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January 27, 2010 Permalink

Fiery European Festivals

Today, we have two stories of fiery festivals in Europe, Up Helly Aa, a fire festival celebrated for over 130 years now in Scotland's Shetland islands, and the even older Feast of Saint Anthony the Great, in San Bartolome de Pinares, Spain, where residents ride their horses and mules through purifying bonfires. (22 photos total)

At left, a member of the "Jarl Squad" in Viking costume stands near others as they gather around a burning Viking ship during the traditional "Up Helly Aa" festival, in Lerwick on the Shetland Isles, Scotland, Tuesday Jan. 26, 2010. (AP Photo / Danny Lawson, PA) -- At right, a man rides a horse through a purifying bonfire in San Bartolome de Pinares, Spain, Saturday, Jan. 16, 2010, in honor of Saint Anthony, the patron saint of animals. (AP Photo/Daniel Ochoa de Olza)
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177 comments so far...

No.22 is tremendous, like a CGI.

Posted by HAL-9000 January 27, 10 12:12 PM

Ouch? Burning Horses? Kinda not cool? Or is it?

Posted by Ryan January 27, 10 12:22 PM


Posted by Iv January 27, 10 12:23 PM



Posted by Mike January 27, 10 12:30 PM


Posted by Rod Roddy January 27, 10 12:42 PM

#22 are you sure no photoshopping occurred? Wow!

Posted by Shawn January 27, 10 12:43 PM

Number 6, 10 and 15 are absolutely amazing.

Posted by Igor Klajo January 27, 10 12:48 PM

22!! Jaw dropping!!!

Posted by Tim January 27, 10 12:49 PM

#20 looks so mad.

Posted by Frederik January 27, 10 12:53 PM

FAN-TASTIC!!! Esp. because I never heard of either festival. #16 reminds me of a scene at the beginning of the movie EXCALIBUR.

Posted by mileslarboy January 27, 10 12:59 PM

Once again the Spanish seem to be the world leaders in using animals in cruel and unusual ways. Not sure why you're celebrating it here...

Posted by Ann Onymous January 27, 10 01:08 PM

Patron saint of animals.....H'mmm!

Posted by Derek January 27, 10 01:09 PM

timing in #22 is amazing. Any chance you can leave EXIF on these images?

Posted by James January 27, 10 01:11 PM

Great fun. Keeping a connection to the past. Very cute ship. Need some good links to figure out the Shetlands connection. #20 in Spain my fav. Trusting horses indeed.

Posted by Bruce January 27, 10 01:14 PM

I wonder what the ASPCA thinks of the festival in San Bartolome de Pinares, and people riding their horses through bonfires? Sounds like animal cruelty to me. Of course, the riders are probably too drunk to care about their steeds. Also, how much do they have to pay priest to receive a "blessing"? What religious hypocrisy!

Posted by RogerT January 27, 10 01:14 PM

Is that a pregnant dude in #13

Posted by Junior January 27, 10 01:16 PM

Man, all we have here in the US is boring Civil War re-enactments. I wish we were around back when people wore armor and helmets and swung axes and swilled grog and scared the heck out of people by having your horse lunge out of a bonfire.

Posted by Cvnk January 27, 10 01:18 PM

@Ryan, definitely "cool". 22 looks like a horse emerging from the depths of hell.

Posted by Alex January 27, 10 01:30 PM

@13... As a struggling amateur I'm amazed by these shots and would love to see EXIF as well!

Posted by Jasja van Leeuwen January 27, 10 01:30 PM

Wow! Those are some amazing pictures of two very interesting festivals. Great job, as usual!

Posted by Viking January 27, 10 01:36 PM

#22 looks like a movie poster. For some kind of monster, undead, revenge seeking horse.

Perhaps the horse that was decapitated in Godfather? Returned to seek retribution on the entire Corleone family?

Coming - Summer 2010!

Posted by Jim Jam January 27, 10 01:44 PM

@Ann Onymous and RogerT

They've been doing this since the 16th century, before our nation was even founded. They claim to never have suffered an injury (as of 2007). In all honesty, if they're riding through the fire hard, no harm will come to either rider or mount.

Posted by Xarlor January 27, 10 02:02 PM

Riding horses through fire is like throwing kids through fire..................

absolute bullsh*t

But how can i judge people who slaugther bulls for pleasure........

Posted by formica January 27, 10 02:12 PM

#22 is awesome.

Every entry seems great.

Posted by Vijesh January 27, 10 02:21 PM

#22 should be the movie poster for the new Thor movie!

Posted by anthony January 27, 10 02:21 PM

"Man, all we have here in the US is boring Civil War re-enactments. I wish we were around back when people wore armor and helmets and swung axes and swilled grog and scared the heck out of people by having your horse lunge out of a bonfire.
Posted by Cvnk January 27, 10 01:18 PM"
Please visit to learn about the "current middle ages" here in the USA and internationally.

Posted by Blacksmith January 27, 10 02:27 PM

last picture looks like a still image from a video, anyway poor horses!

Posted by affta January 27, 10 02:43 PM

I wish I was there
18. Poor horsy

Posted by shazycreep January 27, 10 02:55 PM

Absolutely amazing!

Posted by rafael January 27, 10 03:04 PM

@ formica

Since when are children equal to animals? I would hope to treat my kids better than a dog. Forget the man on the horse who is absolutely fine. There are bigger PETA issues to be worried about than this.

great pictures regardless

Posted by Jessi.2 January 27, 10 03:09 PM

Stop talking about cruelty. You don't get harmed when you jump a fire. In fact there's another similar tradition in Spain, in the eve of the feast of St John people jumps fires to have good luck the rest of the year. I jumped lots of times and I dont know anybody which got harmed.

Here's a photo

(Sorry for my english....I'm a proud spaniard)

Posted by Diego LM January 27, 10 03:09 PM

exif, please....please.
+1 on thinking american history is for the birds.

