Firewalking, next to prayer is one of the oldest transformational tools the world has ever known. In native cultures, the shamans and medicine men were called upon to walk on hot coals, rocks or lava to purify the community. Surprisingly, firewalking made its way into every single culture on the planet. Even middle ages Christianity embraced the mysteries of firewalking. Most often used as ritual purification, healing and worship, firewalking is still being used today as a local custom in such varied places as India, Spain, Bulgaria and Fiji.
The Catholic Church canonized St. Francis of Paola in 1519 in part because of his incredible ability to handle fire. In front of church officials, St. Francis reached into a burning fire and grabbed a handful of red-hot logs. He also stepped into burning kilns, helping blacksmiths by handling red-hot pieces of iron.
Firewalking in Africa, especially among the !Kung tribe of the Kalahari Desert, has been used in powerful healing ceremonies since their tribal beginnings. The !Kung are master firewalkers and part of their ceremonies include rolling on the fire. In 1977, anthropologist Laurens van der Post published his account of witnessing an incredible !Kung firewalk:
"The !Kung dancers seemed to pass into a dimension of reality far out of reach of my understanding, and to a moment and place which belonged only technically to the desert in which we were all gathered. Indeed so obsessed did the men become with their search for fire that they were drawn nearer and nearer to the flames then, suddenly, they halved the circle and went dancing with their bare feet through the middle of the flames".
The Kahunas of the Hawaiian Islands are also famous for their affinity with fire. These island medicine men walk over molten lava. In 1880 a young Dr. William Tufts Brigham of the Bishop Museum in Honolulu found himself on the hot lava while spending the day with three of his Kahuna friends. Dr. Brigham wrote of his experience:
"When the rocks we threw on the lava surface showed that it had hardened enough to bear our weight, the Kahunas arose and clambered down the side of the wall. It was far worse than a bake oven when we got to the bottom. The lava was blackening on the surface, but all across it ran heat discoloration that came and went as they do on a cooling iron before a blacksmith plunges it into this tub for tempering. I heartily wished that I had not been so curious. The very thought of running over that flat inferno to the other side made me tremble. The Kahunas took off their sandals and tied Ti leaves around their feet. About three leaves to the foot. I sat down and began tying Ti leaves on outside my big hob-nailed boots. I wasn't taking my chances. The upshot of the matter was that I sat tight and refused to take off my boots. In the back of my mind I figured that if the Hawaiians would walk over hot lava with bare callused feet, I could do it with my heavy leather soles to protect me. Without a moments hesitation the oldest man trotted out on that terrifically hot surface. I was watching him with my mouth open and he was nearly across - a distance of a hundred and fifty feet - when someone gave me a shove that resulted in my having a choice of falling on my face on the lava or catching a running stride. I still do not know what madness seized me, but I ran. The heat was unbelievable. I held my breath and my mind seemed to stop functioning with the first few steps my boots began to burn. They curled and shrank, clamping down on my feet like a vise. The seams gave way and I found myself with one sole gone and the other flapping behind me from the leather strap at the heel. I looked down at my feet and found my socks burning at the edges of the curled leather uppers of my boots. I beat out the smoldering fire in the cotton fabric and looked up to find my three Kahunas rocking with laughter as they pointed to the heel and sole of my left boot which lay smoking and burned to a crisp on the lave. I laughed too. I was never so relieved in my life as I was to find that I was safe and that there was not a blister on my feet, not even where I had beaten out the fire in the socks".
Several North American Indian tribes were known to have great fire handling capabilities. On the Indonesian Island of Bali young girls walk on fire because the Balinese believe the gods to be "children of the people" so children perform their ritual trace-dances. In India, Tibet, Sri Lanka, China, Japan and Argentina people walk across fire as part of their cultural heritage. In Sumatra, spirit mediums fill their mouths with burning coals. Dervishes in Egypt and Algeria reportedly swallow hot coals. Firewalking is not a "hot new sport" but rather a tradition as rich in ritual and culture as the history of the world. The opportunity to firewalk in modern times, especially in Western Culture, is a relatively new phenomenon. Firewalking was brought to a Western audience as recently as 1982, when Peggy Dylan and Tolly Burkan began instructing firewalking based on the Tibetan Buddhist model.
Run The Planet thanks the Wings of Fire website (www.firewalking.org) for the permission to reprint the article "Firewalking History".