Posts for category Spirituality


June 22nd, 2011  |  Filed under Spirituality

Earthalujah Explained!

[Editor's Note: For those of you unfamiliar with him, Reverend Billy is a New York-based performance artist whose work speaks to the heart of Burning Man's principles of decommodification and radical self-expression. He was a Burning Man honorarium artist in 2003, where he performed in front of the Man as part of that year's "Beyond Belief" art theme. Enjoy!]

Reverend Billy’s brilliantly bombastic, boldly brief Earthalujah sermons — now available as a podcast! Watch more episodes and subscribe at revbilly.com/podcast

 

Sometimes people come up to me and ask “The Church of Earthalujah…what is that? Is it a political rally? Is it a real church? Is it a comedy sketch? What is it?!”

Question: Is consumerism, is consumption, is consuming too much killing us right now? Yes it is. In the Church of Earthalujah we are definitely fighting consumerism. And that starts with the flags, the banners of consumerism are labels. There’s a label on every product, Amen! So, let’s not label anything. Let’s get beyond labels – that’s the devil!

We have an Earth crisis right now that we can’t label. In the old days it seems like there used to be people who would run down to the village common and shout “there’s an emergency here!” The traditional town crier. Someone should be shouting “Hey! The atmosphere! Too much heat! Extinction! Everything’s dying! Do something!” Where’s that person now? There seems to be a giant hush from the governments, celebrities, corporations, religions, armies – all the people who are supposed to be leading us. There’s a hush because they don’t have the right labels. But they look around them and they see what we all see: fires, floods, tsunamis, quakes, typhoons, tornadoes…Yes! That is the town crier! That is the force that is so powerful it’s chasing the God-forsaken celebrities off the front page of the newspaper. And that is the Earth itself getting our attention, and killing some of us.

In the Church of Earthalujah we regard these events as expressions, as words, as communications from a living being. The Earth is talking to us not just through these tragedies but every time we love each other, the Earth is whispering in our ear. When we walk out across a field on a beautiful day the Earth is alive.

Lets continue to live here. Let us ask the Earth to teach us to save the Earth and save ourselves. Amen.

June 15th, 2011  |  Filed under Spirituality

Passing Through

Photo: mkgraph

How do you know when you’re grown up?

The question may strike you as trivial, but let it sit for a moment. There are clear answers to it in some parts of the world, but the part from which I hail is quite vague on this point.

All the rights of passage in my life so far have been either dully underwhelming (my Bar Mitzvah? my driver’s license? my 18th birthday?), or they’ve been sudden, shocking, and rushed (graduation, first apartment, income taxes). None left me with a sense of having transformed in any believable way. When I have felt initiated, it has typically been into something unwelcome. (Oh, boy. Now I’m a taxpayer.)

Photo: Dave Millar

America doesn’t really have formal initiations. We have prescribed achievements, hoops to jump through, but they don’t come with any kind of clarity or assurance. Our institutions offer us degrees or licenses or certificates, but it’s still up to us to figure out for ourselves what good they are.

When I think of my ideal, romanticized rite of passage I wish I’d had, I wish for two things: some kind of shared experience, in which my community recognizes the occasion together, and some set of values or principles that become mine to live by afterward, so I know what to do.

Whether I imagine some solitary wilderness trial, or a purging, cleansing ritual, or some kind of quest, or some transmission from the elders, whatever exotic, nostalgic rite comes to mind, I want this communal recognition that something BIG has happened, and I want a way to understand what it means.

Read more »

June 7th, 2011  |  Filed under Spirituality

Burning Man isn’t the Happiest Therapist’s Office on Earth

Greatest ... theme camp ... ever ...

This may be out of left field, but that’s where I live: If Congressman Anthony Weiner (D-easy laugh) had gone to Burning Man every year, would he still have been self-destructive enough to send damaging photos of himself to women he only knew online?

 

The answer is: probably, yes. But I ask because I frequently hear people talk about Burning Man as though it were exactly this kind of sanity check. You’ve heard it too:

“Burning Man is the one place where I can really feel like myself!”

“I go to Burning Man to let my freak flag fly, and that gets me through the rest of the year!”

“Where did this tattoo come from? How far down does it … what’s Camp Thunder Ink, and am I really its mayor?”

The notion that Burning Man is a kind of therapeutic spa for creative spirits – the place we go to be gifted chicken soup for the soul – is even implied in our official language. It’s different from the “default world”; coming and going from Burner events is “decompressing” and “recompressing.” There’s a deep notion that coming to Burning Man is the equivalent of getting psychological work done, and this makes you better able to cope with the cruelties of a world where people don’t wear fuzzy boots before Labor Day.

If this is true … and I know at least three DJs who swear it is … then it ought to show up not just in the things we *do* in the default world (the activism, the saving the environment, the being the change we want to see – like Gandhi with glow sticks), but in the things we *don’t do* in the default world. “Decompressing” ought to save us from the kind of pressure that pushes us to do immensely stupid self-destructive things.

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June 1st, 2011  |  Filed under Spirituality

What Time Is It?

Photo: mkgraph

A rite of passage is an act of growing up, and I don’t just mean maturing; I mean getting older. Time, at least from our ordinary, human perspective, only moves forward.

As rites of passage go, our week at Burning Man is pretty long. That’s a lot of time to reflect, a lot of days to fill with activity. Where should we go next? What should we do? For a ritual, this Burning Man thing seems kind of unstructured. Now that we’re here, are we just supposed to wander around?

Of course, the ritual does have a structure; it’s just more complex than the structure of, say, a Caribbean cruise, where some guy in shorts and a white sun visor tells you what to do all day.

