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James Randi Educational Foundation

An Encyclopedia of Claims, Frauds, and Hoaxes of the Occult and Supernatural

Introduction | "R" Reading | Curse of the Pharaoh | End-of-the-World Prophecies

Index | A | B | C | D | E | F | G | H | I | J | K | L | M | N | O | P | Q | R | S | T | U | V | W | Y | Z

fire-eating This is essentially a conjuring/carnival stunt, not undertaken by the fainthearted. It requires considerable experience and a thorough knowledge of the art. Do not try this at home.
      Torches are prepared, usually from heavy, solid iron wire, so that a wad of absorbent material can be firmly held at the business end and a handle is at the other end. The torch is dipped in any of several flammable liquids such as kerosene, benzine, or unleaded gasoline, and individual artists often use mixtures of these liquids. The excess fluid is pressed out.
      The torch is ignited and the operator, always breathing out steadily, with the lips well wetted, places the flaming torch into the opening of the mouth with the head thrown back so that the flames do not rise against the top or sides of the mouth.
      Many other stunts are available, such as allowing fumes to accumulate in the open mouth, exhibiting them burning above the lips independently of the torch, then closing the lips to extinguish the flame, and reigniting the vapors with the torch.
      Fire-eating is dangerous, less so today than before the perils of leaded gasoline were at last recognized.
      Early fire-eaters were often billed as “salamanders” and sometimes also handled red-hot objects or even walked on fire (see fire walking) and entered fiery furnaces. All these stunts, too, have rational explanations that do not call for supernatural powers.
      Historically famous performers of the art were Richardson in the U.K., seventeenth century, Signora Josephine Girardelli (the original Salamander), early nineteenth century, and the Frenchman Chaubert, circa 1860.

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