Burning Man Style Funeral


A Burning Man style funeral or memorial service is not for everyone but it may be an appropriate way to celebrate an individual who could be described as “a free spirit.”

Burning Man is a multiday art festival in the form of an ephemeral city in the middle of the Nevada desert. It is intended to showcase experimental art, self-reliance, environmental stewardship, and being in the moment. A large effigy of a man is burned at end of each Burning Man festival.

When planning a Burning Man style funeral or memorial service, creativity and celebration of life should be at the forefront. Other themes and methods to incorporate, when appropriate and when possible, may include desert or beach environments, simplicity with nature and nonuse of electricity, use of barter system and avoidance of real currency, and incorporation of a bonfire event.

The first decision to be made is if the service will be a funeral (a body is present) or a memorial service (a body is not present, but cremains can be). If the event is going to be a funeral service, certain time frames must be adhered to in order to facilitate the final disposition of the body and the options for the locations for the service are greatly reduced. If a memorial service is decided upon, many more creative options exist concerning timing and location.

Given the logistical complexities of a funeral service and the somewhat spontaneous nature of Burning Man, a memorial service is probably best suited for a Burning Man style service. A Burning Man style memorial service can be outlandish or serene depending on the personality of the deceased. But, as with any event, the first decisions to be made are the date and the location of the service.

Burning Man was originally held to coincide with the Summer Solstice; however as the popularity of the event grew the week of Labor Day (first weekend in September) became the traditional time period. It really does not matter when the memorial service is held as long as it meets the needs of friends and family. A weeklong memorial service is probably not practical for most people and the timeframe should ideally be a day or overnight camp.

The second decision to be made is to determine where the memorial service will be held. Holding the service outdoors is a key aspect to a Burning Man style service as it highlights the proximity to the natural environmental, including the harsh realities of mother nature.

The first few Burning Man events were held on a sandy Beach in San Francisco, California; later the event was moved to a dusty dry playa in the Black Rock Desert of Nevada. Ideally, a Burning Man style memorial service would be held at a beach or in a desert environment. If none of these locations can be accommodated, try to find a location with an open view of the sky and not obscured by an abundance of trees or urban life. As always, it is best to check with appropriate authorities if permits are required to hold a social gathering at the chosen location.

Once date and location have been decided, planning of the memorial service is really dependent upon how structured of a service is desired. Burning Man is a community of artists sharing their experiences and much of this cannot be scheduled. The tone of the memorial service should be one of jubilation- a celebration of the life of the deceased and very much a party. Costumes, music, and outlandish creativity should be highly encouraged.

General guidelines for when certain events will take place is really best for this type of service. A suggested outline for an overnight camp memorial service could be:

Day 1, Morning through Afternoon: Arrival and set up camp. Individual and group artwork, live music, dance, body paint, and other workshops as a tribute to the deceased.

  • Day 1, Noon: Champagne memorial toast to the deceased.
  • Day 1, Evening: One hour prior to dusk: A spoken word tribute to the deceased.
  • Day 1, Dusk: Ceremonial lighting of the bonfire or effigy as a tribute to the deceased. Music, dancing, and general celebration of the life of the deceased.
  • Day 2, Morning: For those still awake, enjoy the sunrise and enjoy the surrounding landscape and environment.
  • Day 2, Morning: Group yoga and meditation.
  • Day 2, Late Morning through Afternoon: Break camp, wish everyone farewell and a safe journey home.

As with all Burning Man events, safety of the attendees should also be addressed. Ensure food and water are plentiful, medical care is nearby and have phone numbers and addresses available, and plan to host a hangover cure-all breakfast for the 


  • Date/Time:
  • Memorial service location
  • List of Burning Man Style events:
  • Provided meals/beverages
  • Bonfire or effigy
  • Local permits

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