The flame moves the soul to a waltz of spontaneity. Such was the tune echoing from Baker Beach, San Francisco, on the eve of the beginning of an annual movement of self-expression: the Burning Man.
The festival began in 1986 with the burning of a wooden totem as a symbol of radical self-expression; the men involved counted no more than twenty. Their exhibitionism expanded Baker Beach until 1990, where the annual conflagration of the 15 metre wooden sacrifice would move to Black Rock.
Welcome to a week long excursion of the physical realm. Mummify your mind in the warmth of giant sculptures, cars of artistic grandeur, sand and fire. Play in the playa Nevada’s Black Rock Desert on the last Monday of every August.
This is no bonfire; this is a resurrection of a city. Every year the Nevada heat sweeps the cracked floor of the desert and in its midst emerges the Burning Man – a terraforming spanning over 7 square miles. And where once creatures of the sun slept now makes home to a populace of 68,000 spirits dancing upon a home they’ve not known they’ve been searching their entire lives.
A city is a voice of those who reside in it, and though it may be hard to hear what a particular town has to say, what burning man echoes is clear. Its culture can be described by the principles it renders: radical inclusion, gifting, decommodification, communal effort, civic responsibility, radical self-reliance, leaving no trace, participation and, perhaps the most vital aspect of all, immediacy – the realisation of the torment of the barriers that bars the peace of the inner self, society and the natural world.
This is a place where the creative reign and the bromidic learn to fly, and it’s not the narcotics that take a burner to the far roots of the Elysian Fields.
Giant desert ships, fire breathing Dragons singing to topless dancers, gigantic pillars shooting fire, midgets playing with light swirling hula-hoops and groups of men dressed as French maids banging their pompoms to the beat – this is not a place where drugs are exactly necessary.
“I'm just going to reiterate that drugs are neither abundant nor even necessary for a crazy psychedelic/hallucinogenic experience at burning man. Your body is already being pushed to its limits, which will give you a certain euphoria not unlike drugs.”
Burning man is a city, albeit a temporary one, and the same rules apply as to all metropolitan areas. Drugs aren’t allowed, and the festival goes to extreme measures to make sure the law is kept. With police force posing as undercover burners, even flaunting their safety in the nude to ensnare drugs from desert civilians.
I was told by veteran burners that the event needs nothing but a participating mind to enjoy the event. Those that are akin to the ethical pithos of city conformities will be gambolling open and altered forever. Despite the restrictions, drugs are rampant through the veins of the Burning Man, as is the case with all cities. However it is kept most discreet, with many a warning exclaiming the necessity to halve any doses one might take at the Burning Man as the festival is mind boggling as it is, and the cops are assholes.
Burning man is not naked hippies swinging fire to pointless autotunes; it isn’t catharsis. It is a phenomenon where the most elementally intelligent create and dance in their unique imagining of the birthplace. The drug culture is unique in that its delegates need no mind-altering substances to feel the heightening of senses, the landscape is enough to bring one to a trip one will never forget.