Posted by rummy January 27, 10 03:56 PM

I think they soak both the horse and rider with water before they go through the fire. I tried googling for confirmation, but couldn't find anything. If you look at the pics, though, the horses' fur looks wet.

Posted by Matthew January 27, 10 03:59 PM


I don't think the horses are harmed during these stunts. As for the bullfighting/tauromachy, I kind of agree, it should definitely be banned worldwide. But it's not the subject of this gallery.

Posted by Vincent January 27, 10 04:12 PM

where firemen?

Posted by michael January 27, 10 04:36 PM

First one looks like LOADS of fun. great pictures as usual.

Posted by Ernesto Tantao January 27, 10 05:07 PM

#22 looks like a horse from one of the apocalypse riders...

Posted by Anonymous January 27, 10 05:37 PM

Going through the fire isn't meant to be like that. In the XVIII Century there were very big epidemics and they believed smoke was good for the animals. Now a days all those who go through the flames with the horses are fined.

Posted by Paupau January 27, 10 05:42 PM

Poor Horses with their bellies in the fire.

Posted by Martin January 27, 10 05:58 PM

Look, as for the religious aspects, different cultures recognize their beliefs in different ways. That being said, I agree with Jessi.2. Besides, I don't hear anyone upset about the horrendous way the trees are being treated in the Scottish festival. Those poor trees have children somewhere and should be treated with more dignity that helping to celebrate a significant portion of someone's ancestry and cultural history. Its just not right.

Posted by artisan January 27, 10 05:58 PM


You make it sound like the horses are being thrown into the fire and slow-roasted while they are still alive. They are merely jumping through/over, which would only take a fraction of a second. As someone else noted, there are better things to get upset about.

Posted by Andrew January 27, 10 06:08 PM

LOL @ #3: I sense ancient Vikings rolling in their graves, seeing their descendents drinking tea. From tea-cups! Made of china!! ;)

Awesome pics, as usual. Nice to see something uplifting after all the desasters and wars and suffering.

Posted by Schmierwurst January 27, 10 06:11 PM

seriously, if the horse was injured or scared in anyway he wouldn't jump through or over the fire. Horses have a pretty good sense of self preservation unlike say a faithful puppy...if that horse didnt want to jump through that fire it wouldve stopped short and ran like hell. like Andrew said, it's seriously like a fraction of a second...havent you ever passed your finger through the flame on a lighter...same concept here people...looks like a badass festival

Posted by Molly C. January 27, 10 06:52 PM

the whole viking celebration reminds me of the movie Role Models when the kid plays LAIRE. LOL

Posted by Eva January 27, 10 07:02 PM

At first, this looks cooler than our State Fair, but I bet they don't have funnel cake, and I'm sure Eddie Money didn't perform...

Posted by Michael Kirk January 27, 10 07:42 PM

LOL @ #3: I sense ancient Vikings rolling in their graves, seeing their descendents drinking tea. From tea-cups! Made of china!! ;)

the best comment... man you ar funny

Posted by nekvlad January 27, 10 07:46 PM

That doesn't hurt the horses at all. They might be a little skittish, but that's as bad as it gets.

Posted by Stephen January 27, 10 07:53 PM

Fantastic. What camera & camera lenses?

Posted by Anton January 27, 10 08:04 PM

It's unlikely that it hurts the horses, as anyone who jumped over a campfire as a kid would know. I agree with #38; there are better things to get upset about.

Posted by HTWoodson January 27, 10 08:21 PM

@ Jessi2: I hope you don't have any pets.

Posted by juliall January 27, 10 08:52 PM

22 looks unreal and destined for abuse by the internet. Cool shots though, very epic!

Posted by shannon January 27, 10 09:28 PM

"Big Picture" becomes legendary periodical on-line addiction to us all, world people.

Posted by Selcuk Askin January 27, 10 10:20 PM

Have fun! But don't harm/hurt the innocent animals.
It's a shame to see people get fun while animals suffer!

Posted by Amil January 27, 10 11:57 PM

Poor horses.

Posted by Silveira Neto January 28, 10 12:47 AM

cruelty to animals in the name of festival! shame!

Posted by jasmine January 28, 10 12:51 AM

i can tell you judging by the pelham bit, draw reins and martingales used, that horse didnt have much of a choice. how about you tie the horse on a loose lead line, and see if it follows anyone through the fire? i highly doubt it. and as for "there are better things to be upset for"... you can say that about anything, its doesnt mean its okay to turn a blind eye on something.

Posted by nic January 28, 10 12:54 AM

Picture # 22 amazing shot great timings

Posted by Amin Khanani (Amoo) January 28, 10 02:03 AM

No horse has been hurt or harmed in the last 500 years and anybody who has jumped over a bonfire knows why.

Posted by Roger January 28, 10 02:26 AM

Glory to the Braves!!!

Posted by ManOwaR January 28, 10 02:53 AM

In continental Spain thay are quite used to abuse on animals -see bullfighting, for instance-, though I guess this festival is quite unharmful for them.

Posted by Toni January 28, 10 03:14 AM

Je ne vois pas l'intérêt de prendre le moindre risque à bruler un cheval, je trouve cela vraiment nul et débile !

Posted by pouet January 28, 10 03:41 AM


Posted by Anonymous January 28, 10 04:17 AM

22- awesome timing!!
20, 21- hot!!

Posted by Shivani January 28, 10 04:38 AM

Absolutely awesome photos, as usual. I never miss a photoset on The Big Picture, and I never regret taking the time to look at every single shot.

Posted by Stormchild January 28, 10 04:47 AM

At St John's Eve, in France, we also use to jump through fire. It's just harmless. Do not judge of you do not know.

Posted by VieuxD January 28, 10 04:59 AM

#20 and #22 are incredible! These Spaniards are f**king crazy! I went to Spain three weeks last summer and it was unforgettable. Most people should visit Spain to understand this amazing country and culture...

Posted by J. Green January 28, 10 06:07 AM

All the comments about the "poor horses" and "It's a shame to see people get fun while animals suffer!" are clearly coming from people whose hearts are in the right place, but really don't know what they're talking about! Sure the picture looks scary, but it certainly doesn't hurt the horse!!

