Lost Traditions of Burning Man

I’ll never forget my first sunset at Burning Man. The sun hit the mountains and all around me rose this eerie noise, as almost everyone in sight stopped whatever they were doing and howled, yelled and cheered the sun down. The hair on the back of my neck prickled in response to this tribe of people celebrating the end of a day.

Photo by Coley King

That stopped happening in the last few years, and now the sunsets pass relatively unannounced by our communal voices. What other traditions are vanishing or lost entirely? Burning Man culture is strongly based on oral tradition, and I love a good story, so I (in one case, literally) sat at the feet of those who have been attending Burning Man longer than I, and asked them to tell me stories.

There were dozens of replies, I’ve highlighted a few below. I did not include any of the memories of epic theme camps from years gone by, (Bianca’s Smut Shack! Xara! Jiffy Lube!), as that could be an entire blog post of its own.

MAN TRADITIONS

Photo by Stewart Harvey, 1991.

“We used to raise the Man, the participants did. One year it was just the kids, all lined up pulling on the rope to raise him* back to standing. Back when he had feet and stood on the ground. Back in the day. He used to lie on the ground for the day on Sunday, and you could put what you needed to onto him, tucked into his legs or wherever. Then when the Man burned, your item/tribute/memory burned along with him. ” -Molly

Photo by Stewart Harvey, 1991.

DaveX also remembers this: “…lowering the Man on Burn day to be stuffed with whatever fireworks were at hand. Then in the evening the community (lead by the kids) would pull the Man back up with a big rope-and-lever thing. Of course there was the jumping over the burning chest of the Man once he had fallen. I learned this from Fireman Dale as I watched him do it. He would sprinkle fireworks in the fire as he jumped…”

Crimson Rose used to climb the Man for a dance performance, pre-Burn.

THE JAVA COW
Andie Grace directed me toward the very entertaining Burning Man Glossary, which states that the Java Cow is a “Community legend which appears with hot coffee at sunrise on the morning of the Burn and asks the question: “Do you want cream or sugar with your coffee?””

Java Cow, 1993. Photo courtesy of Carvermon on Flickr.

 

I spoke with the Java Cow, and he stated that he stopped this tradition after about 1999, when the structure of the Man got so big that a one-man performance was lost in the noise surrounding it.

DISAPPEARING/LITTLE-KNOWN TRADITIONS

As well as lost traditions, there are a few that, while still ongoing, could use some extra attention as we acculturate our newer Burners.

OPENING FIRE CEREMONY: Monday afternoon of event week, Crimson Rose (a Burning Man founder and resident Fire Goddess) captures a flame from the sun and lights the Cauldron that stands in the Keyhole entrance to Center Camp. This same flame is carried in a procession on Burn Night to the Man, and the Fire Conclave utilizes this flame to dance for the Man before it is burned.
Will Roger, a Burning Man founder and Crimson Rose’s long-time partner and shiny new husband, shared that the crowds have been getting smaller and smaller each year for this ceremony.

Crimson and the Cauldron. Photo by Tom Pendergast, 2005.

MOOP RACES: “Any given individual running after a loose piece of paper or feather, to the cheers of onlookers saying ‘save the Playa!'” -JimmyTheKid

2 HOURS PLAYA CLEANUP: “Even as a new Burner I knew to “bring extra socks for DPW and donate 2 hours to cleanup”. A lot has changed since then, but I miss that as a cultural expectation.” -Miss Roach

Miss Roach makes an excellent point. Did you take 2 hours out of your burn this year, to clean up MOOP? It’s in the Survival Guide, and even on the back of your ticket. Our fearless friends with the Playa Restoration Team are in the desert right this moment, doing the final cleanup. Next year, perhaps we can make their job even easier by all making an effort to take 2 hours to clean up MOOP in the public areas of Black Rock City.

As we focus on spreading our culture out into the world (via the Burning Man Project, the Regional Network, and in many other ways), a strong connection to the way things used to be also provides valuable context…and some great stories.

Burning Man veterans, what are some traditions (personal, camp, Burning Man-wide) that are being forgotten? Talk story to us, in the comments section below. Virgin and more-recently-attending Burners, come gather around the fire and listen to the way things used to be.

And don’t forget, my fellow Burners. Sunset, next year: howl that sun down, for all you’re worth. Tell your friends.

* While we technically refer to the Man as a genderless “it”, common parlance tends to give him gender-specificity.

Brody works in the Art Department and has been attending the event since 2004. She likes hugs and Snacks and increasing the amount of happiness in the world.

About the author: Brody

Brody is a native Californian and recovering shy person who enjoys hugs, snacks and increasing the amount of happiness in the world. She is slightly internet-famous for creating the Desaturated Santa costume for SantaCon, and is glad to be known for something that's not horribly embarrassing or illegal. Brody first attended Burning Man in 2004 and found out that she doesn't actually know how to relax for an entire week. A volunteer with Greeters since 2005, she now sneaks in Greeter shifts before or after her regular on-playa job, making magic happen behind the scenes at the ARTery. Year-round Brody can be found in the Art Department wrangling data, creating order from chaos, and feeding her co-workers homemade marshmallows.

