My burning idea

Many Burners know that empty feeling after returning from a Burn.

It’s a longing felt on return to our “real” lives, after the joy of being surrounded by people partying and embracing the 10 principles as a way of life.

It’s no wonder that “decompression” events are popular in many cities to reunite Burners but how else might we stoke the flames that are kindled with each Burn?

In the following I’ll outline a few thoughts and propose a way to promote the principles in our lives.

For many attending a Burn it is a transformative experience. Transformative experiences are sometimes described as Rites of Passage and traditionally mark a shift such as that from childhood to adulthood. The term is an Anglicisation of rite de passage, which was the title of an influential work by Arnold van Gennep.

Gennep identified three phases in a rite of passage: separation, liminality and incorporation.

Attending a Burn requires travel, which separates us from our daily lives. Liminality is often associated with an inversion of norms and I suggest that experiences at a Burn fit this description, whether it’s one of a range of activities or simply experiencing the gift economy.

For me the gift economy was a pivotal moment at my first Burn and one I’ve observed in others. That moment when you’re surprised by being given something creates good will and a desire to return the favour. Such unbalanced reciprocity is usually only is shown between people who already have a close relationship and has the effect of breaking down barriers between attendees at a Burn event.

It seems to me that Burn events would benefit from recognition of the last of the three stages: incorporation.

The traditional view of rites of passage, such as customs for recognising adulthood, saw the experience as fundamental to human growth. A child would leave their family, undergo a custom that reinforced key beliefs of their society and return to their people, who would recognise that a transformation had taken place.

The final step of incorporation is obviously not something we can expect from our “real” lives but it is one that can be promoted at a Burn event. At present those attending a Burn are greeted but often not farewelled and I think this would be a beneficial addition.

What I propose is that a group of ‘farewellers’ would encourage Burners to take the positivity of their experience back into their communities, particularly the gift economy.

I think an ideal mechanism for this would be farewellers arming each Burner with a variety of vegetable seeds and encouraging them to grow produce for a meal to share with their neighbours as a way of building their local networks and continuing to incorporate the Burner principles in our lives.

The idea would be that Burners go home, grow food and invite their neighbours over for a meal. This would encourage the growth of local communities, building trust and support among those who are geographically close to us.

This would promote some of the 10 principles in our ‘real’ lives and, I hope in doing so, keep the flame alive after the Burn.