The Sweat Lodge and the Ten Principles

by Anthony Lanni


This weekend Mark Donovan and I were fortunate enough to be invited by Charles White to join him for a Sweat Lodge ceremony led by Charles’ uncle, Robertjohn. For those of you who weren’t aware, the Admiral has a strong Native American heritage, and as I ruminated on the experience yesterday I realized just why Charles has such an affinity for Burning Man culture, and why he has become the Admiral for all of us in the Desert Wizards.

I’m not going to talk very much about the ceremony itself; suffice it to say that I have been looking forward to participating in a sweat lodge ceremony since I was a late teenager. What I do want to talk about is the amazing crossover of ideals that I experienced, particularly with regard for the 10 Principles of Burning Man.

First off, I would like to mention that I had plans for Saturday night already laid out when Charles posted a message asking if anyone was interested in joining him. First principle I experienced: Immediacy. I knew this was not a common opportunity, and so I messaged Charles immediately. When he responded to the affirmative, I had to scramble to get my other plans shifted to Sunday night. Absolutely worth it.

Mark and I were both nervous about our Participation, since we had never done a sweat before, and didn’t know what we might do wrong or to offend. When we arrived we eagerly offered to help out wherever we could, and ended up carrying firewood. During that work we had a good conversation with a tribe member named Eddie, who told us not to worry; there would always be someone to guide us through.

When it came time to participate in the rituals of the sweat, neither of us knew what to do. As Eddie said, that was not an issue; Uncle Robertjohn and the rest of the circle, though they may not know it by name, firmly practice the principle of Radical Inclusion. They welcome outsiders, first timers, members of other tribes; anyone who has a genuine interest in participating is welcome.

Everyone formed a circle before the sweat, and Uncle Robertjohn encouraged each of us to speak out in turn, introducing ourselves and saying why were were there. He did the same thing during the sweat, asking people to express themselves, and encouraging them to dig deeper when they were hesitant. It was one of the truest forms of Radical Self-expression I’ve seen, and it was both inspirational and amazing.

Many of the other principles came out when Robertjohn spoke. He has an incredible ability to speak deep truths, and do so in a manner that is often funny and always easy to understand. In his words I heard him talk about Civic Responsibility, not just to the people in your communities but to the environment and, indeed, to the entire universe. The principle of Communal Effort was evident not only in Robertjohn’s words, but also in the actions of the people who participated, as everyone helped clean up, make sure the lodge was cared for, and contributed to the meal we had afterwards. I could point out that everyone’s contributions to the meal firmly fell into the principle of Gifting, but in reality that was only a part of it; the entire ceremony was a gift from every person to every other person, as each gave in his or her own way. They also cautioned us to Leave No Trace, to make sure that we took everything we brought with us back out again.

There is an 11th principle that Athena Demos put on the cards she handed out at Bequinox: the “Los Angeles Bonus Principle”, Gratitude. Robertjohn talked about thanks quite a bit, how we should give thanks to everything that is for being part of us, being part of our creation and our lives. I would like to express my gratitude to Charles for having me and Mark along with him. It’s no surprise that Charles loves Burning Man and us Burners so much, that he so easily lives the 10 Principles; it is the heritage of his culture, a culture that dates back thousands of years.

And I, for one, feel privileged to be a part of it. Though the Desert Wizards, through Burning Man, through the Ten Principles and our friendships and our wild ideas and practical reasoning and spirited discussions and massive, massive love, we are continuing a tradition so ancient as to be unfathomable, but so modern as to be indisputable.

As Charles said this weekend: You may not understand this, but I love you.


The Pulse Cube

by Mark Donovan


The inspiration for this piece was a series of  “light objects” that the collective Numen/For Use created several years ago culminating in a cube that “breathed” on exhibit in the Rizzordi Art Foundation, St Petersburg Russia, in 2011.

The Pulse Cube. Photo by Mark Donovan

The Pulse Cube. Photo by Mark Donovan

I saw a video clip of the cube and knew right away that it would be at home on the playa. I have done quite a bit of woodworking, but never ventured into the world of purely aesthetic art before. My struggle is not the creative aspect of purely aesthetic art, but the making of things that have no real function (Engineer, sorry!). My curiosity was piqued when I attended my first burn last summer with Camp Tsunami and the Desert Wizards of Mars and was blown away by some of the art there. Even more inspiring were the reactions and interactions that people seemed to be having while looking at it all.

When Rachel Willman mentioned BEquinox and the LA League of Arts grants my thoughts immediately turned back to the exhibit. It would be a really fun and challenging build… this could be the perfect opportunity to make something unique for a community that would appreciate it, and contribute to the making of some good memories in the community.

The Pulse Cube by Mark Donovan

The Pulse Cube by Mark Donovan

It was inspiring to see the way people’s eyes lit up and to hear the exclamations of excitement and surprise to one another as they poked and prodded the sides and watched the pattern change inside the cube. One of the best things about the weekend for me was watching people transition from a fast walk to slow their pace as they drew nearer the cube, then stop altogether, then circle back to walk 360 degrees around it with a big smile on their face. Talking to them and hearing their impressions and their personal stories was easily the most fulfilling part of the weekend.

We liked the interaction with the people and the interesting conversations that the piece helped precipitate, and were happy with how quick the setup was. We did learn, however, that we should have built the sides of the cube a little bit sturdier; a few nights of exposure to the forgetful muscles of the occasional inebriate took their toll and we had a few cracks that will need to be repaired if it is to make its way to burning man this year! The hydraulic system that was designed to flex the sides of the cube did not move them as much as we anticipated, either, and there are already plans in the for a design that will have a larger range of motion while preventing accidental damage to the piece this summer. Hope to see you out there!

—  Charles White introduces The Pulse Cube, Mars Rover Art Car, and Black Rock Observatory.