Paranormal Phenomenon Omnibus

Firestarters (Pyrokinesis)

Article by Matt Allair

Early Cases / Fire Immunity / Sensational Exploits / Some Explanations / Modern Pyrokinesis

While the subject isn't documented with any frequency in paranormal research, it has remained a notion that has captivated many. The idea of controlling flame or having a resistance to fire has become of staple of science fiction and fantasy film as well as literature, and is a staple of the comic book superhero. The subject was made even more popular due to the Steven King novel, Firestarter, as well as the eventual movie that starred a young Drew Barrymore. In the X-Files season one episode Fire, a man was able to control and project fire. The ability to be fire prone or fire proof has had a fascinating history. The important question is whether or not there's any validity to this phenomenon or if it is, as some have suggested, a parlor trick of skilled illusionists.

While reviewing the issue of fire starting, one must be reminded of the old belief that combustion depends on the latent "seeds of fire", as Scully points out in the episode learning that an incendiary device is needed for the flames to spread, as well as a magic by which they can be made to blossom. In the December 1, 1882 issue of the New York Sun, Dr. L.C. Woodman wrote about the celebrated case of A.W. Underwood. A man who could take any handkerchief, hold it in his mouth, rub it vigorously, while breathing on it and immediately it would burst into flame. Mr. Underwood found this especially helpful when he would go out hunting where he could start a campfire in seconds.

Then there is the case of Lily White, a West Indian woman from Liberta, Antigua. It was reported in the New York Times issue of August 25, 1929, that her clothes would burst into flames. Fire attacked her garments when she was at home and also in the streets, leaving her naked. Lily had become dependent on her neighbors for things to wear. Even as she slept, her sheets would burn up around her yet she was never harmed by the flames themselves.

In an interview in the March 14, 1976 issue of Sunday People, Parapsychologist Dr. Genady Sergeyev referred to the powerful telekinetic medium Nina Kulagina, quoted as: "She can draw energy somehow from all around her; electrical instruments can prove it. On several occasions, the force rushing into her body left four-inch-long burn-marks on her arms and hands...I was with her once when her clothing caught fire from this energy flow. It literally flamed up. I helped put out the flames and saved some of the burned clothing as an exhibit."

Early Cases / Fire Immunity / Sensational Exploits / Some Explanations / Modern Pyrokinesis

Is there any scientific or medical basis behind the phenomenon of Firestarters?

There are some examples to help us--indeed there are people who have higher amounts of electromagnetic energy, like the kind of static electricity you get when you handle clothes fresh from a dryer, in their physiological constitution. There are some people who literally cannot wear a digital watch because the electromagnetic energy messes with the battery and quartz, eventually shorting out the battery. One could surmise that if there's a high enough static electric charge--it could cause clothing to catch fire.

Another aspect of this is people who are fire-proof, or as its called by its other name, fire-immunity. Charles Fort regarded such people as fire geniuses, people who could not avoid knowledge of fire, because they could not avoid setting things afire.

One example of fire-immunity is Nathan Coker, blacksmith from Easton, Maryland. As reported in the September 7, 1871 issue of the New York Herald, Coker was tested by three prominent authorities, Vincent Gaddis, Nandor Fodor and Father Herbert Thurston. A shovel was heated until it was white hot, then when all was ready, Coker took off his boots and placed the hot shovel on the sole of his foot, keeping it there until the shovel became black. Coker also swilled molten leadshot around in his mouth until it solidified, held glowing coals in his hands, and took a red hot iron out of the fire with his bare hands. He explained to them, "It don't burn. Since I was a little boy, I've never been afraid of fire."

Father Thurston also recalled a story in some of his writings of a Canon charged with investigating reports of the immunity to fire by St. Francis of Paola, who died in 1507. The canon witnessed St. Francis's performance but made light of it. The canon considered the saint a man not of 'gentle blood' but a peasant 'used to hardship'. St. Francis replied that it was quite true before he bent down to a fierce fire and picked up and filled his hands with brands and live coals replying, "You see, I could not do this if I were not a peasant."

