Whole Life Magazine

August/September 2014

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Page 21 of 43

L ate every summer, 60,000 weekend (or week-long) warriors pack RVs with pimped-out bicycles, orescent pink and orange wardrobes, goggles, bandanas and whatever other accoutrement assist them in not only surviving but thriving in Nevada's summer heat. ey y into Reno and San Francisco and Vegas and drive hundreds of miles into the desert to converge at Black Rock, a bleak and lonely landscape transformed into a carnival of colors, sounds and lights in what has become one of the planet's most beloved mass gatherings of the modern era. e voyage itself has all the makings of an epic journey, the stu of mythology. Hours of desert driving prepare your brain for the adventure ahead. Once you hit Gerlach, a single-lane road winds out of this small town whose economy has bene ted immensely from annual pilgrimages: gas, food and bikes all available in and out of Black Rock City. e anticipation builds. Normally the slow hour over unpaved terrain would be torturous. Yet that, too, is part of the ritual known as Burning Man. As the festival has grown from a few dozen friends on a beach outside of San Francisco to a multimillion dollar industry, critics claim Burning Man has lost its soul. While it has changed drastically (given noticeable di erences between my visits in 2007 and 2012), this fete, like hundreds of smaller gatherings produced year-round in America, serves our basic needs of connection and creative expression. We are social animals; assembling in groups is part of our genetic identity. e mythologist Joseph Campbell discussed rituals we all recognize—marriage, death, presidential inaugurations, new employment—by which the individual is transformed in ways that are critical to the social fabric. When we enter a courtroom, for example, the judge is playing a mythological role that (ideally) supersedes the individual donning the black robe, just as two people are joined through the ceremony of marriage. One of the tragedies of modern America, Campbell writes, is that we have lost certain mythological rituals, such as the passage from childhood to adulthood. Cultures long celebrated this rite, which continues in many non-industrialized cultures today. In our Western culture however, initiation, such as it is, is facilitated by our educational system—you graduate and get a job—without the larger cosmological inheritance that mythologies involve. With this loss, he believes, an integral part of being human has been shattered. And so we create new rituals to ll this void. Which is why festival going, a trend that picked up steam in the United States in the 1960s, has evolved over the last half-century to suit our ritualistic needs. Festivals today o er a growing secular culture what used to be found in religion: a festive place to gather and celebrate spirituality, perhaps even play out our own rites of passage. While from the outside these congregations can appear bacchanal and exploitative—alcohol and drug use run rampant— they also serve the need for mass ritual and shared endeavor. ey W H Y F E S T I V A L S S AT I S F Y O U R S P I R I T U A L L O N G I N G BEATS MERGE WHERE BREATH AND BY DEREK BERES Photos bottom to top: Jessica Gorman, Daniel Jung LIB PRANAFEST 22 wholelifetimesmagazine.com

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