Anyone who's ever tried riding a horse will know how hard it is to get them to jump over something or go through something if they are scared or even a little weary of the situation. Hell, everyone's seen an amazing, well trained and cared for horse balk at a big, scary looking jump in the Olympics!

When we celebrate St John’s Festival, there are also bonfires, except with *people* jumping through them - shock horror! I've done it myself and it really doesn't hurt a bit, the thought is far worse than the reality.... Try passing your hand through a couple of candle flames and you'll see that when you move fast there isn't any burning going on ;-)

PS - I love horses, I even my own. She's called Moonbug and I treat her very well, so I'm no animal hater!

Posted by Amy January 28, 10 06:36 AM

the animals aren't suffering, nitwits.
quickly passing through a flame looks painful in a still photo but in real time the horses are only there for a fraction of a second; not long enough to feel pain, much less be burned. yeesh.

Posted by joe January 28, 10 07:17 AM

@#56: Some of the horses are wearing snaffle bits (which I understand are fairly mild) with no martingales or draw reins, so I suppose it depends on the horse. Since you obviously know your tack, try learning to use the shift key and maybe your argument could be taken more seriously.

Posted by Liger January 28, 10 09:13 AM

ang galing galing!!

Posted by elmo January 28, 10 09:18 AM

16 and 20 are my favourite :) so beautiful!

Posted by Amy January 28, 10 10:03 AM

why are so many people talking about poor horses? nobody is hurting them! these horses have a much better life than the most horses on this planet!

yeah, they have to jump over a fire. but what do you think is bad on this? they dont even notice something hot.

btw killing a bull in a arena is pervers! this i really what they have to ban in spain but jumping over fire is nothing special for a horse or a human. try it out, its a lot of fun and zero dangerous!

Posted by alegro January 28, 10 10:05 AM

I'm not feeling the horses in the fire thing... not cool!

Posted by Carrie January 28, 10 10:10 AM

Get your panties out of a wad... Man what a bunch of limp wrist whiners. These magnificent beasts are not being harmed. Have none of you ever had the nads to pass your hand through a flame? I only ask about your hand because it is abundantly clear you have never jumped through a fire yourself. Clearly, your frilly panties would have caught fire in the process.

For the rest of you that thing this is awesome. Rock on!

Posted by boomer45 January 28, 10 10:40 AM

Absolutely stunning pictures...great work!!
Thanks for sharing them with us...

Posted by Harsha January 28, 10 11:09 AM

Stunning photos! Great capture and representations of a cultural celebration!

p.s Horses wouldn't jump through the fire if they didn't want to!

Posted by Pavo January 28, 10 11:59 AM

The ones who are the whiny PETA types are also the ones who have never seen a campfire to jump thru. A good camping trip solves a lot of problems.

Posted by Sailorboy January 28, 10 11:59 AM

Maybe i'm a fool but for me i doesn't make any sense to ride a horse through fire and risk to harm it! For what? Shall that be heroism?

sorry but i dont like and will never understand it.

Posted by formica January 28, 10 12:05 PM

WOW, just simply WOW!!!

Posted by warlok January 28, 10 12:17 PM

I have been transported to another time and demension. Wonderfully done. Thank You.

Posted by Kim Marie Westerfield January 28, 10 12:51 PM

Caption for Photo #3:

Eh laddy! Get meh some MOAR of this Ale for meh and meh mate!

Posted by xeoncat January 28, 10 01:38 PM

Colocar os campeões a andar no fogo, coitados dos cavalos que não tem nada a ver com a história.

Posted by Coutinho January 28, 10 02:17 PM

Schmierwurst @ 42

I sense ancient Vikings rolling in their graves, seeing their descendents drinking tea. From tea-cups! Made of china!! ;)

Actually, though they didn't have tea, Vikings who served as mercenaries during the Crusades did bring back plenty of fine Chinese craftsmanship, including quite fragile items. They loved beautiful things, and recognized good craftmanship when they saw it.

Bruce @ 14:

Need some good links to figure out the Shetlands connection.

The Vikings (and later, Christian Norwegians) once ruled the Shetlands, and many of the current inhabitants are descended from them. It didn't become part of Scotland until the 15th Century, with Norse language continuing to dominate until the 18th, when Scots finally started to overtake it. There is still a very prominent Norse influence, which expresses itself in events such as this.

Posted by Calli Arcale January 28, 10 02:38 PM

@83 Calli: I know, I was just poking fun at the cliché of the marauding, raping and pillaging warrior tribe. I read my Hägar the Horrible.

Posted by Schmierwurst January 28, 10 03:06 PM

That viking ceremony looks like it'd be fun... geeze, wish we had fun things like that here in the states.

Well, we do have Rennaisance Faires...

Posted by Kevin January 28, 10 03:08 PM

All this people feel sorry for the horses but nobody cares about the riders who go through the fire just like the horses. Seriously, the horse doesn't get hurt, nor does the rider.

Posted by Juan January 28, 10 03:34 PM

We took bets how many comments it would take to haven an ASPCA comment or a PETA comment or something along those lines

I would like to thank all people who made "zomg the poor animals" comments, which were probably justified to some extent, as you have just won me 25$.

Aaaand I think I'd rather go to the Shetlands. Setting boats on fire is way more fun than jumping through fire. Especially when horses are involved.

Posted by The Laughing Man January 28, 10 03:57 PM

I think what's upsetting folks about the horses being made to jump through fire is just that - they don't have a choice, and are likely a bit frightened of doing it. I'm sure there is no harm done, but that's not exactly the point. It still appears to be an interesting ceremony.

Posted by Damian January 28, 10 04:59 PM


Whats in YOUR Wallet!?

Posted by aaargh January 28, 10 05:54 PM


setting boats on fire or jumping through fire

wearing cool viking armor, or wearing riding jacket.

I think if I was told to pick one of the two, I'd go with the viking festival. The other one looks pretty awesome too.