Early Cases / Fire Immunity / Sensational Exploits / Some Explanations / Modern Pyrokinesis

There have been countless tales of the fire exploits of holy men throughout history or figures like Josephine Giraldelli, who was billed as 'The Original Salamander' for her fire-immune exploits in 1819. Then there's the Diary record of John Evelyn, who recounted in October 6, 1672 of meeting entertainer Richardson, whom he meet through his friend Lady Sunderland. Richardson devoured brimstone on glowing coals, chewing and swallowing them. Melting beareglasse and eating it then taking a live coal on his tongue and placing a raw oyster there until it was boiled. Richardson then melted pitch and wax with sulfur which he drank down as it flamed.

In the nineteenth century Daniel Dunglas Home performed some astonishing feats that were documented by Sir. William Crookes in Quarterly Journal of Science in the July 1, 1871 issue. Crookes witnessed seeing about thirteen different types of phenomena, including fire handling which proved to him the existence of a 'psychic force'. By 1889, Crookes had nothing to retract or alter when his 'Notes on Seances with D.D. Home' was published in Proceedings of the Society for Psychical Research.

There is evidence that the tendency to attract or be immune to fire can be brought under human control. Max Freedom, who was orphaned in India and adopted by local fire-walkers, was trained at an early age. He was taught to meditate on a burning lamp, to "sense the God behind the flame" and thus enjoy its protection.

Early Cases / Fire Immunity / Sensational Exploits / Some Explanations / Modern Pyrokinesis

Is there any scientific or known medical basis for fire immunity? There's a few points that can be considered. There are cases of people who wear little to nothing for the majority of their lives, where the thickened epidermis is tough enough to break hypodermic needles, who could withstand fire temperatures greater than the average person, yet would still burn at extreme temperatures. There are even medical conditions like icthyosis, (see the episode Humbug) where there would be a resilience to certain temperatures.

There is the other question of if there would be any medical conditions that could cause someone's pain nerve endings to ignore heat sensation. The answer is, yes. For example, Diabetic neuropathy, Peripheral neuropathy, or Cerebrovascular accident or Paraplegia. One recent example given by a medical practitioner is of a paraplegic patient who'd fallen out of his wheelchair with his feet resting on a heater vent. The patient had not been able to get up and was found two days later and rushed to the hospital, not realizing he had sustained up to third degree burns on his feet for lack of sensation. In spite of the insistence of some who claim they can mentally tune out pain or burn injury due to heat, there's no credible scientific proof to support this.

Early Cases / Fire Immunity / Sensational Exploits / Some Explanations / Modern Pyrokinesis

The ability to control fire with the mind or mental resistance to handling flaming objects is scientifically inconclusive. One belief is that Pyrokinesis works by exciting the atoms of an object to heat it up and have it catch fire. Since all matter, on a nuclear psychics level, is simply different forms or levels of energy, this notion makes basic sense. People who display such ability are believed to visualize the particles of a flame to slow down or to speed up and move very fast, thus heating up or going out. Being that a Pyrokinetic individual can control heat, it is also considered the most unstable and dangerous of kinetic ability.

There are countless websites that offer tips over how to develop PSI / Pyrokinesis using what is called a 'dancing flame' technique. The common suggestion is to get into a relaxed position, grab and light a match and focus on the flame, creating a "tunnel" between the individual and the flame. They argue that with enough concentration, the flame will go out. The problem with such suggested techniques is the random chance and coincidence of it all. There is always an unpredictable quality to a flame and anyone could come to convince themselves that a change in a flames nature was the result of their mental willpower.

These phenomena leave a great many questions about the power of the human mind, the laws of psychics and the power of faith. Like Icarus who flew too close to the sun, one should not explore these powers lightly, or they might find themselves burned.

"Unexplained Phenomena: A rough guide special" by Bob Rickard and John Michell, © 2000 Rough Guide/Penguin
Pyrokinesis - Acadine Archive

Page editing and additional information: XScribe

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