Lamplighting: Function Becomes Ritual

[Steve Mobia was amongst the original Cacophony Society members who went on the “zone trip” to immolate the Burning Man on the Black Rock Desert in 1990.  In Burning Man’s early years, he helped create desert fashion shows, large format photographs, and the first pirate radio station – hosting a program of experimental music called “Mobia’s Trip”. He was the first Lamplighter, organizing and running the Lamplighters from 1994-1999. His flaming helmet is now part of Burning Man’s historical archives. This post is part of the Metropol Blog Series.]

For those who have just started attending Burning Man, you may not even notice the many hanging lanterns that dot the major streets in Black Rock City.  At one time these lanterns (along with the lit neon on the Man) were the main navigation on dark nights in the desert.  Though the increasing presence of generated electric light has made the hung lamps less necessary along the city streets, the ritual of Lamplighting continues and is one of our oldest traditions at the event.  The lanterns are most visible along the promenades leading to the Man and beyond to the Temple.

Lamplighter Procession, 2006
Lamplighter Procession, 2006

The Lamplighting ritual at Burning Man is a quiet yet essential part of the communal desert experience.  It creates a sense of a real city with street lamps and invokes an old tradition of lamplighting that contrasts nicely with the technical innovations of today.

I was the original Lamplighter and ran Lamplighter Camp until the year 2000 when Brien Burroughs and later others applied their energy and ideas to the task.  I’m hoping that the denizens and luminaries of today’s Lamplighter Village expound on the monumental operation they’ve been running since the turn of the century.

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