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Title: Firewalking  
Author: World Heritage Encyclopedia
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Subject: Barefoot, Worship in Hinduism, Firewalker, Neville G. Pemchekov Warwick, Tolly Burkan
Collection: Circus Skills, Fire, Fire in Hindu Worship, Walking
Publisher: World Heritage Encyclopedia


Firewalking in Sri Lanka

Firewalking is the act of walking barefoot over a bed of hot embers or stones.

Firewalking has been practiced by many people and cultures in all parts of the world, with the earliest known reference dating back to Iron Age India – c. 1200 BCE. It is often used as a rite of passage, as a test of an individual's strength and courage, or in religion as a test of one's faith.[1]

Modern physics has explained the phenomenon, concluding that the amount of time the foot is in contact with the ground is not enough to induce a burn, combined with the fact that embers are not good conductors of heat.[2]


  • History 1
  • Persistence and functions 2
  • Explanation 3
    • Factors that prevent burning 3.1
    • Risks when firewalking 3.2
  • See also 4
  • References 5
  • Further reading 6
  • External links 7


Walking on fire has existed for several thousand years, with records dating back to 1200 B.C.[3] Cultures across the globe, from Greece to China, used firewalking for rites of healing, initiation, and faith.[3]

Firewalking is also practiced by:

  • Indians in South Asia and their diaspora in Sri Lanka, Mauritius, Réunion, South Africa, Malaysia and Singapore who celebrate the Thimithi festival.
  • The Sawau clan in the Fijian Islands[4][5]
  • Eastern Orthodox Christians in parts of Greece (see Anastenaria) and Bulgaria (see nestinarstvo), during some popular religious feasts.[6][7]
  • Fakirs and similar persons.
  • !Kung Bushmen of the African Kalahari desert. (The !Kung use fire in their healing ceremonies.)
  • Little girls in Bali in a ceremony called Sanghyang dedari, in which the girls are said to be possessed by beneficent spirits.
  • Japanese Taoists and Buddhists.
  • Some tribes in Pakistan as a justice system, wherein the accused is asked to firewalk. If he does firewalk and is unharmed, he is deemed innocent; otherwise, he is considered guilty.
  • Tribes throughout Polynesia and documented in scientific journals (with pictures and chants) between 1893 and 1953.[8]
  • People of San Pedro Manrique in the autonomous community of Castile and León, Spain, as part of Saint John's Eve celebrations. Walkers generally carry someone on their shoulders, since the extra weight helps avoid combustion.
  • People from South India especially Mangalore, Bhootaradhane,Ottekola worship of demi-gods is one of the distinct cultures of the coastal region. Though rituals vary from region to region, the people’s dedication coupled with fear is omnipresent

Persistence and functions

Social theorists have long argued that the performance of intensely arousing collective events such as firewalking persists because it serves some basic socialising function, such as social cohesion, team building, and so on. Emile Durkheim attributed this effect to the theorized notion of collective effervescence, whereby collective arousal results in a feeling of togetherness and assimilation.[9][10][11] A scientific study conducted during a fire-walking ritual at the village of

External links

  • Kendrick Frazier, The Hundredth Monkey: And Other Paradigms of the Paranormal — The author describes his participation in a firewalking exercise, his observations, and possible explanations of the phenomenon

