fire walk with me

In the autumn of 1935 Harry Price organised the most high powered investigation of firewalking ever made. Kashmiri Kuda Bux, wearing a black frock coat and trousers, walked steadily and deliberately over the 11 foot length of a charcoal and log pit heated beyond the melting point of steel. There were no signs of blistering on the soles of his feet.

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Price concluded that the secret of fire walking involved three factors: the short contact time of each foot on the glowing embers (with a limit of two steps per foot); the low thermal conductivity of burning or burned wood embers; and confidence and steadiness in walking.

Various other experiments have also been recorded. Jearl Walker, professor of physics at Cleveland State University was particularly intrigued by the research of Johann Gottlieb Leidenfrost, an 18th century German doctor who observed that if water was dropped onto a very hot surface, the drops danced about for a longer period than if the surface was cooler.

Jearl Walker lying beneath a bed of nails

He concluded that this “Leidenfrost effect” must be the secret of fire walking—that at a high temperature perspiration on the fire walker’s feet forms a protective layer long enough to prevent injury. Walker was courageous enough to put his theories to a personal test. He constructed a five-foot bed of hot coals in his back garden. He stated, “I suddenly found it remarkably easy to believe in physics when it is on paper, but remarkably hard to believe in it when the safety of one’s own feet is at stake. As a matter of fact, walking on hot coals would be such a supreme test of one’s true belief in what one had learned that I have suggested that graduate schools might substitute it for the PhD examination in physics. On one side of the pit of red-hot coals would be a line of fresh PhD candidates. On the other would be the physics professor with a handful of certificates. If a graduate student really believed in physics, he would stride across the coals without hesitation.”

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In 1982 a team of doctors and students from the medical faculty at Colombo University, Sri Lanka, took part in an extraordinary event designed to highlight the superiority of medical science to magic and superstition. Vasectomies were on offer on the spot, there were educational stalls for family planning and medical treatment for snake-bite and venereal disease, and doctors staging demonstrations of fire walking. They deliberately flouted religious taboos as the doctors ate pork and imbibed alcohol while walking on red-hot coals without harm. The intention was to show that such fire immunity is a scientific phenomenon and not related to spiritual faith.

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***This is not the first time we’ve tackled firewalking at the Gimcrack. you can reread the previous post here

I don’t think these shoes would offer much protection

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47 CommentsLeave a comment

  1. I think on balance I would prefer fire-walking to the ‘back, sack and crack wax’ that a former partner wanted me to undergo.

    • According to my beauty therapist, BS&C waxing is 90% of her business.

  2. Vasectomies on the spot 😯 – presumably from those same doctors who were imbibing alcohol !!!

    Suddenly, fire-walking doesn’t seem so bad !

  3. No, I’ll stick to the pork and booze, thanks all the same.

  4. Firewalking? Sweetie, dat ain’t nothing. My ex could BREATH fire and SPIT lava and in 1984 her and that lawyer burnt up my entire life’s savings inna flash of white lightening ain’t no one ever seen since.

  5. I have actually set up my office as an on-the-spot vasectomy parlour – something to relieve the tedium of filing.

    • Now you’re trespassing into my territory… 😉

  6. I wore a tuxedo to get my vasectomy. I figure if you’re going to be impotent you ought to look impotent.

    Beau Tide

  7. You can only think about getting a vasectomy for so long. In the end, there has to be a cut-off point.

  8. Firewalking is something I’ve become good at…metaphorically speaking. The nails thing, not so much.

  9. For that vasectomy do it yourself kit, I think I’ll need a bigger bandage.

  10. Just last week the following case was reported in our German newspapers :-
    A 47 yr old dad found out that his 17 yr old daughter was being screwed by a 59 yr old neighbor. Since the police refused to intervene (she was over 16), the dad got a few mates and they went round to the neighbor’s house and cut his balls off !!!