91 thoughts on “Lost Traditions of Burning Man

  • Is it my imagination, or are drum circles becoming more rare?

    An old timer in my camp said it was howl the sun and cheer the moon.

    I consider myself a relative newcomer, 2003 being my first year. The cool thing was that the cheering for the setting sun traveled from west to east with the shadow as it proceeded across the city every day. People were waiting for the mountain to occlude the sun from where they were standing.

    It is a shame that Greeters can no longer spank at the Greeter’s station.

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  • Remember the homecoming party at the Greeter station, when the gates opened at midnight? Yeah, that was nice. If you were blessed with an early entry pass, that was the place to be. I *do* understand the wisdom of opening the gates at 6pm, but at 6pm most of the early entry people are still busy setting up their theme camps.

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  • I heard a fairly decent howl at sundown on tuesday I think it was!!! Speaking of communal howlings, I first attended High Sierra Music Festival in 2000 and after everyone would set up their tents after land grab, the whole place would group hoot FESTIIIIVAAAAALLLLLLLLLL!!! Throughout the years, that faded away.
    It still happens once in awhile, but not at the same magnitude it used to.

    Bring back the group hoots all over, people!!! Woooooohooooooooo!!!!

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  • We used to take the idea of “Decommodification” to the extreme, and obliterate any corporate logos.

    If people rented a Ryder truck, they would make some playa mud, and cover up the logo. (Some people still modify the logos on their vehicles, but it is rare.)

    My girlfriend has a pair of Nike sandals that she wears all the time. They still have black tape covering the “swoosh” logo.

    I personally have gone so far as to take a seam ripper to the Utilikilts logo on the back of my kilt, one year.

    Now you can’t get away from Cruise America rv’s and people using billboards as their dome covers…

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  • I howled at the moonset this year from the prow of the ship on Sunday morning. I also howled at the moon at the temple (yeah I was one of “those”).

    I watched the “first fire” being lit by Crimson by Ustream. I couldn’t be on playa for it, but I was in spirit!

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  • My first burn was 1996. We used to raise the man wth the rope. The fire dancers before the burn were not choreographed… It seems more primal and chaotic. It was amazing. And when he was burned, the crew would wiggle the wire tethers and make him dance. It was less of a fireworks show, so his actual burning seemed more important. Then, after he fell, everyone would dance around him in a giant circle. It was very 10 times, much like a pagan ritual, and very cathartic and primitive. I think the last time we did that was 2003, because there was just too many people to have it work.

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  • This could be a topic for a whole other thread.
    Music.
    In my 10 years there, the general trend has shifted from more primal drumming and trance electronica to dance and more commercial pop, oldies and current.
    Long timers, am I right?

    No I shall stry off topic. IMHO I hope the music there remains obscure niche stuff, and more along the lines of avant guard, primal, and tribal in nature. When I am there I want a mystical primal mood.
    Last thing I want to hear there is some tune from my defaultia life experience from 30 years ago. The worst was an art car playing crooner Tom Jones at the man’s ashes a few years ago, totally foiling any drum circles there. Barf.
    The art car playing Lenard Skynard “Free Bird” at the Temple Burn this year was for me a commodification, and very disrespectful of other’s mourning. Fortunately someone told him to cut it. When he did there was applause all around where I was. People did not like it.

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  • G – that “Freebird” was for DPW’s fallen brother Joey Jello, who was killed by a drunk driver this year. Apologies if you didn’t know the backstory, but maybe now you will be a little more forgiving in our ritual, just this once. It meant a lot to a whole lot of us to have it play for the Temple burn.

    I once spoke to David Best about the Temple, and he indicated to me that he was more than disappointed that people took to making the Temple all about death every year. He wanted people to celebrate more around it, to not be so glum and morbid. So don’t forget the other main tradition of Burning Man, which is: If you lose your cool, you lose. You must find a way to laugh at most everything, and never take anything too seriously.

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  • We arrived Thursday of early entry and there was howling every night. It wasn’t until Tuesday that it was so loud with music etc that you could no longer hear the howling. It would take a community effort to mute the music so the howls could catch on again.

    The temple is a beautiful building every year but I have found myself avoiding it. The overwhelming depression gets to me. Then also there always seemed to be some drama mama around that had to grieve louder and harder than anyone else. I also do not consider the temple sacred ground either. Rituals and traditions are wonderful, but when you start applying rules and rigidity you lose.

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  • @Summer
    Awesome feedback! I cannot thank you enough. One does have to be careful what story lines to feed one’s mind.
    I was mentally going along with the spell that Free Bird casts. It is a mellow mournful tune after all.
    Two other breaks to the temple silence I have experienced that were cool. Once a woman about 100 yards away broke into a very soulful aCapella vocal performance of a slow mournful melody . . . goosebumps for that. In ’06 (?) the temple was taking a long time to fall, short attention span set in, and a spontaneous clockwise cheer and wave arose and did many circuits around the crowd.

