A Collection of Strange Beliefs, Amusing Deceptions, and Dangerous Delusions

From Abracadabra to Zombies

reader comments: firewalking

2 July 201
Hello skepdic friend(s),

I am an avid fire spinner (I play with foreign a safe, professional, artistic manner [sic]) who travels to various fire spinning festivals where we learn, teach, and share the fun of a common passion. Your article on firewalking intrigued me, and I felt I had to share some interesting perspective on this.

I have personally done firewalking once and sat through three firewalking ceremonies done by trained professionals. One of the biggest keys to a successful firewalk is getting the coals to a proper temperature (obviously if they are not cooled enough, everyone will get burned) but once they have reached the "ideal" temp, something interesting happens when people walk on them. Some get burned and some don't, but what's really fascinating is that although anyone can get burned by long exposure, some get burned and the point of where they get burned can tell them about their own body.

Our body is a network of various streams (blood vessels/arteries, nerves, etc.) and there is a technical term which escapes my mind atm that is in regards to heat distribution and resistance that is affected by blood flow. With proper blood flow, the skin is more protected against heat, and when improper blood flow is happening anywhere in the body, it affects the feet as well, making a "fire kiss"-- as we like to call it--much more likely. One firewalking ceremony we had a chart showing what spots of the feet are connected to what parts of the body and by seeing where the burn occurred [sic], it's related to something in the body, such as an old surgery, and actually enlightened some people about less than optimum health that they were unaware of. Very fascinating way of approaching firewalking without falling into the superstitions.


reply: You may be right but I still find the practice of firewalking silly. I'm amazed (not really) that people like Tony Robbins can convince thousands of my fellow humans that doing the firewalk will help them overcome some other fears they might have. I doubt too many people worry on a daily basis about having to walk barefoot over burning embers or coals. I have no interest in firewalking except as an example of another way people are too lazy to investigate a subject and too gullible to do any critical thinking about claims made by self-help gurus. The truth is that these gurus help themselves to their clients' gullibility and money. The number of satisfied customers indicates that there is too little skepticism and critical thinking. So, what's new?


2 Dec 1999 
I just tripped across you site this evening...and read your comments on fire walking which I have done...just a guest along on a Halloween Eve...no intention and really no need to know...but when I was asked to just place my hand over the coals to see there was no heat...NONE...as they burned red hot bright...I burst into laughter...however, I had no idea of the science which you refer to...or the limits of time...or one will get burnt...but we stood and danced upon the red hot embers for some 30 minutes...and even held the red hot beauties in our hands...felt no heat...none whatsoever...yet a sparking hot ember was in my hand...as I squeezed my hand into a fist around it...while we were still standing upon the coals...so much for the run fast or you will get burnt...only once did the embers feel hot...and that was when my logical and rational mind went to ponder the reason and science behind what I was experiencing...for I assure you that was a hot, hot fire as it burned on that brisk Halloween Eve...and I was told to snap out of it...or else I would get burnt...as evidently my mind was slipping into the concept of limits...

reply: Evidently.

However, I was really looking for something else on your site...as I continue to experience electrical jolts from objects...receiving extreme charges of some sort at times...more than a spark from the carpet...and looking for a scientific or otherwise anecdotal explanation of this...as they are very intense at times...I think anecdotes can lead one to more scientific reasons...as I have been experiencing so-called paranormal things for some time...
Virginia C. Cobler, M.A. (political scientist)

reply: Next Halloween Eve you should repeat your experience for James Randi and collect a million dollars. Standing on, dancing on, and holding red hot coals for thirty minutes without feeling heat or getting burned seems paranormal enough for me. For the sudden experience of extreme electric jolts I would see a neurologist before I jumped to the conclusion that they are paranormal happenings.

27 Jun 1999
I agree with you to a certain extent regarding the explanation that you gave for firewalking. Although I have never been firewalking I have done a similar thing by picking up a scoopful of hot coals in my bare hands without being burnt. I have done this on numerous occasions and whilst I have never held onto the coals for more than a second or so I yet to be burnt. The skin on my hands is not at all thick and the conditions of my hands (i.e. hot, wet, cold etc) makes no difference to being able to do it. However I have seen someone get burnt doing it, that being because there was a tin can submerged in the coals which he touched, thus rapidly conducting heat into his hand and burning him. I certain that if you sprinkled a couple of blunt nails (being metal they would conduct heat faster) into a fire pit and asked a fire walker to walk across it then no amount of "faith" would protect him.

