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Chapple, R. M. 2013 ‘There was a time in my life when I was carried by all of you’ | Field notes on the Phenomenology of Firewalking. Blogspot post

Chapple, R. M. 2013 ‘There was a time in my life when I was carried by all of you’ | Field notes on the Phenomenology of Firewalking. Blogspot post

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Published by Robert M Chapple
Chapple, R. M. 2013 ‘There was a time in my life when I was carried by all of you’ | Field notes on the Phenomenology of Firewalking. Blogspot post
Chapple, R. M. 2013 ‘There was a time in my life when I was carried by all of you’ | Field notes on the Phenomenology of Firewalking. Blogspot post

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Published by: Robert M Chapple on Jul 17, 2014
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‘There was a time in my life when I was carried by all of you’ | Field notes on the
Phenomenology of Firewalking
 Originally posted online on 10 November 2013 at rmchapple.blogspot.com (http://rmchapple.blogspot.co.uk/2013/11/there-was-time-in-my-life-when-i-was.html) 
 for Simon 1970-2008
 
Preface | Sunday 10th November 2013 (3 Days After)
 
I had
never intended to be the author of such a ‘confessional’ blog post. Actually, for much of the gestation of this piece, I hadn’t even intended it to be a blog post
 just notes for my own amusement, to track my mental and physical responses to this task I have set myself. Whatever
its genesis, I think there may be some slight merit in presenting it to public view. I’m reminded
of a colleague
 one of my kinder, wittier detractors
 who announced to an assembled crew that my mind was an interesting place to
 visit, but you wouldn’t want to live there. Well here’s
 your chance to have a short break inside my head
 at least you get to go home afterwards! In
so far as it goes, I’ve treated the experience as an archaeological
 phenomenological research project in that it is a study of the structures of subjective experience and consciousness when confronted with a well-defined external objective reality
 in this case putting my actual feet onto real and independently-verifiable fire! As a research strategy, this is essentially  phenomenography . I would hold with this paradigm in my view that the ontological assumptions of phenomenography are essentially subjectivist, but not limitless. I would argue that different individuals will apprehend physical reality and react therein in any number of discrete instances or responses. Some see phenomenology and, by extension, phenomenography, as an 'anything goes' research pathway that gives credence and validity to
any old thing so long as it is claimed to be genuinely 'felt' and ‘experienced’. Indeed, I would agree that some of the more ‘zealous’ applications of 
 the approach are ripe for ridicule for just  being silly and relating more to the author's ability to garner research grant money than provide any realistic data or interpretation. That said, I would argue that the range of human emotions is relatively small in comparison to the vastness of possibilities of the universe. In this way, my (actor) experience describes a single data node on an n-dimensional bell-curve of possible reactions to preparing for and executing a firewalk. That bell curve can encompass any human emotion from paralysing fear to complete calm and apathy. That seems a pretty  wide range until you reckon that the chances of the observer transmuting into a particularly  beautiful salmon called Gloria and pogoing away from the fire to the tune of  The Jags 1979 cult classic 
are ... let’s say … vanishingly small. But maybe I'm not taking this
particularly seriously! I also don't have grant money and/or academic tenure riding on this! In common with a classic phenomenographical stance, the emphasis here is on description and record, and within that there is a tacit assumption of value in the act of record itself. In this way, the firewalk (phenomenon) is not of itself the object of study, but the interplay of relationships between the actor (me) and that phenomenon. I would argue that my experiences, though conditioned by geography and culture, are a valid proxy archive or data set when approaching and analysing the evidence of similar experiences from the archaeological or ethnographic record. That said, they are but one point within the available spectrum and I would encourage others to link to records of their own experiences, or they are  welcome to submit them for publication here!
 
 
 
I sound my barbaric yawp over the roofs of the world. Photo: Firewalking Ireland
 
My methodology has been to write these field notes on the day or, failing that, I’ve jotted words
and phrases as reminders on any available paper and written it up afterwards
 always within 24 hours. My only editing of this material has been to correct basics like spelling, grammar, and (occasionally) to change sentence structure to make my meaning clearer. Otherwise, what I present are my experiences, actions, and reactions in pretty much the way they happened and in the order they happened. One thing I have failed to change and correct is my wandering sense of tense. This a gross failing in my writing and, under normal circumstances, I generally try to eradicate it. However, in this instance, I feel that too much editing would destroy the immediacy of the record.
 