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  • I really miss the drumming that seemed to permeate everything, connecting each heart beat to your neighbors heart beat. Some techno dance trance is ok, but I miss the drums.
    Also, burn nite use to start with a big parade sort of, gathering steam, drums increase in sound, people joined in. v
    Very pagan, primal feeling. The anticipation just build up, it was amazing.
    The dude screaming to turn off “FreeBird” really jolted me and not in a good way. I was ok with the song, it seemed to fit the moment (didn’t know about Joey Jello, so sorry!) but really did the guy have to scream like that!?!

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  • I remember the clock wise cheer wave at the temple burn, it was magical! No hands waving, no standing up, but a wave of sound going around the temple burn over and over, loader and louder. Goose bumps. I think there was a lone bag piper who played a Jimmy Hendricks number and Amazing Grace before it. No other sound other than the crackle of the fire.

    This years cheer was a bit of that but instead of making it around it waved about 1/4 of the circle… just enough for me to remember, and bring a smile ear to ear.

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  • A few of my traditions, some gone:

    a) For about 6 years we lead a pretend protest against the burning of the man. Aside from signs and funny slogans, many actually resonated with the idea that if we burned him, we had to go home. The best part was keeping the protest going after he fell, with a sad voice. “It’s just a flesh wound.”

    b) A tradition to this day is to tune to radio free burning man (now just BMIR) when arriving and leaving. Particularly leaving, as the signal fades it is the last essence of BRC to go.

    c) A strange emotion (no ritual) with the first step on playa, usually at gate when they want to search the vehicle.

    d) Sunrise at the man after he’s burned, or at the very least visiting the ashes for a while in contemplation

    e) A visit every year to the trash fence and the point in the outer playa, often with a quick step one foot outside the fence to be defiant.

    f) One visit to the cafe, but often not more than that, to see the art.

    g) One climb of the Man, early to avoid lines, at least as close as they let you get to him these days.

    h) Ride along the outer street for a while to get the feel of it.

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  • This was my first Burn, and I did my level best to start a personal tradition…mooping the avenue we were camped on (Alyssum) early in the morning, from 2:45 to Center Camp at least 3-4x during the week. One side heading down, the opposite side going back. Each day I went, I collected at least 2.5 pounds of moop, and took to bringing a large trash bag with me everywhere. Yes, I chased flittering boa feathers, strands of hair, flying sequins. My weirdest moop was 3 perfectly ripe cherries, stems intact. I also rescued a wasp from being run over. A group of us also found a small zucchini out in deep playa. I actually *like* mooping, turns out. And I’m very, very good at it.

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  • Brody this rocks. I remember Peterman’s Playa Chicken that disappeared one year but used to be passed around the playa and kept returning. Peterman also used to do yearly website pranks. Grilled Cheese at Bianca’s is one of the reasons I pass out grilled cheese on Friday night. And yes, covering up those Truck Logos! We need more of that. And MUD. The days of folks getting naked and covered with mud seems to have passed, sadly. I know this one is impossible with our numbers, but back in the day, when the man fell, up until I’d say 2001, we’d run around him and it was a wild frenzy.

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  • The personal and camp traditions are/were the best.

    First thing in the morning, always before sunrise, I have to kick something and bite myself awake. When the rubes aren’t there, a morning bath at the spring by the former railroad siding, also before sunrise. Make espresso for whoever’s up. And always a full nights sleep.

    Never danced and never plan to, not since Polkacide.

    Yonder Camp used to feature Lucio wailing out “Third Stone from the Sun” at the sunrise of the last day.

    Camp Carp has too many traditions to count.

    DPW has the last spire ceremony. Early Man started before DPW existed, but they’ve carried it on.

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  • Well this was my first burn and i did hear howling at sunset at the camp i was part of Santas Summer Sleigh santaman howled and i timidely joined in so that tradition is not totally lost as for comercial signs there where plenty of cruise america rental rv around i made a point of bringing my own 5wheel all the way from Saskatchewan my first burn was a enjoyable experience and i am proud to say i survived the desert for 9 days

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  • There are many traditions that are lost and/or have simply changed, for the worse in my opinion.

    For the first 12 years I attended, I never had need really for a bike at night. One could easily and often run into art cars roaming to and fro all over the playa who would happily and gladly stop and pick you up. Now, it seems all the large art cars do is really pick up their friends, drive them to the large sound camps, and then return them to their ‘hood at the end of the night. Even though there appears now to be far more art cars, they are not as they used to be. In fact, at Robot Heart this year, a virgin friend of mine and myself went to step on. The guy manning the door specifically told us he was accepting bribes for admission. BM-esque bribes such as hugs and cuddles were offered, but he was not kidding. Real commodities were exchanged (against my protests) between my virgin and the guy. This is not the spirit of BM and was a huge let down for me in terms of lost or misdirected ideology.

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  • VegasDAVE666 I was there in ’95 and alas the guns were gone by that point. There were a lot of drum circles and noise bands with folks banging on random bits of trash and discarded appliances. And after the man burned, everything else burned too. Chaos would erupt and the conflagration would spread. I remember hacking signs with axes and throwing them on to large bonfires while people shot off bottle rockets and random fireworks. I also remember not being able to find your car because there weren’t any streets, and hoping to hell you didn’t get run over as you walked out into the dark playa on your way to rave camp. And yep, saying good morning to Java cow. There are just too many memories from those early days! I haven’t been since 2003, but I’m glad to see how much things have grown and the spirit of the event continues.

