Folklife: The Faith Healing Tradition of “Talking Out the Fire”

My grandma Viola Brewington and Aunt Gaynelle Carter could “talk the fire out” of several burns I received as a child.  When I was a teenager, I asked Grandma Viola if she could show me how to do it.  She told me that the gift had to be handed down from a man.

I’ve been told by the elder women in my family it’s a special gift from God. 

At the time, I did not understand what she meant.  After Grandma passed away, I went to visit her best friend Aunt Gaynelle. We began sharing funny stories about grandma and how she and Aunt Gaynelle first met.

When Grandma was 5 years old, a hot air balloon had fallen from the sky!  The incident caused such a spectacle that it brought all the neighbors out to see the commotion. That was the first time they met each other. But that’s another future story.

I asked Aunt Gaynelle about the gift of “talking out the fire”.  She explained to me that she also had the gift and ’round these parts it was taboo to talk about it.

Some people were afraid of it or thought it was the devil’s work.  Aunt Gaynelle told me that she was sitting in the emergency room at the hospital one time waiting for a friend.  She told me this person came in with a severe burn and she offered to help but was shunned away.  So you can see why this healing tradition isn’t talked about too much.

Grandma Viola Brewington, Paul Brewington & Gaynelle Carter – Photo courtesy of Maynor Family 1975

This unbroken healing tradition has been shrouded in secrecy for many generations and the gift must be handed down from male to female or female to man.  It’s a unique healing tradition found mostly throughout the southern United States and must be passed down cautiously.

Talking out the fire is where a faith healer has the ability to take a person’s pain away by reciting a prayer over a severe burn.

You may be skeptical, but this healing practice has been around for centuries.  There’s no magic involved, the healer and the patient just have to believe and have faith that it will work.  And from my experience and especially my sister, Paula, it does work.

My sister Paula Maynor Day remembers when she was a very small child Grandma Viola talking the fire out of a burn she got on her finger.

  • “I do remember one time that I burnt my finger.  Don’t remember on what, but it was minor.  I was at her house and she took my finger and blew her hot breath on it. Not trying to be funny, but I remember that it was hot and my finger was burning so it didn’t feel good.  And then she was whispering something that I could not understand.  It worked as far as I can remember.”  This healing practice has also been called “blowing out fire” or “breathing out fire” and the person with this gift is sometimes called the “fire doctor”.  The fire doctor treats the patient by looking at the burn, recite a prayer, incantation or charm over the burn several times while blowing on it at intervals.  The prayer is kept secret by the faith healer until they decide to “pass the gift on” to another person.”

Some believe that once you pass this gift on, you lose your own power.  Others believe that the gift may be given to three people, all who must be the opposite sex.  When the third person is told, the original fire doctor loses the ability to administer the cure.  Most of the people that receive this gift are within the family.

One variation of the method to draw out fire from a burn is to first slowly pass your hand over the exposed burn three times. The hand must be open with palm face down. The burn must be facing the direction away from you and the patient.

At the same time, use your breath to gently blow over the burn in the direction away from the patient’s body. As you are doing these two techniques at the same time, you recite the prayer three times.

There are several variations of the prayer that have been found but all of them use the same generalized mechanical gesture:

  • “There came two angels from the north; One brought fire, and one brought frost. In frost, out fire.  In the name of the Father, the Son and of the Holy Ghost.”
  • “Water won’t burn; fire won’t quench; God’s Word won’t lie.”
  • “The mother of God went over the fiery fields.  She had in her hand a fiery brand. The fire did go out.  It did not go in.  In the name of the Father, the Son and the Holy Ghost, Amen.”
  • (Person’s Full Name) has a wound. Please Lord, draw the fire out of that wound.  Please Lord, heal that wound.”

While most people think that the prayer is from the Bible, I could not find any references or where these particular prayers originated.  The faith healing practice has been handed down in the family for so long, most people don’t know how this custom began.  However, I have found information from Ireland where the faith healing custom is still practiced today particularly in North Leinster, Ulster and parts of Connaught.

Peter McGuire, journalist for The Irish Times stated, “There are hundreds of people in every part of Ireland, with cures for problems that include shingles, colic, burns, eczema, warts and verrucas, heart conditions, epilepsy, ringworm, asthma and thrush, all passed down as part of an unbroken folk tradition which predates Christianity in Ireland.”  In Ireland, McGire emphasized that it is taboo for healers to accept money or gifts, advertising is prohibited and the Irish approach cures from a wide variety of perspectives and beliefs.

