Firewalking in Sri Lanka

Firewalking is the act of walking barefoot over a bed of hot embers or stones. It has been practiced by many people and cultures in many parts of the world, with the earliest known reference dating from Iron Age India c. 1200 BCE. It is often used as a rite of passage, as a test of strength and courage, and in religion as a test of faith.[1][2]

Firewalking festival in Japan, 2016

Modern physics has explained the phenomenon, concluding that the foot does not touch the hot surface long enough to burn and that embers are poor conductors of heat.[3]


Walking on fire has existed for several thousand years, with records dating back to 1200 BCE.[4][unreliable source?] Cultures across the globe use firewalking for rites of healing, initiation, and faith.[4]

Firewalking is also practiced by:

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. Émile Durkheim attributed this effect to the theorized notion of collective effervescence, whereby collective arousal results in a feeling of togetherness and assimilation.[13][14][15] A scientific study conducted during a fire-walking ritual at the village of San Pedro Manrique, Spain, showed synchronized heart rate rhythms between performers of the firewalk and non-performing spectators. Notably, levels of synchronicity also depended on social proximity. This research suggests that there is a physiological foundation for collective religious rituals, through the alignment of emotional states, which strengthens group dynamics and forges a common identity amongst participants.[16][17][18]


Per the second law of thermodynamics, 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.[19] 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.

The square root of the product of thermal conductivity, density, and specific heat capacity is called thermal effusivity, and determines 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.

Due to these properties, David Willey, professor of physics at the University of Pittsburgh at Johnstown, points out that firewalking is explainable in terms of basic physics and is neither supernatural nor paranormal.[20] 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.[4]

Additionally, Jearl Walker has postulated that walking over hot coals with wet feet may insulate the feet due to the Leidenfrost effect.[21]

Factors that prevent burning

Risks when firewalking

A myth that persists is that safe firewalking requires the aid of a supernatural force, strong faith, or on an individual's ability to focus on "mind over matter".[22]

Since the 20th century, this practice is often used in corporate and team-building seminars and self-help workshops as a confidence-building exercise.[23][24]

See also


  1. ^ H2G2, Earth Edition (22 October 2003). "Firewalking". H2G2. Retrieved 2003-10-22.((cite web)): CS1 maint: numeric names: authors list (link)
  2. ^ Pankratz, Loren (1988). "Fire Walking and the Persistence of Charlatans". Perspectives in Biology and Medicine. 31 (2): 291–298. doi:10.1353/pbm.1988.0057. ISSN 1529-8795. PMID 3281133. S2CID 40278024 – via Project Muse.
  3. ^ Willey, David. "Firewalking Myth vs Physics". University of Pittsburgh. Retrieved June 29, 2010.
  4. ^ a b c Binns, Corey (2006-08-14). "World's Watch and Learn: Physics Professor Walks on Fire". Retrieved 2007-04-13. (
  5. ^ Pigliasco, Guido Carlo (2007). "The Custodians of the Gift: Intangible Cultural Property and Commodification of the Fijian Firewalking Ceremony. Ph.D. Dissertation". Department of Anthropology, University of Hawai‘i. Sponsor: Institute of Fijian Language and Culture, Ministry of Institute of Fijian Language and Culture, Ministry of Fijian Affairs, Culture and Heritage. Retrieved February 8, 2018.
  6. ^ Pigliasco, Guido Carlo (July 2010). "We Branded Ourselves Long Ago: Intangible Cultural Property and Commodification of Fijian Firewalking". Oceania. 80 (2): 161–181. doi:10.1002/j.1834-4461.2010.tb00078.x.
  7. ^ Burns, Georgette Leah (1994). "Tourism Impact in Beqa". In R. J. Morrison; Paul A. Geraghty; Linda Crowl (eds.). Science of Pacific Island Peoples: Education, language, patterns & policy. Institute of Pacific Studies. p. 29. ISBN 978-9820201071.
  8. ^ Admin (February 15, 2016). "What is Firewalking in Fiji?". Captain Cook Cruises Fiji. Retrieved February 8, 2018.
  9. ^ Fulton, Robert (1902). "Art. XIII.—An Account of the Fiji Fire-walking Ceremony, or Vilavilairevo, with a Probable Explanation of the Mystery". Transactions and Proceedings of the New Zealand Institute. 35: 187–201.
  10. ^ Xygalatas, Dimitris, 2012. The Burning Saints. Cognition and Culture in the Fire-walking Rituals of the Anastenaria Archived 2012-09-02 at the Wayback Machine London: Equinox. ISBN 9781845539764.
  11. ^ Xygalatas, Dimitris (2011). "Ethnography, Historiography, and the Making of History in the Tradition of the Anastenaria" (PDF). History and Anthropology. 22: 57–74. doi:10.1080/02757206.2011.546855. S2CID 154450368.
  12. ^ "Firewalkers of the South Seas | The Fire Walking Temple (Ke Umu Ki Heiau)". 2009-08-22. Retrieved 2015-05-19.
  13. ^ Durkheim E. ‘’The elementary forms of religious life’’. New York: Free Press 1995.
  14. ^ Vilenskaya, Steffy, Larissa, Joan (December 1991). Firewalking: A New Look at an Old Enigma (First ed.). Bramble Co. pp. 253. ISBN 978-0962618437.((cite book)): CS1 maint: multiple names: authors list (link)
  15. ^ Leonardi, Lewis, Dr. (1998). The Ultimate Experience of Fire & Ice (1st ed.). Google Books: Davinci Press. ISBN 978-0966467703.((cite book)): CS1 maint: multiple names: authors list (link)
  16. ^ 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
  17. ^ 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
  18. ^ Houff, William, H. (2001-07-01). Infinity in Your Hand: A Guide for the Spiritually Curious (2nd ed.). Skinner House Books. ISBN 978-1558963115.((cite book)): CS1 maint: multiple names: authors list (link)
  19. ^ "Can you walk on hot coals in bare feet and not get burned?". The Straight Dope. 14 June 1991. Retrieved 2007-04-13.
  20. ^ Willey, David (2007). "Firewalking Myth vs Physics". University of Pittsburgh. Retrieved 2007-04-13.
  21. ^ Walker, Jearl. "Boiling and the Leidenfrost Effect" (PDF). Cleveland State University. Retrieved 2015-05-19.
  22. ^ DeMello, Margo (2009). Feet and Footwear: A Cultural Encyclopedia. Macmillan. pp. 30–32. ISBN 978-0-313-35714-5.
  23. ^ Edwards, Emily D. "Firewalking: a contemporary ritual and transformation" (PDF). MIT Press. Retrieved 2015-10-17.
  24. ^ Reynolds, Ron, Denny (2005). The New Perspective: Ten Tools for Self-Transformation. Google Books: Trafford Publishing. ISBN 978-1412047852.((cite book)): CS1 maint: multiple names: authors list (link)

Further reading