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Burning Man, Nevada, In Principle And Practice

Whenever anyone asks me what Burning Man was like, I struggle to put it into words because it’s something you have to experience rather than read about. But with a little dust in my laptop, I’ll give you a brief overview of this incredible festival.

Large letters spelling out INSANITY in the desert with people climbing on them and standing around them, at burning man

Burning man is not a normal music and arts festival. It is the most radically creative event in the world, where everyone is encouraged to participate.

It’s about 70,000 people living in the Nevada desert for 7 days straight. Co-existing as part of one giant, psychedelic-inspired organism. There are countless interactive art displays, “mutant” cars of unimaginable descriptions, crazy parties and innumerable other attractions to keep your imagination satiated.

The central element is fire! You’ll see a lot of stuff burning to symbolise the impermanence of life, culminating in the burning of the 70-foot wicker man in at the centre of the festival.

A large wooden structure of a man to later be burned at the Burning Man Festival in Nevada

The 10 Fundamental Principles:

  • Radical Inclusion.
  • Gifting.
  • Decommodification.
  • Radical Self-reliance.
  • Radical Self-expression.
  • Communal Effort.
  • Civic Responsibility.
  • Leaving No Trace.

I know you might be thinking: ‘Yeah right, that’s just a bunch of hippie mumbo jumbo”

And yeah, it’s really hippie. But you don’t have to be a hippy to get it. Radical Inclusion means that anyone can be a part of Burning Man. 

People climbing on circular structures and riding bikes in the Nevada desert at Burning Man

One thing someone told me early was “it’s not a race, it’s a marathon.” Meaning sleep well and take care of yourself – you’re going to be in the desert for 7 days, so prepare yourself. Radical self-reliance.

The concepts of gifting and decommodification mean that there is no money used (apart from the sale of ice and coffee/tea in the main tent). You can’t buy things from people; they have to gift them to you.

Leaving no trace means picking up after yourself, carry a zip lock bag with the letters MOOP (Matter Out of Place) on it and people will love you.

Burning Man functions so well because of Civic Responsibility and Communal Effort. I was exhausted at times, but someone always looked after me.

But really, the principles of Immediacy, Participation and Radical Self-Expression are what make Burning Man what it is. It relies on people being and doing things that break the normal frame of social realities.

Selfie of a shirtless man with long hair, a mask, goggles and a cowboy hat in a dusty desert storm at Burning Man festival, Nevada

Burning Man is a festival for people from all walks of life – even if you’ve never been to anything like this before, you’re bound to fall in love with something about it, whether that’s gliding around to Fleetwood Mac at the roller-disco, at a panel discussion about Artificial Intelligence, or if its meeting a beautiful girl on the last night and watching the man burn.

For more festival fun check out our blog on Oktoberfest or our Guide To Summer Music Festivals.

Or start booking your next festival/desert adventure here.