The rising of physical objects, tables, pianos, etc., or of human beings into the air, contrary to the known laws of gravitation and without any visible agency. More often the term is used in a restricted sense and refers to the levitation of the human body. As such, the phenomenon was reported from ancient times. Instances of transportation, or teleportation, which is levitation in its highest form, are recorded both in the Jewish Bible and the Christian New Testament, illustrated, for example, by Jesus' walking on the water, a feat reportedly accomplished by many of the saints.
The power was claimed by wizards of many primitive tribes, by mystics in the East, and it has been repeatedly claimed, in less sensational degrees, by several modern Spiritualist mediums. The mediums offered themselves as evidence to science that the miracles of rising in the air recorded in the life of saints, ecstatics, witches, and victims of demoniac possession might rest on a solid basis of fact.
In Die Christliche Mystik (5 vols., 1836-42), J. J. von Görres spoke of 72 levitated saints, while Olivier Leroy (in Levitation, 1928) noted that out of 14,000, at least 200 had experienced the phenomenon. Among them were St. Dunstan (918-988), St. Dominic (1170-1221), St. Francis of Assisi (1186-1226), Thomas Aquinas (1226-1274), St. Edmund, archbishop of Canterbury (d. 1242), Blessed James of Illyria (d. 1485), Savonarola (1452-1498), St. Ignatius Loyola (1491-1556), St. Philip Neri (1515-1595), St. Peter of Alcantara (1499-1562), St. Joseph of Copertino (1603-1663) and St. Alphonsius Liguori (1696-1787). They were variously reported as having been raised a short distance in the air. Leroy found the average elevation 20 inches, but in some cases, exceptional height was recorded.
St. Joseph of Copertino who, in the Acta Sanctorum, is credited with 70 separate flights, once flew up into a tree and perched on a branch which quivered no more than if he had been a bird. According to von Görres, St. Peter of Alcantara was, on one occasion, carried up in the air to a great height, far above the trees, when with his arms crossed on his chest he continued to soar while hundreds of little birds gathered around him, making a most agreeable concert with their songs.
St. Dunstan, archbishop of Canterbury, was observed to rise from the ground shortly before his death in 988. St. Bernard Ptolomei, St. Philip Benitas, St. Albert of Sicily, and St. Dominic, founder of the Dominican order, were all seen to be levitated while engaged in their devotions. An ecstatic nun "rose from the ground with so much impetuosity, that five or six of the sisters could hardly hold her down." It is related by his biographers that Savonarola, shortly before he perished at the stake, remained suspended at a considerable height above the floor of his dungeon, absorbed in prayer.
Levitation before the Altar
The scene of the elevation of saints and ecstatics was most often the altar in the church, and the state which seemed to condition it was the deep trance-like state known as "rapture." St. Joseph of Copertino experienced 15 levitations in front of images of the Holy Virgin; his raptures in saying Mass were of frequent occurrence, and "his ecstasies and ascensions were witnessed not only by the people and the members of his order, but Pope Urban VIII saw him one day in this state and was intensely astonished. Joseph, bethinking himself that he was in the presence of the Vicar of Christ, fell into an ecstasy and was raised above the ground."
According to an official report, the original of which is in the Bibliotheque National of Paris, Françoise Fontaine, a young servant of Louviers, exorcized in 1591, was three times raised before the altar and the third time was carried through the air head downwards.
Fr. K. A. Schmöger recounted the statement of stigmatist Anne Catherine Emmerich (1774-1824):
"When I was doing my work as vestry-nun, I was often lifted up suddenly into the air, and I climbed up and stood on the higher parts of the church, such as windows, sculptured ornaments, jutting stones; I would clean and arrange everything in places where it was humanly impossible. I felt myself lifted and supported in the air, and I was not afraid in the least, for I had been accustomed from a child to being assisted by my guardian angel."
Of Abbé Claude Dhière (1757-1820), director of the Grand Séminaire of Grenoble, his biographer de Franclieu noted that: "When he experienced ecstasies during his Mass, it was usually at the Memento of the living and the dead, and the students who used to serve his Mass declare that, when enraptured, his feet did not touch the floor."
