Washing away evils to pave the way for a prosperous and healthy future are positive thoughts that exist in one form or another in every culture known to man. Blowing horns to ward off evil spirits on New Years Eve is but one example of the concept.
At the heart of Japanese Shintoism is the fervent belief in rites of purification. These rituals are prevalent at ceremonies performed prior to the construction of a new building and somewhat resemble the western concept of ‘christening’ ships and buildings by smashing bottles of expensive champagne against them.
Apart from a waste of champagne to the gourmand imbiber, nothing is lost or sacrificed in christening rituals in terms of life and limb. This is not the case in the Hiwatari Matsuri or fire-walking festival where mountain priests walk across hot embers in order to purify themselves.
The festival takes place across Japan in the winter and early spring of every year. If walking across hot embers isn’t scalding enough, these priests douse themselves with boiling water before walking (and probably praying very hard) across the smoldering remnants of a huge bonfire.
The bonfire is a sacred affair set off by an even more sacred arrow shot from a bow that has been blessed. The fire contains thousands of wooden tablets (nadegi) upon which worshipers seeking the ultimate purification have written their names.
This ritual is extremely popular and becoming more so with each passing day. Although no one can say for sure, in all probability it is the profound spirituality of the rite that has continued to captivate spectators who travel for miles to watch the event.
The fire-walking festival seeps with tradition. The monks are impeccably dressed in customary garments, decorated with sashes and pendants. Some shake sacred metal rattles, while others blow loudly on conch shells.
The monotone of the priests chanting sacred sutras resounds throughout the ritual and billowing plumes of smoke linger in the air, which is charged with an almost mystical energy.
To each his own but…Ouch!
This is one I think I'll leave to the experts.
I wonder how much of a scar it leaves? And I wonder, if the hot water does anything to offset the body temperature to ease the pain of the fire?