The Anastenaria are Orthodox Christians in Northern Greece who observe a unique annual ritual cycle focused on two festivals, dedicated to Saint Constantine and Saint Helen. The festivals involve processions, music, dancing, animal sacrifices, and culminate in an electrifying fire-walking ritual. Carrying the sacred icons of the saints, participants dance over hot coals as the saint moves them. 'The Burning Saints' presents an analysis of these rituals and the psychology behind them. Based on long-term fieldwork, 'The Burning Saints' traces the historical development and sociocultural context of the Greek fire-walking rituals. As a cognitive ethnography, the book aims to identify the social, psychological and neurobiological factors which may be involved and to explore the role of emotional and physiological arousal in the performance of such ritual. A study of participation, experience and meaning, 'The Burning Saints' presents a highly original analysis of how mental processes can shape social and religious behaviour.
"In conclusion, Xygalatas offers the most well-presented, defended, and empirically backed, overview of “extreme rituals” available. His attention to historical, anthropological, and scientific detail will hopefully become a prototype for future publications and research programmes in the field. Throughout its chapters the book offers valuable new insight to specialists of similar historical, anthropological, cognitive, and physiological topics. The book ultimately is a contribution to many fields but above all else, it is a contribution to interdisciplinary and scientific approaches to complex phenomena."
Justin E. Lane, Institute for Cognitive and Evolutionary Anthropology, Journal of Cognitive Historiography
1. Introduction 2. Tradition in the Making 3. The Ethnographic Setting 4. Fire-walking in Agia Eleni 5. Knowledge and Revelation Among the Anastenaria 6. Ritual and Mind 7. Costly Rituals 8. Arousal, Emotion, and Motivation 9. The Physiology of High-Arousal Rituals 10. Putting it all Together Bibliography
The series explores the role of religion and culture in cognitive formation and brings together methods, theories and approaches from the humanities, psychology, and the social, cognitive and neurosciences.