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How Burning Man Integrates Its Shadow: Journey Into Community Soul Making Part 2

July 19, 2013

g-reads.thumbnailBurning Man:
A Journey in Community Soul Making to Create a New Economy
Part 2 in a 3 Part Series
tracing one woman’s Burning Man experiences from 1992-2013
from a depth psychological perspective
by Gwendolyn Alley Pacifica Graduate Institute doctoral student in
Community, Liberation & Ecopsychology

read part 1 here: the shadow grows
read part 3 here: 10 Principles

“What we call civilized consciousness has steadily separated itself from the basic instincts. But these instincts have not disappeared. They have merely lost their contact with our consciousness and are thus forced to assert themselves in an indirect fashion.” C. G. Jung (1964, p. 72)

“Everyone carries a shadow, and the less it is embodied in the individual’s conscious life, the blacker and denser it is. If an inferiority is conscious, one always has a chance to correct it. Furthermore, it is constantly in contact with other interests, so that it is continually subjected to modifications. But if it is repressed and isolated from consciousness, it never gets corrected, and it is liable to burst forth suddenly in a moment of unawareness. At all counts, it forms an unconscious snag, thwarting our most well meaning intentions.” C. G. Jung (CW 11, para 131).

Eggchairsteve's 2002 Burning Man Sticker


In 2002, after attending Burning Man nine times (1992, 1995-2002), I was ready to call it quits; I’d had enough. Nearly 30,000 people made Black Rock City their home for the week prior to Labor Day, and it seemed like many of them were clueless about the ethos and the culture of Burning Man. They were spectators, not participants. In all my years at Burning Man, I had always felt free to express myself—free to be dressed or undressed, safe to roam the desert as I desired, to dance. But in 2002, the shadow of the “gift” economy reared its ugly head twice to face me.

In the first incident, a man would not leave me alone outside the Temple: he insisted on stuffing Monopoly money down my shirt, stood in my way, and stopped me from riding off on my bike. When I yelled for help, the community swiftly came down on him, regulating him, and allowing me to leave. On a second occasion, a man would not keep his hands off me while I was dancing at his camp. He even told me that since it was his camp, if I would not dance with him, I had to leave. So I did—the first and only time I was not welcome somewhere on the playa. I had once more run into the shadow of Burning Man: “The best, just because it is the best, holds the seed of evil, and there is nothing so bad but good can come of it” (Jung, 1960, p. 229); “there is no good that cannot produce evil and no evil that cannot produce good” (Jung, 1960, p. 31). 

In both occasions, the young men were projecting onto me a desire they had within them; as Jung (1960) describes it, “While some traits peculiar to the shadow can be recognized without too much difficulty as one’s own personal qualities, in this case both insight and good will are unavailing because the cause of the emotion appears to lie beyond all possibility of doubt, in the other person… He must be convinced that he throws a very long shadow before he is willing to withdraw his emotionally-toned projections from their object” (p. 9). By developing an awareness of the shadow, and of those images or situations which produce shadow projections, the shadow can be integrated but it will never go away–our shadow, our dark side, what we do not wish to be–it is a living part of us, of our personality, and of our structures including Burning Man.

Center Camp from above


Recognizing that Burning Man was no longer a private party in the desert and that a code of conduct needed to be developed to help Newbies and Virgins become Burners and integrate the shadow side of the transformational experiences of so much freedom, beauty, and soul, in 2004, to meet this need and to help people who had never been to Burning Man to understand the ethos and the culture created there, Larry Harvey published the Ten Principles: radical inclusion, gifting, decommodification, radical self-reliance, radical self-expression, communal effort, civic responsibility, leaving no trace, participation, and immediacy. Most Burners embraced the Ten Principles on and off the playa because the Ten Principles help participants “to strengthen as far as possible their conscious position and powers of understanding” and the Ten Principles serve “to intercept and integrate the contents that are breaking through into consciousness” (Jung, 1960, p. 236).


In 2005 with a Burning Man theme of Psyche: The Conscious, Subconscious and Unconscious (which I am sure was no accident), I returned to Black Rock City with my new husband and 20 month old son to the camp that I had formed in 1997—and immediately ran into a shadow that had not been integrated by the Ten Principles. After a two-year absence, many in “my” camp didn’t know who I was, and they didn’t want a baby in camp either. Our friend who had organized the camp in our absence climbed onto a table and lectured everyone there that the camp would not exist without me. That I was “the original burner,” that none of the organizers of the camp would have been there without me, and that everyone there should respect me and accommodate my family. Even with one of the Ten Principles proclaiming “radical inclusion,” many people at Burning Man do not want children there. Some feel that we are wrong to bring our children, that it is an inappropriate environment while others don’t want their own freedom impinged upon by the fact that children are around. We eventually chose to camp near some Burning Moms that I knew from an online group. (Photo above from 2007 with my son on my right and another child on my left; read about this artwork here).

