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THE ASSLESS CHAPEL NEWSLETTER #43: Ritual and Art Edition

The Chaplain’s Screed

In a week or two, I’ll send out a newsletter focused on tickets and in March I’ll start my cycle of Ten Principles newsletters, with various special or brass-tacks editions mingled in.  For this edition, though, I want to talk about the importance of rituals and art in our lives and the importance of Playa rituals.  It’s a subject I think about often.  In fact, some of you may have been subjected to my rantings about this subject over a glass (or bottle) of wine.


I often think about how secularism – the post-Enlightenment shift in Western societies away from religion as a source of laws – has been a pathway to understanding the material world and sometimes even as a source of morality.  But, while secularism has shown itself to be, I would argue, a better way to run a society, a better way to make sense of the material world and a fine context for the development of morals, it has failed to replace religion’s ability to speak to our souls.


Humans clearly have a need for rituals, ceremonies and traditions.  We clearly have a desire to find meaning in our lives and to live experiences that transcend the purely material.  Whether we believe in souls or not, we clearly benefit from what we call “spirituality.”  The secular world only has, depending where one lives, a few generations of experience of non-religious spirituality, at most.  And, in terms of broad-based acceptance, even less.


Religion, on the other hand, is universal across all known cultures.  And, though religion has been around for at least 5,000 years, sacred rituals predate and likely morphed into religion.

Even those who parody religion seem to enjoy the rituals, as evidenced by the scene below.  It’s taken from a gathering of the Church of the Subgenius, which has a lot of overlap with Burning Man and was a significant cultural influence in Burning Man’s early days.  (Their website is quite the rabbit hole to go down and full of beautifully pseudo-religious babble.)



While they’re clearly making fun of religion and its rituals, the staying power of the Church of Subgenius’ gatherings and the strength of these communities are evidence that these counter-rituals are, themselves, meaningful rituals that bring fulfillment to the participants.


Compared to the Church of Subgenius, Burning Man’s rituals are even more clearly catering to that same need that religion and its predecessor rituals have been satisfying for tens of thousands of years.  For one, Black Rock City and the Playa are filled with art that elevates the viewer’s comprehension and appreciation of the world and the human experience.  Similarly, our species’ history includes tens or hundreds of thousands of years of symbolic and ritual art.  While the best known are cave paintings, I am most amazed by the story of the so-called “Venus” figurines.


The Venus figurines are little statuettes that occurred across all of Europe and much of Asia.  They are depictions of corpulent, concupiscent women with prominent breasts and no or indistinct facial features.  They are notable because obese women were likely nearly unknown at the time; similar figurines were found across a huge swath of geography during an era of presumably little globalization; and they occur across a stretch of time of tens, maybe even hundreds, of thousands of years.



Though we can only speculate as to the figurines’ role in human culture at the time, one can assume a high likelihood that they were ritual objects and that each simultaneously reflected aspects of the artist and of a broad cultural link across tribal peoples at the time.  Burning Man is similarly filled with diverse art that often has a specific Burning Man style and fits into our rituals: communal effort to produce the art, ritual burnings (sometimes) and - in a continuation of art-linked rituals that goes back to the Venus figurines - gathering with our campmates and strangers around the art.


Even more than these little figurines, we can see Burning Man’s continuation of ritual and art when we consider humanity’s prehistoric megalithic constructions.  For about 10,000 years, people in Eurasia, built big-ass art out of big-ass stones, often to host big-ass, ritual gatherings.  While Stonehenge is the best-known, there are over 35,000 megalithic art sites.  When I see the communal effort to produce the large-scale Playa art, not the least of which are the Temple and The Man, and their burn rituals, I think of Burning Man as carrying a torch that was lit over 10,000 years ago.


