by Derek Beres
The annual ritual known as Burning Man probably had 60,900 meanings for everyone in attendance this year.
But my second sojourn to the festival in the desert verified what I recalled from my first:
This is the most widespread example that America has at consciously creating a modern mythology. Myths have always had conscious and unconscious elements -- the ritual is consciously constructed, but what happens within the container of the construction is anyone's guess. This is the empty space where magic happens.
To dive further into this idea, I'd like to use
Joseph Campbell's four functions of a mythology
to show how Burning Man is a mythology in the making, creating a social order relevant to our time, right now, 2012 America.
1. The Mystical Function
Campbell's first requirement was that mythology must inspire awe in the universe.
All mythologies were created by humans therefore, what really matters is imagination.
Burning Man is a safe space to fully explore and share your creative edge.
2. The Cosmological Function
Campbell's second function was that a mythology had to explain the shape of the universe.
The shape of Burning Man is impermanence, a principle deeply entwined with Buddhism.
Theology teaches us the importance of the afterlife, which often serves as a way of not taking responsibility for the life we are living now.
When the man burns on Saturday evening, we are reminded not only of very old fire mythologies....
Celebrating the process for what it is defines our cosmological outlook.
3. The Sociological Function
Once we understand that nothing in nature lasts, we are free to design our own social order in accordance with that process.
This year I camped at Fractal Nation, where the mayor, Charles Shaw, believes that Burning Man is "post-apocalyptic training." He went on to state that it's not some biblical apocalypse he's invoking, but rather the process of watching what's going on around us: a crumbling economy, a split government and a cultural anxiety unseen in American history, save maybe when we began stealing this land from its former inhabitants.
4. The Pedagogical Function
The fourth is most interesting in terms of Burning Man:
how to live under any circumstances.
This function carries humans through all stages of life, from birth and childhood to adulthood and beyond. Most importantly, it deals with teaching us how live with integrity. The function is designed to teach people how to realize themselves.
Burning Man is a valuable container for such exploration.
While there's nothing wrong with criticism, being able to define how consciousness is evolving, which will inherently be how your consciousness is evolving, in purely positive terms allows you to imagine a reality you want to create, that you are excited about taking part in....
One teacher of mine always remarks, how we do anything is how we do everything.
Having a community support our progress and creativity on such a scale is unlike anything America is experiencing. Ritual is a human function; it will appear whether or not we consciously create it.
The only idea that matters is the one we create and live with our fullest and most uninhibited expression. This is how the mythologies we invent define us, and how we live our mythology without fear.
Derek Beres: The Mythology of Burning Man