Posted by Kule January 28, 10 06:52 PM

The photos n° 20 and 22 are awesome. It reminds me some pics I've seen on Flickr about an equestrian show in Morocco

I love the Big Picture

Posted by Rick January 28, 10 07:58 PM

The horses will be fine you dweebs. Get a grip, probably all of you had some factory farmed meat for dinner this week. Jesus, some people.

Posted by Tim January 28, 10 08:04 PM

Having lived in Spain for 6 years I can clearly see alot of people seem to have absolutely no idea what the Spanish tradition is like. They are also no simply putting horses on fire and letting them burn...

If a picture tells a thousand words, then actually being there and experiencing and knowing the traditions tells a million pictures.

Posted by Alex January 28, 10 08:44 PM

Subscribe to your local news paper today. With out the Boston Globe we would never have seen these photos. It is the newspaper reporters who seem to get the real stories to the pubic.

Posted by roddy r January 28, 10 09:13 PM

I've got issues with some animal treatment in traditional events, both in Spain and elsewhere, but not in this. As countless folks have posted above, any kid who's jumped through a campfire understands that quickly passing through a visible flame is entirely unremarkable, harmless and painless.

However, even a few loose dry hairs might make for a very smelly affair!

Posted by Erik January 28, 10 11:53 PM

Pics are beautiful as always but the whole idea of these so called festivals is a total waste of time and resources

Posted by Razvan Pavel January 29, 10 02:54 AM


Posted by VICTORIO January 29, 10 04:35 AM

#22 is AWESOME, kudos to Big Picture, this one of the best sets ever.

Posted by Le Ping January 29, 10 04:38 AM

The last photo is simply stunning.

Posted by Michael Arteta January 29, 10 06:52 AM

Personalmente pienso que un caballo sufre más maltrato en un rodeo de Estados Unidos (me refiero a los que se montan para ver quién aguanta más encima del caballo) que en esta fiesta.

Posted by Miguel Angel January 29, 10 07:47 AM

As a Historical reenactment fan, must say, these Vikings are far way to clean and their outfits too shinny to be realistic.
I'm not sure about their cape and plastron # 7.
It looks much Roman to me...

I'm planning to commemorate the 1000th anniversary of William the Bastard's conquest of England, within 56 years... who wants to join in ?

Posted by Lulu January 29, 10 09:56 AM

I've read that there is no historical evidence that any Viking ever had horns on their helmets, or wings either, but I get it....If it were me, I'd probably have the whole nine yards, Wagner in the background, hollering in my best phony-baloney old pictures! (maybe a little "Lord of the Rings" thrown in)

Posted by alm January 29, 10 10:31 AM

All were fantastic pictures (except # 3). One question, do all the pictures need to have the FULL description of where/what was in the photo?
(i.e. Vikings Jarl squad or San Bartolome de Pinares)
There all in the same article, I think we'll catch on after awhile what they're from!!

Posted by ram.1500 January 29, 10 10:36 AM

As some one who has regularly taken part in fire festivals, which had several of us leaping through flames, and ended up when the fire was dying down with a bunch of us performing a can-can naked amongst the flames, I can say through great experience, that those horses are in no danger at all.

Posted by Chris B January 29, 10 10:49 AM

Here's a thought, instead of stroking epeen and feigning outrage over these pics. Drive around the Rural US areas and help the horses and animals that are suffering.

Philosophy without action is akin to masturbating without climax.

Posted by Barnabus Jones January 29, 10 11:42 AM

Damn those are beautiful pictures!! Love, love the horn helmet silhouettes.. but ouch the horse and that fire man! You can just feel the heat! That guy should ride through the flames naked and see how he likes it.. wait EW scratch that thought.

Posted by shinigami January 29, 10 12:27 PM

For those worried about the horses, look at their body language. Those animals don't even look stressed. Look at the head position, and that of the ears and how much white (none) is showing in the eyes. Maybe #18 looks a little stressed, but not much. The tack is not the issue. Even a horse with a double bit and draw reins won't go through/over something it really doesn't want to. Every tried to just get a horse to load into a trailer it doesn't like? They outweigh you by 1000 pounds and can pretty much do what they want.

Yes, it's easy to get up in arms over animal cruelty, but you might need to have more firsthand knowledge of the animals and their body language before you decide what is happening is cruel.

Posted by Erika January 29, 10 01:10 PM

ugh. To those of you who's comment is "Animal Cruelty!!", get over it. If you had half the guts these "poor horses" had, you'd be out doing something productive instead of checking out these excellent photos. The people who own these horses are looking out for their safety, undoubtedly, otherwise this would be a pretty short lived annual festival. As for those who's comments are "what a waste of time and resources" congratulations, you are on the internet commenting on wasting time. Wow, that seems a bit off.
Picking on the Spanish people for bull fighting is a little off-side. How about we point out unrelated flaws about all nationalities. Those darned so-and-so's and the way they mistreat such-and-such. Shame! See, here's the problem, you want to lump people together, into a group just big enough that they seem vulnerable to criticism, but not so large as to include you. Either we all suck (likely) or take people one at a time and criticize. None of THESE people look like bullfighters, but what to I know?

The pictures are excellent, the festivals are marvelous.

Posted by Bil with one "L" January 29, 10 01:15 PM

you guys do realize that the horses dont feel anything right?

the same way a person wouldn't feel anything jumping over a similar bonfire. unless you decide to stand on it for a few seconds.

Posted by Anonymous January 29, 10 02:14 PM

Bullfighting is a beautiful art form, it's amazing to watch. More importantly, it's part of a culture that is a lot older than ours, so you have no place to judge them America. If you think killing a bull with a couple pointed sticks and a sword is easy, by all means go kill yourself trying. Besides, on occasion, the bull wins.

Posted by Pat January 29, 10 03:13 PM

We do have things as much fun. Go to any Renaissance or Medieval Faire or spend a weekend with a Civil War re-enactment group. Trust me, fun is had!

