Who is the Burning Woman and what does she have to teach us?
A Fire Goddess exists in virtually every ancient wisdom tradition and indigenous pantheon the world over and throughout history.
In ancient times, people considered fire one of the basic elements of the universe, along with water, air and earth. The myth of the phoenix rising from the ashes is powerful in part because, of all the elements, fire is the only one we should never touch. Contact with fire leaves one fundamentally changed, and the mythological aspect here taps into a kind of ritual death & rebirth, granting fire a cleansing and creative essence. In Latin, the word for hearth is “focus,” the first altar and center of early tribal life. It is interesting to look at what that word has come to mean today – most commonly signifying concentration or purpose, and most poetically, the point at which rays of light refracted by a lens (like an eyeball) converge.
The Roman Goddess of the Hearth was Vesta, and Hestia in Greece before her, whose priestesses tended the perpetual flame of the city. The hearth’s location at the center of the home and the symbolic center of the city is significant. The fire goddess’s persistence in Greco-Roman times, an era when women have lost the rights of citizenship, is also significant.
In Hawaii we know her as Pele, “She-Who-Shapes-The Sacred-Land.” She is Oya in the Yoruba pantheon, a fire goddess capable of controlling the weather, whose archetypal resonance with the character Storm in the D.C. Comics and blockbuster X-men movies is undeniable. Another fascinating modern day incarnation is Daenerys Stormborn, The Unburnt Mother of Dragons and fan favorite from the popular Game of Thrones. “The Fire Goddess of Bengal,” a politician in West Bengal – Mamata Banerjeeis, is currently celebrated as a living embodiment of the goddess. In a small way, I celebrate the Burning Woman each summer in my outdoor circus performances by featuring a fire spinner in the finale.
The famous Burning Man event held in the Nevada desert each summer celebrates principles of self-reliance, gift economy, leaving no trace and personal freedom. The Burner principles are ancient, predating the desert scene by millennia, where they used to make up the commonsense practices of virtually all indigenous cultures.
Burning Woman is an intimate local affair, based on localized self-reliance, rooted in community trying to make a better world which is actually sustainable, progressive, environmentally-regenerative and integrated into the local community. A trek into the desert is one thing. How about a trek into the desert of your soul? How about confronting the desert you feel inside and opening your eyes to the abundant world around you?
Only in paradise is the sky blue.
And a big ball of fire far, far away in the same galaxy illuminates the whole thing.
Dear Friends –
Last summer at our first Burning Woman Festival, representatives of CT Burners showed up just to tell us they would not be attending. I was saddened. We had done a poor job of communicating our intentions and we had offended them.
Part of me was also perplexed. I thought, so much for the gift economy! Which upon inspection, means that the Burners did not see our offering as a gift. They saw it as a threat to, or something which detracted from, their abundance.
Burning Man is a revolutionary thing, and as a protest, extraordinary. Visually, the art-laden desert scene is stunning and politically, the event creates the space to experiment with and experience a true gift economy temporarily. But although no money is exchanged during the time in the desert, a lot of money is exchanged in the preparation and collection of goods and art to get out there. (The Wonderful, Weird Economy of Burning Man – The Atlantic)
Leave no trace is great, but the garbage still goes somewhere (hundreds of thousands of plastic water bottles alone). How about a commitment to making less of it? This demands return to local economies which will for sometime, rely on monetary exchange – the CT Burners biggest complaint against us last summer. We had a food vendor who charged $5 for a generous plate of vegan non-gmo, organic food and we paid our musicians. I’m a musician. Musicians get taken advantage of and deserve to be paid. Trust me, it wasn’t as much as they deserved.
Giving gifts in the desert is great when you know you’re getting lots and lots of gifts back. Only privileged people can afford to get to the desert to practice gift economics out there anyway. If you’re privileged enough to do that, you are privileged enough to practice a truer gift economics in your own community where it is needed the most. With no expectation of anything in return. Running a non-profit and a circus school both, I am gifting my services constantly with no expectations. I dare you to gift that $1200 it takes to get to the desert to your own community.
Some back history as well, we hosted the CT Orphan Burners a couple years in a row (2013 & 2014). In honor of the gift economy, we asked for only a $5 suggested donation to attend. Quite a few people camped over, as well. We set up our outdoor screen & projector to livestream the actual event from the desert. I put my rigging up and hung a lyra and silks for people to play with and have some circus fun. We received no more than $40 total from an event with well over 100 people, both times. We didn’t mind. It was our gift!
The tickets to Burning Man in the desert in contrast, are not inexpensive ($380 before taxes).
My admiration for Burning Man aside, the motivation for Burning Woman arose from a much different place. I have a deep love for mythology and began to notice a few years back that a fire goddess appears in most pantheons and indigenous traditions the world over.
Couple this with my belief that the true opposite of patriarchy is not matriarchy but a partnership paradigm where we understand opposites as cooperating, in contrast to competing, with each other. Abundance occurs where once fear produced the appearance of scarcity. This model prevailed throughout the Neolithic era.
It is also my understanding that Burning Man and festivals like it are celebrating a kind of hyper-sexualized rebirth of the divine feminine, a kind of straight male cult of Aphrodite. Is there no place at the table for the Burning Woman then? Although in some villages only one woman was left, we now know that both men and women were burnt at the stake in an era of consciousness-raising similar to today’s which history mislabels “the Dark Ages.” Whether we remember or not, we’ve been in this fight together for a long time, and are privileged to be alive and reconnecting again.
Burning the Man is a protest, the Burning Woman calls for direct action. Burning Man is a cleansing of a negative energy, of power run amok. Burning Woman asks, how do we wish to rebirth ourselves from the fire, in what form shall the Phoenix rise?
Our festival supports a cause each year. Last year, we raised money for Standing Rock and this year the proceeds will go to help an endangered species, our closest living genetic relative, the Bonobos.
Burning Man is huge, but Burning Woman will always be a small local affair, as our land can hold no more than 200 people for an event. If many communities adopt a similar festival, small & local but tied to direct action, we can accomplish some good and further the principles of Burning Man in a concrete way. This summer, we are partnering with similar, small, local festivals in Sweden and Nigeria and will live stream the concurrent events.
We hope the community at large appreciates our humble offering!
With much love & gratitude for the work we all do –