3 Old Men: mapping the field of ritual, redux, part 3

I’m revisiting my explication of 3 Old Men in terms of Ronald Grimes’ Beginnings in Ritual Studies.

: Ritual time :

[original post here]

At what time of day does the ritual occur—night, dawn, dusk, midday?  What other concurrent activities happen that might supplement or compete with it?  … At what season?  Does it always happen at this time? Is it a one-time affair or a recurring one? … How does ritual time coincide or conflict with ordinary times, for instance work time or sleeping time? … What is the duration of the rite?  Does it have phases, interludes, or breaks?  How long is necessary to prepare for it?  … What elements are repeated within the duration of the rite?  Does the rite taper off or end abruptly? … What role does age play in the content and officiating of the rite?

The Great Ritual, i.e., Burning Man/Alchemy/wherever, determines when the 3 Old Men emerge from the mists and perform their ritual.

As I posted earlier, we had decided on dawn, sunset, an hour after sunset, and midnight as the four times we would perform the ritual—but the exigencies of weather convinced us to dump the dawn and add noon instead right off the bat.

The fact that I misunderstood the chart I used to determine sunset each day (neglecting to account for DST) meant that we had submitted a schedule to the central committee that had us out there at sunset and an hour before. (At our very first performance of the ritual, it seemed to me that it was very much daylight; nothing like taking your clothes off in front of a steady stream of traffic arriving at the burn.)

But we stuck with it, just in case someone out there had downloaded the schedule and came looking for us. It worked, although I think next time we will go with the actual sunset and an hour afterwards. We look awesome by the flickering of the tiki torches.

I’m also fine with our canceling ritual performances when it’s too freaking cold to smear liquid kaolin over our naked bodies, although that last performance with the blankets/shawls was great too. We could legitimately make actual shawls/serapes to wear if it’s chilly.

As for supplementary or competing activities… Well, that’s what makes it a burn, ne-ç’est pas?

I like the fact that we were available most of the time to assist those walking the labyrinth even when we aren’t out there in full regalia. I like how people felt comfortable sitting and chatting. I think our canopies could be better deployed as a decompression area.

In the original post, I talked about the Great Ritual of Burning Man vs. the small ritual of the labyrinth. I think the same concept can be applied to 3 Old Men itself: the Great Ritual of the officiants vs. the open labyrinth the rest of the time. Four times a day, the Old Men would take their places at the entrances to the labyrinth and offer the agons to participants. Otherwise, the labyrinth lay open for exploration and meditation. I think this worked. I do want to continue to recruit Old Men so that we can offer more/longer sessions. I think it would be great if we were “open,” so to speak, the entire time Incendia was up and running, for example.

I think we ended up manning our posts about 30 minutes each time. It seemed adequate; more officiants would allow us to tag team and keep going.

As for “age” as a determinant for participation, I really like the fact that all of us were over 45 at least. For me, the entire experience was a profound meditation on being an Old Man and how powerful that was. I don’t know how I would feel if a young man (say, the kid who stripped and painted himself) asked if he could camp with us or officiate.

2 thoughts on “3 Old Men: mapping the field of ritual, redux, part 3

  1. I think there is room for musicians to accompany us or someone at the entrance if we have young’uns who would like to participate. I think it’ll be a good idea to keep the 3 old men to a certain level of maturity. IMO, that’s where some of the mojo comes from.

    I hope we get the same spot across from Incendia next year.

  2. I agree, Craig. Case in point: Will (GHP 96) playing his cello Friday afternoon. It was amazing. And I don’t know if anyone else saw the ritual from the outside and thought the same as I did: we looked totemic. It was amazing, and I think — honestly — that a taut, young, beautiful body, smeared with kaolin, flicking in candlelight ::taking a moment here:: would give a completely different vibe than we did. We were powerful. I really think that’s one reason we weren’t visited by more people. The labyrinth appeared to be a serious test.

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