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  • Lisa Evil,

    Any concerns regarding Mutant vehicles should be noted to the Department of Mutant Vehicles a dmv here: dmv (at) burningman.com.

    All Mutant Vehicle owners sign an agreement that states that Mutant Vehicles are considered public conveyances and that they should provide rides when they have room. If this was not done (as it sounds like from your description) the DMV should be notified.

    -Chef Juke

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  • for those of you who grow sad as BMIR’s signal fades on your radio while leaving the playa… this year i realized i could just stream it from their website using my phone. just open http://www.bmir.org/ on your phone (connected to your stereo system, ideally) and you’ll have a pristine feed that sounds even better than it did on playa.

    enjoy.

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  • Oomingmak and Vegas Dave,
    There were still guns openly worn in ’95. The most memorable were the gorgeous assault rifles carried by the postal people…there weren’t as many as before, but we still had a shooting range on the playa edge etc….96 was the year that the guns went away…..

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  • Hey Bat Country– yes! indeed those were grand days. specifically ’97 in the Smut Shack. back then, by 1 or 2 a.m. burning man had largely gone to sleep. it was quiet on the playa, but out at the far corner, the first year of streets, there was the Smut Shack, grooving with tunes, serving grilled cheese, and always with someone doing something interesting.

    two personal traditions: my first year, ’95, arrived at about 1 a.m., somehow found my friends’ tents. then walked out to the man, said hello, and just gaped at it. i thought (and continue to think) that the burning man is always one of the most beautiful pieces of art on the playa. so now every year i go back, as soon as i arrive, i go out to the man to give my greetings.

    and: driving onto the playa when i arrive, and driving off when i leave, i listen to Ennio Morricone’s music from Fistful of Dollars/For A Few Dollars More/The Good The Bad And The Ugly. it is the most perfect desert music of all time. it’s also good to blast in the middle of dust storms. try it someday…

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  • Yeah, the cocktail party at center camp and then procession out to the man burn night is one of the great lost traditions . . . everyone gathering in their finest with elegant drinks, celebrating and then walking out as a group to see the burn.

    Others . . . the man being lit by a man on fire . . . the man being on hay bales low to the ground, you could climb up and sit right next to his legs . . . playa mud . . . big impromtu slip and slides in a mud puddle, playa mud used as a costumes, playa mud used in Pepe’s fantastical opera sets.

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  • i do believe we are losing the tradition of covering up logos on vehicles. our camp is made of billboard material, but we’re old timers enough to turn the blank side OUT, so nobody else has to see it.

    i miss the days when most people slept in tents on the ground. most of us in our camp still do. the sunset howls are definitely around, but they are drowned out by the art cars with giant sound systems. as someone who volunteers for the lamplighters every year, i’m happy to say that many, MANY people still cheer on and thank the lamplighters. i get teary-eyed in gratitude just thinking about it, so thanks everyone who cheers lamplighters. i know i always cheer them. i miss being able to circle around the man. i miss the first temple burn or two, when it was dead silent the ENTIRE TIME. i don’t miss the drum circles so much, but to each their own. i miss the friday evening formal cocktail party in center camp, and the already-mentioned Java Cow. i miss the Man being on the ground, and when he was lit differently every year, not by some remote-controlled button. i miss a lot of things, but i also love and enjoy the burn every year, and i wouldn’t miss it for the world. <3 <3 to you all.

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  • I can’t believe it!!!!! After scanning through the comments (quickly, I admit) NO BODY mentioned the spankings at the greeters station! A fun tradition of spanking virgins was quickly ceased when a pretentious reporter (I don’t actually know her but I am admittedly taking a cheap shot at her since she is the cause of the cease and desist) raised hell about being spanked.
    I have fond memories of my spanking…”OUCH, do it again!”

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  • R.I.P. Good street views!

    Over the last handful of years I’ve seen the street side of camps, particularly larger camps, get darker, less playful, and over all less intentional. In particular I’ve seem more of these RV “corral” type camps where there’s a blockade of RVs or fifth wheels against the street, and little to no “presence”. I guess I’d sort of been missing the details and amenities even small non-theme camps used to bring, but the tipping point was when a large theme camp at the corner of 6:30 and C this year put a huge generator on their corner as the only marker. Someone gave them a hard time about it, and they put a single crappy string light on the generator. Woof.

    Hand-in-hand with this are “parking lots” that develop adjacent to large theme camps. Bury that shit inside your camp, or else park on the outskirts after you’ve unloaded your stuff, bros. Seeing a bunch of cars squared up like they’re at Costco is as much of a boner kill as all the RV company logos, in my opinion.

