The Beautiful Temples of Black Rock City… A Burning Man Experience

This is the Temple of Promise from Burning Man 2015, a simple and beautiful structure designed to capture the early morning sun.

 

Census figures from Burning Man show that 71% of the participants claim to have no formal religious affiliation. Given this, it might seem strange that a temple is one of the major structures built in Black Rock City each year. But there is another factor at work here; over 50% of Burners claim that they are spiritual. While they may not adhere to any particular religious doctrine, they believe that they are part of a whole that is beyond any individual’s existence. Or, at least, that’s how I interpret being spiritual. It’s how I feel.

Whatever Burners believe, there is no doubt that visiting the temple can be a spiritual experience. In addition to being a place of beauty, as I hope the photos in this post show, the Temple is a place where 10,000’s of messages are left honoring loved ones who have passed on, asking forgiveness and expressing thanks. At the end of the week, the Temple is burned and the messages drift off into the air or, the Heavens if you prefer, giving a sense of peace to those who have left them.

Part of a larger structure, this temple was built in 2007 and was known as the Temple of Forgiveness.

This was the 2008 Temple. (Photo by Ken Lake.)

The curving wood on top of the Fire of Fires Temple reflected flames shooting into the sky. Note the intricate detail on the side panels.

A close up.

The Fire of Fires Temple at night. (Photo by Don Green.)

The Temple of Flux represented the constant change we experience in life. It can be seen as waves or as sand dunes. This photo was taken from the Man. The Center Camp Cafe, the Man, and the Temple are always in a direct line. The buildings on the other side represented a city.

Tom likes to get up early in the morning for his photography. He captured this photo of the Temple of Juno at sunrise. (Photo by Tom Lovering.)

Here’s another. (Photo by Tom Lovering.)

A later photo by me showing detail of the Temple of Juno.

The Temple of Whollyness resembled a Pyramid.

This large stone structure was inside the Temple of Whollyness.

The Temple of Grace was built for the 2014 Burning Man.

I liked this shot I caught of its spire under butter milk skies.

The Temple of Grace at night. (Photo by Don Green.)

Another photo of the Temple of Promise. I had taken Tom’s advice and rolled out early to capture these photos.

As the sun came up, Burners grabbed each other’s hands and formed a large circle around the Temple. The act was totally spontaneous.

A black and white I created.

Inside the Temple.

As I mentioned, thousands of messages are placed on the walls. By Saturday, there is little room to write on left within reach.

I found this message left behind honoring Uno Hogan quite touching. I think you will as well. It is quite typical of messages found in the temple.

And this message humorous but sincerely meant!

The Temples are always burned on Sunday night, the last night at Burning Man, in a solemn and moving ceremony with the thousands of messages sent skyward. This is the Temple of Juno.

A note on the photographers: All photos that I include in the Burning Man blogs are taken by Peggy, me, or members of the Horse Bone Tribe— all close friends who have traveled and adventured with us down through the years.

NEXT BLOGS:

Monday: Back to Bandon on the coast of Oregon.

Wednesday: I begin my story of how Bone was found.

Friday: I continue my exploration of the unique and beautiful structures at Burning Man.

 

The Temple of Promise at Burning Man 2015

The Temple of Promise at Burning Man 2012.

The Temple of Promise at Burning Man 2015: light, airy, and beautiful.

I had rolled out of bed at 5:30 and ridden my bike out onto the Playa to take photos of Burning Man’s 2015 Temple of Promise. It was truly beautiful and promised to be even more so at sunrise. There were lots of folks already there when I arrived (even mutant vehicles), but none of the hustle, bustle and noise that normally accompany Burner events. As the sun hit the spire, the people present spontaneously formed a large circle and silently held hands. No one said let’s hold hands; or let’s form a circle. It was unplanned, a response to the beauty of the moment, yes, but more, something transcendent, a reflection of how Burners feel about their temple.

A crowd had gathered at the Temple of Promise when I arrived as the sun climbed over the mountains. A dragon mutant vehicle is outlined by the early morning light.

