Homo Ludens

gail-on-playa2This word translates as: Man, the player. It represents a whole way of thinking.
We all know that we are Homo Sapiens, some may realize that we are also Homo Faber-Man the Toolmaker.

But we are not the only species who make and use tools. Many intelligent apes and monkeys do this also. Even crows have demonstrated that they can also conceptualize and create handy tools- from a bent wire to reach the bottom of a bottle, or a mayonnaise jar lid to create a fun snow slide.

As for play, man did not invent it – all young animals play. We can see this on any farm, or animal sanctuary. Play is practice for adult behavior and survival skills. Animals are also capable of understanding “double think” in which they exercise caution against violent behavior.

As Johann Huizinga- the author of Homo Ludens (a study of the play element in culture)
“A puppy engaged in mock battle with his siblings knows innately that Thou shalt not bite nor bite too hard thy brother’s ear.”

In the past week, I have seen a baby donkey- no more than a week old jumping ,spinning and running through a field of yellow flowers – apparently in ecstasy at the sheer joy of being alive.

I have chosen to do this playform because Burners intuitively reach for this outlet to satisfy a deep yearning. And that yearning is the whole hearted participation it affords for festival play. It is built into our genome, as surely as the need for food, sleep, and shelter.

I have been fascinated by how Burner culture reflects the classic play behavior stretching back through the whole history of mankind.

It is no accident that festivals, celebrations and holidays happen at more or less the same time all over the year. These are built into our genes, and we are incomplete if we do not observe them – fully and with no holds barred.

In our scientific and material world, the play element has come to be seen as the priority of children, and not to be taken seriously by grown-ups.

Oliver Wendell Holmes said “We do not stop playing because we get old – We get old because we stop playing.

Classical Play behavior requires:
The ability to take play seriously-suspending disbelief
Wearing the clothes-ie costumes
Taking on the persona of a being we invent or emulate
Playing wholeheartedly to make this persona “real”
Surrounding ourselves with others who understand the game and reinforce its reality.

Throughout our history, people have satisfied these criteria at Christmas, May Day. Haloween, Mardi Gras and Carnivale.

In Europe, there were Charivaris in which people from all classes and professions would dress up and parade through the streets- dancing and singing, and usually drinking.

In Ranleigh gardens in England- nightly festivals went on in which adults came every night to
Take part in masked-revels. The fantasy was so great that some people even changed their voices to complete their disguises.

In one piece of research I found , this kind of play was employed to help people move from the dark ages with all its restrictions on human behavior- to the Renaissance which was a flowering of human imagination.

Einstein found his inspiration through the liberation of play-doing it, for its own sake.
Carl Jung spent time when he was stumped on a concept by building and playing with toy villages and people.

H.G. Wells wrote a book called “Little Wars” in which he and a group of distinguished men lay on their stomachs and took part in battles and strategies using toy soldiers, houses, and firing pebbles from miniature cannons.

Picasso said, “When I can draw like a child, I’ll be really good.”

Joseph Campbell who wrote The Hero With a Thousand faces advised young people to “Follow your bliss”- break out of the norms that force you to take up a profession that you may not enjoy just for the sake of money, and do what really makes you happy.

There are people who are so married to their accepted image in society that they have forgotten to play. Those of you here know exactly what I’m talking about.

I have had people tell me, “that’s all well and good if you have the time to do the things you do.”

The point is, that we have to Make Time for the things you treasure or the exercises you can imagine.

When you do this, your brain grows, and you feel it almost immediately.

Mehl and I created the Green Camp because we know that when we play, we become green and stay green-ready to start over at any time in our lives.

‘Poppyseed’ in her wisdom, says “An old brown seed may not look very interesting in itself, but when you plant it in fertile soil and water it (with your tears if necessary) it will grow into a new green thing eager to start over.”

Any creative exercise expands our ability to grow and to see in new ways.

I have written a book on creating puppets, and another on creating costumes- the clothing of play.

Withing paying attention to the language we use every day, we”play” instruments we attend “Plays”

Shakespeare said that “Life is a Play”.

We have learned the rules of adult behavior, while the child trapped within us longs to play- to experiment with “What If…”

I have brought some examples of how I teach other people to create some artifacts which contribute to their sense of play—puppets, masks, wings, noisemakers, etc.

I hope you are having fun playing this weekend.