Sunday, 21 November 2010



...[existential] changes of condition do not occur without disturbing the life of society and the individual, and it is the function of rites of passage to reduce their harmful effects. That such are regarded as real and important is demonstrated by the occurrence of rites, in important ceremonies among widely differing peoples, enacting death in one condition and resurrection in another.

  — Arnold Van Gennep, The Rites of Passage
The story is told of how the first settlers of our city arrived in the Black Rock Desert. Drawing a line in the ground at the edge of the playa, they were told that once they crossed this line, "Everything will be different." Holding hands, they stepped across it. When present day participants arrive at Burning Man they're met by Greeters. Newcomers are invited to ring a bell and roll about in the dust. On the sixth day of the event, participants encircle Burning Man to witness its destruction. Here, for the very first time, an entire community regards itself. People do this with the reassurance that another Man, an always slightly different Man, will rise anew. At the the end of the event, thousands silently surround a temple dedicated to that strangest and most fearful change of all: the loss of loved ones and our ultimate departure from the world. From first to last, Burning Man has always been a rite of passage.
Yet a keener and more poignant meaning can attach to unique instants in the private life of every individual: moments of crisis and frisson, as when a cri de coeur informs us that we've somehow crossed an inner threshold and are changed. Thus moving from one state of being into an unknown other can be frightening. This is not a facile transformation; it obliges us to face our innermost insecurities, and it requires faith, a willingness to leap off the ladder of ordered existence. Our theme this year invites participants to join with others in creating rites of passage. The content of these rites may be as various as life itself. Whether such performances are ludicrous or solemn, their aim is to remove us from the context and the cares of daily life, confront us with our vital need to be, and then return us to the fellowship of a society.

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