Lesser-known people also were reported to levitate on occasion, as was noted in the Frankfurter Zeitung of September 8, 1861:
"We read in the Gegenwart of Vienna that a Catholic Priest was preaching before his congregation last Sunday in the Church of St. Mary, at Vienna, on the subject of the constant protection of angels over the faithful committed to their charge, and this in words of great exaltation, and with an unction and eloquence which touched profoundly the hearts of numbers of the congregation. Soon after the commencement of the sermon, a girl of about 20 years of age, showed all signs of ecstasy, and soon, her arms crossed upon her bosom, and with her eyes fixed on the preacher, she was seen by the whole congregation to be raised gradually from the floor into the air, and there to rest at an elevation of more than a foot until the end of the sermon. We are assured that the same phenomenon had happened several days previously at the moment of her receiving the communion."
The French psychic investigator Col. Rochas received a personal testimony from Abbé Petit that once, to his great terror, he was levitated in the church.
In religious chronicles, one also meets with the antithesis of the phenomenon of levitation—excessive gravitation. G. Neubrigensis recorded the case of Raynerus, the wicked minister, who so overweighed a ship with his iniquity that in the midst of the stream it was unable to stir. As soon as he was put out of the ship they could easily sail away.
There is a seeming analogy to these questionable accounts from the past in the cases of hysterics who often claim such an increase of weight that they are unable to stir. That the feeling may not be purely imaginary is suggested by the case of the medium Alberto Fontana who, after a levitation, remained as if nailed to the floor, and nobody was able to move him.
Levitation in Witchcraft
In the tenth century, it was popularly charged that women who followed the pagan goddess Diana flew in the air to their rituals, but the church considered this a heretical delusion. However, during the witchcraft mania of the sixteenth and seventeenth centuries, confessions or accusations of transvection (flying through the air) were accepted as describing a reality. It was believed that witches smeared themselves with a special ointment which gave them the power of flight, usually mounted on a broomstick, a shovel, a distaff, or even an animal.
The inquisitors suggested that the transvection of witches was a fact and existed as a diabolical parody of the transports of saints. It now seems possible that behind some of the claimed transvection of witches may have been either vivid dreams or occasional out-of-the-body travel experiences, while some may have been hallucinations. Such experiences may have been induced by the special ointment, though other accounts claim that no such ointment was necessary to produce the experience. Some have argued that in light of well-attested accounts of the transvection of saints, it should be logical to consider that there may have been some genuine cases of levitation of witches.
From Witchcraft to Spiritualism
In ancient rituals, levitation was mentioned as a sign of possession. Charges of witchcraft or bewitchment usually followed the manifestation. Henry Jones, a 12-year-old English boy of Shepton-Mallet, England, was believed to be bewitched in 1657, as he was carried by invisible means from one room to another, and sometimes was wholly lifted up, so that his body hung in the air, with only the flat of his hands placed against the ceiling. One afternoon in the garden of Richard Isles, he was raised up and transported over the garden wall for about 30 yards.
Patrick Sandilands, a younger son of Lord Torpichen, was similarly believed to be the victim of witchcraft in 1720 at Caldor in Scotland. His tendency to rise entranced into the air was so great that his sisters had to watch him and sometimes could only keep him down by hanging to his skirts.
Mary London, a hysterical servant girl who was tried for witchcraft in 1661 at Cork, Ireland, was frequently transported by an invisible power to the top of the house.
The phenomenon was frequently witnessed in poltergeist cases. The Drummer of Tedworth would lift all the children up in their beds. During the disturbances at the Epworth Vicarage in 1716, Nancy Wesley was several times successfully lifted up with the bed on which she was sitting to a considerable height. Four of her sisters were present, among them Hetty, whom the disturbances chiefly followed (see Epworth phenomena ). Harry Phelps, the 12-year-old son of the Rev. Eliakim Phelps around whom the Stratford, Connecticut, disturbances centered in 1850, was often lifted from the floor, was once put into a water cistern, and at another time was suspended from a tree.
During the age of animal magnetism, Dr. G. Billot reported that his somnambules sometimes rose into the air. If put into a bath during her trance, Frederica Hauffe, the Seeress of Prevorst, Germany, floated on the top of the water like a cork. If Dr. Justinus Kerner placed his fingers against her own, he could act like a magnet and lift her from the ground. In his book Physiologie, médecine, et métaphysique du magnétisme (1848), Louis J. J. Charpignon stated that Bourguignon, a mesmerist of Rouen, could lift several of his subjects from the ground by placing his hand over the epigastrium. Other experimenters have recorded with the same experience.