Gatherings around prehistoric art likely featured an important aspect of religion: ecstatic experience and other altered states of consciousness and non-normal experiences, generally in a specific time, space and/or context.  Ecstasy is commonly induced through creative activities, meditation, music, dancing, breathing exercises, physical exertion, sexual intercourse or, of course, consumption of psychotropic substances.  For most of human history there was a religious or at least ritual element to this.  I would argue that Burning Man similarly serves to provide a ritual element and a designated time and space in which ecstatic experiences are not only accepted but encouraged.


Why am I going off about this?  Am I trying to convert the Chapel into a bona fide church or, better yet, a cult?  Nope, of course not.  I’m just often turning over in my head why this thing means so much to me and to others.  You can find many articles arguing that Burning Man is a religion, religious experience or cult.  I disagree; but I think it meets many of the needs that religion does for the religious and that go unmet for the great majority of non-religious people - and many religious ones, too - for the majority of their material lives.


I’d also like to encourage everyone to actively think about the rituals we are creating for our camp.  We are a camp infused with ritual, especially the weddings.  But we also host rituals for ourselves, whether it’s Curtis’ moderation of self-improvement discussions, the semi-Jewish ceremonies I like to put on or our sharing in labor and resources.  So, please feel free to add your touch to our camp rituals – they mean something.


“The function of ritual, as I understand it, is to give form to human life, not in the way of a mere surface arrangement, but in depth.”

-Joseph Campbell


Group News


SF Burnal Equinox is coming up.  I plan to go; I think Becky will make it; Sia might.  Mo wants to bring a couple people with her to man the Tiny Bar this year.  She may apply for Placement on her own, but we’ll make sure we’re all camping together no matter what.  Peaches’ lovely beau, Peter, plans to join us this year.  Becky is officially set on camping at the Chapel again this year. 

 

My friend Matt wants to come and bring his lady, Danielle.  I asked Matt to join quite a while ago, but our camp is full if not overfull, so I’m working on a solution, possibly including our neighbors or nearby open camping.  I’ve added him and Danielle to our email list.

 

If you have any news you’d like to share with the group, please let me know.


Camp Planning


Wedding Planning


I sent the Pershing County Clerk a lovely card of Ashlee and Michael getting married out on the Playa.  I posted a bunch of “ads” for our weddings to seven different Burning Man groups on Facebook.


Hey, does anyone have any ideas for the graphic of the bride and groom on our wedding certificates this year and/or is willing to do a little bit of graphic design?  Based on feedback, I think we’re going to call our temporary marriages “Marriage Curiouser.”  Also, I’m trying to put together a wedding at Center Camp with our neighbor camps serving food and Mo (hopefully – I haven’t asked yet) serving tiny drinks.  I think it would be fun.  Any thoughts?


Other Camp Planning


Both Kelly’s and Burning My Crepe would like to do a HUBS with us.  I love their camps and will have to introduce them to each other soon.  I’m hoping we can do a joint party one night.  We’re also looking into sharing some resources with them to increase our sustainability.  I’m going through my Burning Man tools and replacing or repairing anything that needs it.  I’ve also bought some more lighting, which, like cowbell, one tends to need more of.


Black Rock City News


I listened to an interview on Burning Man Live of Level, who is in charge of Placement.  Interesting stuff, if you’re looking for a podcast episode to fill some time while you’re driving or, I don’t know, sewing a new pair of assless chaps.


If you’ve ever fallen in love at Burning Man, someone is collecting Burning Man love stories.  It’s part of a series called ‘This One Time at Burning Man’ and this one, of course, is ‘This One Time at Burning Man: I Fell in Love.’


Placement / Ticket News


Placement News


Here are my current predictions on the placement calendar for this year:

·         I’ve already sent in our Statement of Intent. 

·         March 28th: Our actual Camp Questionnaire is due.  I’ll send a first draft to everyone in February.

·         May 15th (est.): Camp listings go live.

·         June 15th (est.): Placement announces approximate location.

·         June 22nd (est.): WhatWhereWhen opens up.

