One of the most fascinating things about the Tony Robbins firewalk is that it is, in fact, part of a global human tradition that has been in existence for thousands of years. Humans have been walking across hot coals to test their courage and spirit, to heal themselves, to initiate each other into groups and to express their personal beliefs for ages, perhaps even before the first firewalk was recorded around 4,000 years ago.
Firewalking is practiced in South India, particularly in Bhootaradhane, Mangalore and Ottekola. These coastal regions all keep the tradition in different ways, but the firewalk itself is a notable element of the coastal cultures of Southern India.
The practice of walking over fire is also kept by people originally from India who have settled throughout South Asia. These Indian firewalkers now reside in Malaysia, Mauritius, Réunion, Singapore and Sri Lanka. Many South Asian firewalkers gather together at the traditional Thimithi festival, a two-and-a-half month event held during July or August, depending on the year, to walk across the hot coals as a form of thanksgiving.
In Fiji, the Sawau clan are firewalkers, and the practice has a long history in many tribes throughout Polynesia. In Bali, little girls firewalk as part of a ceremony called Sanghyang dedari. This beautiful, traditional expression of culture, which welcomes well-being and health for the community, is one of the most iconic images of Bali. Japanese Buddhists and Taoists firewalk in order to bring good fortune for themselves and their families.
Firewalking is also practiced in Europe; it is most often found in Bulgaria, Greece and Spain. Referred to as Anastenaria in Northern Greece and Bulgaria, the firewalk celebrates refugee ancestors who entered Greece after the Balkan Wars. The small Spanish town of San Pedro Manrique hosts the Paso del Fuego and Las Móndidas Festival every Midsummer night’s eve (June 23). Oak wood is burned down before adding coals, then men and women chosen from the community to dance across those coals to celebrate the beginning of summer.
In the Kalahari Desert of Africa, the !Kung Bushmen use fire and firewalking in their healing ceremonies. Firewalking can also be found in parts of South Africa, where firewalkers also hope for the ritual to deliver healing and health throughout the year.
Firewalking is part of the traditional justice system for certain tribes in Pakistan. Those who are accused of crimes walk over the coals. If they can complete the walk unharmed, they have proved their innocence.
Finally, firewalking has been present in North America for a long time as part of Native American ritual life. In more recent decades, the practice has become wildly popular in mainstream American culture. Each person that undertakes the Tony Robbins firewalk and overcomes their self-doubt to traverse the hot coals joins countless others from around the world and throughout generations of time in this proud human tradition.