Dear Friend and Reader:
I spent most of last week at Burning Man, a kind of festival in the Nevada desert held each Labor Day. The event takes its name from the burning of a giant neon and wooden effigy of a man, which is burned on Saturday night as 40,000 people gather around and watch. In my daily series (now running about four times a day) I’m looking at Burning Man in words and pictures, explaining the basics of this odd, survivalist example of capitalism turned inside-out.
The photo at the right is The Man, which has become something of a cultural icon now more than 20 years in circulation. Burning Man traces its history back to 1986, when the founder, Larry Harvey, burned an effigy of a man on San Francisco’s Baker Beach. The event was moved to the Black Rock Desert in Northern Nevada several years later and is now the annual meeting place of a far-reaching, extremely energetic subculture.
Planet Waves first covered this phenomenon in 1999, as part of a series about the grand cross and total solar eclipse titled after the festival; the festival itself is covered in part four of the series, which you can read here.
Astrology is about symbolism, and in this article I’d like to look at a few of the messages of the fire ceremony that’s at the center of this elaborate creative project called Burning Man. I think for most people who participate, the theme is so intuitive, they don’t really think about it much. You get the message in the creative fire that surrounds the symbol; it comes across as real world. Given the freedom and the safe space to do so, women strip to the waist and walk around in public. Many guys wear skirts and tutus. Everything is connected to a concept, an idea, a game of twisting logic around into something sensible in a different way.
In effect, Burning Man grants many people permission to be who they are, and in the absence of concrete knowledge, to test out some ideas of who they might be and not have to worry too much about the legacy of who they were yesterday.
This legacy is our problem. It’s not that we use the past as a reference point for who we are, or where we are going, which would be fine. It’s that we determine our lives almost exclusively by what has happened in the past; by who we knew in the past; by what we held as true in the past; by our family of origin and what they did to us; by the career that we developed, generally with no special intention to have done so. And this is really the least of it.
What we struggle with the most, if you ask me, is the unspoken requirement to be who we were, feel how we felt and love who we loved yesterday. We allegedly must, by some strange set of unwritten rules, get up in the morning and do what we did the day before. If you look closely there is actually very little to intervene in this train of experience. This is why key life transits such as the Saturn return, Uranus opposition and Chiron return, are so often experienced as train wrecks. We make next to no room to ritualize the idea of change that would allow us an opportunity to in fact actually change.
Much of this process is encrypted in our social patterns: that is, our relationships with friends and family. We tend to stay the same fearing their judgments, therefore trying to live up to their supposed expectations. Some of our most fundamental values, such as whether we think marriage has any validity for us personally, are bound up in these social ties. Deep beneath our fear of being ourselves, which really is a phobia on a cosmic scale, is the fear of being cast out of the tribe if we violate its social order.
This by the way is what I would call Chiron in Aquarius stuff: The tribal wound as it manifests as the fear of individuality. Here we have a convenient illustration because this year and next, Aquarius is such a focal point of the astrology. (The once-in-a-lifetime triple conjunction of Jupiter, Chiron and Neptune is still working out in that sign, the peak of a five-year transit of Chiron in Aquarius.)
From all of this, we get the idea that people don’t change; we merely get locked into patterns. The times we expect to change are generally the moments of the train wreck. Maybe you’ll be different after a divorce or a death in the family, but even then there is only so far the rules of society allow us to go.
Enter Burning Man, where we ritualize and embrace the process of growth. We show up, facing the extreme conditions of the high desert, forced into both radical autonomy and the need to embrace community, both consciously, as a matter of survival.
The thing about the Man is, he’s this elaborate artistic creation, different every year, and then we do something very odd by our society’s standards: we burn him. This is the Death card (Trump XIII) on a grand scale: the point of no return; the actual moment of transformation. We release the form and some new element of energy has the room to express itself. By the time this ritual comes, most participants have been pushed to the limits of their physical and emotional reality. Burning Man is “fun” but it’s fun only to the extent we give up some of our worldly trappings, our sense of time, our daily routines, our names and so on. Like most valid rituals, this is one that takes preparation.
Part of that preparation is what we bring to offer the community. Unlike most enterprises in a capitalist system, Burning Man is about what you give rather than what you get. The whole purpose of capitalism is to maximize profit at the expense of the worker and the consumer. The idea of Burning Man is to give resources to the community, at your own expense. This is a missing experience for most of us, who don’t think we have so much to give; and if we do, the idea of actual generosity is often repulsive or seems inappropriate.
