“The main goal is to frighten it away, because one fear can be erased by a different fear,” says Mirtofig Seyidrzaoglu, an employee at Eight Door shrine. This process is called çıldağ in Azerbaijan.
The word “çıldağ” means “casting out fear by fire.” It is believed that the healer, or çıldağçı, can lift a curse from a person by burning specific places on the body.
The ritual to remove fear depends on faith in the power of fire and the speed of the fear-catcher — his or her ability to cause the person to flinch. Since the basis of the treatment is to shock the patient by doing something unexpected, today the practices of fear removal are diverse: glass breaking, iron banging are also popular techniques.
The fear-catcher uses the element of surprise. In a common version of the practice, the healer places a burned piece of cotton or a piece of the old fabric on sacred points of the body -- where the ends of the nerve endings are located -- before the patient realizes what is happening. The process starts at the back of the body and proceeds to the chest, arms, knees and, finally, the legs.
The procedure, which can be painful, has been used for so long in Azerbaijan, historians have trouble identifying exactly when it began.
Firudin Jalilov, a doctor of philology, believes that çıldağ is a phenomenon that was influenced by shamanism in Azerbaijan. Later, when people adopted Islam, the practice was changed to reflect their new faith.
In ancient times, the shock patients experienced during çıldağ was seen as a sign that “the evil spirits, the creators of fear and disease, ran away,” according to the third volume of Azerbaijani Ethnography, a collection of studies published by the National Science Academy. In fact, it created a counter-effect, a process that was “based on the principle of imitation magic.”
“The approach and attempt of intervention against natural events by ancient people, albeit in a passive manner, was understood in terms of magic. For example, our ancient ancestors believed that a solar eclipse was caused by demons, devils and etc. evil forces. That is why they made noise by hitting some things to each other (and later, iron tools), believing that those forces would be frightened and run away, ” according to Azerbaijani Ethnography.