesthetic dare-devils) did a promising round, displaying their dramatic skills before, finally, a group of robed ravers lit up the Man. By then I was already deep into an ultra-shamanistic experience including involuntary shouting and panting and perfect geometrical manifestations of spiritual matter going past my inner vision while all of my senses were being consumed by the gigantic flames and crackles so big it sounded like the whip of a giant.

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How about a crack of that whip..? Epic!

Playing a deep, deep drum, a woman came and stood next to me while I could do nothing but meditate sitting in the lotus position on the ground. Everywhere people were in various states of fire-induced ecstasy and the ether was thick with spirits, either leaving or possessing the elated burners. The drumming woman and myself formed a telepathic bond and provided our ethereal¬†midwifery¬†services to the scores of emotional rebirths which were so present. I drew on every bit of spiritual training and experience I have to keep my composition while lending myself to the power of the moment. Shit got real in a collective and much more profound way than I’ve ever experienced. I’m getting goosebumps even just writing about it…

Where Are My Clothes?

Eventually, a big gruff character straight out of Sin City gave the all-clear for the next stage of the ritual, where hundreds of people more or less spontaneously threw off their clothes and ran around the fire in pure tribal fashion. Fixed to the ground in a stupendous fascination of what I was witnessing, I was moved by the sheer joy of being naked that they elicited. If ever there was a happening that could cure humans from fear of nakedness, this has got to be it.

The somewhat reverent feeling was beautifully transformed into pure happiness and oneness, when half of the runners ran out of steam and realized that they didn’t have the faintest idea where they had cast their clothes! The rest of the night was spent¬†revelling¬†in the fantastic charge of energy that we all felt so strongly and I found myself getting my boogie on in between wonderful conversations and temple-top performances on my precious mandola.

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Next up on the list of large structures to torch was this cozy temple. Inside the simple looking boxes were intricate walkways with lost explorers and impromptu happenings.

The Dreams In The Embers

Next day saw most of us sleeping in and waking up to a downpour that virtually flooded the whole event. This was the night of the Temple Burn, another cornerstone in the world of Burning Man events. Not only is a giant man constructed for the sole intention of being set ablaze, a massive temple is also lovingly crafted for the same fleeting purpose.

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When the temple burned, the fire danced for us instead.

On the temple walls people had been scribbling down what they would like to get rid off or change in their lives. Reminiscent of many a solstice ceremony, this burn was a much more introvert and personal affair; a funeral pyre over a year gone by, observed in earnest reverence of the ruthless transforming power of fire – even in the pouring rain.

Alas, all things must pass: It was a beautifully worn and tenderly reluctant mob that begun the pack-down. Squinting eyes and softly creased smiles. Leave No Trace is one of the 10 Burning Man principles¬†and every bit of MOOP¬†was slowly put in its proper place. I already had my bags packed and a ride sorted back to the concrete jungle when a local faerie told me about that evening’s jam-session. Yes, please! I retrieved my pack and stayed another night.

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Watching the temple burn…

Forgotten Dreams was this year’s inspiration at Kiwiburn. When I found myself jamming away with 10 burners suspended in a vertical¬†dream-catcher, I remembered again that I am truly living the dream, and I realized that the dream just got a bit more substantial: Going to a Burning Man event is to experience what it feels like to be radically included and showered with gifts. To be co-creating reality in a money-less community. To rely on yourself and to express yourself without reserve. To recognize the immediacy of life and to be responsible for it. And to leave no trace when the ride is over.

Burning The World

For an unfortunate few (in this case, less than 1%), the dream can be too overwhelming. While burning the various wooden debris from the different camps in a big pile, a naked person suddenly ran through the knee-high embers. Nearly tumbling, this lovable human being dreamed too big for its body to handle. I wonder what those scars will remind this person of… I only hope that (like it was for me) Kiwiburn was a wake-up call to get real and start living the dream, not the fantasy.

Paramedics and the boys in blue once again pierced the premises and did their dust-pan duty. We needed them. And they, representing the society at large (the matrix if you will), need us. One person alone in the world simply doesn’t make any sense, neither does one community. We have to acknowledge and accept that a ceremony or a gathering is a catalyst and a¬†regenerator¬†– not a salvation in itself. The greatest journey involves everyone and everything – interaction is key to change.

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Last year almost 70.000 people made up Black Rock City – source of the Burning Man movement.

That said, will Burning Man make an indelible imprint on the human species? From my end of things, it appears to be already etching away. This movement is exponentially gaining momentum and the “outside world” is clearly interested. According to the photographer, one particularly great set of images was viewed 276.000 times on the first night it was uploaded. Remember, this was an event with less than 1000 people…

There is no doubt for me that however diffuse, the Festival Community has become a global identity with solar eclipse-chasers, travelling burners and neo-gypsies forging friendships across borders and dreaming up a new way of life that spills way over the festival gates and into the world. Kids are raised at these events, in these colourful camps of hope and happiness. I can’t wait to see them grow up and burn the bright light of their lives!

See you all out there & keep on burning!

Dedicated to sweet Helen, another first-time burner whose birthday it is today: We were there and yes, it was real! I will verify that for you anytime from now until the end of me. I believe in you too: Go live your beautiful life sister!

If you liked this post you might also like to read my previous post on the Eclipse Festival in Queensland 2012: Total Eclipse Of The Rational Mind


1 Comment (+add yours?)

  1. Trackback: 5000! | Impromptu Immigrant

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