A crowd had gathered at the Temple of Promise when I arrived as the sun climbed over the mountains. A dragon mutant vehicle, filled with Burners, is outlined by the early morning light.

Burners spontaneously joined hands as the first rays of the sun hit the Temple.

Burners spontaneously joined hands as the first rays of the sun hit the Temple.

And continued to as the Temple was bathed in light.

And continued to hold hands as the Temple was bathed in light.

I use the word ‘their temple’ on purpose. The people responsible for building the temple each year— the architects, master builders, and volunteers who donate thousands of hours— and the people responsible for funding it (somewhere in the neighborhood of $250,000), generously contribute their work of art to the people attending Burning Man, as part of the event’s unique gifting society. Every year, the temple is different, a unique creation, and every year I have attended, the temple has been something special, a thing of beauty. Here is a selection of the temples.

The Temples at Burning Man are unique and quite beautiful.

The Fire of Fires Temple at Burning Man 2009

One of the first Temples I saw at Burning Man.

The Temple of Hope at Burning Man 2006

This temple was pyramidal in shape.

The Temple of Whollyness at Burning Man 2013

And this one resembled a sand dune.

The Temple of Flux at Burning Man 2010.

Burning Man's Temple of Juno in 2012

The Temple of Juno at Burning Man 2012. (Photo by Tom Lovering.)

The Temple of Grace at Burning Man 2014.

The Temple of Grace at Burning Man 2014.

The significance of the Temple goes beyond its beauty, it becomes a refuge, a place to say goodbye to friends and loved ones (including pets) who have passed on, a place to ask for forgiveness and leave messages of forgiveness, and a place to celebrate and say thank you. Literally thousands of messages are left on the temple walls during the week. Photographs, perhaps a dog’s favorite chew toy, even someone’s ashes are left as remembrances.

Morris the Cat was born in 1998 and passed away

Morris the Cat was born in 1998 and passed away on October 5, 2014 at the old age of 16. He was still loved and missed by the people he had considered his family.

Someone has memorialized a number of species that had become extinct.

The Earth Guardians of Burning Man have memorialized a number of species that had become extinct.

A garden of metal trees stood in the Temple's patio and provided more opportunities for people to remember their loved ones.

A garden of metal trees stood in the Temple’s patio and provided more opportunities for people to remember their loved ones.

Photographing the Temple at different times of the day and from different angles only added to its beauty.

The entrance leading into the Temple. (Photo by Don Green.)

I really liked this shot by Don that emphasized the entrance leading into the Temple and the contrasting mountains behind. (Photo by Don Green.)

Another morning shot from a different angle. I also like the drama provided by the clouds.

Another morning shot from a different angle. I also liked the drama provided by the clouds.

Morning sun catching the copper face of the temple provided the rich color here.

Morning sun catching the copper face of the temple provided the rich color here.

Inside the Temple at midday... shadows and light.

Inside the Temple at midday… shadows and light.

The Temple at night from a distance.

The Temple at night from a distance.

The front of the Temple at night.

The front of the Temple at night.

Inside the Temple at night.

Inside the Temple at night.

A black and white rendition of the Temple top for fun.

A black and white rendition of the Temple top for fun.

On Sunday evening the Temple burns. It is a solemn occasion. Tears run down cheeks, people whisper goodbyes, and friends hold each other tight as flames leap into the air, lighting the night and  carrying memories of loved ones into the sky. But it is also a celebration of life, a letting go, and permission to move forward. I had planned to attend the 2015 ceremony along with my friends Tom Lovering and Don Green, but we had the wrong time and the temple burned quickly. Here are two photos from the Temple burn of 2012.

The temple of Juno from 2012 burns, shooting flames high into the sky.

The temple of Juno from 2012 burns, shooting flames high into the sky.

A final shot. Soon the Temple will fall, helping to bring closure to the thousands of people who had left messages.

A final shot. Soon the Temple will fall, helping to bring closure to the thousands of people who had left messages.