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A Burner Lexicon: Virgin

Posted in A Burner Lexicon, and Burning Man

A virgin initiation in progress at the Virgin Bell. Greeters' Station, Black Rock City, 2009. Photo by Nico Aguilera.

Virgin, –noun, We all start somewhere. Thanks in part to the subculture which surrounds the Rocky Horror Picture Show, virginity is not just for sex anymore. A Burn Virgin (or Birgin as some would have it) faces the unique challenge of not just a single unfamiliar event, but days of new, often confusing experiences.

Virgins arrive on the playa from many sources — many are brought by their more experienced friends, but others stumble upon a Burning Man event with much less foreknowledge. Regardless of how much they read or are told, nothing but living through an event can fully prepare one for what is to come.

Despite this, there are some virgins who have studied so much about the culture, and participate so much even their first time, that they fool others into thinking they have been attending for years — such a person is called a  Stealth Virgin.

A virgin’s burn begins at the Greeters’ Station, where they face various initiations from ringing a Virgin Bell to creating ‘dust angels.’ From there they are thrown headfirst into the wild, chaotic world of the Burn. Even if they are camping alone, they will often end up guided by others who know their way around. A Burner who helps virgins is called a Sherpa, after the mountain guides who help Westerners climb Mt. Everest.

There is some debate over when a virgin ceases to be and becomes a full-fledged Burner, but it is the opinion of the lexicographer and others that this happens when a virgin witnesses his or her first effigy burn.

I was the worst kind of virgin when I arrived at my first Burn — I didn’t know what I was doing, but I thought I did because I’d read about Burning Man and been to other festivals which were superficially similar. After trying repeatedly to set up camp in the middle of space reserved for various theme camps, I was eventually adopted by a group of Seattle Burners. Within hours they had my mind suitably altered to the point that I realized I was out of my element and experiencing something new — the proper mindset for a virgin. Though FlipSeattle no longer exists as a single group, I owe them my thanks — who knows if I’d be here writing this now without their guidance.

Thanks to Ugly Dougly for suggesting ‘sherpa’ and to FIGJAM and Desert Rat for suggesting ‘stealth virgin.’

Other entries in A Burner Lexicon can be found at

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