Ritual pain: sensation, representation and self-presentation in the fire-walking ritual of La Réunion, Indian Ocean

12:00, Thursday 6 May 2021 (30 minutes)
Loreley Franchina, Indian Ocean, Université d'Aix-Marseille, France

During the Hindu fire-walking festival in La Réunion, practitioners “feel the fire”, an expression which refers to painful feelings. Yet in this religious milieu, pain is a subject which is circumvented outside the immediate family circle even if pain is necessary to validate the ritual experience. This communication focusses on the ways of feeling and living pain from the fire-walkers’ own points of view. The concept of edgework is introduced, which refers to voluntary risk-taking activities that navigate the edges that exist between cultural boundaries and also push personal boundaries (due to the endangerment of the person). During this ritual, and through pain, practitioners sculpt a new perception of themselves and of their world. It is shown that pain, when chosen and mastered such as in fire-walking, is not only world-shattering but also life-enhancing. When pain arises from a ritual act, as herein, it can become a tool to fight suffering, to discipline oneself, to get to know oneself better; and, it even allows an individual to experience happiness.

Université Aix-Marseille