The technique usually used in Ireland is to make the sign of the cross and say a few prayers after it.  Whatever technique is passed down, the common link between this type of faith healing as McGuire states, “has Christian elements but in many cases have been adapted from pagan belief systems.”  The gift is not restricted to any religious denomination and the practice seems to be in other cultures.

My Grandma Viola and Aunt Gaynell are Tuscarora descent and members of the Coharie Tribe of North Carolina.  The Coharie Tribe along with The Lumbee Tribe of North Carolina share the traditional practice of talking out the fire where the faith healer is referred to as the “fire blower”.  Both tribes combine both their folk culture and Christianity to administer the faith healing practice.

The tradition of removing warts and healing whooping cough are other healing traditions they still use today.  The Coharie and Lumbee Tribes believe that the healer poses a gift from God that allows them to blow or talk directly to the energy that is causing the burn, cough or wart.  The faith healer blows or talks over the affected area by blowing in the person’s mouth, on the burn or wart.

Coharie Tribe of North Carolina Annual Pow-Wow – Photo courtesy of Crazy Crow Trading Post

The tribes believe that the fire blower must have faith in themselves and believe their prayer will be heard and answered by God.  They believe that God is the healer and they are just an intermediary vessel for God to manifest Himself through them to administer the healing.

Skeptics believe that this “magical” cure could be the power of hypnotic suggestion.  But I’m not so sure since this healing practice can be used on animals, babies and small children who are normally immune from hypnotic suggestion.  Maybe it’s the power of positive thinking that triggers the body to heal itself or maybe it’s just simply the “power of prayer” that so many people of faith believe.

Despite the scepticism, the practice of talking out the fire has been around for centuries and still continues to be passed down from generation to generation. Although mainstream medicine cast aside many of the old remedies, people are again looking to home cures.

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Hope Thompson
Hope Thompson

Hope Thompson is the editor and publisher of Unmasked History Magazine. She has been a freelance journalist for seven years and has published articles for popular media websites such as Her focus has been on the hidden history, Native American culture, Appalachian and Southern folklore traditions.

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17 thoughts on “Folklife: The Faith Healing Tradition of “Talking Out the Fire””

  1. My family from North Carolina has a very similar story of this prayer and situations where it was used. I’ve not received it but a female cousin who does have the wisdom is looking for a male relative who can share it with me. My mother always told it was Native in origin as well. Cherokee was who I was told was our ancestors but I never researched it.

    Thank you for sharing your story! ♡♡♡

  2. I know it can be done. I knew a child that was 7 at the time. She would rub her hands together and plans down go over your body were the pain was and it was like you could feel the pain leaving your body like someone was pulling strings out of your body.She wouldn’t let anyone be around but her and the person she was working on. She would say she couldn’t take money from anyone cause she would lose it.

  3. My Grandmother passed it down to me (female) so I don’t believe the opposite sex thing. She wrote it down and told me to memorize it. She did tell me if I told anyone I would loose the ability to do it. I have no clue where or who she got it from. We are not of any Indian descent. We live in Eastern North Carolina. I have done it for many people and some look at me like a deer in headlights when I mention it while others seek me out. I’ve talk the fire out of a persons hands that burned them while pickling red pepper and it worked. I’ve talk fire out of people with sunburns. It doesn’t matter the source of the burn, it’s the end result that produces a burning of the skin

  4. This has been a very interesting read a lot of it was very accurate but I think it’s a descendants thing or were just born with the gift I recite nothing while pulling the fire from a burn and when I pull pain from someone I take it upon myself for a short time I think some of us are just gifted and have the abilities

  5. Wow I’m glad my family aren’t the only ones!! I’ve seen this happened to my little sister when she burned herself on a kerosene heater and it blistered up. We were poor but in Duplin County but my grandmother in Wallace called someone to come talk the fire out of my little sisters hand. And I actually seen the fire rise out of her hand and her was fine. My family is blessed with all kinds of gifts till this day and we was cursed. I would love to speak to anyone of you.

  6. My step-grandmother had this gift. She lived 45 miles away. I severely burned my hand one day tending a fire. They called my grandmother and she said she did not have to be present. She hung up. A few minutes later, my hand stopped hurting. My grandmother was nowhere near and, more importantly, I DID NOT BELIEVE. Later, she would only tell me the gift could only be passed to another female of her blood-line. She had no other female relatives alive. She was about 90. She said trying to pass it to anyone else would mean it would no longer work for her. All I know is it involved a passage from the Bible.

