Watch Your Step: Firewalking in St. Helen

Festival Essentials

Where: St. Helen village, Thrace, Northern Greece
When: Annually, end of May
What’s it about: Walking on hot coals in a trance-like state and lots of feasting
Remember to Bring: Bacon and eggs

Where it’s At

Anastenaria, an ancient Firewalking Festival performed in Northern Greece, is a religious and sacred ritual that has raised many question marks in modern medical science.

History of the Firewalking Festival

It all started in 1250 when a local Church in the vicinity of Thrace caught fire and people heard the holy figures crying from within. Locals in the village of St. Helen ran into the burning church and saved the figures. The descendants are believed to have the power of dancing on red hot coals without suffering any burns by holding the very same figures held by their forefathers, which is how the event is celebrated up until today.

The day begins by displaying the holy figures and selecting a sheep to be sacrificed. During the day the practitioners bring themselves into a state of ecstasy by dancing to a hypnotic rhythmic music performed on the lyre and drum. When the trance state is reached and when the red hot coals are ready, the participants, mainly old, step out and start running back and forth over the coals. The figures are held while dancing, as it is believed that they protect the dancers from getting burnt. When the firewalking is over the feasting continues in locals houses until dawn.

If you want to join this ecstatic music and dance, or simply sit back and watch (the safer option), the festival takes place every year from May 21-23rd and attracts many spectators. The village of St. Helen is located nine miles out of Serres.

By Villy Ioannou

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