Further reading

  1. ^ H2G2, Earth Edition. "Firewalking". H2G2. H2G2. Retrieved 2003-10-22. 
  2. ^ Willey, David. "Firewalking Myth vs Physics".  
  3. ^ a b c Binns, Corey (2006-08-14). "World's Watch and Learn: Physics Professor Walks on Fire".   (
  4. ^ Pigliasco, Guido Carlo, 2007. The Custodians of the Gift: Intangible Cultural Property and Commodification of the Fijian Firewalking Ceremony. Ph.D. Dissertation, University of Hawai‘i.
  5. ^ Pigliasco, Guido Carlo, 2010. "We Branded Ourselves Long Ago: Intangible Cultural Property and Commodification of Fijian Firewalking", Oceania 80 (2): 237–257.
  6. ^ Xygalatas, Dimitris, 2012. The Burning Saints. Cognition and Culture in the Fire-walking Rituals of the Anastenaria London: Equinox. ISBN 9781845539764.
  7. ^ Xygalatas, Dimitris, 2011. "Ethnography, Historiography, and the Making of History in the Tradition of the Anastenaria", History and Anthropology 22 (1): 57–74
  8. ^ "Firewalkers of the South Seas | The Fire Walking Temple (Ke Umu Ki Heiau)". 2009-08-22. Retrieved 2015-05-19. 
  9. ^ Durkheim E. ‘’The elementary forms of religious life’’. New York: Free Press 1995.
  10. ^ Vilenskaya, Steffy, Larissa, Joan (December 1991). Firewalking: A New Look at an Old Enigma (First ed.). Bramble Co. p. 253.  
  11. ^ Leonardi, Lewis, Dr. (1998). The Ultimate Experience of Fire & Ice (1st ed.). Google Books: Davinci Press.  
  12. ^ Konvalinka, I., Xygalatas, D., Bulbulia, J., Schjoedt, U., Jegindø, E-M., Wallot, S., Van Orden, G. & Roepstorff, A. 2011. “Synchronized arousal between performers and related spectators in a fire-walking ritual”, ‘’Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences 108’’(20): 8514-8519
  13. ^ Xygalatas, D., Konvalinka, I., Roepstorff, A., & Bulbulia, J. 2011 "Quantifying collective effervescence: Heart-rate dynamics at a fire-walking ritual",Communicative & Integrative Biology 4(6): 735-738
  14. ^ Houff, William, H. (2001-07-01). Infinity in Your Hand: A Guide for the Spiritually Curious (2nd ed.). Skinner House Books.  
  15. ^ "Can you walk on hot coals in bare feet and not get burned?".  
  16. ^ Willey, David (2007). "Firewalking Myth vs Physics".  
  17. ^ Walker, Jearl. "Boiling and the Leidenfrost Effect" (PDF). Cleveland State University. Retrieved 2015-05-19. 
  18. ^ DeMello, Margo (2009). Feet and Footwear: A Cultural Encyclopedia. Macmillan. pp. 30–32.  
  19. ^ Edwards, Emily D. "Firewalking: a contemporary ritual and transformation" (PDF). MIT Press. MIT Press. Retrieved 2015-10-17. 
  20. ^ Reynolds, Ron, Denny (2005). The New Perspective: Ten Tools for Self-Transformation. Google Books: Trafford Publishing.  


See also

Since 20th century, this practice is often used in corporate and team-building seminars and self-help workshops as a confidence-building exercise.[19][20]

Firewalking is frequently held to imply that the feat requires the aid of a supernatural force, strong faith, or on an individual's ability to focus on "mind over matter".[18]

  • People have burned their feet when they remained in the fire for too long, enabling the thermal conductivity of the embers to catch up.
  • One is more likely to be burned when running through the embers since running pushes one's feet deeper into the embers, resulting in the top of the feet being burnt.
  • Foreign objects in the embers may result in burns. Metal is especially dangerous since it has a high thermal conductivity.
  • Embers which have not burned long enough can burn feet more quickly. Embers contain water, which increases their heat capacity as well as their thermal conductivity. The water must be evaporated already when the firewalk starts.
  • Wet feet can cause embers to cling to them, increasing the exposure time.

Risks when firewalking

  • Water has a very high specific heat capacity (4.184 J g−1 K−1), whereas embers have a very low one. Therefore, the foot's temperature tends to change less than the coal's.
  • Water also has a high thermal conductivity, and on top of that, the rich blood flow in the foot will carry away the heat and spread it. On the other hand, embers have a poor thermal conductivity, so the hotter body consists only of the parts of the embers which are close to the foot.
  • When the embers cool down, their temperature sinks below the flash point, so they stop burning, and no new heat is generated.
  • Firewalkers do not spend very much time on the embers, and they keep moving.

Factors that prevent burning

Additionally, Jearl Walker has postulated that walking over hot coals with wet feet may insulate the feet due to the Leidenfrost effect.[17]

Due to these properties, David Willey, professor of physics with the University of Pittsburgh, says he believes firewalking is explainable in terms of basic physics and is not supernatural nor paranormal.[16] Willey notes that most fire-walks occur on coals that measure about 1,000 °F (538 °C), but he once recorded someone walking on 1,800 °F (980 °C) coals.[3]

The square root of the product of thermal conductivity, density, and specific heat capacity is called thermal effusivity, and tells how much heat energy the body absorbs or releases in a certain amount of time per unit area when its surface is at a certain temperature. Since the heat taken in by the cooler body must be the same as the heat given by the hotter one, the surface temperature must lie closer to the temperature of the body with the greater thermal effusivity. The bodies in question here are human feet (which mainly consist of water) and burning coals.

When two bodies of different temperatures meet, the hotter body will cool off, and the cooler body will heat up, until they are separated or until they meet at a temperature in between.[15] What that temperature is, and how quickly it is reached, depends on the thermodynamic properties of the two bodies. The important properties are temperature, density, specific heat capacity, and thermal conductivity.



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