Big Rig Jig under Rainbow
Perpetual Evolution Sticker


In 2007 (Green Man), 2009 (Evolution), and 2011 (Rites of Passage), we camped in our VW van in Kidsville; in 2011, my son and I worked as nannies for the woman in charge of the hundreds of artworks on the playa, including the Man, and the Temple of Transition which had a 120-foot tiered, hexagonal central tower, surrounded by five 58-foot tiered, hexagonal towers.


From the time it was constructed until the time it burned, the Temple of Transition was the largest wooden structure on the planet—it dwarfed even the Man. With 54,000 attendees at Burning Man that year, the vast structure could accommodate all of us when we wanted to visit. People respected the sanctuary; they whispered and comforted those in tears. They also left behind remembrances of those they had lost. I had recently lost my mother and a dear friend and I left books of my poetry in the Temple to be burned in their honor. 


Here’s my son and husband writing notes to be burned with the Temple.
Read another post about the 2011 Temple here.

Temple Late Afternoon


Temple burn


Near the Temple in 2011 was a zoetrope called “Charon,” named for the ferryman who takes the dead across the River Styx to Hades which you can see in a daytime version in the photo I took below.


In this brilliant yet exemplary piece of interactive art typical of Burning Man, six participants coördinated to pull ropes together to make strobe lights flash and a boat of skeletons rowing move across the “water” of the playa. Much of the art at Burning Man connects with mythological and archetypal material; Jung (1960) wrote that “It is absolutely necessary to supply these fantastic images that rise up so strangely and threateningly before the mind’s eye with some sort of context so as to make them more intelligible. Experience has shown that the best way to do this is by means of comparative mythological material” (p. 33). Burning Man supplies these experiences and meets this need.


  • How might a further analysis of Burning Man help us “discover what the defects in the consciousness of our epoch are by observing the kind of reaction they call forth from the unconscious?” (Jung, 1960, p. 220). 

  • How might the practice of Burning Man’s Ten Principles serve as an example of how “
    to build a new economy devoted to meeting the real needs of life,” one that embodies America’s “founding ideals of universal liberty and justice”?  (Korten 2009).

  • Might Burning Man’s Ten Principles show how “we now have the imperative and the means as a nation and a species to bring forth new cultures and institutions that affirm our human co-inheritance, our interdependence, and our devotion to the service of life-the world of our shared human longing” (Korten 2009)?

The first lesson in taking the ideas from Black Rock City to Any City is to rethink violence and to reject a view of violence as “essential, universal, sociobiological or psychobiological entity” (Scheper-Hughes & Bourgois, 2003, p. 2-3). Scheper-Hughes and Bourgois (2003) maintain that we humans are physically not a species of hunter-killers but social creatures whose “cultures, social structures, ideas, and ideologies shape all dimensions of violence, both its expressions and repressions.” Clearly, according to Scheper-Hughes and Bourgois (2003), violence has a human face, and “most violence is not “senseless” at all“ (p. 3). Scheper-Hughes and Bourgois (2003) contend that it is necessary to pay “close attention to the “little” violences produced in the structures…of every day life” (p. 19). The two authors present a “violence continuum” that includes “normative social spaces” and “refers to the ease with which humans are capable of reducing the socially vulnerable into expendable nonpersons and assuming the license, even the duty to kill, maim, or soul-murder” (p. 19).

Recognizing a continuum of violence, argues Scheper-Hughes and Bourgois (2003), “allows us to see the capacity and the willingness—if not enthusiasm—of ordinary people…to enforce genocidal like crimes on rubbish people” (p. 21). Scheper-Hughes and Bourgois (2003) conclude that “The history of human violence teaches us that there are few happy endings. The only answer to violence resides in the struggle to maintain a constant state of hypervigilance and a steadfast refusal to turn into the very same enemy and genocidaire that one fears and hates” (p. 27).

Burning Man’s Ten Principles help to prevent the common violences of ordinary people toward each other and the planet. Korten (2009) says that there are just two main issues that we face: one, the “wanton destruction of… earth that sustains us and is our home” and two, “the unjust division of what remains of that abundance between the profligate and desperate in our society–a division perpetuated by widespread, ongoing, and self-destructive violence.”

Read Part 1: Burning Man: The  Shadow Grows

Part 3: using the 10 Principles to create a new economy

unless noted, photos from the Burning Man Gallery

citations in for 1 and 2 at the end of part 3

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2 Comments leave one →
  1. September 3, 2017 12:05 pm

    Freedom comes to mind. Burning Man’s purpose, is not for everyone. I feel we must face the shadow of life. Leaving for Nevada, removed from people whom do not think like you-for me is NOT the answer for humanity. Vacation-fun yes. What about all the plastic water bottles?


  1. So you want to go to Burning Man 2018? Ticket Info plus Desert Cosmonauts Video | art predator

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