The gift culture ranges from the most elaborate perks from Corporate America (somebody with a lot of cash on their hands paid for the Opulent Temple) to the most modest offerings of self. The camp that I was staying in, Poly Paradise, offered a daily Human Carcass Wash where up to 600 people came to be washed down from their coating of playa dust.
Part of the preparation involves developing a new relationship to physicality. I’ll give a few examples. It’s really easy to dehydrate in 110-degree heat. Therefore it’s necessary to constantly think about water, which reminds us that we’re made of water. There are ways to measure hydration; you can figure out how much you drink; or count how many times you pee. My personal method is, if my nose is dry, I’m dehydrated.
There’s nowhere to buy food; therefore every meal is a conscious act. You cannot simply “grab a sandwich.” If you run out of food or water, you’re at the mercy of your neighbors, who are usually generous; everyone is in the same condition.
There are no flush toilets. Port-a-Potties are glorified outhouses, and if we make a mess out of them, they are messy for the rest of us. We literally have to deal with one another’s shit (something that most of us know not about, in the industrialized world). One result is the most impeccably clean public bathrooms you’ve ever seen at an outdoor event. The potties are plastered with public service announcements created by various camps and factions reminding what and what not to drop down the hole — and the admonition that someone will, in fact, have to dig out your Pepsi bottle if you toss it down there.
By my second day on the playa, I was planning my self-care activities one at a time. Find dental floss. Use dental floss. Find toothbrush. Brush teeth. I shaved once; it was a memorable project, involving the spontaneous discovery that I had left my shaving gear in the glove compartment; then boiling half a gallon of precious water. Every step was a conscious act. The result felt like no shave I’ve ever experienced.
Then there are relationships. Those tend to be rearranged in this environment. It’s true that I was in a camp that had relationship-oriented discussion groups every morning (called Poly High Tea) and where we hosted talks on the history and sociology of monogamy. However, all around people seemed to be tossed around in a kind of relational anarchy — sometimes pleasant, sometimes not — as a result of being confronted by so much intense beauty and so many people bringing out some aspect of their creative fire. In reality, one makes one’s boundaries, rules and agreements; then what happens, happens.
Synchronicity is the name of the game at Burning Man: this thing we call manifestation is in full force. The stories are too many to count, and it’s fun to see it in action. I really had to surrender to the notion that if I think of something, it could happen in a matter of minutes; and even if I wasn’t consciously thinking of it, but I secretly wanted it, it could happen when I was least expecting it. Some of these stories are more appropriate for Book of Blue. Synchronicity messes with your idea of how physical reality intersects with consciousness. It’s true that we were in an alternate plane of reality that was a lot closer to the astral/causal levels. If you play this game well, it’s possible to let go of a lot of negativity.
Then, after a week of this, the whole community gathers for The Burn. This year, all day Saturday was in what I’ll call a category-2 dust storm, caused by persistent winds blowing across an ancient lakebed. The storms do get worse: absolute whiteout. But this one was pretty bad, and it seemed to last forever, all day and into the night, threatening the ritual itself. I got myself there early, to have a seat in the front row, all the better to photograph for you. And I sat there as the dusty wind pounded my body and my cameras and my lenses, catching dust in my mouth and eyes despite my mask and goggles.
They can’t safely light a fire that big with 40,000 people around it in such a stiff wind, but unlike last year (when there was a similar problem) the higher-ups made the decision to start the pre-burn festivities: a LOT of fire dancers and musicians and acrobats came out and performed in a vast circle to the audience/participants. These performers were dedicated, doing their thing at full strength despite being slammed by the elements. Most of them had prepared for a year for this event.
Finally, the wind stopped and the arms of the Burning Man were hoisted into burn position: high above his head. Then came the fireworks and the pyrotechnics, and then he burst into flames, taking all of us with him.
Yours & truly,
I Say Jeane, You Say Joan… and You’d Be Right
Seems we acted like the mainstream media here a couple of weeks ago, accidentally anointing Jeane Dixon as the astrological advisor to First Lady Nancy Reagan during her husband’s tenure in the Oval Office. That advisor, of course, was Joan Quigley.
