First Published: 25th of June, 2022 by Patrick Carpen.
I was told that walking over hot coals is part of the celebration of St. John’s Day in the Rupununi Savannahs as well as other hinterland regions of Guyana, South America. One resident of the Rupununi told me that walking over hot coals on the night of St. John’s Day (24th) is a common practice in many communities. They say that those who are free of sin will not be burned when they walk on the hot coals, but those who are sinful will be burned by the coals.
Residents say that the Roman Catholic tradition of walking over hot coals on the night of the 24th of June spilled over from neighboring Brazil where the Roman Catholics there practice it. However, I did some research and could not come up with any instance of Brazilians walking over hot coals on St. John’s day or night or the evening before referred to as St. John’s Eve.
Bonfires, however, have been a common characteristic of the celebration of St. John’s Eve from time immemorial. Roman Catholics around the world have been in the custom of celebrating St. John’s Eve by lighting a bonfire to ward off witches and evil spirits. I’ve read stories of European Roman Catholics jumping over bonfires on St. John’s Eve throughout various periods of history.
St. John’s Day, by the way, is observed on the 24th of June each year by the Roman Catholics in honor of the birth of St. John (the Baptist) who is said to have been born exactly six months before Jesus. For the Roman Catholics, a lot of activities traditionally happen on the eve of St. John’s Day, officially called St. John’s Eve. These include lighting bonfire, collecting traditional medicinal plants to ward off witches and evil spirits, and cooking and eating a special type of food.
I was made to understand that the tradition of walking over hot coals is practiced in several hinterland communities of Guyana. These include communities within the Rupununi Savannahs of Guyana, Moruca, Region 1, Monkey Mountain, Region 8, and probably other places as well.
First time I walked, I was 16. That night, I was curious. The festival continued for 3 nights in other villages, and I continued my curiosity , I didn’t get burned. I observed a selected person sprinkling what they called blessed water around the coals directly at midnight. The person told everyone that you cannot be burnt when you are in the circle. Indeed it was true. For curiosity I touched the ones outside and got burnt . The second time was 2016. I was curious again, walked and I didn’t get burn. I would like to try it again, but I’m so far from home. Feels like walking bare feet on gravel on a hot sunny dayRupununi resident, Esther Marco
The act of walking over hot coals cannot be found in biblical instructions. It was mentioned metaphorically by King Solomon in the Book of Proverbs when he was warning of the dangers of adultery.
Can one go upon hot coals, and his feet not be burned? So he that goeth in to his neighbour’s wife; whosoever toucheth her shall not be innocent.Proverbs 6: 28-29
Below are two short videos showing the act of walking on hot coals in the Rupununi Savannahs of Guyana. The persons, however, appear to be running over the coals.