Burning Man, Black Rock City, NV, 2017; Themed “Radical Ritual”
Art installation: Promethean Passion...
On Saturday, before the man burned I asked my earnest apprentice to light a lamp from the sacred cauldron at Center Camp. That’s the same fire taken every year direct from the sun -- the very flame used to ignite both the Man and the great Temple. Joseph carried the lamp across the desert to me, where I was preparing mind and spirit for a sacred ritual -- I was relieved to see the flame had survived the trip. That flame was key to to the success of our ritual soon to be performed before the hallowed Temple; spiritual center of a global art movement.
My playa crew left to watch The Man burn and I stayed behind to bring Fire Inside to “Promethean Passion” quietly, alone.
That wooden, new-age Minuteman had been carved in public over a series of Burning Community events and even once in Black Rock City, for “Rites of Passage”, 2011. Now our self-imposed mission was to germinate seeds already sewn in the Burning Community, the global community itself made possible by Liberty. Now we were here to consecrate two talisman for Liberty which, like my monuments and like the powerful Burning Community, has fire at its core.
You may have heard the tragic story – about the suicide in the fire that consumed the iconic Burning Man early that night. The next day I was to learn that all fires on-playa had been banned for the night on account of the horrible happening, but tonight my fire was raging as planned by the time news of the sad occurrence reached me. Rangers all around, but none informed, or told us to cese, perhaps by special order? So it happened that Promethean Passion was the only fire burning that late summer night in BRC. I believe the angst and heightened alert manifested as intent that night and through the very breath of that special community it entered into our talisman. The juju was thicker than the smoke as showgoers, hungry for fire, anxiously drove and suppressed the cracking flames simultaneously with copper tubes and water blasters, sculpting with fire at my direction.
As we sculpted, my helpers listened wide-eyed to my tales about the extreme antiquity of Liberty ... about the ideal descending from a golden age, from before the deluge, when gods taught and ruled humanity. I told them about the oldest known word for Liberty, “Amagi”. The only fire on-playa cracked sharply as I relayed the ancient word, come to us on Sumerian clay text. “But”, I posed, “Will the ancient flame still perish on our watch?”
On Sunday night they burned the Temple, and the flames were glorious … just the type I’d struggled for months in the dry heat of Nevada to capture in wood! As the Temple fire raged, so too would our still-in-progress "Liberty Torch", The Man’s face engulfed in wooden flames, now to become a second talisman; this one tuned to kindle a Renaissance. The next liberation of humanity was already smoldering in the Burning Community.
Early-on the flames found streaks of “peky” in the cedar and climbed uncontrollably! With Temple burn spectators pressed tightly around us we feared for their safety and scrambled to extinguish the flames! The surface flames yielded, but embers hid stubbornly in pockets, roasting there in near perfect stealth. All through the Temple burn, we fought the embers nesting, coy inside the wooden flames. Smoke revealed where water couldn't go as the great Temple crumbled, seemingly in sync. As the Temple crowds began to thin, meekly we decided to let the burn advance, to open with fire -- hopefully to create a path for water. And so deeper into the night we scrambled, this time to manage a mean dog on leash of water, both critical and scarce.
As the night deepened, ever colder winds drove the flames until an uncertain choice emerged: To stay the course and carve the wooden flames with fire as we had come to do -- and risk a raging fire we hadn’t the means to quell ... or extinguish now and carve with fire another time. But in harmony with what sacred Temple fire ... capture the passion of what extraordinary community? As Fire Meister the question was mine to wrestle, but alas, the fire raged for hours before I could decide.
When finally I gave the order to extinguish, eager crew and helpers dashed in with spritzers and soakers to put down the last remaining ember, but we would fight the angry mountain of wood for hours still, so stubborn was the fire inside the talisman for Renaissance.
And so two more monuments joined the traveling collection of playa artifacts we call Liberty (R)evolution.
-- Matthew “Timeless” Welter
By morning light the smell of soot was sour and our water all but gone. We sat; curled, laying and kneeling in the thick gray dust … exhausted silence. No smoke for one hour now ... Shhhh ... we were pleased. All that passion -- the Temple burning, the touch and go ritual, the end of another epic festival … all of it simmering still in Liberty Torch, like the embers now dead in the strange, steaming relic before us.