Posted by DJ January 29, 10 03:15 PM

Incredible photos! I hadn't even known about that Spanish festival, but now I want to go and photograph it for myself! Spectacular!

Those horses don't look to be in any danger to me... I'd be more worried about the smoke inhalation than the actual fire. And as for being "forced to something they don't want to do," that pretty much describes everything we do with horses, and many more "acceptable" activities, like stadium jumping, track racing and steeplechase, are much more dangerous. The only reason anybody's against this is because it *looks* harmful. If you really want to help save the horses, how about banning futurities? The practice of training, racing and running horses into the ground at 2 and 3 years old -- when they're still maturing and aren't even remotely physically prepared for hard riding -- leaves the poor creatures lame and crippled before they even reach middle-age. An animal that lives to be 30-40 years old shouldn't be arthritic at 6.

There are plenty of abuses to complain about within the horse industry. Though I'm sure some of the horses involved in this particular practice aren't real happy about being there, they're also not being harmed, and at any horse event you're going to find plenty of horses who aren't happy with the job they're doing. (Go to a local barrel race and you'll probably have a harder time finding a horse that *isn't* neurotic from being constantly raced around the barrels. Sorry, barrel racers, but it's no lie.)

Posted by Mackenzie January 29, 10 04:14 PM

They wouldn't allow that barbarity to be feted n the USA so I think we Americans need to show those Spaniards what flaming terror is really like. A little economic pressure (sanctions?) and a military buildup would make those damned animal abusers think twice about defying our sensibilities. Remember we have lots and lots of napalm. And we will use it.

Posted by korvinsnerf January 29, 10 04:16 PM

Michael asked: "Where firemen?"

The Guizer Jarl is a full-time professional Fireman, as are several members of his squad of Vikings!

Posted by Karen Angus January 29, 10 04:41 PM

# 69 : Ok: you obviously DON'T know your tack, as 1) snaffles can actually be quite harsh and 2) ALL of the horses here are wearing pelhams or Kimberwicke type bits (18,21, 22 ) and 20 IS using a martingale and double reins which would be fine IF the rider didn't look poorly trained in its use. These bits have a great deal of leverage and can be extremely painful in the wrong hands. These particular riders' are sloppy in their jumping position and have heavy hands which are clearly snatching at their horses' mouths. Either they don't know what they are doing or are too Drunk to ride properly. Regardless of riding technique, the rider's shouldn't take advantage of these horses' brave and giving nature and violate their trust by placing them in a potentially dangerous situation. I don't think that anyone here would like to inhale toxic smoke or have embers and sparks fly up and sting thier eyes. I am not some tree hugger and I make sure that I treat a horse as a horse and not as a human, but animals which do not have a choice in their lot in life, deserve a certain amount of decent and humane consideration.

Posted by Lilly January 29, 10 05:34 PM

Amazing pics, and the timing of the last one was nothing short of spectacular!

However, I find it amusing to read comments regarding the alleged "animal cruelty." I guess it is easier for some Americans to cast judgement based on a single picture of an event and context they know absolutely nothing about, than it is for them to look at themselves in the mirror and realize what they have allowed to be done, in their name, to their fellow human beings.

So I see our bullfights and horses jumping through fire, and I raise you guys an Abu Ghraib, hundreds of thousands of dead, injured and displaced innocent Iraqis, 30+ million of American citizens sans health insurance, and the highest rate of homelessness and incarceration in the industrialized world...

Solve your human decency issues first, and then you can go on schooling the rest of the world on animal cruelty. m'kay?


Posted by IñigoMontoya January 29, 10 06:13 PM

This "Thor" movie looks like it's going to be awexxsome!

Posted by dengar January 29, 10 07:07 PM

@ Lilly. I'm going to guess they're too drunk.

Posted by Kule January 29, 10 08:16 PM

Hmm Me thinks there be no PETA in your midst...

Posted by Anonymous January 29, 10 08:19 PM

Sure the pictures are cool, but I can't imagine the horse feels too great riding through those flames.

Posted by Kim January 29, 10 08:37 PM

These photos are brilliant... the photographers should have an award coming to them...

Posted by Mike Brendan January 29, 10 10:28 PM

europe f-ing rules!!!

Posted by unknown January 29, 10 11:22 PM

Everyone talking about cruelty to animals, shut up. Unless you're a vegan, you partake in animal cruelty daily that's far worse than a horse jumping through fire. Ever run your finger through a candle flame? That doesn't hurt and I'm willing to bet any amount of money that a horse moves much faster than you can.

Anywho, these pictures ROCK!

Posted by Shayne January 30, 10 12:12 AM

If you think that's bad wait till I load the pictures of that time I lit my child on fire and threw him through a horse. It looked terrible but no fires were actually harmed during the taking of the photos.

Posted by Colico January 30, 10 12:14 AM

Seems cruel maybe, but these are pictures, remember. The horses are only in there for a split second.

I see this and I think it to be about the excitement, the danger, about feeling alive with hot blood in your veins and feeling the power of the animal you are celebrating beneath you. Captivating.

Posted by Anonymous January 30, 10 01:44 AM

Merci pour ces photos sublimes et le travail réalisé

Posted by perceval January 30, 10 03:19 AM

Awesome display. I guess fire play is a universal guy activity. Out in the desert here, we like to use firearms and explosive gases and liquids as well. Those horses must feel just like the riders!


@ IñigoMontoya #116:

I'm really awestruck by how you're able to judge the United States from your lofty perch in ..... oh, I see you don't have your country listed. That's OK. I understand your being ashamed of your homeland. Even though you lack pride in where you are from and are ashamed to say (even anonymously) I still think it's an awesome feat for you to spew your distaste for events to which you have no solution. I'm sure that if I was from your background I could take control of that damned USA and make it abide to my satisfaction almost as well as you've demonstrated.

Posted by MojaveMike January 30, 10 05:11 AM

Amazing Festival and outstanding costumes and reenactment....would LOVE to see this one day!!!

