A Report on Two Experimental Firewalks, University of London Council for Psychical Investigation, Bulletin II, 1936

by Harry Price

A great deal of the mystery of the firewalk was cleared up in 1935 by an experiment conducted in England under the auspices of the University of London Council for Psychical Investigation. This probably represents the best report on the subject that is available, the report is supported by twenty-one photographic plates.

The first of the 1935 tests, which was witnessed by William MacDougall amoung others, proved beyond all doubt that the firewalk was a genuine phenomena. An Indian, Kuda Bux, walked quickly along a twenty foot trench of glowing embers, several inches, four times. His feet were medically examined before and after the walks; there was no sign of blistering. With great courage Digby Moynagh, Editor of the St. Bartholomew's Hospital Journal, walked half the distance before jumping out. Blisters formed on his feet. Psychic Investigator Harry Price reports that the heat made it impossible to remain near the fire trench for long. At the tests the scientific and medical world were well represented, reports later appearing in Nature and in The Lancet.

During the 1937 tests a Moslem Indian from Cawnpore, Ahmed Hussain, was the firewalker. He claimed to be able to convey his immunity to others and it was arranged for three volunteers, all Englishmen, to follow him across, which they did. Two other volunteers then walked across alone. All show traces of slight burns. In the next experiment Hussain took six steps to cross twenty feet and was badly burned; the surface temperature was at 740 degrees C. A Mr. Adcock, one of the volunteers then walked of the previous experiment, crossed the trench after him, taking four steps, showing only slight signs of burning. The Englishman's performance, in point of fact, was superior to that of Kuda Bux, for he walked on a fire whose surface temperature was nearly twice as great, thus disposing of the idea that any mysterious agencies are involved. Among the conclusions reached in Dr. Brown's report were:

(1) "The firewalk is in no sense a trick: the walk is performed in the normal manner with bare and chemically unprepared feet.

(2) Owing to the fact that the surface of the fire is a very unstable one and the feet may sink in several inches, it is impossible to walk so that a constantly changing portion of the foot is in contact with the hot embers (this would be possible on a firm plane surface) and skill of this kind is not a factor necessary for success. Nevertheless, steadiness in walking is an advantage in order to avoid remaining with the weight on one foot for too long an interval.

(3) Moisture on the feet is a disadvantage since it may cause hot particles to adhere to the skin and thus produce blisters.

(4) The 'spheroidal state', i.e., the sudden formation of an insulating cushion of vapour between the foot and the hot embers, does not occur.

(5) No abnormal degree of callosity of the feet is required.

(6) Fasting or other initial preparation is not necessary.

(7) No evidence was shown that immunity from burning can be 'conveyed' to other persons.

(8) The fall in temperature of the surface of the soles of the feet during the experiment was possibly due to a number of steps being taken on the grass after leaving the fire, before the place of examination was reached.

(9) Immunity is not due to contact with layers of relatively cold ash in which combustion has ceased, since in the experiments with Kuda Bux, the ash was removed; and in any case, the feet sink in sufficiently far to be in contact with the burning embers and small flames below the surface."