The Altar of Intention.
—by John deJong
The best part of the best party in the universe isn’t about partying at all. It’s the Temple burn at Burning Man. Each year for the last fifteen years there has been a temple dedicated to those who have passed in the last year. The Temple is the focal point of our/Burners wishes and regrets for those we have lost. By the end of the week the structure is covered with heartfelt inscriptions and makeshift altars to persons and passions we have lost. Reading the inscriptions as you walk through the Temple is a lot like listening in on the gods’ bereavement prayer hotline (whichever god is on duty.)* There’s not a dry eye in the house.
Then on Sunday night the Temple is burned in a ceremony that makes high mass in St. Peter’s basilica for a dead supreme court justice seem festive. Sixty thousand people fixed on their loss. No firework extravaganza like the Man burn, maybe bagpipes or an aria, that’s it.
The power of the Temple burn comes from the generally unreligious character of most burners. At least in the sense of any organized religion. Perhaps the central function of religion is to ease our passing and the passing of our friends. The Temple burn gives a certain finality to our/a pagan’s losses.
For years I’ve been impressed with the power of this phenomenon and have begun to wonder whether it could be channeled toward the future. Would it be possible to build an Altar of Intention to focus this energy into the future?
Four years ago I helped build a 20-foot tall Bee Goddess for Burning Man with a local crew. I had resisted getting into burnable art for fear of becoming a pyromaniac. Bwah hah hah hah hah. Since Boy Scouts I’ve been good at making fires and have loved watching the flames.
I started playing with Legos again at the age of fifty, after a hiatus of 30 years. It’s usually a bag of random lego pieces I bought at a yard sale or Desert Industries. I try to use just the pieces in the bag. I usually build altars, temples, towers or stairways to nowhere. Recently, I’ve been thinking about building a full-scale version of one of them at Burning Man.
One of my lego temples suggested itself as The Altar of Intention as soon as I returned from Burning Man last year. Just as soon, the same crew that built the Bee Goddess proposed building the Temple at Burning Man in 2017 (see the January 2016 Catalyst Calendar) and needed a test project to explore the use of lasers to “paint” a labyrinth on the surface of the playa at night.
As of press date I’m waiting to hear about funding from Burning Man Arts for our proposal to build the Altar of Intention. I’ll let you know in the Weekly Reader when we find out.
* There usually is a “Talk To God” phone booth out on the playa at Burning Man (see the cover of the August 2015 Catalyst), where you can talk on the phone to God. Whichever one is on duty.
John deJong is associate publisher of CATALYST. He loves building things to burn and writes his own bios on occasion.