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Why Don't People Who Walk On Hot Coals Burn Their Feet?

Updated on February 5, 2013

Calling all fire-walkers!

Recently I was at my local supermarket, glancing over the advertisement and promotions board (which I find myself often being drawn to). When I caught sight of a poster for a charity event, these are not unusual I come across them often, however they are usually treks, marathons, cycling events or swimathons. Sometimes they are fares, fates, coffee mornings or bake sales and I frequently see some bingo evenings being arranged. As well as tandem skydives, bungee jumps and twenty four hour zumba sessions. However this particular one had a very different approach to fund-raising and it involved fire-walking!

I don't know about you but to me this was a very novel concept, I found myself thinking it was both a brilliant idea and a terrifying one. I have done a fair bit of fund-raising in my time, running book stalls, making chocolate crispies, selling raffle tickets and even running five thousand metres for race for life, in aid of cancer research. All very run of the mill stuff, but helpful all the same and very rewarding.

Raising money for charity is one of the most important things we can actively do in our lives, to help our fellow human beings and make the world a better place to live. I rolled the idea around in my mind for a few days, convincing myself into wanting to do it and then persuading myself back out of it. This idea had really got me thinking and I had a lot of questions. So I did what I always do when faced with a difficult decision, I decided to do some research first and gather as much information about fire-walking as I could before I made a choice either way.


Why do people want to fire-walk?

Walking over a pile of burning embers in bare feet is not everyone's idea of fun. In fact the notion to many is simply incomprehensible, I however I guess I was one of the exceptions and was considering it anyway.

People who decide to fire-walk nowadays have very different reasons for wanting to do it then they used to hundreds of years ago. The fire-walkers of today, rather then being bound by cultural tradition or experiencing religious leanings, they want to toy with the notion of mind over matter or pass some spiritual right of passage. Fire-walking can also be a bonding experience, or in my case considered out of pure curiosity.

Where does the act of fire-walking come from?

The human fascination with flame is as old as the births of the ancient civilizations and as deep as any primal instinct we have. Fire brings heat, light, comfort and hope, but along with that it can also be the cause of devastation, destruction, injury and even death. We can create it, manipulate it, fight it and hope to prevent it but we can not control it.

For some of these reasons and more, religion and fire have an entwined history together. Every continent of the world has their own unique take on where the origins of fire began and even of how we mere mortals came to obtain it. The Bible brings up the subject of fire in numerous passages, notably the burning bush, the baptism of fire and the most famous of all the burning depths of Hell itself. And this is where the first acts of fire-walking sprang from.

Fire-walking was used to demonstrate an act of faith, some claimed that divine forces prevented them from burning their feet and that they went into a heightened religious state. Some cultures believed it symbolised the coming of age or a right of passage.

The secrets of fire-walking.

  • Firstly the events are held in the evening or early night when the temperature is low.
  • The participants walk or stand for an hour or more with bare feet in damp or wet grass.
  • The burning coals of which are to be walked on are only charcoal that has been barbecued and are passed there hottest burning point.
  • They are laid on a cold patch of ground and away from the heated place where they were lit from.
  • The length of the coals is only about fifteen feet long, so it also takes just seconds to walk over.
  • Plus the feet only touch the coals for no more than second per step, therefore not leaving enough time for what little heat the coals are emanating, to do any damage.

Did you know?

One of the first written accounts of fire-walking dates back to 1901 when a member of the Smithsonian society watched a fire-walking ceremony in Tahiti. However his account was not one of disbelief, awe or surprise but instead one of plain reasoning. He argued that although the volcanic rock of which the ceremonial oven was made would have been intensely hot, it was in fact a poor conductor and the surface on which they walked was probably only warm. Which echoes what we know about fire-walking today.

Mind over matter? Not quite.

On the television show tomorrows world (no longer running) Professor Richard Wiseman, conducted a fire-walking experiment live. Master fire-walkers attempted to walk over sixty metres of burning coals, believing that mind over matter would protect them from injury. Unfortunately all of them suffered from second degree burns and failed to complete the walk in it's entirety.

Over to you.

Have you ever walked on hot coals?

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