Burning Man: Order. Community. Transformation. Part One

Ritual, such as the labyrinth, provides us with Order, Community, and Transformation.

ORDER in ritual is two-fold.  On the one hand, ritual tends to be, well, ritualistic.  This is pretty self-evident, since one thing humans crave is repetitive comfort.  Have you ever tried to skip a page when reading a favorite bedtime book to a child?  Or not do the funny voice?

Worse, have you ever suggested to a Presbyterian that for maybe this one service they might consider changing the order of the service in order to drive a metaphorical point home more clearly?

So the fact that most rituals include repetitive elements provides us a comfortable and comforting order.  There’s more, though: just like the child getting ready for sleep or the Presbyterian preparing to enter God’s presence, the comfort of ritual order provides a structure for liminality, for crossing the border between the daily world and the space in which we encounter the Infinite.  You might consider it to be the same kind of repetitive structure that engenders hypnosis, and indeed some rituals are designed to induce meditative or trance states.

On the other hand, ritual creates order from chaos, both social and universal.  Many magical rituals are explicit in their goal of make the universe and its matter “behave” in accordance with the desires of the participants.  I would include most religious rituals in this pattern.

Many rituals are used by social groups to restore a broken or disrupted order.  These can range from the stereotypical “husband bringing flowers to an angry wife” through a rain dance (or—forgive me—a Texas Baptist church’s prayers for the same effect) to the elaborate tribal rituals studied by Victor Turner (PDF, p. 361)—all of which are enacted in order to make things right.

The Labyrinth of the 3 Old Men will offer the structured order of ritual to participants.  Of course, we make no claim that the ritual is designed to restore order in any cosmic sense; that is up to the individual participant.  However, the path of the labyrinth and the presence of the Old Men as officiants, as well as the agones offered to the participants upon their exit, provide a reliable order for each participant to approach liminality on their own.

I was going to do all three aspects today, but that’s going to make for a very long, text-heavy post, so let’s split it up into three separate posts.

Tomorrow: Community.

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