An Ancient Experiment

Three or four times a month, when the need for healing within the community builds, the Kung light a huge fire and the dance begins. The acknowledged healers of the tribe, those with the strongest healing energy, do the dancing. The rest of the people sit in circles, making music and singing special healing songs. For hour after hour, the healers will dance around the fire, ever faster, the intensity building. They dance so hard and so long that they wear a groove, and then a circular ditch into the earth.

Finally, after many hours, a moment arrives when the dancers’ healing energy becomes so strong that their dancing around the fire becomes a dancing into the fire. One dancer steps into and through the flames, while others stoop to pick coals up in their hands and rub them into their chests, showering coals about their heads and dancing ever more ecstatically, ever more feverishly. Eventually, they reach a climax and the dancers gradually slow, collapsing into a state of trance, prayer, reverence, and awe. They pour healing energy out to the members of the community who need it most.

Then, almost on the second of midnight, the hero of the dance, Nxou’s slender and comely uncle, suddenly found fire the way it was meant to be found. He knelt down reverently beside it, the singing died away in one last sob of utter exhaustion, the dancers sank to the earth while the man picked up the coals in his naked hands and arose to scatter them far and wide for all the earth to share . . . —Laurens van der Post

The firewalker tests the hypothesis that if he observes specific preparations, he can walk on the fire without burning. After the walk, the firewalker has unambiguous data to consider — pain or no pain, burn or no burn, injury or no injury — which lead in turn to a confirmation of the original hypothesis, or to a need to develop a new one.

For instance, if you were an Anastenaride, you would believe in a world created by the Christian God and governed to some extent by the living presence of saints. Further, you would believe that if you properly engaged the spirits of Saint Constantine and Saint Helen, through a day-long ritual culminating in total abandonment to trance-inducing ecstatic dance, then the powerful healing presence of Saint Constantine would possess you and enable you to dance on a bed of hot coals for an hour without burning. If you then followed that formula, year after year after year, attaining the same basic results, you would have proven to your satisfaction some basic laws about the nature of your world.

The fact that you could walk without burning would tell you that human beings can creatively influence the emergence of miracles. The fact that dancers sometimes get burned (one Anastenaride speaks of being so badly burned—a sign to him of imperfect faith—that he vowed, and deeply regretted, that he would never dance on the fire again) would tell you never to take the process lightly, that you can always more, and that limitations exist, even to the powers of Saints.

For most of the world's firewalkers, the firewalk serves as a method for testing their beliefs about the nature of reality and for gathering data upon which to base future actions.

Dancing with the Fire

Unless otherwise noted, all text is from the book, Dancing With the Fire (Bear & Co, 1989), by Michael Sky.