Las Vegas 5-year-old gets grant to build Jedi temple for Burning Man

Sagan Bocskor isn’t exactly what most people think about when they picture a Burning Man participant.

Sure, he has an unusual name inspired by a pop science icon, and he spends a lot of time running around in the sun shirtless. Yes, he’s got some naive ideas about the world, no job and still lives with his parents. And yes, he’s been to Burning Man only three times, and he’s already designed a structure to burn at this year’s event, although he’s managed to avoid doing much of the work building it himself.

He just turned 5.

“There’s a whole village of about 500 families up there,” said Cory Mervis-Bocskor, Sagan’s mother. “There’s lots of kids. There’s a bubble parade, a kid’s disco night and a lot of other stuff for them.”

The image of kids playing on the playa might be a hard one to picture when most of the images that show up in popular media are of half-naked 20-somethings festooned in beads, body paint and riding bicycles around a towering inferno. But the long-running event in the Black Rock Desert in Northern Nevada has scores of villages and themed camps, populated by like-minded creative individuals operating in concert.

Cory Mervis-Bocskor and her husband Leslie Bocskor have been attending the annual event for around 20 years, which takes place from the last Sunday in August to the first Monday in September. Sagan has attended since he was 6 weeks old with the exception of last year.

“Mommy needed a break,” said Cory Mervis-Bocskor. “I’m not sure he even realized he missed it because he’s so young. When I got back, I asked him what he wanted to do at Burning Man next year, and he said he wanted to build a temple. I thought that ’s too big a task for us, but then I thought if we make everything for his size, it could be done. As an adult, you would probably be uncomfortable in the small space, but for the kids, it’s perfect.”

Temples have been a tradition at Burning Man since 2000, when artist David Best created a temple of scrap wood dedicated to the mind. Later temples have been dedicated to tears, joy, forgiveness, flux and other things. Smaller temples have been created in addition to the large, centralized ones. Sagan’s is set to be one of those this year.

“He had been making things that he was calling temples all on his own,” Leslie Bocskor said. “I think he had a couple of reference points from other trips to Burning Man, not just the main temple, but the Book Temple, the Gravity Temple and others. He was also watching the animated ‘Star Wars,’ and in that, they talk about the Jedi Temple.”

Cory Mervis-Bocskor photographed Sagan’s temples, built of magnetic tiles, Legos and wooden blocks. She helped Sagan put together a proposal for a grant to build it in real life using pictures of his favorite toy temple construction along with a 3-D rendering created by a friend. It was granted and at 4 years old, Sagan became the youngest recipient of a Burning Man Global Art Grant.

“Before I sent it in, I asked Sagan one more time if he really wanted to do it and if he really wanted it to be a Jedi Temple because he was 4 and kids change their minds,” Cory Mervis-Bocskor said. “He said ‘No, Mom, it’s a Jedi Dog Temple. Everyone’s welcome.’ He wanted other kids to decorate the inside.”

With the help of friends, the family has been building the modular temple in their backyard this summer. It is set to be taken up on a truck in pieces and reconstructed on site. Cory Mervis-Bocskor got Savers to donate a lot of broken wooden knick-knacks and toys that couldn’t be sold but work well for decorating a temporary structure slated for immolation.

“Somebody noted that Sagan’s design included bilateral symmetry and an axis mundi,” Leslie Bocskor said. “Sagan has never even read ‘The Sacred and The Profane,’ but he’s incorporated elements of (Mircea) Eliade’s work into his design.”

Burning Man began on a San Francisco-area beach in 1986 and soon moved to the Black Rock Desert. At the earliest events, the festivities culminated in the burning of a huge human figure constructed of wood on the final night of the weeklong event. That still happens, but it has moved to the penultimate night, and the final night features another burn: that of a temple. Cory Mervis-Bocskor and her friends described the burning of the man as a loud, raucous event, a release of energy that the whole week has built to. The temple burn is more sedate, a contemplative silent event.

The family plans to burn the Jedi Dog Temple at Burning Man on Sept. 1.

“Sagan’s going to get to push the button that will set it on fire,” Cory Mervis-Bocskor said. “He’s very excited about the s’mores afterwards.”

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To reach East Valley View reporter F. Andrew Taylor, email or call 702-380-4532.

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