The levitation of Spiritualist mediums represents a simple continuity of an age-old phenomenon. When modern Spiritualism was introduced with the Rochester rappings, levitation soon appeared. It was recorded for the first time with Henry C. Gordon in February 1851. A year later, in Dr. Gray's house in New York, he was carried through the air to a distance of 60 feet.
If we accept Dr. R. T. Hallock's account before the New York Conference of June 18, 1852, there was an instance of Gordon's levitation in daylight in a crowded assembly room. According to Hallock, while he was delivering a lecture, Gordon, who sat at some distance from but in front of him, rose into the air, swayed from side to side, his feet grazing the top seats, and sank to the ground when the attention of the entire congregation became riveted on him. It was afterwards declared by the spirits that they intended to carry him over the heads of the sitters to the rostrum but that the audience had broken the necessary conditions of passivity.
The Levitations of D. D. Home
The next medium to exhibit the phenomenon was D. D. Home. His first levitation occurred August 8, 1852, in Ward Cheney's house at Manchester, Connecticut. The Hartford Times recorded the event:
"Suddenly and without any expectation on the part of the company, Mr. Home was taken up in the air. I had hold of his hand at the time, and I felt his feet—they were lifted a foot from the floor. He palpitated from head to foot with the contending emotions of joy and fear which choked his utterance. Again and again he was taken from the floor, and the third time he was carried to the ceiling of the apartment with which his hands and feet came in gentle contact. I felt the distance from the soles of his boots to the floor, and it was nearly three feet. Others touched his feet to satisfy themselves."
With no other medium was levitation so often and so reliably attested as with Home. In Britain, Sir William Crookes narrated his own experiences:
"On one occasion I witnessed a chair, with a lady sitting on it, rise several inches from the ground. On another occasion, to avoid the suspicion of this being in some way performed by herself, the lady knelt on the chair in such a manner that its four feet were visible to us. It then rose about three inches, remained suspended for about ten seconds and then slowly descended.
"At another time two children, on separate occasions rose from the floor with their chairs, in full daylight under (to me) most satisfactory conditions; for I was kneeling and keeping close watch upon the feet of the chair, observing distinctly that no one might touch them.
"The most striking instances of levitation which I have witnessed have been with Mr. Home. On three separate occasions have I seen him raised completely from the floor of the room. Once sitting in an easy chair and once standing up. On each occasion I had full opportunity of watching the occurrence as it was taking place.
"There are at least a hundred instances of Mr. Home's rising from the ground, in the presence of as many separate persons, and I have heard from the lips of the three witnesses to the most striking occurrence of this kind—the Earl of Dunraven, Lord Lindsay and Captain C. Wynne—their own most minute accounts of what took place. To reject the recorded evidence on this subject is to reject all human testimony whatever; for no fact in sacred or profane history is supported by a stronger array of proofs."
In the Journal of the Society for Psychical Research (Vol. 6, no. 15, ), Crookes further stated:
"On several occasions Home and the chair on which he was sitting at the table rose off the ground. This was generally done very deliberately, and Home sometimes tucked up his feet on the seat of the chair and held up his hands in full view of all of us. On such an occasion I have got down and seen and felt that all four legs were off the ground at the same time, Home's feet being on the chair. Less frequently the levitating power was extended to those sitting next to him. Once my wife was thus raised off the ground in her chair."
The striking occurrence to which Crookes referred in the first quotation was the most famous case in history of levitation. It was witnessed on December 13 (not December 16, as first printed in Lord Adare 's book), 1868, at Ashley House, Victoria Street, London, in the presence of Adare, the Master of Lindsay and Charles Wynne, Adare's cousin. Home floated out of a third story window and came in through the window of another room.
Lord Adare noted: "He [Home] then said to us, 'Do not be afraid, and on no account leave your places' and he went out into the passage. Lindsay suddenly said 'Oh, good heavens! I know what he is going to do; it is too fearful.' " Adare: "What is it?"
Lindsay: "I cannot tell you, it is too horrible! Adah [the spirit of a deceased American actress] says that I must tell you; he is going out of the window in the other room, and coming in at this window.' We heard Home go into the next room, heard the window thrown up, and presently Home appeared standing upright outside our window; he opened the window and walked in quite coolly. 'Ah,' he said, 'you were good this time'— referring to our having sat still and not wished to prevent him. He sat down and laughed." Charlie: "What are you laughing at?"