While we’d like to blame Wikipedia or the Hottentots or pretty much anyone for the error, it was ours alone, and so we offer a heartfelt apology to Planet Waves readers. The fellow who creates our news briefs, the Dogtown Writer (in a fun coincidence, yours truly also happens to be named Eric Francis, but is no relation to the earlier Eric Francis of Planet Waves), is a non-astrologer and well, that’s what can happen.
But if there’s a bright side to this coin, it’s the opportunity to examine the remarkable relationship between Quigley and the Reagans – particularly the public hoopla that followed the revelation.
David Roell, a veteran astrologer who operates the Astrology Center of Americain Maryland (and a longtime advisor to Planet Waves), was in a unique position to assess the New York media’s reaction to the Quigley story: He was the guy answering the phone when they called.
“I was working for Henry Weingarten’s New York Astrology Center,” Roell recalled. “At the time, I knew all the astrologers in New York and ran charts for them all, but I didn’t know the celebrity astrologers. Quigley was a celebrity astrologer, so she was unknown to me.”
The problem, once the story broke, was that the journalists covering the story had no idea who to call.
“When this hit, all the news media in New York City responded, but not one of them had the name of a single astrologer in their Rolodexes,” said Roell. “If you’re a news organization and Patagonia blows up, you have an expert on Patagonia. What happened for astrology is no one [in the media] thought astrology was important enough to have in the Rolodex.”
So those reporters consulted their phone books, and one name stood out: The New York Astrology Center – where Roell happened to be working the phones.
“I handled the phone calls for the first week. People phoned and phoned and phoned,” he said. “After about a week, Henry Weingarten, who owned the place, figured out there was a flap going on.” Up until then, Roell said, Weingarten hadn’t been the least bit interested in taking calls. “After a week, he said ‘you should be giving me all these phone calls!’ And I gave him these phone calls, and two days later they stopped.”
Roell has a theory for the media’s quick loss of interest: His boss wasn’t a good quote.
“I was having fun, I was playing with them, giving them the lay of the land,” he said. “Henry was pompous. He was a Leo with Sag rising.”
Still, Roell got what he called his “thirty seconds of fame in New York City” with interviews on Italian television and CNN. But he says the news media didn’t learn any lesson then, and “they still don’t have astrologers in their Rolodexes.”
As for the Reagans, Roell credits them for recognizing the importance of astrology.
“Reagan had been using astrologers since the 1950s, straight through his governorship [of California],” he said. “One of his inaugurals in Sacramento was held at the stroke of midnight at the recommendation of an astrologer.
“Reagan was a reasonably smart guy who got what he wanted by following reasonably smart astrologers.”
Finally, Roell also got a chuckle out of our Dixon/Quigley gaffe: “That’s like saying John Glenn was the first man to walk on the moon.”
Panel Tells NASA to Scale Back Ambitions
A 10-member committee formed by President Obama to assess NASA’s plans for its human spaceflight program in the coming years has delivered its verdict. In short: Scale back, or spend more.
The Augustine Commission (so named because it’s led by retired aerospace exec Norman Augustine) delivered an executive summary of its report on Tuesday of this week, and it wasn’t kind to the widely publicized ambitions of sending men back to the Moon and on to Mars in the near future. There are more realistic options for the amount of money NASA plans to spend, the commission declared.
The commission’s full report will be delivered later this month.
Washington Post science writer and blogger Joel Achenbach summed it up this way in the paper’s Wednesday edition:
“Don’t try to put astronauts on Mars yet — too hard, too costly. Go to the Moon — maybe. Or build rockets that could zip around the inner solar system, visiting asteroids, maybe a Martian Moon. Keep the international space station going until 2020 rather than crash it into the Pacific in 2016. Help underwrite commercial spaceflight the same way the United States gave the airline business a boost in the 1920s with airmail.
“And spend more money on space.”
The commission wasn’t against the idea of human space flight, reports Achenbach, but did say that program “appears to be on an unsustainable trajectory.” At the same time, it “clearly endorsed the goal of a robust human spaceflight program and all but pleaded on behalf of” NASA.
However, NASA’s $18 billion annual budget isn’t sufficient to meet the goal of “a space exploration program that will be a source of pride for the nation,” the commission reported, estimating it would take another $3 billion a year to accomplish that, the Post article said.