Posted by Michellle January 30, 10 09:25 AM

Children and anitmals are NOT equal... animals are way better!

Posted by Yeah I said it January 30, 10 10:26 AM

Cool pictures,
regarding the horses, I also believe that they are not being hurt in the fire.
What I see as a problem is that they cannot understand as riders do, that they'll be ok and therefore have to be forced by a rider to go through. And for me, this basic idea, that rider will put his animal through something so strongly against its insticts is presenting a question, what else about the horse is he disregarding. I wouldn't do it to my horse just for the fun of it.

Posted by Luke January 30, 10 10:37 AM

I'm a Viking reenactor, am going to school to study Viking clothing, and while I thought these pictures were AWESOME, the costumes are terrible. : ( The cleanliness was not an issue, but more of the style, and the HORNS and WINGS on the helmets! There is no historical evidence for such things, and they should be taken off and destroyed or something.

However, the rest of that is pretty awesome. I'm glad people are still celebrating their culture, all over the world.

Posted by SvenskaFlicka January 30, 10 11:05 AM

I did a spell with the Royal Signals White Helmets stunt motorcycle team many moons ago. We were unlucky if, when riding through the 'Fire Jump' we received mild flash burns on our face.
Somebody mention those poor trees! There are no poor trees on Shetland worthy of building a boat. The trees in the picture of the vikings marching through the streets with their torches is as good as it gets. The rolling hills of the landscape are like a big lawn. A really great place to be.

Posted by Peter.Shetland Islands January 30, 10 01:18 PM

this is the most awesome sh*t i've ever seen

Posted by Anonymous January 30, 10 01:58 PM

It's not whether WE know the horses are'nt going to get injured its subjecting the horse to elevated anticipatory stress prior to going through the flames that is wrong.
Again, another case of defending silly and stupid things in the name of culture and tradition.

Posted by paul January 30, 10 02:24 PM

Well I can't answer for the tree huggers but the pictures rock. And yes the US of A has a lofty perch. And thanks to us most of Europe does not speak German.

Posted by Dave Bosse January 30, 10 04:21 PM

During a recent wild horse roundup in the western US, an estimated 1% of the mustangs were killed. (NY Times) No figures were given on injured.

Last time I was in Scandinavia, horse meat was on the menu. Do Americans think "steak a cheval" in French restaurants is the name for some kind of tasty sauce?

Let the "Vikings have their fun. It looks to me they care more for their mounts than a lot of people elsewhere.

Posted by Equus January 30, 10 07:56 PM

@DaveBosse ....and thanks to the French we don't speak English

Posted by skyy January 30, 10 08:25 PM

It's not about the horse being tortured or in pain; I can only assume the jump took place so quickly that there was no burning, just a very uncomfortable heat.

The issue is not the actual act of jumping through the flame. It is the very real danger of jumping over a burning pile of trees/sticks. Anyone who has an ounce of horse sense knows that accidents can often be very bad in horse jumping. Even with very safe jumps. Now, in the event of a stumble, a slip, or something of that nature, and the horse fell into the pile, both horse AND rider would be seriously burnt, if not killed. It's just like jumping a horse over a barbed wire fence --- it's what happens in the event the horse does NOT make it over. Horses are not perpetual leaping machines; they to make mistakes, they do fall, even the BEST of horses have crashes.

That is my stand on why jumping a horse through a bonfire, for ANY reason, is idiotic.

Posted by Amanda Herbert January 30, 10 08:51 PM

where do i get one of the winged helmets?

Posted by Emmett Graham January 30, 10 09:43 PM

Do you want the horses purified or not?

Posted by Robert January 31, 10 09:08 AM

Being properly trained, the horses know they won't be harmed by this particular fire and thus are not scared of it.

Which, to judge by the comments here, means they have more brains and guts than many Boston Globe readers.

Posted by El Famoso Señor Ed January 31, 10 11:23 AM

I don't know why, but #22 made me smile.

Posted by Adam January 31, 10 12:39 PM

The ancestors live on in us. I am proud of my Viking heritage and my ancestors. Up Helly Aa

Posted by max January 31, 10 03:05 PM

Wished I could of been there! So cool... Hail.

Posted by Mike Barnes January 31, 10 05:56 PM

Fantastic pictures. Up Helly Aa is a lot more than the procession and the burning, however. The 700-800 men are all in costumes and are arranged in groups which travel around to the several venues hosted by those not in the Festival itself. (Read: the women!) And, yes, libations are consumed, but the veterans know how to do that, visit all the halls, do their skits AND keep going until 7-8 a.m. Sometimes the newer, younger fellows fall by the wayside, but generally, a good time is had by all. AND there's a holiday the next day! I miss it very much.


Posted by Peg January 31, 10 08:35 PM

Just make sure the manes and tails are wet before doing that, and make sure there's nothing burning where they'd land, and they'll be fine. I was taught that by a wrangler for stunt horses in movies. If you teach them so they know what to do they won't be upset. Besides, horses are moving pretty fast in the air over a jump, so it's no more than running your finger through a candle flame.

Posted by Skye January 31, 10 11:15 PM

These are two amazing festivals, and some great pictures. Very cool.

And to all the people worried about animal cruelty, don't let the photos fool you. The pictures are still, but the animals are moving, not just standing in the fire. They're fine.

Posted by Alsadius February 1, 10 03:35 AM


It doesn't hurt them. Here, try a test to help prove it. Run your hand over a candle. Horses, like any other massive non-human male, are inherently resilient and durable.

Posted by Anonymous February 1, 10 10:17 AM

Thank you so much for posting these dramatic photos. I have greatly enjoyed reading the reactions of other viewers. The assumptions of cruelty, counter balanced by the experience of others is such a regular sight now. While I apreciate the "anti-cruelty crowd's" tendancy to err on the side of gentleness; I do wish they would think and ask questions about this sort of thing before issuing their puritanical condemnations. With all the talk of accepting diversity in the modern world, I see little action from the pet people on this score. They often seem as certain and determined as our Pentacostal Republican friends here in the USA.
Photos such as these should quite rightly arouse a need to know more about the practice. Sadly, it much more oftens leads them to reactionary condemnations of their fellow man. Which,as with the puritans of old, automatically puts the accuser on side of the angels. If only in their own minds.

