Lamplighting at Burning Man is a fun thing to do. The Lamplighters are the longest running performance art at Burning Man.
I like being a lamplighter. In 2009 after lamplighting in the desert I became the Keeper of the Lamps for the online regional Burning Life in Second Life.
In 2010 I became a Lamplighter again. The first step is to show up at the Lamplighter Chapel in the late afternoon.
Here’s a map of Black Rock City:
You need to be added to a route on the big white board.
To be a casual lamplighter as opposed to one camped with them, you have a choice of 3 roles:
- A carrier carries a pole laden with kerosene lanterns along the entire assigned route. A towel over the shoulders helps make the weight more tolerable.
- A lifter carries a long pole and removes the outermost lantern from the carrier’s pole in tandem with the lifter on the far side. It is important to coordinate the removal of the two lanterns so that the carrier’s balance is not disturbed.
- Support carries a bbq lighter to relight lanterns that have gone out. Each support carries a spare lantern to swap with the one that they remove. Again it is very crucial not to unbalance the pole. To relight a lantern you can go to the triangle base of a spire (i.e. a lamp post) to get out of the wind.
After your name is on the board you go to the tables to help get the kerosene lanterns ready for the night.
Again there is a choice of duties:
- Clean the lanterns – prepare to have black hands afterwards unless you brought gloves
- Trim the wick
- Fill the lantern with kerosene
- Light the lantern
- Adjust the flame by moving the wick up or down
- Carry the lit lanterns to the area on the ground where that colour of lantern is being lined up
When the lanterns have been hung from the poles, you will be robed by someone. They will assess the size of robe that you need and will put it on you. You’ll get in trouble if you try to just help yourself.
Some lamplighters get to ride on the top of Lucy depending on the route. I really like doing that.
For those not going on Lucy, the lantern laden poles are placed on the shoulders of each carrier. A small towel underneath makes it more comfortable.
Then the lamplighters are led out of the Lamplighter Chapel to gather around the fire and receive a pep talk before being sent on their way.
Waiting quietly watching the ceremony about Black Rock City being a city built on fire and light.
Someone calls out “Make way for the Lamplighters!” A lifter places a lantern on the pole.
You can see the small towel that the carrier’s pole sits on.
I got to experience lamplighting away from the playa.
Purple Paul of the Lamplighter’s theme camp at Burning Man lives in Seattle. A couple of years ago he built light standards (lamp posts), and organized kerosene lanterns, robes, and everything needed for lamplighting. My son and I camped with his Lamplighter’s camp at the Seattle burn, Critical Northwest. We had the ceremonial walk along the roads putting up lamps.
Lanterns ready on poles for Carriers.
Lamplighting in the Pacific Northwest rain forest.
Give lamplighting a try. Go volunteer to help light the city to provide navigation aids. It’s lots of fun. Have you done it?