An article on Wired.com notes that among other assessments, the commission judged the gap between the retirement of the Space Shuttle next year and the implementation of the Constellation Program to return NASA astronauts to space in 2017 was too long — but they couldn’t identify any “credible approach” that could shorten that gap to less than six years.
The commission studied a number of options for moving ahead with manned space flight, the Wired article noted, and the one that received the greatest support by commissioners was what they called the “Flexible Path.” That would put people in space, but landing on the Moon or Mars wouldn’t be goals; instead, astronauts would travel to and explore smaller bodies, such as the asteroids or Phobos and Deimos, the Moons of Mars.
Wired quoted the report as saying: “We would learn how to live and work in space, to visit small bodies, and to work with robotic probes on the planetary surface. It would provide the public and other stakeholders with a series of interesting ‘firsts’ to keep them engaged and supportive. Most important, because the path is flexible, it would allow many different options as exploration progresses, including a return to the Moon’s surface, or a continuation to the surface of Mars.”
Weekly Horoscope for Friday, September 11, 2009, #783 – BY PRIYA KALE
Aries (March 20-April 19)
This week you move past a barrier and a milestone in this quest of manifesting your dreams and soul’s purpose. On a deeper level you know this is a confrontation of some of your most lucid fantasies and fears. The way past your fears is not through idle romantic fantasies but solid agreements. You are no stranger to determination and I suggest you embody the strength you feel you somehow lack. As you renegotiate your sexual, creative, personal and professional relationships over the coming weeks, create balanced communication with clear understanding of roles. If there is to be healing, there first needs to be an honest appraisal of the passion, dedication and level of commitment within a situation. Do you dare acknowledge your heart’s desire? What would you do to meet it?
Taurus (April 19- May 20)
Your level of breakthrough this week depends on your ability to see beyond the illusion to something divinely inspiring. A situation close to your heart seems to be ready to move forward to its next stage of manifestation. But ultimately this means devoting your heart to something that inspires your faith. You are aware of wounds you’ve carried too long that have no place in your future, if you want more of the peaceful existence you say you do. This is about you feeling safe enough to be yourself, express yourself and indeed love yourself. You may wonder if you have what it takes or if you deserve something this divine. But this is no fantasy, just an awakening of your core, embodying and revealing your natural transcendence.
Gemini (May 20- June 21)
You are retracing core aspects of your being, asking you to come down to earth for a moment. You may have thought you’d seen the last of a difficult situation and it may seem you are heading right for it again. When it comes to negotiations your imagination is key, this is not about spinning romantic fantasies. You are moving toward a future where you can work on building the kind of relationships that stabilize you with greater emotional and financial security. What’s the use of playing in the rain, if you are constantly looking over your shoulder to check if your house is still standing, or that the sky is going to fall on your head? Get your foundations right so you can experience more of the carefree passion you long to express.
Cancer (June 21- July 22)
You’re close to reaching an understanding or commitment with a partner over the next few days, setting the stage for healthier communication in the future. But first there may be a few realizations to come to within yourself. This will mean first being honest about where your models of communication come from. Look especially at your relationship with your father or an authority figure that in the past has had you feeling like you have little or no say within a situation, causing you to react or respond in a certain way. How you feel about yourself ultimately defines the wealth and love you attract into your life. Dig deep to find your integrity while opening your mind to the wider possibilities for the future. Embody your truth and speak it fearlessly.
Leo (July 22- Aug. 23)
You are reaching a breakthrough point in a deeply intimate, personal or financial situation that has been pushing you to find your core integrity and self-worth. Above all else now, be honest but don’t be too hard on yourself. It’s not about being ‘good enough;’ it’s following through on what you say. You may fear the forces of chaos, but all that exists came out of this very nothingness. The people in your life are there to mirror the depths of your heart. Some of this may be painful, some may be just golden, but none of this defines you. A situation is asking for you to dive deep. Relationships are like swimming –- no amount of reading will teach you what you can experience only by diving in. You will not drown, rather you can become the anchor in the eye of a storm. If you surrender, it’s likely to be a more wet, wild and magical experience than anything you “fear.”
Virgo (Aug. 23- Sep. 22)
You’ve been battling a delicate situation for what may have seemed like an eternity. The recent Full Moon in your opposite sign, Pisces, may have brought you an inkling of what’s to come, but truthfully you’ve known for a while. This week things reach a breakthrough point. Try not to be too self-critical at this point. Rather, become the force of change by embodying it. As long as you are grounded in what truly matters and who you are, you can make choices accordingly. Deep in your soul, there is a fire throbbing with divine love, asking you to pour your heart into that which heals you. It may be scary to open up and risk being rejected. You can have your heart’s desire, if you dare acknowledge it to yourself first. There is nothing to fear here but fear itself.
