Firewalking and Religious Healing – “If the Saint calls you, if you have an open road, then you don’t feel the fire as if it were your enemy,” says one of the participants in the Anastenaria. This compelling work evokes and contrasts two forms of firewalking and religious healing: first, the Anastenaria, a northern Greek ritual in which people who are possessed by Saint Constantine dance dramatically over red-hot coals, and, second, American firewalking, one of the more spectacular activities of New Age psychology. Loring Danforth not only analyzes these rituals in light of the most recent work in medical and symbolic anthropology but also describes in detail the lives of individual firewalkers, involving the reader personally in their experiences: he views ritual therapy as a process of transformation and empowerment through which people are metaphorically moved from a state of illness to a state of health. Danforth shows that the Anastenaria and the songs accompanying it allow people to express and resolve conflict-laden family relationships that may lead to certain kinds of illnesses. He also demonstrates how women use the ritual to gain a sense of power and control over their lives without actually challenging the ideology of male dominance that pervades Greek culture. Comparing the Anastenaria with American firewalking, Danforth includes a gripping account of his own participation in a firewalk in rural Maine. Finally he examines the place of anthropology in a postmodern world in which the boundaries between cultures are becoming increasingly blurred.
“’Firewalking and Religious Healing’ is an important achievement: a mature, humanistic analysis of folk religious healing and an immediate, exemplary narrative of fieldwork practice. Firewalking in a Greek village is described richly with a depth of understanding based on intense fieldwork. . . . The book is reminiscent of Victor Turner’s field studies of Ndembu healing in its attention to the telling detail, to the dialogue between ritual and larger, more encompassing systems of thought, and to the realization of community in symbolic practice. Sensitive to issues surrounding th politics o representation, the author creates a portrait of a post-colonial ethnographer whose observational techniques are, on one hand journeyman’s tools necessary to detailed interpretation and, on the other, defenses that protect the observer’s vulnerability to emotional and environmental forces that may lad to deeper, empathetic understanding.”University of Chicago Folklore Prize.
“Through the process of his detailed, delicate, and one might add, extraordinary honest ethnography, the exotic is gradually dissolved back into the social context from which it emerged, so that one sees firewalking in Ayia Eleni not as some bizarre cultural side-show, but rather as the expression of the socially and historically specific values, conditions, and concerns of a particular community.” Roger Just.London Times Literary Supplement.
“This is a beautifully written and powerful ethnography. Danforth interprets two kinds of ritual therapy – firewalking in rural Greece and the American New Age movement – that are at once strangely similar and radically different.”Ellen Badone.
First Prize Winner, Chicago Folklore Prize
CHOICE List of Outstanding Academic Books for 1991