We took our toddler to a regional Burning Man event recently. I have more to say about babies at burn events, but for the moment I want to talk about navigating the burn itself. The effigy was a huge beast that the community would “slay” and burn at the end of the event. I felt concerned that my daughter might be scared of the beast, but she decided right away that it was a dragon and also her friend (she’s been watching Jane and the Dragon). Then I was worried that she would be sad or traumatized when we burned it.
However, I knew that if I could give her the container of a compelling narrative, she could participate in the event in her own way within the story. It evolved as we went along: she added her thoughts and I refined the concepts. I made sure our campmates knew our mythology so that they could engage with my daughter about it. She asked for the story every night we camped.
In the long time ago that was yesterday, a dragon came into awareness in the Realm of Fire. He spent time in the Realm, exploring the mysteries of fire and heat, sparking ideas into life, inspiring passion in people, and singing with the hearts of stars. After some time, the dragon decided that he wanted to try embodiment. He wanted to be born into the world. So he danced into the dreams of some talented and creative people and ignited an idea within them. They built him a huge wooden body in the magical city of Pyropolis.
The dragon watched all of the goings-on of Pyropolis. People danced, made connections, made love, ate good food, explored realms of consciousness, swam in the river, laughed together, challenged themselves, and came together as a community. The dragon decided that being embodied brought him great joy. He loved Pyropolis and its citizens so much he wanted to give them a gift.
The dragon said to the people, “Give me your pain, your struggles, and your shadows. Give me your sorrows, your fears, and your secrets. Give me the things that are too heavy for you to carry and I will take them with me to the Realm of Fire to be transformed.” And the people gave him their burdens. He put them on his back and all over his skin.
“Now,” he said, “I need a bath!” So the citizens of Pyropolis threw an even huger party than they’d already been throwing and gave the dragon a fire bath. Unlike humans, who are mostly water (and thus must bathe in water — a fire bath would really hurt!) dragons are made of fire. Our dragon found it utterly delightful to be ablaze, with flames tickling his wooden body. He shone bright, brighter, brightest, and returned to the Realm of Fire. Bursting fireworks and the cheering of thousands of voices marked his transformation. The dragon took the burdens of the people with him and sent back light, hope, illumination, joy, and beauty. The people’s hearts felt full.
We can’t play with the dragon in the same way we used to, since his body is gone, but he is still our ally and we can talk to him whenever we want. He will always help us transform things; that’s his favorite thing to do. He might say hello in the glow of a candle or the heat of a cooking fire. He might send us a wink in the flash of a spark or the glint of sunlight through the window. As long as we feel the Fire in life, he is a part of us.
It was a complete success. She does miss the dragon, and wishes she could play on its back again, but she also understands where he went and why. This event may pass from her mind in a few months, or it may be a cornerstone for myth and relationship in years to come; only time will tell.
Effigy was designed by Kris Blahnik and built by DaFT (Design and Fabrication Team).