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A new decade of Crisis, Revelry and Action

In the face of unfolding ecological crisis and increasing uncertainty many Burners have raised the question of whether we need to start to plan a contingency for a point in time in which it is no longer feasible or safe to burn the Effigy or Temple...

This was the context for a discussion that was had at the first EPT meeting of January 2020. Below is a summary of the general discussion which followed...

We as Burners, through our unique relationship to our rituals, understand the complexities and dimensions of fire and what it represents, being a catalyst both physically and conceptually for transformation and regeneration. Motivations for considering alternatives to fire came not from the concern that it would be insensitive to those among us who have been affected by the most recent catastrophes, being more aware than most of both the danger and power of such an element. However, it was identified that for the most part the subtleties of our community and collective endeavours; our relationship to our rituals, each other and more specifically to fire, is not something that is understood or even accessible to the wider Inglewood and regional community.

A conversation followed then around the need to engage more meaningfully with both the local indigenous community and wider Inglewood township, as both part of and parallel to the discussion around adapting rituals. We recognise that is important to share more of our values and our community with the external community which necessarily plays host once a year, partly so they understand that all that we do is thought through carefully and considerately, but also to invite them to be active participants of the discussion; so that we may learn from them about how best to engage with the land.

This came from a discussion about minimising impacts. Whilst environmental impact must be managed and mitigated to the utmost extent, many of us did feel that this discussion would never be so simple as talking about neutralising impact. It’s not enough, we felt, to simply plant more trees or improve composting systems with a specific view to neutralising the carbon emissions released by burning the temple and effigy. These things, as well as being considerate of all materials used throughout the festival, are important. Being in line with our principles they should be things we are planning and taking into account anyway. But the question of whether to burn or not reflects much more than our material impact upon the environment. It’s about our impact upon the community. It must be an integrated approach, reflecting a fundamental evolution in burner-conscious and ethos rather than just surface change in behaviour.

Two other comments I'd like to bring attention to:

  1. Even though it may still be safe to burn in the short-immediate future, we cannot claim to know what the conditions will be like in 10 or even 3 years time. The only thing we are certain in is our uncertainty.

  2. Even if it is safe to do so, what message are we sending to broader QLD, and the national burn community, by ignoring or glossing over these issues? Can adopting a no-fire policy, even temporarily, be an important act of resistance? What are we trying to say? What can we say?

Following on from this last comment I want to now propose a framework for investigating the key components of our rituals moving forward, so that we might begin to envisage how we could evolve them...


Where to from here: Questions for further discussion

  • Why do we burn? What are all the aspects of the experience of a burn (think about the physical experience: the size, heat, aesthetic. The personal experience: the emotion, the release. The need for collective input, such that the final result is greater than the sum of each of its parts).

  • How can we replicate the experience of a burn without fire? What can we replicate? What would have to change, what can we do with that change? Continuing the discussion, interrogating collectively our relationship to our rituals and brainstorming ways to adapt them.

  • What kind of work would be required over time to precipitate this internal cultural shift away from fire and towards other forms of collective expression?

  • How can we engage more meaningfully with the broader Inglewood community?

Some final, personal, thoughts:

This will be necessarily an ongoing and collaborative discussion- with perhaps no solutions offered in the short term. It’s important that, even if only a hypothetical, it is taken as inevitable that this change will take place. The point is not to pay lip service to developing an environmental consciousness but to take seriously the idea that we could transform ourselves by transforming our rituals. We have agency and responsibility over our collective output/ actions. I hope that our next meeting we determine how we plan to make space for these discussions moving forward.

With sincere thanks and gratitude to all who engaged with this discussion,

Conjurer of Light and Lantern Sorcerer


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