Home: "We [the spirits; Home always was spoken of in third person when in trance] are thinking that if a policeman had been passing and had looked up and had seen a man turning round and round along the wall in the air he would have been much astonished. Adare, shut the window in the next room.' I got up, shut the window, and in coming back remarked that the window was not raised a foot, and that I could not think how he managed to squeeze through. He arose and said, 'Come and see.' I went with him; he told me to open the window as it was before. I did so; he told me to stand a little distance off; he then went through the open space, head first, quite rapidly, his body being nearly horizontal and apparently rigid. He came in again, feet foremost, and we returned to the other room. It was so dark I could not see clearly how he was supported outside. He did not appear to grasp, or rest upon, the balustrade, but rather to be swung out and in. Outside each window is a small balcony or ledge, 19 inches deep, bounded by stone balustrades, 18 inches high; the balustrades of the two windows are 7 feet 4 inches apart, measuring from the nearest points. A string-course, 4 inches wide, runs between the windows at the level of the bottom of the balus trade; and another 3 inches wide at the level of the top. Between the window at which Home went out, and that at which he came in, the wall recedes 6 inches. The rooms are on the third floor…. I asked Lindsay how Adah had spoken to him on the three occasions. He could scarcely explain; but said it did not sound like an audible human voice; but rather as if the tones were whispered or impressed inside his ear. When Home awoke he was much agitated; he said he felt as if he had gone through some fearful peril, and that he had a horrible desire to throw himself out of the window; he remained in a very nervous condition for a short time, then gradually became quiet." (Viscount Adare. Experiences in Spiritualism with D. D. Home. London: privately printed, 1870).
The Master of Lindsay gave an account of the incident before the Committee of the Dialectical Society in London in 1869 and wrote out an account in 1871. Before the society he stated:
"I saw the levitations in Victoria Street, when Home floated out of the window; he first went into a trance and walked about uneasily; then he went into the hall; while he was away, I heard a voice whisper in my ear 'He will go out of one window and in at another.' I was alarmed and shocked at the idea of so dangerous an experiment. I told the company what I had heard, and we then waited for Home's return. Shortly after he entered the room, I heard the window go up, but I could not see it, for I sat with my back to it. I, however, saw his shadow on the opposite wall; he went out of the window in a horizontal position, and I saw him outside the other window [that in the next room] floating in the air. It was eighty-five feet from the ground. There was no balcony along the windows, merely a string course an inch and a half wide; each window had a small plant stand, but there was no connection between them."
In his letter dated July 14, 1871, published in the Spiritualist newspaper, there was a further addition to the story: "The moon was shining full into the room; my back was to the light, and I saw the shadow on the wall of the window sill, and Home's feet about six inches above it. He remained in this position for a few seconds, then raised the window and glided into the room feet foremost, and sat down."
Frank Podmore, the author of Modern Spiritualism (2 vols., 1906) who discredited the phenomenon of levitation, stated that he looked up a Nautical Almanack of 1868 and found that the moon was new and could not have lit the room, not even faintly. But in Lord Adare's almost contemporary account there is no mention of the moon. He only stated that "the light from the window was sufficient to enable us to distinguish each other." As the moon is not mentioned in the Master of Lind-say's account before the Dialectical Committee either, Podmore's criticism is probably based on a misstatement of facts.
Another line of attack was chosen by Dr. W. B. Carpenter, vice president of the Royal Society. In the Contemporary Review of January 1876, he wrote:
"A whole party of believers will affirm that they saw Mr. Home float out of the window and in at another, whilst a single honest sceptic declares that Mr. Home was sitting in his chair all the time. The 'single honest sceptic' could be no other than Captain Wynne, the third witness of the occurrence. However, when he narrated to Sir William Crookes, S. C. Hall and others what he saw, he was actually in accord with Lord Adare and the Master of Lindsay. When Carpenter's assertion found echo in an American book, W. A. Hammond's Spiritualism and Allied Causes and Conditions of Nervous Derangement (1876), Capt. Wynne being explicitly mentioned as the honest skeptic, D. D. Home challenged his testimony. Wynne, answering him explicitly declared: 'The fact of your having gone out of the window and in at the other I can swear to.' "
A different basis of suspicion was raised by Podmore in a letter that H. D. Jencken sent to Human Nature. According to this letter, a few days before the much-discussed miracle of levitation, Home had opened the same window in the presence of two of his later witnesses, stepped on the ledge outside, and to the great alarm of the Master of Lindsay, remained standing there, looking down at the street some 80 feet below. Podmore believed that this was a rehearsal and "What, no doubt, happened was that Home, having noisily opened the window in the next room, slipped back under cover of darkness into the séance room, got behind the curtains, opened the curtains, opened the window, and stepped on the window ledge."