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  • Dang, flood of comments this morning! Did this get linked to from somewhere else? Thanks everyone for sharing your memories! I can’t believe I forgot spanking at Greeters. :-)

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  • Yeah, Gush – so many streets look more like alleys with no lights.
    And I still recall longingly what was under the Man from my first year – 2005:
    It was that 50-or-so-room Fun House! On two floors! With a top floor to look down on Alice’s Caterpillar on a Mushroom, and so much more.
    That was the best ever base for the Man and the only remnants from it I’ve seen are the reverse mirrors.
    Could the whole thing ever be reincarnated? I can dream about that, at least, and keep coming!

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  • Howling a definite yes but I remember a drum circle in ’97 way out playa, you got smudged with sage picked locally as you crossed over a small bridge before you entered a very spacious circle made of sticks and willow, odd pieces of fibers and such. The actual drum circle had maybe 30 drummers or so backs to the hand made fencing and surrounding a very small, but well- tended fire in the center of our circle. I remember there were a few bottles of Jack and other liquor around the fire, contributions to those their and for the sharing. There were a couple of dancers would who pick one up, take a swig, myself included and continue in the drummers revelry. It was beautiful and intense, and a gathering of sounds, souls, and nature. True ecstasy.

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  • The temple is not about death. It is about remembrance and celebration of life. I have always said that Saturday’s fire and 40,000 people screaming and 700 twirling fire performers is VERY pagan and awe inspiring, BUT 40,000 people in silent remembrance and celebration is a way, WAY more powerful experience and shared by all, just sayin’ ……

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  • I miss things like the fun house from 2003 (Ticket to Mars I think it was called). It was right along the esplanade. It seems like now there are mostly just ‘bars and dance clubs’ along the esplanade and not as much interactively fun stuff. Sigh.

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  • The sunset howl hasn’t died it is just dormant because of mild temperatures. My experience is that the energy of the sunset howl is directly correlated with the heat of the day. Next year if we have a day where the temp exceeds 105 degrees I guarantee a tremendous citywide howl. When the heat is crushing it is almost impossible not to cheer the sunset.

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  • I don’t see many paying homage too those lovingly surly folks of DPW anymore, as they parade about our fine city…which wouldn’t exist, if not for their immense commitment to community. I, for one, never fail to applaud and thank them for their efforts. I make it habit to help inform, and continue to be amazed/disappointed at how many people don’t know, or understand what DPW is…hell, many are still out their, erasing all trace of BRC’s very existence, just so it can be built once again, next year.

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  • Many things have changed at BM. I guess part of evolution. But nothing is really lost. Its a time of reflection and choice of vision. I agree with the comment of “Drumming ” has become rare, I drum, I know…I thought, all communities have parks, areas where the people meet, for chatting, music , etc. As a “city” BM does not have areas where communities can meet their neighbors, and have activities together….designate areas for that purpose.

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  • Miss the primal dance around the fire after the man burns. Havent been since 2010 but my first year was 99. I also feel like the man burn is a little too much like the 4th of july. I liked the old world feel to just appreciating a big Fing fire. The fireworks are nice but they seem to have muted the burning of the man and the random beauty of the fire itself. I also always liked the howl.

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  • @P Segal, I have had that feeling ever since my first burn and I have been wishing people happy new years when the man burns, thanks for mentioning that :) I definitely vow to be howling at every sunset next year, and @Gaz – you are so right, DPW needs more loving, duly noted.

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  • Yeah, Teco, I have noticed fewer drum circles too…. There were some pretty good ones at VWBus camp though.
    Maybe we should have a giant public drum circle at VW Bus camp, and advertise it in the directory…

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  • I’ve been a BRC citizen since 2005, at what I feel is probably the turning point from comfortable assembly of persons to a jammed event, and I’ve seen a lot of changes. Some important ones have already been named – decommodification of the vehicles, interactive camp elements along the street (art, seating, people presence, activities), MOOP detail, respect and gratitude for the daily toil of the lamplighters, art cars with open seats, respectful quietude at the Temple Burn – all have waned in recent years.

    As far as howling (I’ve always considered it cheering the sun down) our neighborhood at 730 and H-ish (which I affectionately refer to as the ‘Burbs) has always represented with gusto. Maybe it’s a outer playa thing? I find myself in camp usually about that time and boy do we ever make some noise!

    I personally grieve the loss of the electronic greeting card chip craftily hidden in the bank of potties serenading you with Fur Elise, or Happy Birthday while you pee. Haven’t heard that in a couple of years. And speaking of portos, has the “Miss/Mr. Black Rock City” award, with red carpet, crown etc bestowed on an unsuspecting potty exiter been abandoned too?

    Lastly, at the risk of being pelted with rotten vegetables, (and I ONLY mention this because it is a cause dear to the heart of my beloved GorJosh), I am compelled to mention the dearth of shirt@ockers, who, according to him “Used to roam the Playa like buffalo, but are now facing extinction due to an intolerant society.”

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  • Ahhh. Piss clear. I thought it meant to piss clear of camps so people wouldn’t step in it.

    Back when you could still drive around, the raves were miles away, yet so loud you could hear the rhythm of them in center camp. You could feel it in the ground. 24/7. Like the playa had a heartbeat. I remember one night we all piled into the back of a friends pickup truck and just headed for the loudest beat we could hear. Stopping every now and then to get an audio “fix” on what direction to go. They must have been 10 miles from BRC. It was a full moon you could read by and the music just got louder and louder as we approached. We all danced under the stars and moon till dawn.