·         July 10th (est.): Placement announces neighbors.

·         August 19th: First WAP entries.

·         October 24th: Post-Playa Report due (opens in September).


Ticketing News


Clear your calendars for important ticketing dates!  I’ve highlighted the important ticket dates in red for your convenience.  Our next important ticketing date is the opening of Ticket Aid.  Here’s a Google Calendar invite for that.


I’ll go into more detail on ticketing in the next newsletter but know that we are not where we wanted to be at this point.  I’m not certain we can rely on the two tickets Curtis gets from Mona and I am unsure if I will get a gift ticket from BORG like I did last year.  I do expect that we’ll get 4 Stewards Sale tickets and, as always, I have a couple of backup plans up my sleeve.

Here is the ticketing calendar this year (note that typically these events occur at noon PST):


·         FOMO sale is open (don’t do it!)

·         February 21st: Stewards Sale tickets allocated.

·         March 1st: Stewards Sale form opens.

·         March 8th: Steward Sale form closes.

·         March 13th: Stewards Sale opens.

·         March 15th: Stewards sale ends.

·         March 20th: Ticket Aid opens.

·         April 10th: Main Sale registration opens.

·         April 12th: Main Sale registration closes.

·         April 17th: Main Sale.

·         April 26th (est.): STEP opens.

·         June 5th: Ticket Aid closes.

·         June 29th: Last date to make changes to WAPs.

·         July 20th: WAPs allocated.

·         July 24th: OMG registration opens.

·         July 26th: OMG registration closes.

·         July 30th: OMG Sale.

·         August 10th (est.): WAPS sent to Assless Chaplain.

·         August 12th (est.): WAPS, tickets and vehicle pass distribution finalized within camp.



Current Pre-Build, Build Week, Burn Week and Exodus Schedule


Here is my very preliminary schedule for pre-build, build week, burn week, Exodus and post-Exodus (keep in mind there will be many changes and additions):


You may have noticed that I added color-coding to show the expected brightness of the sky (assuming no clouds), based on the moon, for the period we might be on-Playa.


Upcoming Tasks


To Do in the Next 10 Days


Everybody

·         If you haven’t yet, please look through the spreadsheet, so you know where to find essential information.

·         Let me know if you have any news you want to share.

·         Clear your calendars for ticket sale dates.

·         Weigh in with your thoughts on doing a legal wedding at Center Camp, with Kelly’s and Burning My Crêpe serving food and Mo serving drinks (we should definitely have other drinks, too, so Mo isn’t overwhelmed).  I want to hear particularly from you, Mo!

·         Report on Stewards’ Sale allocation.


To Do in the Next 30 Days


TAC

·         Review red folder and begin Quixotic quest to share with everyone.

·         Manage Stewards Sale.

·         Attend Camp Symposium and visit Placement BORG HQ - San Francisco.


To Do in the Next 60 Days


TAC

·         Camp Questionnaire


Everyone

·         Updated Agreements (I haven’t sent them out yet.)

·         Apply for Ticket Aid, if you think you can get it.


Closing Thoughts


I’m digging a couple of quotes lately.  The first is from Hunter S. Thompson and I feel it’s apropos to Burning Man:


“Maybe it meant something.  Maybe not, in the long run, but no explanation, no mix of words or  music or memories can touch that sense of knowing that you were there and alive in that corner of time and the world.  Whatever it meant.”

– Hunter S. Thompson


The second quote is one that I read in a book called “The Book of Worldly Wisdom.”  It made me think of you all:


Cultivate those who can teach you.

Let friendly intercourse be a school of knowledge, and culture be taught through conversation:  thus you make your friends your teachers and mingle the pleasures of conversation with the advantages of instruction. Sensible persons thus enjoy alternating pleasures: they reap applause for what they say, and gain instruction from what they hear.

- Balthasar Gracian


The Man Burns in 199 days! 

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