  7. I love reading about this. I’m from North Carolina and my mama could talk the fire out of people too. I watched her in awe do it many times since I was a child and I remember her lips turning as red as fire coals and burning so badly. It was passed to her by her daddy and believed to be Bible based. I’ve heard it’s from a chapter in Revelation. Sadly, she was the only one in our family left who could do it and she passed away in 2015. My aunt has the ability to stop bleeding. I pray these traditions or remedies or whatever each individual believes they are never die.


  8. When I was a teenager I burned my leg on an exhaust pipe, as the burn began to blister I complained of the pain to my father. He took me to visit my great aunt who was of Cherokee descent in Eastern North Carolina. She placed my leg against her lips, blew hot breath onto the burn and chanted. Almost immediately, I no longer felt burning or pain. I’ve just learned that my great aunt passed away this week. She had a wonderful gift!

  9. Dear Hope,
    This was a wonderful read including the comments!
    My Wonderful Grandmother had this gift and was told that it had to be passed from male to female, and vice versa. She always said that she wanted me to have it but never believed that there was a male wise enough to pass it along to me. Unfortunately she passed away before sharing the gift.

    She kept her gift secret except for family members, who called her often to sooth burns. I can say -being prone to getting burned (long story)- she never blew on me or blew the fire out but I can say that none of my burns blistered or left bad scars. I remember when the comedian Richard Pryor had a terrible accident and was burned over a lot of his body, family members called her to Talk the Fire out of him. We always have her credit for his remarkable recovery but she never accepted our accolades.

    Our family is located in Upstate SC and there may be some Native heritage, but I doubt it. We are mixed heritage (typical of the South – Black and White). Again, its really wonderful to see that this tradition lives on. Somehow reading this makes me feel so much closer to my Grandmother.
    Thank you.

  10. I was one year old. My family was living in my Grandmas house in Lexington NC. Many people do not believe that I remember this because I was just a baby. But I do. We were sitting at the kitchen table at breakfast and I was in a high chair with the kerosene cook stove behind me. My Dad got up to get the boiling hot kettle off of the stove and he tripped on the leg of my highchair and the scolding water was spilled over my entire back and backside. That’s all I remember except for crying.
    I asked my mom later on in life in my late teens why I didn’t get scarred from the burns. She told me that they took me just a short ways down the road there in Reedy Creek to a married couple who had the gift. She called them Faith Healers. She said that they said some scripture from the Bible and blew out the fire. I used to know what passage it was, but I can’t remember it now. I often think about it and am amazed at the power of The Great Physician; Jesus the Christ! I am 64 years old now and God has saved me of five very deadly cancers in my life, two of them were rare. The 1st one I had was very rare in that I was the 50th case in the US! I was 22 at the time in 1980. It normally occured then in children 1-3 years old. So it was a double rarity for me to have it at 22. The last cancer I had was discovered around November of 2020 and I had surgery to remove my right lung in February of 2021. This was my 2nd type of lung cancer. Part of my right upper lobe was removed in 2017 for it. I didn’t have to take any treatment for it cause it was a stage 1-A. This last 1 was stage 2 and it was in 1 lymph node. The Drs. recommended chemo. I took 2 treatments and it was horrific! It was literally killing me! I took 2 years of it when I was 22 and it wasn’t nothing like this time. I stopped after the 2nd treatment and left it in Gods hand and I’ve been cancer free since. Most importantly God saved me spiritually when I was 22. I’m living proof of the Mighty wonder working power of God for His healing power!

  11. Searching the internet to try and find out about this type of healing and came across your article! I’ve tried searching before in past years and did find that there are healers commonly healing burns in medical clinics in Switzerland and other places but got no replies to enquiries I made. I’m so interested to read your article because this healing was also in my family line. My great grandfather who lived on a farm in Wales was the last member of our family to practice healing burns and warts. My mother tells me the healers in our family were called out all around the local area to heal burns. All she knows about the practice is that a verse (she thought from the bible but doesn’t know) was used in the healing. And why has it not been passed down? Because my great grandfather had to pass it on to a daughter… he had 4 sons and no daughter so he didn’t pass it on.

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