January 6, 2017
The History of Firewalking
Firewalking is an ancient ritual that has existed for thousands of years. Practiced by different people around the world, it has roots in many different cultures. The common thread that all firewalking rituals seem to share is that the firewalk itself demonstrates courage, faith and strength — the ability to stand up to one’s fears and take on whatever challenges life sends forth.
Records of firewalking date back to 1200 BC, when the first recorded firewalk took place in India during the Iron Age. The records indicate that two Brahmin priests took the firewalk together as a competition; the priest who walked further had this feat recorded. Even then, the firewalk was clearly a metaphor for spiritual strength and calmness of mind.
Firewalking is often used in healing ceremonies. The 17th century Jesuit priest Father Le Jeune once witnessed a healing firewalk among the North American Indians. In a letter he wrote to his superior, he described seeing a sick woman walking through fires with bare feet and legs. She was not burned, and she even complained of feeling no heat at all.
The !Kung Bushmen of the Kalahari desert have always used fire and firewalking in their powerful healing ceremonies. Anthropologist Laurens van der Post observed the !Kung firewalking as part of their healing rituals in 1977, and went on to write about the practice. Harvard anthropologist and psychologist Richard Katz also described the firewalking of the !Kung, indicating that the !Kung seemed to use the fire to ignite their individual energies.
Other cultures around the world have used firewalking rituals for initiation, to mete out justice, as displays of faith and for many other reasons. Firewalking has been practiced in various countries in South Asia, Africa, Europe, Central Asia, the Caribbean, East Asia, the Pacific Islands and Polynesia, the Mediterranean and North America.
The Western firewalking movement was born in the late 1970s after Scientific American published a column that served as a sort of “how to” of firewalking. Through the early 1980s, firewalking classes were taught in very limited numbers by the founder of the international firewalking movement, Tolly Burkan. In 1983, Burkan taught Tony Robbins how to firewalk, thus changing Tony’s life.
Tony knew that he wanted and needed to share the firewalking experience with others. He practiced firewalking and learned to teach firewalking to others, and by 1984 was instructing hundreds of people how to firewalk. By the mid 1980s, firewalking instructors were being trained in a more organized way, and thousands of people were challenging themselves and awakening their full potential as they literally — and figuratively — walked through the fire.
By the early 1990s, firewalking was incredibly popular in the U.S. Not just a test for those seeking answers in their personal lives, firewalking gained prominence in corporate America as multiple Fortune 500 businesses added firewalking to their arsenal of employee empowerment tools. Firewalking has since continuously earned new loyal adherents from all walks of life.
Firewalking is more than a single act undertaken on a single day of your life. It is the ultimate metaphor for mastering life’s obstacles — and our own insecurities and fears about them — through sheer force of will. Firewalking is a potent symbol of maximized human potential and of everything that is possible.
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