Friday 25th October 2013 (14 days to go)
 
 
I’ve made jokes about treating this fire walk as f 
orm of extreme archaeological or
anthropological research. I’ve been trying to imagine what it would be like to be a member of a past society who got the quiet word to say ‘next time it’s your turn, mate’. From my limited
reading on the subject ( Wikipedia & references therein) it appears that the fire walking has
 been used as a “… rite of passage, as a test of an individual's strength and courage, or in religion as a test of one's faith.” As something
 of an outsider all of my life, I can keenly appreciate how much an individual can crave the acceptance of the larger group. In Western society, where such social markers are rare, I can understand the rekindling (excuse the pun!) of firewalking from the 20th century as a means of making this form of societal display
 
look at me, I’m a proper man! I’m a valuable part of my community. Admittedly, the modern revival of
firewalking has had a corporate team-building focus that has been widely mocked, and not  w 
holly unfairly. REM’s 1987 lyric in
 from the
 
 Document 
 album sums it
up rather well: ‘You're sharpening stones, walking on coals to improve your business acumen’. Look at me I’m a good manager! … I am the very model of the modern middle manager!
 
 Yes, I realise I’m mocking this. But it’s a coping mechanism
-
the reality is that I’m scared. I’ve undergone a number of ‘rite of passage’ rituals over the years, in various spheres of s
ocial, religious, and fraternal. Many have been pleasant and highly anticipated (first alcoholic drink; first kiss), others have been fraught with fear (also first kiss). But none
 not even one
 have ever involved fire! My First Holy Communion would have been a very different affair if it had included the distinct possibility of death by immolation. For all our sophistication, civilization,
and technological advances, we’re still savannah
-dwelling monkeys that at a very baseline level know that fire is dangerous
 it can hurt, it can destroy, and it can kill. But if we could just conquer it
 even for a little while
 we can become Prometheus the Titan. Stealing fire from
the gods doesn’t just possess
 the idea of making us masters of our own human fate
 it allows us to feel like gods too. In the midst of the fire we are unburnt and immortal
 we are cut off
from such pesky human frailties as pain, age, disease, and death. Humans can’t survive inside
the fire, therefore, if you walk unhurt on the fire you are not human
 
 you’re a god. Wow! I’m
totally over-
thinking this, aren’t I?
 
I’m sitting in my room in the
 Glasshouse hotel in Sligo on an overcast Friday
afternoon. I’m
here for the  Archaeology of Gatherings conference, hosted by the Archaeology Department at IT Sligo. Pre-
conference drinks and meet up won’t start until later this evening, but I got into town before midday. Partly this is because I’m incredibly excited about this conference –
 the topic is hugely fascinating to me
 but I also wanted to renew my acquaintance with some
of the historic buildings of the town. I’ve not been in Sligo since the early 1990s and I have
fond memories of wandering around Sligo Abbey  [also: here] and St John the Baptist Cathedral. No less than my expectation of meeting up with old friends and former colleagues, I wished to renew my acquaintance with these historic sites. Unfortunately, the Abbey appears
to have been locked up for the season, and St. John’s isn’t open to visitors on a Friday.
Moreover, the ruined Friary church is locked and inaccessible. Even the County Museum is closed for renovations until February of next year. Right now, after tramping all across the
town, I’m soothing my
rather sore Hobbit feet, contemplating what foot-related pain my near future holds.
 
 While I keep telling myself that I’m engaged in archaeological research, I’m becoming acutely
aware that I lack the theoretical framework and linguistic toolkit to properly analyse my experiences and emotions. Stuart Rathbone (of  Campaign for Sensible Archaeology  fame) has
suggested that I carry thermometers while I walk, but I don’t think that’s an option. In the face of this, I’m very much tempted to keep these notes private and unpublished as they must
represent the ruminations of an anthropological subject, rather than the overarching vision of the paternalistic and all-seeing social scientist-
observer. I’m over
-
thinking this again, aren’t I?
 
 Well, if these are going to be field notes, let them be the field notes of the self-assessing subject.
The first thing I’ve got to establish is what’s my buy 
-
in to all this? Where’s my centre of belief

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