    One of the best nights of my life

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  • I have only been coming to black rock for 3 years, but like lily says, the electronic greeting card chip in the porta potty was cool. I had one singing to me my very first time in a porta potty and It was very memorable. Does this really mess them up? Also in 2010 we got up to circle the embers of the man after the burn, which felt very pagan and tribal, but that didnt happen last year or this year (as far as I know, we left the area after a while and it hadn’t started). I will be telling everyone at my camp to cheer the sun down from now on. Woo hoo!

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  • Back it the 90’s, the man was raised by pulling a rope by the participants. For a few years, there was a mini tradition of kids raising the mans arms (never the whole figure), like 93-95. Myself and crew built the straw bale pedestals for the man starting in ’96 (through 2000) which is also the year I started the community solar fire, lit the first day of the event, so everyone could light the man on fire by keeping the flame going till burn night (then on Sunday). Seeing by then it only took a small percentage of the population to yank the man up and give people the possibility to be connected in some way again. Crimson has kept that going in glowing spirit, cheers!

    Another tradition I started long ago (’91) that has grown, though changed exponentially, was the center camp bulletin board. The first one was a tripod made from scrap wood with about 3 square feet of area, so people had some place to leave messages for each other. That grew over the years to many 4’x8′ sheets of plywood — of course now there is playa info with banks of computers, not sure if there are actual boards anymore, a bit lost in all the reading one encounters these days. (I noticed there were very few signs on the lengthened entrance road, maybe that tradition has had its run…).

    For me the biggest traditions that just have not changed through growth and time is the playa itself, the pilgrimage there, the the fine talc that gets in everything, the remoteness and vastness of the place, the tinyness of us under the arc of that desert sun and the camaraderie with fellow participants — builders of this intentionally altered reality.

    Thinking of these things as traditions is kind of the wrong word for them, maybe ritual is more fitting. Its the discovering, unveiling, unearthing of, spontaneous stumbling upon of ritual that rings true. They’re not so much done for traditions sake, but out of some sort of need for connection…

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  • quoting @Lillie: “…the dearth of shirt@ockers, who, according to him “Used to roam the Playa like buffalo, but are now facing extinction due to an intolerant society.”

    thank you for that. i laughed SO HARD! : D

    can’t say i liked them, and i don’t miss them, but just the mental image of herds of them roaming the playa… it’s gold.

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  • Would be nice if the art cars AND camps were more communal. I rode my bike, but saw one comfortable older couple putting along one night in their fancied-up dune buggy, passing an older woman who was walking with a limp. She flagged them down and asked for a ride, but they said they were going a different way and jollied off, leaving her to limp along! It also sucked, I agree, to ride down streets fronted only by RV sides. It was so generic in some blocks that I couldn’t tell one stretch of RVs from the next. What’s the point of that?

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  • Spanking at Greeters Station! People are still so very very disappointed when we tell them we can’t spank any more. It’s a real shame as it signified a birth, a welcome to the world and woke up the bum after sittings and driving for 10 hours.

    I miss being able to drive onto the playa and take off my seat belt. Watching people stopping and stripping for their drive in. Folks falling to their knees at Greeters Station.

    I miss seeing cattle prods and walking along the playa seeing some great pranks and pokes and jokes. What great laughs!

    And I could not forget Pepe’s Opera! Water Woman! Simple pyramids housing rituals. Burn barrels being friend making spots.

    Most of all, I miss the tradition of no rules, no holding back, no worries about what I did or said. No one was around to censor me. It’s Burning Man not Disneyland people!

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  • First..We are not OLDtimers but Old Schoolers…DERP! I must say that I missed out on the coffee Cow..sadly..and i hope to see some of us perhaps even I pick up that tradition in multiples..a herd of coffee cows..mooving yer burn morning…sweet! I miss sex on the open playa…and the rather large Porn drive in theatre ..Being a Playa Mom I can see why the popularity of this has become a ghost..but perhaps maybe one day we could see one night of the week set aside for 21 and over madness curfewz? just a thought. We as parents have the right to parent as we see fit as do participants to pick and choose how to obet laws rules and follow further principles..I say we are doing fine despite all the blahblahblah about Burningman being dead..It can be whatever we want it to become- only we have that power to set the bar- tear it down- preserve what we have – remember what has been and restore the dying vine.. I miss virgins getting spanked or even having the option of being spanked..word round the camp fire is a frivolous lawsuit rather sullied the time worn perfect love perfect trust – entry protocol- the spankings were always playful and always tradition for years- now virgins are called Noobs or Birgins-which is a term I peronally hate- suck it up and make yer bones like the rest of us have..we were Virgins once hence the frickin term..If you respect what was you emulate it..dont try and dress it up..your a VIRGIN get a SPANKIN and quit rollin in the dust with those insipid dust angels and bell ringin..yer not gettin yer wings- you get that when your a plaque on the Temple wall pal…suck it up get a tap on the popo and get in there and earn yer burn..lol..