    • If this was going on for some time his daughter is a willing participant so why didn’t he cut her balls off too? Well you know.

  11. I do think I’d walk it to get the PhD. but not so fast on the vasectomy.

  12. i saw Jearl Walker and his “Flying Circus of Physics” schtick when i was an undergrad, and it was AWESOME! he was my first serious ‘nerd crush’… put liquid nitrogen in his mouth, did the hot coals and bed of nails thing… RIGHT THERE IN THE FRONT OF THE LECTURE HALL! (swoon…)

    • I had no idea…..

  13. Silly fakirs!

  14. I never even took physics, thus robbing me of a life as a fire-walker.

  15. I want something in science named after me, like an effect or a syndrome. Maybe that’s why I chose “Renal Failure” as my current online handle.

  16. I did a fire-walking class at a Pagan festival that I attended a few years back.

    The basic thrust of the class was that there are dozens of things that pretty much any person can do if they don’t hesitate or doubt. The finale was all of us walking across the fire pit but before that we all had to kick through double-thick plywood, bend an iron nail and smash a paving stone with our bare hands.

    That was an awesome day and it’s what inspired me to take up skydiving.

  17. It’s weird how so many disparate cultures used firewalking as part of a spiritual ceremony…

    • Others use walking on water 😉

      • But was the water boiling?

      • 🙂

  18. Well that settles it. I’m walking on hot coals.

  19. I’d still be very worried about the hair on the soles of feet ….. I see that Hobbits weren’t mentioned *nods wisely*

    • I am applying for a research grant for this study. Now I just need to find a few good Hobbits. I already have a number of bad Hobbits.

    • And, of course, in 1935 clothes were not made of petro-chemical nasties.If he tried it in Crimplene it’d melt and he’d be gassed.

  20. I’m rather scared of the David Lynch film ‘Fire Walk With Me’ – so much so that I haven’t seen it. Just thinking about the freaky characters makes me want to pull the blinds down and cower under the doona. By comparison, walking on hot coals presents no problem!

  21. they did an experiment on a recent “Mythbusters” episode on firewalking. very intriguing. their take was that the embers created a fine coal dust which insulated the heat from the feet to prevent blistering. very cool…literally.

    http://everyjoe.com/entertainment/mythbusters-firewalking-101/

  22. I once walked on a Lloyd Cole CD. It was pretty scary.

    • Ha! That raised a chuckle!

  23. Fascinating!

  24. I wish I had something to add. I went and looked at the article you linked to on the artist with the shoes and naked women. Very interesting stuff. I really liked the bag men. The model featured in the shoes above needs to eat a few more cookies.

  25. A few years back the management of Starbucks went up to the Hunter Valley in NSW for a team building exercise. Unsurprisingly several ended up in hospital with burns. Perhaps the coals were of poor quality or at the wrong temperature, maybe a lack of expertise – appropriate somehow…

    The King

    • My favourite memory from this news item was that, even though former ‘walkers’ were sobbing in agony and nursing their burns, other employees kept doing it because HR had told them to.

      • Yep, about as futile as someone saying ‘look guys I don’t think Australia is a good market for you…”

        The King

    • I think it was KFC. Perhaps you read it here?

      https://nursemyra.wordpress.com/2009/03/07/foot-licking/

  26. My dad used to come into my science classes and do physics experiments when I was a kid. I was really proud of him because he’s so smart and funny. Then, in 8th grade, he tried to emphasize how important statistics are, and took a hammer and broke the front science sink in half. I’ll bet that science teacher wished he had walked on coals, instead.

  27. Leidenfrost, by the way, means “suffering chills” in German.

    • Thanks headbang – you really are the go-to guy for words

  28. I have done it, it was fun

  29. I’ll stick to trying to walk on water — if you can pull it off the perks are much bigger.

    Though as it is, I can’t even dance in high heels.

  30. “Get Your Degree Here”

    Oh, how you make me laugh, NM…


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