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The Story of the Rolling Mountain of the Black Rock Sibyl of Delphi

by Sadie Damascus

It was going to be my sixth year at Burning Man. I wanted a mountain from which to prophesy.

Don Jon DeCles, priest of Apollo, briefed me, and I did a ton of reading on the Sibyls and prophecies and tripods and peplodes (the dress the Statue of Liberty is wearing) and the possible toxic/magic effects of burning (or eating, smoking, inhaling) bay leaves, which are sacred to Apollo (I will never get that smell out of my nose; the smell to me of the Man burning on Saturday night was just like tons more burning bay leaves.) I downloaded Greek art and read plays, and considered iambic hexameter.

My husband built me a wheeled platform, to be powered by walking, with 1x4 mountain bones, about ten feet high; and I stretched canvas and painted snow-peaked mountains, and made a low, curtained door and cut several small cloth-covered windows. I made about four big plastic-covered art collages, sandwich-cardboards, with a little history and commentary on the Delphic and Cumaean traditions of prophecy, in text and pictures (including several good representations of the God), with quotes from Aristophanes and Yeats and Virgil and several of the Sibyls, everything picked to be meaningful to dehydrated, multiply-chemically-enhanced strangers in a blinding dust storm. These boards of course all blew away the first time I took the mountain out onto the playa and gave it to the wind.

The concept was: a slowly moving mountain (propelled by walking, or pulled by ropes), an Oracle inside (with a Toys-R-Us voice-changer), a few simple signs explaining the procedure; they drop something, anything into the Offerings basket, ask any question, and they get, for peanuts, cheap personalized miracles. I was prepped either for ego surrender, to duck low and let the God answer, or, possibly, to fake it, answering people's questions feverishly, using great books, my wit, and delaying tactics having to do with pointless ritual utterances. I was to have had extensive lights, EL wire and flashers and such, or torch fire, or something, for the nights.....but that was not to be. I was also to have been easily located right near the beachfront, on Infant, near the Temple of Ishtar, and an easy distance from the open playa, so I could walk the mountain daily from my camp out to the playing field.....ha ha, ho ho, the playa laughs.

We rented a 24' Budget truck, loaded everything we own, and barrels of water, and bikes for everyone we know, and then laid the mountain sideways and slid it up in there. Long cramped trip, eight hours, finally made it.

Once we were over the initial shock at reaching BM, we unloaded the mountain so we could get to our bed, and by Wednesday I had sanctified the space within the mountain, and fitted it out with vines and flowers, a basket for offerings (we took anything, though we mostly got condoms and candy and little toys and p*t) located under a window whose dark cloth was unattached at the bottom, so they could drop things in (but they mostly tried to look at me through it), a roof of cloth (oh yes, whew), some inspiring words and pictures, a canteen of consecrated water from our spring, and a bottle of ordinary drinking water, both clearly marked (but from the same spring.)

I also had several "crib" books, chosen out of a vast selection, of inspiring verse, great quotations, Greek drama, and random stuff, Leary and Crowley, all very light, thin books (in case I failed to receive signals from the sacred radio station). I never needed any of them, but others might have (after a few days, I retired from (quit) the soothsayer business, leaving instructions on the mountain to permit most anyone to use it as a do-it-yourself "Sibylatarium").

The mountain also contained: the plain white shift (not linen, but classically simple) that I ended up wearing, when on duty, instead of the Greek fashions I had studied and drawn and practiced and fully intended to wear (duh), hung from a hook with a knotted girdle, and a flowered wreath for the sibyl's head; a huge pile of our tree's bay leaves, heavily tied to the struts in great aromatic bunches; a candle, a lighter, rope and duct tape, writing materials, a flashlight, another hook for my pack and my clothes and such, and the voice changer. And a stepladder to support the literature boards, until they blew away, and I have no idea what happened to it, either....I set my display up near the Mountain, then I got in and brainlessly sailed away, looking for customers, and I never found any of it again.

Grover had created for the Oracle a tripod seat (traditional, to balance over the crack in the sacred mountain from which the prophetic inspiration came), but I found it unsettling to sit on, and more dangerous (when I was speeding around on the playa, the wind at my back) than sitting with my feet on the ground, a human brake, especially while trying to squint and peer out, while dropping and losing things feverishly out of the holes in the floor, every time I moved; I lost my best purple canteen that way, and a lot, I mean a lot, of bay leaves, . Every bay leaf they found on the playa was probably mine, and some even bore revealed Cumaean messages that occurred to me when nobody was asking much of anything...

So. We had discovered on arrival that, surprise, Liars Camp, which I thought reserved to us, had actually been reserved and was already inhabited by a techno-maddened crowd of noisy strangers, who had had the same idea as ours, and had claimed Liars Camp, our theme from last year also, apparently innocently, but before us. Mediation was attempted, in the blinding sleepless cranky sun, but eventually we slowed and stopped our unpacking and then started throwing everything back in the truck (except for the Mountain, which we left at 8:15 Infant overnight), and took off in a huff, moving to Enlightenment and 7:00, hear Hushville, where they knew how to treat people.

But it meant that nobody seeking us, such as my three grown kids, could have found us at our pre-announced address, and it caused problems, not least of which was how to get the mountain from our new distant location to the playa and back again (I am lazy and half-blind and fairly accident-prone, with chronic knee and foot pain, and I'm a nervous, unlicensed driver of cars; I usually crash my bike into people and things a lot at BM, and that's when I can see where I'm going). So I made arrangements to park the mountain near the Blue woman, at 7:30 on the Esplanade, where the Opera Diaspora crowd kept an eye on it, and I dragged it out to the playa with a friend, using a consecrated purple rope from Sebastopol.

continued...

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