Fire-Walkers: Religious and Psychological
One of the featured experiences on my recent tour of Greece was a religious ceremony which included devotees walking on hot coals. I had already seen a phenomenal performance by KOMAR at a Yoga festival in Dallas, Texas in 1975. Komar holds the Guinness record for the hottest coals with the temperature scientifically measured, and his chart is discussed in my book Expanding Astrology’s Universe. It is one thing to read about natives in the south sea islands, and quite another experience to see it happen. I still feel that fire- walking is one of the strongest challenges to the theories of materialism. There is just no way to explain the power of the mind to protect the body from being burned.
The trip to Greece was planned in June 1983, including the visit to northern Greece to see the fire-walk. As the date for the trip approached, the working of synchronicity became visible. In late March or early April 1984, the Los Angeles Times published a front page article describing fire-walking by “ordinary” Americans. It was being taught by a student of Neurolinguistic Programming, a form of modern psychotherapy which was partly developed by students of Milton Erickson, a master hypnotherapist. It was being practiced in California, Arizona, and other states, by doctors, teachers, housewives, business people, etc. And, mostly, there were no injuries though the teachers acknowledged being burned once or twice when their mental state of concentration slipped.
The synchronicity continued with a man I met at a psychology conference the week after Easter. Mr. X had been part of a group taught by one of the individuals mentioned in the Times article. All 16 people in his group had successfully walked on the fire after four hours of training. No one had any previous experience, and no one was even blistered. Mr. X had a videotape of the activity which I was able to see. And, he was willing to share his birth data with me.
Looking at his chart, we can see the Scorpio emphasis with its potential for self-knowledge and self-mastery. He has Ascendant, Venus, Juno, East Point, and Sun all in Scorpio. To put further emphasis on letter eight, Pluto is his most elevated planet, and Chiron and the south node of the Moon are in the eighth house. Additional fixed emphasis comes from factors in all the fixed signs and houses. Remember, the keynote of fixity is enduring self-will and concern with power. Additional power potential is shown by planets in Capricorn. Power can be manifested in many ways, over the self, other people, knowledge, or the material world. Mr. X has sought to gain power over knowledge and himself.
The theme of a search for the Absolute is also very clear in the chart of Mr. X. The north node of the Moon, Mercury, and the Antivertex are in Sagittarius with the Moon and Pluto in the Sagittarius house. There are factors in all the mutable signs and all the mutable houses except for the sixth. The rulers of the first house Scorpio and Sagittarius (Pluto, Mars, and Jupiter) are all in mutable houses, so Mr. X is identified with the search for knowledge as well as with the drive for self-mastery. Mars in Aquarius adds to the curiosity about everything in the world, the willingness to consider very unconventional ideas or actions.
A more challenging combination is present with the square of Mars to the Ascendant as well as its wider opposition to Pluto and Pluto’s square to the Ascendant. Such patterns warn of the danger of self-blocking or self- destructive actions. If Mr. X had been burned, we would have looked closely at those aspects. Since he was successful in his effort, we conclude that he is handling that danger of self-defeating activity but it did express in his choice to perform the clearly risky activity of walking barefoot on burning coals.
The date of the fire-walk was November 9, 1983, in the evening, in Baltimore, Md. The progressions for that date are fascinating, including the emphasis on Mars which we would expect for such action. Both the natal and local progressed Ascendants are conjunct the progressed south node of Mars with the progressed birthplace Ascendant also square progressed Mars. (Only aspects within a one degree orb are listed). The progressed Arabic Part of Mars (progressed Mars plus progressed Ascendant minus progressed Sun) is conjunct natal Mars, semisextile progressed Moon and sextile the progressed north node of Mars. Progressed East Point and Mercury are conjunct, with both trine the natal north node of Mars, quincunx Pluto, and square progressed Saturn. Progressed Sun is conjunct the natal Part of Mars. (Mars plus Ascendant minus Sun)
In the natal chart, the Mars/MC midpoint falls conjunct Venus, and the Mars/Neptune midpoint is conjunct Sun, all in the first house, of course. Vesta had progressed to conjunct Venus when he performed the fire-walk. I do associate Vesta with psychokinetic powers; mind over matter. At the time of the action, progressed Mars was just past the trine to Venus-Vesta and was just four minutes of arc from the exact trine to the natal Moon. It was also closely square natal Mercury. There are many more aspects, but these will give you some idea of the variety of ways in which Mars was featured in the chart.
