Why Do People Go To Burning Man and What Rules Guide Them?

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In 1986, a group of friends gathered some scrap wood and built an eight foot tall man-like figure. They tossed it in the back of their truck, and drove down to the nearest beach. At sundown, they set the wooden man ablaze.

As the burning man illuminated the night, passers-by stopped to marvel at it. In total, about 35 people gathered around that burning effigy on the beach that night.

30 years later, over 60,000 people plan to make the pilgrimage to Nevada’s desolate Black Rock Desert to attend the Burning Man Festival. The festival, which began on Sunday and will last to Labor Day, attracts creative spirits from all over the globe.

The artists and performers gather not just to bear witness to the giant burning man—standing at 69 feet tall in 2015 and 105 feet tall in 2014—but to engage in all forms of self-expression. Burning Man encourages guests to share their unique talents and gifts with everyone else in attendance.

Burning Man

The 2012 Burning Man.

This is how the festival markets itself on its website:

Burning Man isn’t your usual festival. It’s a city wherein almost everything that happens is created entirely by its citizens, who are active participants in the experience.

The festival aims to create an idyllic community where goods and services are exchanged for other goods and services. Because of this, there is no need for money while attending Burning Man.

In 2004, festival co-founder Larry Harvey wrote the 10 guiding principles of Burning Man:

Radical inclusion: The festival encourages all people to attend, whether it’s your first Burning Man or your 30th.

Gifting: The festival encourages an environment of altruistic gift-giving where everyone shares with each other.

Decommodification: Burning Man avoids any and all commercial interference including corporate sponsorship, financial transactions or advertising.

Radical self-reliance: Burning Man encourages participants to rely on their own inner strengths and resources to discover themselves.

Radical self-expression: Each individual has a specific gift or talent that should be respected, valued and shared.

Communal effort: Festival-goers must help foster an environment of cooperation and creativity.

Civic responsibility: Participants should have respect for everyone, including non participants and should obey civil laws and ordinances.

Leaving no trace: Festival-goers should respect the natural environment by cleaning up after themselves.

Participation: To be is to do. The festival highly encourages attendees participate as much as they can.

Immediacy: Attendees seek to get in touch with their inner selves as well as the reality around them.

These principles reflect the development of the community’s culture. As the festival moves forward, the guidelines may change to better reflect the community it attracts.

Ryan Trickey is a freelance writer for Weekend Collective and performs stand-up comedy in Kansas City, Missouri.

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