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  • I too miss the tribal feel of the man when the tribe itself raised and lowered him.I remember he went up and down according to the wind .And dont forget the maurading naked purple people.

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  • shirt@ockers, I don’t know that I miss them but I deeply miss the tolerance that allowed them to flourish. I have started seeing “No Shirt@ockers” signs. “Hey, you people who founded this thing, this is our event now. Go away. You’re not welcome.” My impression is people take notice of naked now, whereas it used to be virgins showed up and thought, “Everybody is naked, I shoud be naked, too.” Let’s bring some of that back.

    Saying “Hello.” My second year I came in on Monday nearly everyone I saw for two days greeted me like a dear old friend from high school. Freeked me out at first…Do I know you?

    The greeters. I hadn’t realized spanking was gone, but I did think there doesn’t seem to be the same edge at the greeter station anymore.

    Still, I am impressed at how much the Burning Man spirit is alive.

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  • I see it has been mentioned.. but…”Circling the Man” after he fell into the flames. This tradition used to be so full of energy …skipping, Hooting and hollering and let not forget the item that you brought with you to throw into the flames (an item that marked a significant issue of that year. Something that one wanted to purge.. picture of an ex, final payment stub of a loan..ect)

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  • Off Playa, it seems like the tradition of theme camp fundraisers is fading. My former camp held 2 or 3 big parties each year, often in conjunction with other local camps. It was a good way to foster inter-camp relationships, and share a bit of the BM vibe with the default world. Most importantly, it gave us a chance to witness the work ethic of potential new members before we reached the Playa.

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  • Wow! I feel like I missed so much! This past event was my second, my first being 2011 aka Best-Weather-Evar!-Year. All these past rituals and ones I was unaware of that still occur inspire me. I hadn’t realized the community hoisted the man up without machinery for so long. That one could simply hang out @ his feet or climb up his body!?! It must have been amazing! I’d love to @ least have the opportunity to ‘do it’ on the open playa w/ my lover.
    Anyway, @ Lillie, There SO were porta-potty birthday card serenades this year! @ 7:30 between C & D- (my beloved neighborhood potties). There were @ least two cards, maybe 3 or 4 used over the entire week due to battery deaths. They were audible in the potties closest to D. For some reason, I loved to listen to them as the batteries were dying and the melody got slow and ever so slightly creepy.

    I also was slightly disappointed to see so few shirtcockers on Shirtcocker’s Day. It seems strange, that it’s fine for the men (and anyone else) to go about the city fully nude, but putting just a shirt on makes them some kind of pariahs. I personally find human male genitalia a hilarious sight. I’m also a fan of shirtcunting.

    @ Alchemy, I mean absolutely no disrespect to your personal outrage, but being made to roll in the dirt, make dust angels, and kiss the playa was a great way to get myself acquainted with and ok with what life in BRC would be like. If I hadn’t had to do that in 2011, I would have had a much more difficult time not being prissy this year- since last year’s weather did not prepare me for what weather is usually like on the playa. Speaking of… did many catch the lightning/rain storm?

    Peace, Love, & Burnerness!

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  • I’ve only been going for the last three burns, but I already miss the tradition of people not fiddling with their cell phones for a week, something I hardly saw at all in 2010. Don’t they get enough of that off-playa?

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  • In 2004 my neighbor came over to my camp and kindly offered to spray some No-Stick cooking spray on my trailor’s logo. In an hour it had enough dirt stuck onto it that it was obscured (and easily cleaned-off when I got home). Since that year I have always packed a can of spray oil to help keep the playa “Clean”!

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  • Ah…so many memories. Yes let’s please make the return of city-wide howling a real thing! I still remember my first sunset back in ’01, when I heard this unearthly howling/screaming/cheering erupt from all around me. I was already still getting used to the more localized group screams emanating from one direction or other, making me wonder what the hell was going on over there, and how soon could I get there myself! Anyway, I was literally acting like a confused animal until I figured out what would make an entire CITY scream. Sunset! OOWWWWOOOOOOOO!!!

    And while I, too, miss the greeter spankings, and Bianca’s and her grilled cheese, quesadillas, beats, and sexual freedom, what I really miss is the prevalence of the TRICKSTERS and PRANKSTERS! Hell, even the bullhorn brigade is weakening significantly!

    People, please, let loose your inner heckler, prankster, and trickster! Burning Man is NOT all hippy dippy peace and love! Get out there and fuck with someone! Just be sure that by the end there’s a smile on both your faces!

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  • Stripping down and chasing the water truck for a quick shower. There’s so many RV’s now with showers, or people come with great outdoor showers that it has stopped being the only option for running water during the week.

    I still have a vivid memory of just getting out from under the water truck’s hose and seeing this guy sprinting buck naked towards me. Once he hit the wet playa street though, his feet slid out from under him and he went sliding in the mud. We looked at each other, grinned, and as I offered a hand to help him up I told him “well, you better catch the truck now!”. And he jumped back up to chase the truck down once more, all caked in mud.

