The Temple of Whollyness: A Sacred Place… Burning Man 2013

The Temple of Whollyness at Burning Man 2013.

The 2013 Temple at Burning Man was built in the shape of a pyramid and made completely of interlocking wood pieces without the use of nails, glue, or metal fasteners. (Photo by Peggy Mekemson.)

We were sitting in camp when the first police car went by on Sixth Street. We hardly looked up.  With six law enforcement agencies patrolling Burning Man, police cars are a common sight. But then a second and a third car followed– and they just kept coming. I stopped counting at 40. Something big was coming down.

They drove out to the Playa and surrounded the Temple while blasting their sirens. Rumors were rampant. Was it a major drug bust? Was a riot about to erupt?

The police got out of their cars, formed two solid lines leading up to the entrance, and took off their hats. A woman, escorted by another person carrying a plaque, slowly made her way between the lines and into the temple. Her husband had recently passed away. He had been a BLM law enforcement officer who had spent several years helping patrol Burning Man.

The man had come to love the event and now he was to be honored at the Temple by his fellow law officers. Burners and lawmen alike stood silently in respect as the eulogy was read and the plaque was placed on the stone altar. Spontaneous applause filled the Temple as the woman left.

An altar or cairn made of black, igneous basalt graced the center of the temple.

An altar or cairn made of black, igneous basalt graced the center of the temple.

Later, Peggy and I were sitting in the Center Camp Café when an older man sat down next to us and begin sobbing. I was about to ask if we could help when another person leaned over to me and said, “He’s been out to the Temple saying goodbye to his wife.”

The Temple is truly a unique, and I would say, sacred place. Thousands of Burners leave messages of love and grief, honoring friends and saying goodbye to those who have passed on. On Sunday, the Temple is burned and the messages are sent skyward in a ceremony of letting go that dates back to the very beginnings of humankind.

Each year’s Temple is different. The 2013 structure, designed and built by Gregg Fleishman of Culver City, California, consisted of a central pyramid and four smaller pyramids. Named “The Temple of Whollyness,” the sanctuary was constructed out of interlocking wood pieces without the use of nails, glue or metal fasteners.

The Temple of Whollyness by Greg Fleishman.

This photo emphasizes Fleishman’s use of geometric forms in creating the Temple.

2013 Temple at Burning Man

A close up of the Temple. Note the interlocking pieces.

wood fastener at Burning Man's 2013 Temple.

Cairns on the Temple of Burning Man 2013.

Small sets of stacked rocks soon filled all of the Temple’s flat spaces matching the large cairn inside. Cairns, BTW, are used in the wilderness to mark trails. They mean that you are on the right path. (Photo by Peggy Mekemson.)

Black Rock City residents quietly meditate in the Temple of Whollyness at Burning Man 2013.

Inside the Temple people quietly meditate or write notes to be left behind. Gongs, located on the walls, provided soft, melodious tones. The altar is covered with tributes such as that left behind by the wife of the BLM officer.

Gongs at the Temple of Whollyness at Burning Man 2013 provided melodious sounds.

Tribute at Burning Man's 2013 Temple.

Tributes, such as this, filled every available wall space by the end of the week.

Tribute at 2013 Burning Man Temple.

A tribute to a fallen comrade.

Tribute to pet at Burning Man Temple 2013.

Dozens of touching tributes are also left for family pets. This one to Dobber was signed, “Your Dad.”

I love this tribute left behind for Zippy.

I conclude with my favorite pet tribute. “Go get the ball, Zippy!” I suspect if there is a dog heaven, they have tennis balls there.

NEXT BLOG: It’s time to check out the strange world of Mutant Vehicles.

25 comments on “The Temple of Whollyness: A Sacred Place… Burning Man 2013

  1. Well this has sealed the deal.. While I love all of the art, people and general air of creativity, the temple would be enough for me.. Something so beautiful about others sharing their messages and then having them co-mingle in the burn..

    This is beyond wonderful…

  2. The temple construction is quite wonderful and intriguing – could have spent hours following its lines. A very fitting place for all those remembrances (great to see the critters remembered too). Do hope we get to see it burn.

    • I didn’t make this year’s burn since I had to leave on Saturday. I did watch last year’s Temple burn, however, and will try and include that when I do my piece on burning. And there were dozens of our four legged friends remembered. –Curt

    • Actually, yes, Bruce. Burning Man kicks in a substantial amount from the entrance fees they receive. But much is also done through individual donations. Volunteers help on most of the larger pieces and the artists are always generous. Something like the Temple can easily cost up to a $100, 000 dollars… and then it is burned. –Curt

  3. What an absolutely beautiful, touching piece. Such a magnificent construction – physically, emotionally, spiritually. The world’s people could learn and benefit.

    The center piece appears to be an inukshuk, yes? I have a (much smaller) one in my home from my time in the PNW.

  4. There’s so much to appreciate here. The construction, for one thing. It’s the “interlocking” that gets me. I might be able to build a triangular structure, even if it did lean a bit. But to do it without duct tape, fast-setting epoxy and bubble gum? Not possible.

    The cairn is beautiful, too. When I was in grade school, we traveled to Colorado and I brought back a big hunk of black basalt. I can’t help but think now how beautiful it would be, all polished up. But I don’t even know what happened to it. There was a box of rocks in my mom’s basement, and now…? Who knows.

    The messages are touching. But here’s what’s funny – I can tell a story that proves the impulse exists in every part of society. After my mother died in July of 2011, she hung around the house with me until October, tucked onto a shelf with her African violets. During that time, I donated a lot of her yarn to her knitting club. We started talking one day, and they decided they wanted to knit a bag for the box that held her ashes.

    So, they did. And then, the night they finished it, they passed it around and everyone wrote a little note to Mom and put it in the bag. I needlepointed a monogram to go on it, and when she was buried, she had the notes, the bag and the needlepoint to go into the ground with her. It really was wonderful. Here’s the bag.

    The form of the ritual may differ, but the human impulse is the same.

    • Wonderful story. And I liked the green bag. We all have to cope with grief from time to time. And I prefer the spontaneous approach such as your bag. America’s funeral industry leaves me cold. –Curt

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