AfrikaBurn 2023: 24 to 30 April

The Silence of Silent Burns

Words: Eleen Polson / Images: Alexander Polson (unless otherwise specified)

My first Burn in 2016 was, like many would agree, quite a shake up. I came to clean out my head, reconnect to my creativity by burning a bit of my past and see loss go up in beautiful smoke.  I did just that in a spectacular dancing fashion with my burn buddy Michele. The highlight was the Silent Temple Burn that brought the tribe together in respectful silence – even switching off all the blinking lights that usually adorn the night life in Tankwa Town.
As even the far off generators died down and the dark set in, the solemn temple burners, no doubt carrying their own sadness and grief, held our bruised hearts and fragile souls while lighting the exquisite architectural artwork. As the practice is to visit the temple and write down anything on the temple walls during the clan gathering, it is filled with many confessions, missings, musings, shouts of joy and rage and even loved one’s ashes, while overseeing a wedding vow or two.  The temple carried a little bit of every person gathered there. To see it go up in flames, dancing smoke and embers into the night sky was deeply touching, held in a magical human web of connection that felt truly alive and tangibly supportive. We gathered on the transient earth while touching eternity.

“Another emotional burning. I was surrounded by people with tears in their eyes and I felt their catharsis merge with my own. Who knew flames could be so beautiful?”
(posted by ginny.on.the.road. on 11 May 2016)

After that we could sigh deeply, wipe our tears and snot and dance the night away, shedding the old and ushering in the new, celebrating the victory of freedom like tribes of old.

For the next couple of years I volunteered as fire perimeter marshall:  I wanted to get to know the fire, this ritual from another perspective, keeping that last temple burn as the quintessential magical moment. Now I wanted to be closer, feeling the heat devils twirling, seeing the faces lighting up with awe and anticipation. I loved it and bought a real second hand red fireman’s jacket in a second hand store to dress the part.
This year, 2018, the Temple Oasis was built by the 2Cool Collective. I noticed a strange thing: people come from all over the world to volunteer and American fire marshals were organising the perimeter.  They had their own unique style – and they were clearly uninformed about our practice of silence and darkness at the temple burns. I felt a subtle disregard for “our way of doing things” – a way I took for granted up to now.  The old burners knew and valued our tradition and encouraged the people around them to be quiet and turn off lights. But strangely, the Quad leads and Fire Marshals did not spread the suggestion to ssshhhh and turn down the glow. It dawned on me that this silent and dark reverence might be something unique to AfrikaBurn, and therefore so much more special.
I decided to find out how it came about.
Verity Maud, one of the inspirational divas of the desert, was part of the temple burn team in 2015 and 2016.  Verity told me that it was in 2015 with the Temple of Metamorphosis that they did the real first silent burn on the Tankwa. Previous years there were attempts, but it could not be pulled off. This idea does come from Burning Man in Nevada.  It worked here for a few minutes of silence that brought the whole clan together and the old burners greeted it with a high five of respect. In 2016 with the lotus temple (‘Awakening’) it was already a thing to look forward to and in 2017 the Temple of Gratitude (built by Walter Bohmer and team) was geared into the next level of reverence against a pitch black background.

I was assigned a position downwind as fire perimeter person and saw the spectacular play of light and darkness, ash and stars, heat and cold.  I was part of a ritual that felt sacred and real. Being human on this plane became totally expansive while rooted in the dust.

I am looking forward to gathering with the clan around many burns, but most of all I look forward to the silent temple burns, where heart and mind, soul and body meet with the earth, fire and sky, and with my fellow brothers and sisters in the best way we can be.
Who knows, it might be around our beloved !Xam temple, the sacred space that held in her bosom many wonderful moments as it stood guard over the planes the past 3 years.
Much sadness and rejoicing awaits us!
(For a visual of a silent burn, check out this video posted by clarisamoo on Instagram)

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