Conquering fire with my feet
First off, some back story. I was in Thailand for the Phuket Vegetarian Festival in 2007 and 2008 (and hopefully for many years to come!) and male participants in the ceremony are allowed to walk on fire, after the mahsong (spirit mediums entranced by the Chinese Emperor Gods) have done so. This is one of the most "involved" parts of the ceremony for people who are not mahsong, which only a small portion the Chinese Thai devotees are, so getting to participate is in itself quite an experience. We have been graced with being more involved than most foreigners as we are friends with Zu, one of mahsong, and JoeyBoy, who is a close friend and highly respected member of Bang Neow Temple. Anyhow, enough back story, on to the ritual.
Last night I finally experienced firewalking. I'm not talking about the kind you see "magicians" do or even the kind you see at sideshows. This was real firewalking at Bang Neow Temple. For those of you who didn't know this, we were supposed to do it last year while I was here in Thailand, but after the mahsong had done it, it began to rain, so the head of the temple decided that the Gods didn't think it was necessary and so we didn't have the chance to walk. We had built it up a tonne in our heads and so we were left with no release, which was extremely upsetting, not to mention frustrating. With that said, I've now been waiting a year, anticipating doing this, and I've been mortified of something going wrong. Last night it finally happened and everything was fine.
We were at temple well in advance so that we could grab dinner and attempt to relax beforehand. I scarfed down some food but don't really remember eating it, just feeling the massive knot in my stomach. I was sweating, a lot. We were all joking about walking and I was just trying to distract myself from the upcoming feat but it wasn't really working. I'm sure that Gillstrap got some great footage of my anxiety. I got up to use the men's room and checked out the pyre and it was intense. See, usually when people do "firewalking" they are walking across and inch or two deep of coals that have reduced a bit, yes it's still hot, but it's solid and not very deep. At Bang Neow, it's 18+ inches tall so you literally have to bound up onto it. The heat emanating from it can be felt in the majority of the temple grounds and the smell permeates the entire temple. It's inescapable. Soon enough, Zu was entranced and we were led down to the temple grounds where we were blessed and given pra yers of protection by many different mediums. Once the mahsongs had all walked, we were all lined up and mahsong came around to place prayer flags in our mouths as we waited. I think that I was the last of our crew to go and I was waffling between nausea and feeling like I was going to piss myself. I'm talking terrified! My turn comes up and the elder removes my prayer from my mouth, places it in my hand, places a different prayer in my mouth, touches his flag to my head and then I get a push in the back to go! I get about one step out and the elder stops me and pulls me back! I then see that they are re-packing the coals down, which is a good thing as it makes the pyre more stable, but it was yet another delay for me. I was sweating so much by this point. I tried to concentrate on the air passing my nostrils, but it was not easy. I vaguely recall seeing Joeyboy on the other side waiting for me, my finish line. Then the elder re-applied his flag to my forehead and the now fa miliar shove forward and I ran. First step up hurt. Seriously. After that, I remember how hard and gritty the sand felt on the other side and how comforting it was to have Joeyboy on the other side to hug me as I'd done it. I was escorted back around to where I came from and at some point, I'd removed the prayer from my mouth, paid my respects to the tree, and someone snatched my prayer from my hands. At the time I'd thought that it was an elder and that's what is supposed to happen, but a little while later, in the shrine, I realized that this was not the case. That bums me out a bit, but I still have the initial flag that was in my mouth from Zu.
And I walked on fire.
My right foot had a few blisters on it from the fire and hurt to walk on. When I made it back to the hotel, I was told not to put water on it, but that the sacred oil we'd received the night before would help, so I massaged some into my feet and went to sleep. This morning I expected my feet to still hurt, but to my surprise, I only have a few small blisters and my feet don't really hurt at all.
I'd have to say that this experience is more important and gratifying and self-affirming than most any suspension I've ever done. Fire is an ancient element, one that has been around forever and has always caused fear in man. It destroys lives and yet gives us so much. Our relationship to it is extremely intimate and to experience in this way, it's amazing and I'm incapable of doing it justice with words.
submitted by: Anonymous
on: 30 Oct. 2008