The Burning of the Man: Part I… Bacchanalian Revelry or Symbolic Gesture

Burners gather to watch the Man burn at Burning Man 2013.

Thousands of Burners gather in the Playa the night the Man is burned in what is both a huge party and a symbolic celebration. Burners arriving early get prime seats in the dirt while volunteers and staff make final preparations for the burn. The Man stands (looking alien) on top of his flying saucer, arms down. Mutant vehicles can be seen in the distance. A string of helium balloons stretches across the sky.

They gather in the tens of thousands, trekking out from their temporary homes in Black Rock City to an event viewed by some as the world’s greatest party and others as a celebration– a final goodbye to the tall, wooden man who serves as a magnet by day and a beacon by night.

Burners arrive on foot, bike, and mutant vehicles, forming concentric circles around the Man: an inner circle of fire dancers, a second circle of sitting and standing Burners who settle in for the show, a third circle that serves as both a promenade and the world’s largest dance floor, and a fourth circle dominated by huge mutant vehicles that throb with music, shoot fire into the air, and provide convenient viewing stands for various theme camps.

The burning of the Man is sometimes described as a Bacchanalian Revelry, and maybe it is. The Roman God Bacchus would have loved the spectacle. And I suspect most Burners would have liked him. Nobody could throw a better party than the God of Wine. But Bacchus had other traits Burners could agree with as well. In his Greek Dionysian persona he was considered a “protector of those who do not belong to conventional society,” a phrase that might describe a significant number of those who make the trek to Black Rock City.  The Romans believed that his wine, music and ecstatic dance freed his followers from fear and cares– and lessened the power of those who sought control over their lives.

Besides the huge party and celebration that take place on Saturday night, there are also ritualistic aspects to the evening. The Burning Man represents the end of the week and the end of his “life.” The Man’s week of dominating Black Rock City is over. Burners go silent just before he tumbles into his fiery grave, the music stops, and the dancers cease their gyrations. A huge shout accompanies his fall. The ashes have hardly cooled and been scooped up off the desert floor when planning starts for next year’s burn. Like the Phoenix, the Man will rise again.

I spend my night of the burn making a full circle of the Man and doing what I do best, wander. I have sat and watched the show of fire dancers but my body has no tolerance for sitting in the dirt for two hours. It never has. Also, I don’t like being hemmed in. And finally, people can be rude. Late-comers occasionally try to force their way to the front. But the primary reason I wander is that I love the show on the outer two circles. The costumes are fantastic, the dancing wild, and the mutant vehicles magnificent. The total walk may be two miles in length and I make an evening of it. I will feature the walk on this blog and the actual burn in the next. The short video below captures some of the action on my walk.

Dressed in a log black coat with a vest, white shirt, and bow tie, I am ready to head out to the burn. My hat displays a week's worth of playa dust. The glow sticks are to make me visible on the dark walk out and back.

Dressed up as Outlaw in a long black coat with a striped vest, white shirt, and bow tie, I am ready to head out to the burn. My hat displays a week’s worth of playa dust. The glow sticks are to make me visible on the dark walk out and back. (Photo by Peggy Mekemson.)

Palm tree mutant vehicle at Burning Man 2013.

While I love the costumes and action, the mutant vehicles are the main attraction on my two-hour stroll around the Man. The night of the Burn is the only time you will find them all in the same place. This one has chosen a tropical setting.

Mutant vehicles come in all shapes and sizes, ranging from what I call the squid car...

Mutant vehicles come in all shapes and sizes, ranging from what I call the squid car…

...to the 'ocean liner.'

…to the ‘ocean liner.’

Hanging lanterns at Burning Man 2013.

Color is everywhere, as demonstrated by these hanging lanterns…

Colorful segmented mutant vehicle at Burning Man 2013.

…and on this segmented mutant vehicle.

Duck spouting fire at Burning Man 2013.

Many of the mutant vehicles, such as this duck, shoot fire into the air.

Flames from El Pulpo Mechanico light up the crowd that has gathered to watch the burning of the Man at Burning Man 2013.

The light can be blinding, and hot. I took this shot as El Pulpo Mechanico was shooting flames from his eight legs and head.

Fish sculpture on side of El Pulpo Mechanico at Burning Man 2013.

Speaking of El Pulpo, he featured this fish on his side. The detailed work that goes into creating mutant vehicles can be incredible.

Rubber ducky mutant vehicle at Burning Man 2013.

The big rubber ducky.

The vase I love...

The vase I love…

Mutant vehicle vase at Burning Man 2013.

…that constantly changes colors.

Mutant vehicle train at Burning Man 2013.

A train…

A clothes hangar...

A clothes hanger…

Space Shuttle mutant vehicle at Burning Man 2013.

And the Space Shuttle.

Mutant vehicle features blue lady with flashing eyes at Burning Man 2013.

This blue lady with her flashing eyes caught my attention.

As I did this strange horned creature at Burning Man 2013.

As did this strange horned creature.

Mutant vehicle boom box at Burning Man 2013.

Music was everywhere. This mutant vehicle boom box was booming. BTW, I saw on Craig’s list where it was for sale.

Hot band at Burning Man 2013.

Some mutant vehicles bring their own live bands. A hundred or so Burners were dancing in front of this one. I could barely make my way through the gyrating bodies, so I danced my way through.

Watching the Man burn from a mutant vehicle at Burning Man 2013.

Mutant vehicles provide prime viewing opportunities for the theme camps that build them.

Crow's nest view of the burn at Burning Man 2013.

I thought this crow’s nest on a sailing ship provided the best seats in the house. I was jealous. (grin)

Man outlined by fireworks at Burning Man 2013.

NEXT BLOG: The man’s arms are raised; it’s time for the burn.

9 comments on “The Burning of the Man: Part I… Bacchanalian Revelry or Symbolic Gesture

  1. Truly incredible Curt. What a celebration of life … and fire! I am so gobsmacked by the imagination, talent and energy that goes into the creation of all the art. I can only imagine how hot it must be. ~Terri
    By the way, you’re looking quite dapper there, Outlaw! 🙂

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