Posted by Wells Twombly February 1, 10 12:25 PM

The horses are like 'Wheeeeee!!!!'

If horses were ugly, no one would care. People whine about rabbits and horses and how we shouldn't eat them, but if they looked like giant naked mole rats no one would care at all.

We should eat horses.

Posted by jheylin February 1, 10 02:54 PM

If it was on a menu I'd order it.

Posted by Anonymous February 1, 10 03:33 PM

The Spanish event is unlawful, it's a shame that cruelty to animals.
And all this reactionary humdrum with the celebration of age old traditions being revived because people have lost faith in the future...that leaves me cold. Though I'll admit the Viking event is picturesque.

Posted by lionel February 2, 10 07:07 AM

In spain not everybody love hurts animals. someone like they ;)

Posted by Spanish man February 2, 10 10:04 AM

con razon los llamaban Bárbaros!!!!...pobres animales...

Posted by gonzalo matamala February 2, 10 10:31 AM

These were absolutely PROFOUND Photos! I caught myself mesmerized, smiling, and in a deep wonderment! As if I was seeing back in time; back into when men had pride for what they owned and hoped for better! Primal Perfection!! Thank you for sharing the view with us! It has been an honor!!

As a fire performer, there is an 6 second rule! Unless you are in DIRECT contact with a single flame for an 6 count, there is NO DAMAGE!!! ((shakes head)) Believe me, been burned QUITE a bit learning my craft, jumping across a bonfire is cake.

I understand it LOOKS scary, but horses are freaked easily! I had a horse that wouldnt cross bridges unless she was blindfolded... I didn't happen to see a blind fold on not one horse, Did Anyone else? *laughing* With all respect to the "well-meaning" do some research before you get your panties in a bunch!

Learning about OTHER cultures faith, rituals, and traditions does NOT mean JUDGING! It means opening your mind, coming out of your quaint little comfort zones in your cubicles and WAKING UP to the ENTIRE world!!!


Dansk (Danish)
v. intr. - sameksistere

Nederlands (Dutch)

Français (French)
v. intr. - coexister avec

Deutsch (German)
v. - koexistieren, nebeneinander bestehen

Ελληνική (Greek)
v. - συνυπάρχω, συμβιώνω

Italiano (Italian)

Português (Portuguese)
v. - coexistir

Русский (Russian)

Español (Spanish)
v. intr. - coexistir, convivir

Svenska (Swedish)
v. - samexistera, leva sida vid sida

中文(简体)(Chinese (Simplified))

中文(繁體)(Chinese (Traditional))
v. intr. - 共存

한국어 (Korean)
v. intr. - 공존하다

日本語 (Japanese)
v. - 同時に存在する, 共存する

العربيه (Arabic)
‏(فعل) تعايش‏

עברית (Hebrew)
v. intr. - ‮התקיים יחד, חי באותו זמן‬

Posted by Christian Tearanny February 2, 10 12:03 PM

#22 is surreal man.

Posted by p0litik February 2, 10 10:05 PM

#113 - wait, you're proposing to use US military forces to pressure a country for animal rights? That's absurd enough to be stupid, almost enough to be satirical.

The military has 2 primary roles. They are: 1) Kill people. 2) Break things.

You just proposed killing people in the name of animals. That's something like suispeciocide.

I suggest a reordering of your priorities.

Posted by A Bostonian and Airman February 3, 10 01:59 PM

Those are the best photos of Up Helly Aa I've ever seen. As for the Spanish festival, I'd never heard of it, but again, absolutely amazing photography. How do you do it?

Posted by Peter Johnson February 3, 10 07:27 PM

I come from the Shetlands its been 30 years since i was last out in up Helly aa` ,don`t worry about the horses in Spain, the second night in Shetland is cruelty to your liver ....

Posted by IAN HUNTER February 4, 10 03:53 AM

I'd feel better about the horses "feeling nothing" if I could see a picture of a man carrying a horse on his back through those flames and hear him claim that he felt nothing.

Posted by LunaK February 4, 10 10:46 PM

^^^Sure, that would be a TOTALLY comparable situation.

Posted by jesus February 6, 10 11:41 AM

I hope those ponys are ok....

Posted by kat February 8, 10 12:00 PM

wow, i wonder what they used to protect the horses and riders in 20-22

Posted by anchorman February 9, 10 05:52 PM

Much better than that pussy event, Burning Man in the USA, here we have Burning REAL Man and Horse!!!!

Posted by Dave February 9, 10 08:13 PM

Re costumes... The only one with wings on his helmet is the Guiser Jarl because he's in charge. NOBODY wears horns on their helmets... Someone probably took that horned helmet up there and asked somebody to wear it for a photo- op!
The whole of Shetland is steeped in history- even the sheep fields have abandoned ruins in them and there are archaeological digs going on all the time. I think they have some idea of what the Vikings wore...
(My family are from Shetland, descended from Viking settlers)

Posted by bigfishybob February 11, 10 08:22 AM

Stumbled across these photos - excellent!

I've been taking part in Up Helly Aa since I was 12, now in my 27th consecutive year and wouldn't miss it for the world (even flew back from Australia for 10 days a few years back just to avoid breaking the chain!).

Here's how it works:

There are just under 50 "squads" of men, one of which is the guizer jarl's squad. The guizer jarl was elected onto a committee to help organise the festival 15 years earlier. He will have spent several days a week for several months of each year for the previous 15 years just to get to be the main guy for a day!! His squad will typically have spent £2,000 each just to be in the squad (there are lots of events before and after the festival they attend, plus their suits are all hand made of the finest materials).

