Fire-Walking -- and the Huna Instances
I have read with considerable interest the review in Round Robin of Max Freedom Long's pamphlet dealing with firewalking of the Hawaiian Kahunas. Mr. Long summarizes:
"Three things are involved in the mechanism of . . . firewalking: (1) Some intelligence wise enough to produce the results; (2) Some operative force or power adequate to the task; (3) The material substance involved in the fire-walking and in the prayer-offering."
I have intentionally limited this discussion to fire-walking. I hope by such simplification to illustrate Mr. Long's disregard of facts, as I feel deeply that his interesting philosophical discussions are undermined by his lack of even reasonably substantiated data.
Long's first case of fire-walking is that of Kuda Bux, he being one of the fire-walkers tested in London during 1935 and 1937. It is unfortunately all too clear that Mr. Long has not assimilated the lessons learned from these cases. The experiments with Kuda Bux were carried out on September 9 and 17, 1935, under the auspices of the University of London Council for Psychical Investigation, with Harry Price in actual charge.
Mr. Price's report states that as a result they learned: (1) No preparation of the feet was necessary; (2) Callosity of the skin had nothing to do with immunity; (3) The feet should not be wet or damp. But they were left with three alternatives as to how the feat might have been done. "(1) by 'faith'; (2) The short time of contact with the embers; (3) A knack in walking."
Kuda Bux walked 11 ft. without being burned, altho some amateurs who attempted to duplicate the feat were slightly burned.
In 1937 further experiments were conducted with Ahmed Hussain, a professional magician. Hussain walked 12 ft. 6" without being burned. Five amateurs then walked the same path and were slightly burned.
It seemed evident to Price that the effect of the heat was cumulative and two steps by each foot was about the maximum that could be taken without injury. To prove this, Hussain was asked to walk a fire 20 ft. long. After some hesitation he agreed to do so and made the walk on April 9, 1937, again followed by several amateurs. Hussain's feet were quite badly blistered and the amateurs were slightly burned. Hussain refused to attempt the 20 ft. fire again and further tests were held with a 12 ft. fire on April 20, 1937. The best performance recorded in the series of tests was that of Reginald Adcock, one of the amateurs.
Mr. Price concluded that the secret of fire-walking lies in: (1) the short contact time of each foot with the embers, with a maximum of two steps per foot; (2) the low thermal conductivity of burning or burnt wood embers; (3) confidence and steadiness in walking.
He stated: "As we have proved with Reginald Adcock, any person with the requisite determination, confidence, and steadiness, can walk unharmed over a fire as hot as 800 degrees centigrade. The experiments proved once and for all that no occult or psychic power, or specially induced mental state, is necessary in a fire-walker."
An excellent summary of his experiments may be found in Chapter XIV of Price's Fifty Years of Psychical Research.
Let us repeat: "No-occult or psychic power, or specially induced mental state, is necessary in a fire-walker." Let us also repeat that Reginald Adcock, who was 40 pounds heavier, walked slower and farther than did the Indians, and quite as successfully from the stand point of immunity.
I might mention that in addition to the summary of HUNA published in Round Robin, I have also read the fire-walking data from Long's pamphlet under the same title. The reference is too long to quote here, but it is to be noted that of the five cases cited in addition to Kuda Bux, not one has even approximately complete substantiation as to names, dates, places etc., and in most cases his references are such as "In Burma ..." "A white man ..." "In the Philippines ..." -- without other specific data of any sort.
Such a method of presenting data is not that of science, enlightened study of the occult, or even of practical research. . . Nearly all writers on the occult have a tendency to obfuscate their subjects with a lot of mumbo-jumbo. One of the greatest services one could perform in the Round Robin would be to give such articles a close shave with "Occam's razor". Mr. Long's pamphlet would be a good one on which to start.
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Rivet on the Neck:
Recent issue of TIME has an article about an Italian boy who developed extraordinary clairvoyant powers, but had to hold a rivet (or other piece of metal) against his neck for the seeing of visions. This recalls experiments reported some ten years ago, of an Italian physician who obtained remarkable telepathic results by fastening some sort of metal capsule to neck and/or leg. . . If anybody has the data on these experiments, please tell us all about it.
Radio broadcast of June 2 (station unknown to us) told of a meteor or meteorite fell in a back yard, onto solid rock, made a hole some 18' long, several feet deep, but failed to wake up occupant of nearby house. No verification - but we recall collecting some two pages of instances of meteor eccentricities - huge masses that failed to penetrate even soft soil, defying gravity and all proper scientific behaviour. All such Fortean data, of course, get the brush-off, as a rumour, or a lie, or an oddity in the news.
Cheery announcements, radio and press, of "cosmic ray explosive" - no details or even hints of the principle involved, but the ato-bomb is said to be a firecracker by comparison. For bigger and better explosions, page the 20th century! ... Story in Collier's not long ago, finished the world off in about 3/4 of a second. If it happens as quick and easy as that, we can stop worrying.
- Price, Harry. Fifty Years of Psychical Research: A Critical Survey. London: Longmans, Green, 1939. Print. <http://amzn.to/1x3BcXX>
- "The Rivet on Tony's Neck." TIME 3 June 1946. Print. <http://content.time.com/time/magazine/article/0,9171,797816,00.html>
- "Meet the Meteorites." The Round Robin 1.4 (May 1945): 8-10. Print. <Full-text>