The Burning of the Man: Part 2… A Flaming Ritual

The burning of the Man is Burning Man's signature event and is surrounded by ritual. (Photo taken by Kenneth Axen, a New Yorker who joined our California/Oregon group this year.)

The burning of the Man is Burning Man’s signature event and is surrounded by ritual. (Photo taken by Kenneth Axen, a New Yorker who joined our California/Oregon group this year.)

Rituals have grown up around the burning of the Man that date back to the day when he was first burned in San Francisco on Baker Beach in 1986. He was probably soaked in kerosene and lit by a match, although I don’t know that. I do know that white gas, which I occasionally use to start campfires with when the wood is wet, has a little too much poof, like BOOM.

The days of lighting the Man with a match have long since passed, however. Now it is much more akin to preparation for the Olympics where eleven Greek women representing Vestal Virgins focus the suns rays using a parabolic mirror to create the fire that is then transferred to the Olympic Torch. The tradition dates all of the way back to classical Greece and Rome, although I doubt virginity is still a requirement.

A parabolic mirror is used to light the flame that will eventually light the Man. (Photo by Tom Lovering.)

A parabolic mirror is used to light the flame that will eventually light the Man. (Photo by Tom Lovering.)

A parabolic mirror is also used to light the fire for Burning Man. The fire is started on Monday and then maintained throughout the week in front of Center Camp until Saturday night. We watched this year as four women wearing white, carrying torches, and perching on stilts led a solemn parade that carried the flame out to the Man.

Parade carrying fire out to burn the Man at Burning Man 2013.

Women dressed in white and walking on stilts, lead the fire parade out to the Man.

Once the parade has arrived, the fire dance starts as hundreds of dancers arrayed around the Man twirl fire in every possible way. Musicians ranging from bongo drummers to marching bands provide the rhythm. Next comes a very impressive fireworks display, and finally, the Man burns. 

The Man at Burning Man raises his arms just prior to the burn.

The Man’s arms are up; let the party begin.

Flying saucer seems to prepare for takeoff at Burning Man 2013.

White flames shooting out and down from the flying saucer provide an illusion that it is about to launch.

Fireworks above the Man on burn night at Burning Man 2013.

Fireworks suddenly light up the sky.

Fireworks at Burning Man 2013

Fireworks at Burning Man 2013

And go on, and on…

The Man Burns at Burning Man 2013.

The legs of the Man are set on fire, which then works its way upward…

The Man burning at Burning Man 2013.

The Man engulfed in intense flames at Burning Man 2103.

Soon, the whole Man is engulfed in bright flames as tens of thousands watch. The flying saucer has started to burn as well.

The flames quickly eat away at the Man and saucer. One year, the man was built on huge timbers that took over an hour to burn through. Not so this year.

The flames quickly eat away at the Man and saucer. One year, the man was built on huge timbers that took over an hour to burn. Not so this year.

The burn of the Man at Burning Man is photographed thousands of times in any given year.

Another photographer shoots the same photo I do.

A few remaining timbers hold up the Man at Burning Man 2013 before he crashes into his fiery grave.

The Man is on his last legs, prepared to crash downward to his fiery death as the 2013 burn draws to a close.

NEXT POST: Burning Man 2013 wrap up.

20 comments on “The Burning of the Man: Part 2… A Flaming Ritual

    • I always enjoy your adventures, Lesley. Maybe you should consider Burning Man. You would be welcome to join my wife Peggy, our friends and me in 2014. I would guarantee that your readers would be fascinated. -Curt

  1. Curt, I feel like I was there … whew! Thanks to your excellent photos and commentary I’ll know what to say the next time my niece tells me she wants to go to Burning Man. GO!!! It’s got to be one of the biggest spectacles in the world. Many thanks to you and Peggy for this great tour. ~Terri

  2. Great narrative and photos. I’ve enjoyed following along, but I have to confess – given a choice between being able to witness the burning of The Man and being present for the burning of the Kansas tallgrass prairies in spring, I’ll take the prairie burning.

    Still, there’s a linkage. Regeneration, and so forth. For the prairies, fire’s necessary for renewed growth. Not so different from the slant on things at Burning Man, now that I think of it.

    • The power of fire is always mind-boggling. Living in the woods, it can also be quite scary. Last year we had a major fire that came within a few miles. We were never threatened, but… –Curt

  3. Pingback: Into the West: 10 Links You’ll Love | GALLIVANCE

  4. Where have I been? I’ve never even heard of this festival. So, I’m really glad that Terri & James of Gallivance linked this post to their blog. Great photos. Great descriptions of what’s happening. Would love to see this for real, but your post is the next best thing! http://ohtheplaceswesee.com

    • Hey Thom, we are packing our bags. Burning Man is coming on fast. Glad you enjoyed the blog. I’ll have a series of blogs on Burning Man 2014 when we get back in September.–Curt

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