Despite what the name implies, firewalking does not entail walking among flames. Instead, the word firewalking refers to the act of walking on a bed of red-hot coals. Firewalking is done barefoot, with no special protection of any kind, and always on coals that are still glowing but no longer flaming.
To prepare an area for firewalking, a large bonfire is lit early in the afternoon and left to consume itself until all that remains is the coals. After the flames have died, the coals are spread out on a long thin line. Firewalking is always done at night so the glowing of the coals can be clearly seen by everybody.
Firewalking is practiced by fakirs, some branches of Buddhism, Native Americans, and Eastern Orthodox Christians in certain countries. Firewalking is sometimes part of motivational seminars, in which the "power of mind over body" is emphasized. The idea is that by preparing the mind and entering a special state of concentration, it becomes possible to avoid burns, even though logic indicates that it should happen.
Skeptics argue that there is nothing magical in firewalking, and give a series of practical explanations:
- 1. Carbon is a poor heat conductor, which means you would need to stand in the same place for several seconds before you could actually feel something.
- 2. The surface of the bed of coals is uneven, which means the soles of the feet come into contact with the coals only occasionally as the person crosses the coal bed.
- 3. The coals are coated with ash, which is an extremely effective insulator.
Even with these explanations, believers say that firewalking demands serious concentration on the part of the walker, and that it clearly shows what can be achieved through will.
Firewalking events are held around the world either as part of religious ceremonies or to encourage people to try and gain self-confidence. There is even an organization called Blazed that helps people put together firewalking events for fundraising causes, and which claims that their events help people raise thousands of dollars in a single night.