Inspiration From a Sea Goddess in the Desert by Kayla Bonnin


KaylaBonninStanding as a stark and graceful contrast to the corruptions of freedom of religion, expression, and human rights we hear about every day, there was a grand display of feminine empowerment and beauty at the most recent Burning Man festival, an event in Black Rock City, Nevada. It was a magnificent temple created for Mazu—the Chinese Goddess of the Sea. Her temple and its towering lotus flower were built, and soon thereafter ritualistically burnt, in the simplistic beauty of the desert.

An aesthetically calming temple honoring her came about by the collaboration of Project Manager Nathan Parker and Taiwanese arts foundation, the Dream Community. When I arrived at Burning Man and first saw the temple, I was in awe. The open, octagonal building created from bamboo was rustically elegant. It was designed to be indicative of a structure floating in water. Two piers stretched outwards on either side, while an eye-catching arbor framed the path to the entrance. Blue LED lights flickered on the ground in wave patterns around the temple to create the essence of water encircling the goddess’s temple. A towering 40-foot pink lotus flower sat atop the structure, while fire breathing dragon statues flanked the four corners. Once inside, a center pillar held burning incense, notebooks and pens for reflections, and small strips of papers inscribed with prayers for people to take.

Mazu

 

This goddess, Mazu, is celebrated throughout Asia as the goddess of the sea, and also of compassion and love. She is often prayed to in times of distress, as she is known to protect people in times of danger, and is most revered for assisting sailors in the open sea with safe passage. The irony is not lost on me that this temple that honors the great Sea Goddess was erected in a desert. While this may seem paradoxical, it seems she was exactly where she belonged. Black Rock Desert is an ancient lakebed, and in its prime, one of the largest lakes in North America. Mazu had simply come home.

Mazu_nightOne of the most fascinating features of the Burning Man celebrations is that its most cherished pieces of art come down in flames at the end of the week-long event, Mazu’s temple being no exception. On the second to last night of Burning Man, I biked to the ceremony for the burning of this temple. The night was cold but the energy was electric as thousands gathered eagerly and awaited the burn. The atmosphere was filled with the sense that something powerful was happening in our presence, the feeling that most come to Burning Man for—to become part of something bigger than themselves. While we huddled in the cold, two flares went off on either side of the temple, which led to a spectacular firework show to honor this moment. When the fireworks died down, white sparklers gleamed and crackled from every petal of the huge lotus, and a flash ignited within the temple. Moments later, the temple erupted into flames and the crowd roared in elation. Mazu showed off her vivacity by transforming the flames into fire tornadoes that danced around her temple as they blazed into the night.

Mazu_ablaze

It’s hard to imagine that energy that powerful would simply disappear though. I’d like to think the goddess’s spirit rose out of the ashes like the ole Phoenix, and floated to faraway places where atrocities are presently occurring, to create a future world more egalitarian, more loving, and more integrative of the feminine energies Mazu is so emblematic of. This night brought part of the ancient East together with a modern counterculture of the West, and was truly a magical convergence of worlds.

“I have been impressed with the urgency of doing. Knowing is not enough; we must apply. Being willing is not enough; we must do.”  – Leonardo Da Vinci

 

Kayla Bonnin is a Religious Studies major at California State University, Northridge. Her academic interests include interdisciplinary approaches to religion, women in religion, cognitive science of religion, and mysticism. Kayla is also a research assistant in the Cognitive Science of Religion lab group at CSUN. When she’s not swimming in papers, research, and grad school applications, she is the Marketing Manager of a winery in Santa Barbara, CA. You can find her on twitter @Kayla_Bonnin.

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Categories: Art, Community, Divine Feminine, Feminism, Feminism and Religion, Goddess

Tags: , , , , ,

9 replies

  1. Lovely piece. I wonder if Mazu is related to the Great Goddess Mago discussed by Helen Hye-Sook Hwang.

    I wonder about the underlying philosophy of the Burning Man celebrations. Is it Buddhist impermanence?

    I understand what you mean by fire being exciting and bigger than the individual, but is the burning also an act of violence? Did you experience it as such?

    Like

    • Thank you, I’m glad you enjoyed it.

      The Burning Man philosophy is quite interesting. The event lives by 10 principles, including: Radical Inclusion, Communal Effort, Radical Self-Expression, and Leave No Trace. But I can see that Buddhist impermanence would fit nicely. Thats the great thing about BM. It is whatever you want it to be.

      The fires (many structures, including the main temple of the event, are burnt down) are seen as a beautiful celebration. And a way to appreciate things in the moment because they will not always be there. The pre-fire rituals and the fires themselves were some of the most magical moments I’ve experienced.

      Like

    • Thank you, I’m glad you enjoyed it.

      The Burning Man philosophy is quite interesting. The event lives by 10 principles, including: Radical Inclusion, Communal Effort, Radical Self-Expression, and Leave No Trace. But I can see that Buddhist impermanence would fit nicely. Thats the great thing about BM. It is whatever you want it to be.

      The fires (many structures, including the main temple of the event, are burnt down) are seen as a beautiful celebration. And a way to appreciate things in the moment because they will not always be there. The pre-fire rituals and the fires themselves were some of the most magical moments I’ve experienced.

      Like

  2. I was stunned to read you are an undergraduate absolutely one of the more profound and fresh
    Posts I have ever read on this list. You are truly a light unto the world!!!!!

    Like

  3. It was a Lovely piece of Art, made with Love and Cherished by most who came across this ironic oasis.
    As for the Fire Also being an act of Violence, I say Nay, it is a freeing cathartic expression of Love and giving back to that place from which we all came.
    Experience Burningman, (or one the regional Burns around the world), and take it in as there’s Nothing like it on Earth.

    Like

  4. An acquaintance of mine took his art to Burning Man this past year. It always looks so fascinating but that many people in one place would drive me crazy unfortunately. Glad others love it and create fantastic art and a place where so many different things are possible in an egalitarian atmosphere.

    Like

  5. Thank you, Kayla Bonnin, for this post including the excellent photographs. I had no idea! And now I understand this Burning Man concept a bit better.

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  6. What a wonderful telling, Kayla. Like Ann Marie, I never much liked Burning Man. Now I do. And if a piece of paper with our wishes can fly to Her, yes, just imagine what prayers and dreams that incredible flame carried around the world. Thank you.

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  7. Beautiful! Thank you!

    Like

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