Libra (Sep. 22 – Oct. 23)
This week brings you a solid glimpse deep in the heart of desire. What is it that you desire now? What is it in your world that needs healing? Your heart has had its share of lessons to learn. Look at what you are creating in your world and ask yourself if this is a projection of the truth. Create out of love, boldness, fearlessness and passion. It is always easier to escape into an illusion for fear of rejection, but hurt pride never solved anything. Be honest with yourself now as you ask these difficult questions. You cannot see it but you are on your road to true freedom, the kind that comes as a solid knowing in your psyche. You will have to get past your own subconscious fear of change to recognize that this is what you have wanted all along. Allow yourself to soar on the wings of imagination as you realign, redefine and embody your soul’s purpose.
Scorpio (Oct. 23- Nov. 22)
There may have been a deeper truth that has come flying out recently. Whether or not you feel ‘ready,’ you have no choice now but to resolve your darker suspicions, that keep you from experiencing reality. You reach a point of breakthrough within a situation that has demanded more than you may have felt you had to give. But this has opened your eyes to just how valued your gift to the world is. You may have doubts about the future of a partnership, but I suggest you dive deep into your soul to discover the undeniable truth. There may be painful realizations to confront and wounds to heal. But these have to do with the past, rather than the present and boundless future you can feel exploding in your heart and being.
Sagittarius (Nov. 22 – Dec. 22)
It may feel like you are being asked to surrender all known securities in favor of something or someone that may have been a tough client to please. You don’t need to get into anyone’s good graces as much as embody your own strength and integrity. You’ve been digging deep to find your self-worth and confronting darker fears about success. Now comes a transformation point in an important partnership. There are a few creative ideas floating that you could capitalize on, allowing both parties more freedom. You will not lose anything, nor are you banging your head against a wall. You’ve always played by the rules and soon you will reap the rewards of your faith. This is about you reclaiming respect and your rightful seat of authority in this world. No matter what you fear, you sit in the lap of a greater divine force endless in its depth.
Capricorn (Dec. 22- Jan. 20)
On the surface, to the world you may seem self-assured, but there’s a deeper question you’ve been digging for an answer to. Who are you? What are the things you like about yourself and what do you feel is ready for a change? You’ve been gaining perspective and now comes a moment of truth. You’ve been working hard to expand your mind to the greater possibilities available. To get what you desire, you have to admit it to yourself first. If you have doubts regarding a financial and intimate partnership ask yourself why? Focus your deepest values even if there is some painful truth to confront there. This is not about your selfish gain, nor is it about praise, fame or life’s transient pleasures. But about something that fills you with hope, pride and joy, worthy of your devotion. Dare to speak your truth –- the world is listening.
Aquarius (Jan. 20- Feb. 19)
You’ve been battling with a difficult situation for what may have seemed like an eternity. You had to dive layer beneath layer within yourself to discover depth you didn’t know you had. Now comes a final confrontation within a situation, which can free you to pursue without worry the desires in your soul. It will require inspiration on your part and the ability to see through to the heart of a matter. You’ve always been the one pushing through boundaries to get people to open up to a greater truth. This is not about shock value, but rather your deepest soul values. What you have to give is infinite in its depth and wisdom, a partnership is solidifying now. If you can focus on what you are trying to build rather than what you fear you may lack you can ease the pressure here. This is about you having faith in yourself and what you choose to dedicate yourself to.
Pisces (Feb. 19- March 20)
It may have been a battle to gain your sense of self and freedom within a situation. But this has led you on an unexpected journey of discovering depth within you, you didn’t know you had. You have the opportunity now to create and imprint your life with the soulful vision you have long been dreaming. This will take dedication and bucket loads of inspiration, but when have you shied away from the impossible? Consider this an opportunity to work your magic. Allow a situation to open up its arms to you and breathe life into that which you create daily with love and passion. Pour yourself into creating a life lived fearlessly with love, passion and bright colors for the future. You are starting a new phase, asking you to let go of the past and walk boldly into the future. Trust your integrity and dedication will carry you through the stormiest seas.