There’s the burning of the Man on Saturday night, of course, and the Temple the next night. But those are all the way at the end.

What about this morning, now that we’ve finally got the tennis balls on our tent stakes and the pink fur zip-tied to our handlebars?

I guess we’ll look in the What-Where-When Guide… Read more »

April 5th, 2011  |  Filed under Spirituality

Why America Slept

Rites of Passage being our new theme on the playa this year – I’m left to ponder how all rites of passage would become one single passing, if the Earth’s physical systems’ deterioration continues to accelerate. Here’s a musing on the ultimate passing (for us, anyway) and the USA’s role in it.
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There were hundreds of millions of Kindles and Nooks frozen in death, stuck on one page – “Why America Slept.” You can say one thing about us, we were a species that scribbled, texted, hologrammed and burst a blood vessel of pixels in the final years. Every last atrocity was broadcast virally. By 2015, every consumer could make a major feature film with a gadget fitted to the hand. We could dial in our imaginary laughing audience for the sound track. If the revolution wasn’t televised, the end of the world was. Millions of movies would be found on mounds of corpses, still flickering in fingers and suitcases. Of the five known mass extinctions in the history of the earth, this was the only one where the dying species seemed to know what it was doing. Read more »

February 25th, 2011  |  Filed under Culture (Art & Music), Participate!, Spirituality

Life As Theme Camp

Amsterdam

Traveling through Amsterdam in fur pants - as a Theme Camp ambassador.

Burning Man is overflowing with lessons. One that I’m becoming increasingly aware of is that life is more awesome when you live as an ambassador from a Theme Camp.

Last week, during my Hug Nation broadcast, I discussed what Theme Camps are and how they have profoundly affected the way that I interact with the world.

Love,

Halcyon )’(

December 10th, 2010  |  Filed under Spirituality

Power Rangers

Photo: Rygg Larsen

Who are the Millennial Burners, those who came of age alongside Burning Man itself? Is their experience different in any fundamental way from that of the X-ers and Boomers who joined the party at the same time? Is there a distinction at all?

In some ways, Burning Man is such a radical thing that it doesn’t matter who you are while you’re there. Your story starts at chapter 1 when you ring that bell and roll in the dust for the first time.

I don’t care what year it is or how old you are; your first arrival at Burning Man was, is, or will be weird. If you have been to Burning Man, or if your buddy has, chances are you’ve heard the playa compared to the moon or Mars. The playa has been that way for about 10,000 years, since Lake Lahontan dried up, and it has been the site of Burning Man for the 20-odd years since it earned its capital B and M. The place itself is so breathtaking, you won’t recognize the planet on which you live.

Read more »

June 25th, 2010  |  Filed under Spirituality

Theater in a Crowded Fire

As the Burning Blog’s occasional religion and spirituality blogger, I would be remiss if I failed to mention a couple recent posts about Burning Man on other blogs and online mags. However, in this case, I must admit that my task also falls into the category of (cough) blatant self promotion, as I am the author of the interview and guest post in questions (and, coughs again, the book+dvd that inspired them).

The first interview was featured in an excellent online magazine called Religion Dispatches, which seeks to engage diverse, progressive, and academic perspectives on religion in an accessible public forum. My piece (which the editors titled Burning Man: Religious Event or Sheer Hedonism) set out to summarize some of the key ideas in my book–namely, why does Burning Man (sometimes) smell like religion? And, then what does that say about some of the directions that religion seems to be evolving these days? Broadly, I encourage folks to reconsider the concepts of “religion” and “spirituality” as defined less by matters of institution, doctrine, and belief and more by questions of ritual, practice, and experience. From this perspective, Burning Man can be seen as an exemplar of the extent to which spiritual feelings and desires often emerge in settings not traditionally defined as “religious,” and I argue that this should cause us to stop and think about what we mean by the terms “religion,” “ritual,” and “spirituality” in the first place. Cross-culturally speaking, I think the ideas and experiences which we attempt to describe with such language are much larger and more complicated than is popularly understood.

The other essay was a recent guest post on one of my favorite blogs, The Wild Hunt, which is widely considered to be among the best sources for news and commentary on contemporary Paganism. Here, I dig down a bit deeper on a related set of questions about the relationships between Burning Man and NeoPaganism. In this context, I like to distinguish between uppercase Paganism (as a specific family of religious traditions) and lowercase paganism (as an underlying, primal “root religion” that underlies all global religions and that also pops up in festive ritualistic events like Burning Man.)

Finally, I was also interviewed last week by writer and longtime Burner Erik Davis on his Expanding Mind podcast. Along with his co-host Maja D’Aoust, we had a delightful conversation about (you guessed it) Burning Man and its religious elements.

The book itself is the product of over 10 years of participating in and observing Burning Man and its surrounding culture–including numerous interviews and an online survey. (And who knows, maybe some readers here contributed to this research?) I wrote the book because I wanted to tell the story of Burning Man (or, at least, my version of that story), and because I think the event has something important to teach people about the nature of spiritual expression and experience in late modernity.

Finally, since I suspect some readers may wonder if I am abusing Burning Man’s anti-commodification ethos by linking to commercial websites and, well, pitching my project, please believe me when I state that academic publishing typically runs at a loss and academic authors make very little money. Since I’m a big nerd for religion and anthropology, I see this book (and DVD) as my particular art form and as my way of participating in this community. I’m honored to have the venue of this blog to tell folks about it. And should you want more info about me or my project, I’ve put together a simple page here.

Coming soon: a brief recap of other recently published books that cast scholarly eyes on Burning Man.