Up Helly Aa wasn't always a viking festival. Its origins began 130+ years ago in street fighting between rival gangs around the xmas period, when seamen were ashore on leave. Things got more civilised and the event was gradually put back to the last Tuesday in January. The viking themes were only introduced into it 80 odd years ago. Don't read too much into the validity of horns or wings. Shetlanders are nevertheless undoubtedly proud of their norse heritage.

The guizer jarl squad will start planning their viking costume 2 years ahead of their turn to be the main squad. All the other squads will meet up around August each year to come up with a topical idea to portray in the festival. For examply, my squad portrayed Tiger Woods exploits during 2009 ;-)

We hold regular "squad" meetings from August onwards, where we practice a skit to perform on the night and organise our outfits. The jarl squad have a very long day - the cups of tea in the pics are taken around 7am on the Tuesday - they will have been up since 6am that day and will still be on the go at 9am the following morning!!

The rest of the squads gather at 7pm and a flare signals the "light up". We march off singing the Up Helly Aa song. All the squads circle the galley where we sing the "Galley Song". The Guizer Jarl then leaves his ship for the last time and around 1000 flaming torches are flung into the galley, which has cost thousands to build over a period of 4 months. We then sing the "Norseman's Home" before heading back to our squad "huts" (aka - the drinking dens we've been holing up in for the past few months!).

We then board our transport for the night (ours is a big lorry with ice bucket for booze, music amplifier and disco lights!) before rotating through 12 different venues to perform our skit to the guests in the venues. It's safe to say that we all get very drunk during the night and later on the skit isn't up to much!!

The night ends at around 9am Wednesday but the Wednesday is also "Hop Day" and your manliness is questioned if you are not back drinking that night!!

I've been to Pampalona, Rio Carnival, Edinburgh Hogmanay etc etc etc....none of them are a patch on the best party in the world ;-)

Posted by Martin Watt February 25, 10 03:55 PM

To the jackass that sad that Americans aren't allowed to judge Bullfighting because it's a beautiful art and an old tradition: The quickest way to lose any arguement is to say that it's a tradition. So what if the culture is thousands of years older? Slavery and rape are millenia older than EVERY extant culture on earth. And it's STILL fucking wrong. Just because you've been doing something forever does NOT mean it's right or justified. Also note though, that these horses are not being hurt in the slightest. Horse spook really freakin' easily and if they felt threatened, they'd through the rider and run off. Hell, on Dirty jobs, Mike Rowe demonstrated first on a cow and then on his own crew that being blasted with a flameburst doesn't even warm your skin much. It just singes your hair a little without any reddening.

Posted by Goratrix March 2, 10 10:52 AM

He's a patron saint of animals? Why the hell then would you celebrate it by riding a horse through bonfires?

Posted by Jen March 2, 10 07:44 PM

thank you cracked.

Posted by ibis March 3, 10 02:14 AM

There is practically no danger to the horses. Study the pictures, they are soaking wet! Have you ever tried to set a wet carpet on fire? There is much greater danger to the riders, who will be thrown head first into the fire if the horse balks. I think this is more a test of the bond of trust and loyalty between horse and rider, if the test is passed, the bond is made stronger. Lastly, I would bet that these horses have had some training for this stunt. I doubt that an average horse with no experience could be made to do this.

Posted by Sir Charles March 8, 10 05:39 PM

I get so irritated hearing people say they are bothered by the horses jumping through the fire because 'they don't have a choice'. Have you EVER ridden a horse??? Like, a belligerent one who doesn't want to do what you are telling it to do? Because if a horse is scared, pissed or not confident enough, it WILL NOT go through or over what you tell it to and will just stop (and the result would have possibly been the rider flying off and landing in the fire if the horse was moving fast). I have been riding and jumping horses most of my life and I am here to tell you that it's very difficult to force a horse to do something it doesn't want to, and nearly impossible to make a horse do something it's terrified to do. TRUST ME, those horses did that willingly. I am sure their owners started training them to do it long before the festival by having them hop over tiny camp fires until the horses learned not to be afraid and then worked their way up from there. Do you really think that 1300+ pound animal did not have the strength or dexterity to just stop or swerve just because of a little piece of smooth steel in it's mouth? Come on!
Awesome pictures and looks like these festivals are really fun. The last picture of the head emerging from the flames does not look real, though, or maybe it's just a weirdness of the flame/lighting.

Posted by Cathleen March 17, 10 12:18 PM

Most of you don't know much about horses then. Actually horseswould jump through fire even if they didn't want to because their whole goal in life is to please their owner! I would know, I train and own a bunch!!! plus my mom's a beeder! I'm no by any means calling the viking culture stupid at all as a matter of fact I find it quite interesting but thi cruel part of it made me gasp in horror!!!

Posted by It doesn't matter April 23, 10 02:42 AM

So much for the Viking-ish understanding of the term HEROISM. I guess Vikings don't watch "Lion King" the movie. It's a shame actually - if they did they could tell the difference between the real heroism and stupidity.

Posted by Haludek May 3, 10 04:26 PM

Muito loko!!!

Posted by Thalles November 2, 10 07:46 PM


Posted by LILMISSHOTROD November 11, 10 07:26 AM

Including Under,volume relate sign oil voice welfare effectively vary late opportunity problem them surface section although realise facility afraid contact economy maybe dead fix solution majority question enjoy all purpose hand market cost market we station structure kid commercial demand perform hence unlikely towards station scientist far fact capacity ring motor extent visit knee on below information nature considerable fee attack distinction green under house on down funny range face meet meal treat fish natural call seriously all victory principle patient family connect before measure conclude

Posted by acai berry colon cleanse December 11, 10 05:40 AM

For all of those rising up to scold those of us who care about the horses while defending grown men who dress up and pretend to be heroes while risking animal's lives...I ask you to use your brains to come up with a less abusive playtime game...join us in this century and find a way to play dress-up without being the jerk who let's a horses skin burn for a photo op.

You want to jump through fire? Do it with your own feet. What is "wimpy" or "fragile" about that? Buck up.

Posted by Sophia Cook March 22, 11 02:25 PM
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