Catharsis, A Burn on the Mall to Heal from the Election

Natalie Ginsberg, MAPS Policy and Advocacy Manager

WASHINGTON, D.C.—The second annual Catharsis on the Mall, a free and radically inclusive 48-hour healing vigil based on the core principles of Burning Man, will begin this Friday, November 11 (Veterans Day), and run until Sunday, November 13. Catharsis seeks to elevate healing in the immediate wake of this traumatic election.

Catharsis features a range of art, speakers, live music, workshops, and Burning Man art cars including the golden dragon Abraxas. Catharsis culminates on Saturday evening with a burn of a memorial temple dedicated to those who have experienced trauma, followed by cathartic dancing until sunrise.

This election has traumatized and triggered our nation. From the fear-mongering, economic insecurity and wall-building, to the islamophobia, sexism, racism, partisanship, and hate exposed in the United States. The American Psychological Association reports that 52% of Americans are coping with “high levels of stress brought on by this election,” an announcement released weeks before the results were announced.

Last year, Catharsis gathered over 1,000 people to heal the wounds of the war on drugs. This year, Catharsis focuses on healing from the trauma left behind from not only the drug war, but from all oppressive policies, systems, and modes of thought. So, we must celebrate ending cannabis prohibition in California—the world’s sixth biggest economy—as well as Massachusetts, Nevada, and likely Maine, and legalizing medical cannabis in Florida, North Dakota, and Arkansas. Cannabis will serve as a useful tool for healing in this nation.

The Multidisciplinary Association of Psychedelic Studies (MAPS) has co-created Catharsis with DC community activists and Burners, and serves as its fiscal sponsor. In addition to MAPS’ FDA-approved clinical research evaluating smoked cannabis as treatment for PTSD in veterans, funded by the state of Colorado, and MAPS’ work to make MDMA-assisted psychotherapy a legal treatment for veterans, sexual assault survivors, and others who suffer from PTSD, MAPS recognizes the healing potential for psychedelics and cannabis in partnership with other approaches to holistic healing, including community healing spaces like Catharsis.

PTSD can result from individual as well as community violence, including specific experiences such as war or rape, or from ongoing traumatic experiences such as racism, homophobia, or the 2016 election. Marginalized communities in the United States experiences the highest rates of trauma, yet are also the most widely under-diagnosed.

“Trauma, at its core, is the experience of feeling profoundly unsafe,” says Catharsis co-organizer and MAPS Policy and Advocacy Manager Natalie Lyla Ginsberg. “Catharsis seeks to unite people in healing and reflection, so we can move forward with intention and break these cycles of fear and hate.”

The Zendo Project will be present, for anyone feeling overwhelmed, seeking a quiet space, and a friend to sit with,” explains MAPS Harm Reduction Director and MDMA psychotherapist Sara Gael. “Zendo Project is psychedelic harm reduction, intended to provide a safe space for those experiencing a difficult experience, psychedelic or otherwise.” Though illegal drug use is not permitted at Catharsis, we anticipate many people will be going through challenging emotional experiences as a result of the election.

The permitted burn ceremony begins at 8:00pm on Saturday, November 12. Designed by Airforce veteran, activist and artist Michael Verdon, the Temple of Rebirth is a space for individual and communal healing. Throughout Catharsis, people are encouraged to leave writings, images, and small objects to be burned away. The collective burn serves as a powerful act of healing by facilitating transformation. This practice was popularized by Burning Man, and draws on fire traditions from across the globe. Notably, in Londonderry, Northern Ireland, this practice facilitated healing in a deeply divided and violently traumatized city.

“Our nation needs Catharsis more than ever after this traumatic election cycle,” says David Bronner, MAPS Board Member and CEO of Dr. Bronner’s Soaps. “Catharsis creates a rare space for secular, spiritual healing. We need to focus on building community based in radical inclusion and love.”