However that being said I have also heard of people being burnt because they were convinced that they were going to get burnt. Something of a psycho-somatic response, however I am unsure of the validity of this claim.
Duncan Gill

reply: And well you should be.

Come visit my site. I just can not write off my experiences to low coal thermal conductivity. As you can see I present firewalks on real fire and not just coals, and as you can see, my participants don't look like they are having a bad time.

Can you even acknowledge that there might be a life force that could possibly protect you?
Ilmar Saar

response: All I can see is that you plan to make a lot of money raking people over the coals.

30 Jun 1996
This dictionary is clearly a bastion of logic, and I love it. One complaint, however--the ability to firewalk is not due, as you write, to the ability of coals to transfer heat to the human foot. The coals in my grill seem to do that just fine to a porterhouse! It's actually due to what's called the Leidenfaust (or something like that) effect. It's the same reason that if you lick your finger, you can extinguish a candle flame with your fingers without getting burnt. What happens is that the intense heat evaporates instantly the sweat on your feet, creating a layer of water vapor. Even though it is extremely thin, water vapor conducts heat very poorly, and so your feet are protected (as long as you don't stop for a hot dog!). In short, all the heat goes to evaporating the sweat and so doesn't give you third-degree burns. Those who are burned just don't have sweaty-enough feet (isn't that ironic? Being punished for having NONSMELLY feet?). This is standard physical thought (See Jearl Walker--he's a physicist with. . .Princeton? I think?)

Anyway, get your facts straight.
--Tyson C Burghardt

reply: Our disagreement is not about facts, but about the explanation of facts. The liquid insulation explanation is mentioned in my entry but I don't think it is as good an explanation as the conductivity theory. However, it is true that sweat or liquid can briefly insulate the foot while prancing over hot embers. Some firewalkers systematically dip their feet in water before their incendiary strolls. Sweat and water may help make the firewalk less dangerous, but I don't think they explain how anyone can walk on coals. On the other hand, some firewalkers dry their feet before firewalking and dip their feet in water after the firewalk. That makes more sense to me. A dry foot may be less likely to pick up any loose embers and a wet foot will extinguish any embers that might be clinging to a foot.

16 Jul 1996
I was interested in your article about fire walking. The trick is simple, I have performed this act serveral times:
a) The feet must be dry,
b) The feet must be cold

The latter is achieved by walking through a creek, water at the beach or (very effective) cooling ones legs in ice for about five minutes.

A simple example is as follows:

a) Cool your thumb and index finger on a cold glass of ice water.
b) Wipe the fingers dry and hold a (red hot) burning cigarette between thumb and index finger, on any finger which you cooled down.

You will be able to hold the hot cigarette between your fingers for an impressive period of time, without burning yourself.

Again, the trick is: Feet, legs, hands or fingers must be cold and dry!
--H. D. Krebs

reply: thanks for the cool tip.

19 Feb 1997
I recently walked over hot coals. I was fully prepared beforehand.

Two others in my group burnt their feet and were in hospital for over a week. One requires skin grafts. Forty others walked over with little or no ill-effect. Strange how the skeptics believe it is not really possible unless "their soles are thin, they don't move quickly enough, they spend too much time on the coals, the coals are too hot or because the coals are of a kind with a relatively high heat capacity." I might mention the two men went over once with no problem, but were burnt on the SECOND try (thereby proving that their soles are not too thin).

They agree that on the second try they were not mentally as prepared as their previous try. They, like you, thought that it was not a matter of mental preparation, just the way it is. How wrong they turned out to be.

Helene Comber
Curtin University Western Australia

reply: Did it ever occur to you that the explanation of the men who failed might be wrong? Declaring something to be the case does not make it so. By believing you succeeded because you were "mentally prepared" may be a delusion, even if a pleasant and harmless one. In any case, I fail to see how it is "thereby proved" that their soles were not too thin on the grounds that they made it through the first time and were severely burnt on the second run. In fact, I have no idea why you think sole thickness is a key issue here. They may have burnt off some layers of skin on the first run through; they may not have moved fast enough on the second try; the fire may have been hotter the second time through due to less ash covering the coals (the ash being moved and removed by the 40 who ran through the first time). There are quite a few alternative exlanations besides lack of mental preparation to explain the burns.

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