Following this spring warm-up, we flew to Greece in mid-May and set out in our mini-bus for Macedonia. The drive north along the Aegean Sea was gorgeous, and our hotel in Thessalonika was right on the Aegean. After a day of local sight-seeing, including the museum that houses the rich grave goods from the tomb of Phillip, father of Alexander the Great, we drove to the village of Aghi Elena (dedicated to Saint Helen, mother of Constantine, who is credited with making Christianity legal in the Roman Empire). The ceremony also is dedicated to Saint Helen, and is believed to offer protection to the village for the coming year.
Much of the ritual had already taken place before our arrival at the village in late afternoon, but the main attraction, the fire-walk, could only occur after dark. We were present in time to hear the ritual singing to the accompaniment of a traditional Greek stringed instrument and a drum. The devotees chanted and danced, carrying their icons (holy pictures of saints), offering the icons for others to kiss as they circled the small, crowded rooms. The ritual was held in a private home. The mood of the devotees was deeply serious and devout, but they did not seem disturbed by strangers watching them. In fact, Greek television was there in force, filming the whole show, including the later fire-walk with lights set up on tall poles. Mostly, the audience was Greek. There were very few foreigners.
In contrast to the devout mood in the little house where the ritual was being performed, to prepare the believers for the later fire-walk, the rest of the village was having a carnival. The village was named for St. Helen, and everyone celebrated her day. For all except the small special group performing their “private” ceremony, the celebration included a small portable amusement park with rides for the kids, lines of tables and trucks on both sides of the main road through town selling all kinds of food, books, cassettes, etc., traditional Greek dancing on an open stage in the center of town, and a general party spirit that reminded me of a Mexican fiesta.
The circular area to be used for the fire-walk was fenced with benches set up just inside the fence. Tickets were sold for a nominal fee for a seat on a bench. Many more people stood just outside the fence to watch, but they were almost entirely Greek. We saw one other American, one woman from Sweden, one Asian tourist, and heard that a small group of tourists from Germany were also present.
The fire was built and replenished with medium sized poles to small logs. As dusk settled down, the men supervising the fire raked the hot coals to produce a bed that might have had a diameter of about 15 feet. A couple of large chunks of wood that were still burning briskly were pulled out and doused with water. The dancing and chanting and drumming had been going on, intermittently, for hours. Finally, the fire-walkers (more women than men) came in single file into the open corral and approached the fire, still carrying their icons and blessed kerchiefs, still accompanied by the drumming. First one, then another walked quickly across the hot coals. Many crossed repeatedly, until finally the embers were cooling and the crowd began to disperse. Many of the crowd came at the end to take some of the still-warm cinders home to “combat fear”. The TV crew packed up their gear. The carnival was still going in the village.
The Greek woman guide, Pari, who accompanied us on the land part of our tour, had attended earlier fire-walks more than once, and was able to contrast the one we saw as well as to explain some of the situation. She said that the coals were not as hot as on the other occasions when she was present, and there were several possible reasons for the caution this year. For one thing, there were three novices this year who were doing the fire-walk for the first time, and there were also three visitors from the island of Samothrace who walked on the coals. It is possible that the men overseeing the preparation of the fire were not sure of the faith of the novices and wanted to avoid the fire being too hot.
A second possible reason involved the icons carried by the devotees. Much of their faith was centered in the icons which they feel protect them from the fire. The small group which performs this ritual each year is nominally Greek Orthodox, and their icons stay in the Greek church for the balance of the year, being taken out just for this ritual. But the Church does not approve of the ritual, considers it pagan, and is quite uncooperative about the whole thing. This year, the Church only gave them two of the icons, far fewer than usual. The elders of the group may have worried that this would reduce the faith of the fire-walkers.
A third consideration was a change in the leadership of the group. The elderly man who has led the fire-walk for a great many years was still alive, but at more than 90 years of age, was no longer strong enough to perform the complicated dancing which continues for days before and after the fire-walk. He had been replaced as leader of the ritual by a young man, who was a member of one of the families which played leading roles in the ceremonies. But, though this man was well able to handle the physically demanding dancing, he had been away to college and gotten a degree in psychology and, in the process, lost some of his naive faith, so he was not able to walk on the fire. He led right up to that point, and then had to stand to one side while the uneducated members of the group tramped across the coals.
What price the skeptical intellect? If I could have spoken Greek, I would have told him that highly educated people in the U.S. are learning to walk on fire after a few hours of what amounts to self-hypnosis. We say that faith is the answer. But what is faith? How can the mind produce a barrier between fire and human flesh? In the videotape, I saw those “ordinary” American walking on the coals, and then picking them up and throwing them back into the fire. And no one had even a blister. Materialism has no answers, so the materialists look the other way. What is the mind, and what potentials does it hold that we have not even dreamed as yet?