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  • This year was my first experience at Burning Man, and I feel grateful and indebted to all of the organizers, volunteers and temporary citizens of Black Rock City. My camp (False Profit, SF) was very loving and organized and they made me feel useful and involved even though I was a total newbie from Boston. The playa was very good to me and I am excited to return to the desert and restore some of these amazing traditions, and perhaps starting new ones as well.

    We arrived on Saturday night and my mind was already completely blown just by driving through the desert for the very first time. After getting situated I decided that a bike ride was absolutely necessary. So I decided to take the advice of a more seasoned Burner and I rode out to deep playa enjoying nothing else but the total darkness in front of me. At one point I stopped riding and I took off all of my clothes and laid down to enjoy the blanket of stars above me. The night was warm and quiet and to me it was the perfect way to connect with the playa for the first time. I imagine that this will become a ritual for me, and whoever I can convince to join me along the way

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  • 1. Lost Spanking:
    – I suggest people remember to bring flogging instruments themselves and spank each others at the gate :)
    – Wouldn’t it be a cool camp or installation that’d offer that spanking we’re all longing for? Think of it: Greeters would tell anyone asking for a spank to go to that place and get their poison there ASAP.

    2. Lost Fun Camps.
    I thought that Mission To Mars (the first one with the maze and lots of misguidances inside) was one of the best fun camps ever. Next comes the live-sized PacMan to mind – I still have the music in my head, mixed with all the other BM sounds.

    3. Lost Traditions.
    – After having skipped the prev 2 years, I noticed right away that hardly anyone hollered at sunset any more so I did my part, but only one day. I shall try better next year again.
    – And I also thought: No one’s even _talking_ about picking up trash while you go any more! Sure, the old timers still know and do that, but there’s so many newbies now and no one seems to teach them any more. Disheartening. Feels like people feel it’s no use any more to integrate the new ones any more…

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  • Two things I missed this year (my 10th burn)…people yowling with happiness at sunset and screaming like crazy when the mans arms when up before the burn. wtf people…

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  • The naked water truck showers! ! ! ! YES! ! !
    I used to follow them around on my bike just to enjoy the falls, the bouncing flesh, the bodies in motion.
    There was one truck driver who posted a sign on the back of his truck asking people to shower where he could watch them in the rear view mirror.
    The practice was actively discouraged a few years ago, being as the water is “non potable”

    Someone above mentioned burning dried sage. yes, Smudge! love it!. Every year I get a whiff, but 2003 (my 1st) it seemed to be everywhere, and it has been declining ever since.

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  • What an AMAZING article and commentary. I am now nostalgic for times that live in the memories of others.

    I believe there is a point where an individual really “gets” Burning Man. It could even take more than one attendance to do. That is not to say one doesn’t enjoy it, have a great laugh, meet some new people…but it is the moment where something clicks inside of them that changes them forever.

    For me it was my first year in 2007 at a drum circle. There were dozens of circles that year, and being back every year since, I could count the drum circles on one hand. Can anyone hypothesize why this is??

    also, cell phones? internet? really?
    CUT THAT SH*T OUT!!

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  • I was telling my friends and newbie neighbors about the howling this year and how much I missed it. We kept meaning to do it and try to bring it back but always seemed to forget. Next year we definitely won’t forget. I would love to see the howling come back — it was one my biggest impressions from my first couple burns.

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  • Bal Mart made everyone who wanted to go up to the top get spanked. Mind you they dont smack hard or with any intent other than to be fun. If you didnt want to be spanked I guess you didnt go up. I did not mind it at all…Hike down my skirt and my undies and get spanked. It didnt hurt and everyone in the line I was in had no problem with it. I do miss the howling though. And whats with the all the RV’s? If you want to come to Burning Man in an RV you might as well have someone else experience Burning Man for you and you stay in your comfy RV. Yes I had my pop up but its not an RV and all it did was stow my stuff and provide a bed.

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  • Scattered thoughts of what once was…
    Playa Ball. A soccer sized “ball” made from bundling up cloth scraps soaked in kerosene, set on fire, and kicked randomly around. As one piece of cloth burned up, the one below would catch, and the game would continue with a ball that got smaller and smaller. Caused a lot of MOOP, and disappeared in the LNT frenzy.
    Parades. The DPW used to drive every street in BRC (before there were over 40 miles of them), at the end of the burn, looking for provisions to sustain them during cleanup. Their pirate like attitude of “give me your beer, your drugs, and your women”, may have contributed to it’s demise. Critical Tits started as a dozen topless goddesses howling down the Esplanade. It evolved into the most amazing display of feminine playfulness this planet has ever seen, devolved into a sort of lecherous peep show, and has finally settled into the display of Girrrl Power that it is today. I miss the CT of about 6-8 years ago.
    Feeding The Man. Back in the day, you could contribute things to go on The Man as they were loading him up on burn day. One year we contributed some pieces of magnisum that was placed in his arm. I swear we could see one flame that was a little brighter than the rest.
    After about 120 days and nights at BRC, Iv’e seen a lot of crazy shit. Yeah, it’s not what it once was, and isn’t what it’s going to yet be, but for this grizzled old vet, Burning Man is still THE MOST AMAZING PLACE ON EARTH. )”(

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