Burning Man society is known as a Do-acracy. This means that if you have a great idea, you’re encouraged to develop that concept, take action and find other like-minded people to assist you on your new venture. This also means that the majority of the Burning Man festival is run by volunteerism. Hundreds of volunteers and the hours that they put in to Burning Man make up the backbone of the event. Without the incredible hard work and dedication that these people invest in the festival, Burning Man literally would not happen. From installing the trash fence, to giant grids of MOOP (Matter Out Of Place) sweeping, to holding space at the Temple, to street construction and conflict resolution, the volunteers of Burning Man affect every single aspect of the event. Burning Man volunteer groups are more than self-motivated, altruistic individuals; they are sub-communities and cultures all unto themselves. Joining one of these fantastic volunteer groups is more like becoming a part of a family than a work crew. Burn After Reading Magazine’s new series on volunteerism will focus on in-depth interviews with members of some of Burning Man’s most prestigious volunteer entities. It is our hope that this behind-the-scenes look into the lives of volunteers will kindle inside you the desire to do a little more, give back in a bigger way, shift your perspective and gain deeper meaning from your time on playa.
Burn After Reading Magazine got in touch with Carousel, the manager of the art department of the Temple Guardians, one of Burning Man’s most sacred and low profile volunteer groups. The Guardians hold space at the Temple for the entirety of Burning Man, ensuring the safety and comfort of both the participants and the Temple.
How did you become a guardian?
In 2008, I received an email from the Portland area Burning Man email list about the Temple Guardians looking for volunteers. I had been deeply interested in being a part of the Temple for years and decided that I would volunteer for a shift. I ended up taking four shifts and the Temple burn perimeter, and I knew then that the Temple would be the reason I was coming back to Black Rock City again the next year.
How long have you been attending BM?
This will be my fifth year out on playa.
How were the Temple Guardians formed?
Termeh could tell you better than I can about that, she actually did that work, but I am happy to tell you what I know. In 2002, some participants thought it would be nice to have a protective and grounding influence at the Temple during the night. The group operated on the fringes, never being a part of any BMOrg department until 2011. They are always self-organized by people who were passionate about the Temple and preserving that sacred space for everyone. The Temple Guardians grew organically, and as the needs of the Temple grew, we have done our best to change with those needs.
What’s the most beautiful thing you’ve witnessed as a Temple Guardian?
Sunrise at the Temple, without a doubt.
What’s the most difficult challenge you’ve faced as lead of the Temple Guardians?
Every Temple and every year is a new challenge. I am fortunate to be backed by an amazing team in the Art department, as well as great Guardians who do everything from helping lead the group to getting in and doing the day to day work at the Temple. My biggest challenge year after year tends to be at the Temple burn, there are a number of different departments and teams that all have to work together that night, and being the coordination point for that is both the biggest challenge and also the high point at Burning Man for me.
Do you have a favorite Temple?
That’s a complex question and I have to say both yes, and no. The Temple of Transition was awe-inspiring and created such a wonderful space to be in, but really it is just the most recent in a long line of amazing Temples. To me, the Temple is more of a state of mind than it is a physical place, since the miracle that the Temple performs year after year is more about the space that we make safe for people and how it is an opening for participants to find their spiritual selves and let go of their burdens.
What does the Temple mean to you? What does it bring to Burning Man?
I think that the Temple is clearly the spiritual heart of the event. What it brings to Burning Man is something that must be interpreted by each person who has an experience there, but I personally feel that it inspires in our community depth and dimensionality. When I talk about Burning Man, it is the Temple that always causes people to rethink what they’ve heard we do out in the desert. Most people are amazed to hear that in the chaos and inspired madness that are the hallmarks of the event, there is a space for meditation and reflection, a place specifically made to create a connection with the sacred. It changes people’s perceptions of the event entirely, and it helps people see that there is truly a depth to what we do.
What is something most people don’t know about the Temple Guardians?
A lot of people don’t know we exist at all. Temple Guardians do their best to remain unobtrusive, only stepping in when there is a need. We are a group entirely separate from the Temple crew, who we are pleased to assist every year. When the crews change, we remain, and we carry with us the experience of the sacred from year to year.
What do you feel is the most important aspect of being a Guardian?
Being able to hold the space of the Temple is key to our work, and that often means letting go of all sorts of notions that we might come to the Temple with. In the Guardians, we talk about letting go of dogma and taking a patient, thoughtful, and long view of how people behave. We have to keep in mind that people are often processing or going through something when they are at the Temple, and that if the Temple or other Participants won’t be harmed, that we should allow those things, even if we have a gut reaction that says that there is an opening there to act.
Are there any special skills or experience that a person should have in order to become a Guardian?
Every Guardian brings a unique set of skills to the job. I’d say that the only thing that is important for being a Guardian is to have love for the Temple in their heart.
Is there anything that the Temple Guardians need right now (donations, supplies, volunteers)?
All of the above! We are accepting volunteers via the participate section of the Burning Man website for the very first time this year, and we take donations for our yearly project of making unique identification art for Guardians to wear on their shifts.
Whether you sign up for your own temple shift or you find another volunteer crew that calls to you- next time you’re at the temple and you see a dusty friend with a special temple bandanna holding a giant stick, make sure to tap them on the shoulder and say thanks! (Even if it’s not a temple guardian, I’m sure they be happy to receive your gratitude!) If you feel moved by the Temple Guardians, you can also donate to them here.