In his Spiritualism: A Popular History from 1847 (1920), Joseph McCabe also attacked the case on the grounds of visibility and held it likely that it was only the shadow of Home which was seen. Andrew Lang took the stand that people in a room can see even in a fog a man coming in by the window, and going out again, head first, with body rigid.
The famous escapologist Harry Houdini (May 6, 1920) recorded in his diary: "I offered to do the D. D. Home levitation stunt at the same place that Home did it in 1868, and G. shirked and messed it up." According to the authors of Houdini and Conan Doyle, "He had evidently made a careful examination of the premises, with his customary thoroughness, and had decided that it would be possible to duplicate the performance, with suitable assistance. The assistant was apparently to have been G.; but the latter for some reason or other became frightened at the prospect, and backed out of the bargain." It is hardly necessary to stress that the possibility of Home having an accomplice is a most unreasonable one in the light of the circumstances of this celebrated levitation.
Subjective Sensations of Levitation
As Home was not always in trance when levitation occurred, he could give an account of his sensations. He wrote in his autobiography Incidents in My Life (1863):
"During these elevations, or levitations I usually experience in my body no particular sensation, than what I could only describe as an electrical fullness about the feet. I feel no hands supporting me, and since the first time, above described, have never felt fear, though if I had fallen from the ceiling of some rooms in which I have been raised, I could not have escaped serious injury…. At times, when I reach the ceiling, my feet are brought on a level with my face, and I am, as it were, in a reclining position. I have frequently been kept so suspended four or five minutes."
Home's account compares with that of the Rev. Stainton Moses of August 1872:
"I was carried up. I made a mark on the wall opposite my chest. I was lowered very gently until I found myself in my chair again. My sensation was that of being lighter than air. No pressure on any part of my body, no unconsciousness or entrancement. From the position of the mark on the wall it is clear that my head must have been close to the ceiling. The ascent of which I was perfectly conscious, was very gradual and steady, not unlike that of being in a lift, but without any perceptible sensation of motion other than that of feeling lighter than the atmosphere."
His only discomfort was a slight difficulty in breathing accompanied by a sensation of fullness in the chest. A longer account of subjective sensations appeared in the writings of St. Teresa of Avila, the famous reformer of the Carmelite Order. Explaining the difference between union and rapture, the saint wrote:
"Rapture, for the most part, is irresistible. It comes, in general, as a shock, quick and sharp, before you can collect your thoughts or help yourself in any way, and you see and feel it as a cloud or a strong eagle rising upwards and carrying you away on its wings…. Occasionally I was able, by great efforts, to make a slight resistance; but afterwards I was worn out, like a person who had been contending with a strong giant; at other times it was impossible to resist at all: my soul was carried away, and almost always my head with it—and now and then the whole body as well, so that it was lifted up from the ground…. It seemed to me, when I tried to make some resistance, as if a great force beneath my feet lifted me up, I know of nothing with which to compare it; … for it is a great struggle, and of little use, whenever our Lord so wills it. There is no power against this power…. When the rapture was over, my body seemed frequently to be buoyant, as if all the weight had departed from it; so much so that now and then I scarcely knew that my feet touched the ground."
Home stated: "I am generally lifted up perpendicularly, my arms frequently become rigid, and are drawn above my head, as if I were grasping the unseen power which slowly raises me from the floor."
Crookes saw him, in one instance, levitate in a sitting posture. On April 21, 1872, he recorded: "He was sitting almost horizontally, his shoulders resting on his chair. He asked Mrs. Walter Crookes to remove the chair from under him, as it was not supporting him. He was then seen to be sitting in the air, supported by nothing visible."
This account compares in an interesting manner with the deposition of the surgeon Francesco Pierpaoli about the last illness of St. Joseph of Copertino. The saint was sitting on a chair with his leg laid on the surgeon's knee. The surgeon began to cauterize it when he realized that Father Joseph was "rapt out of his senses." He said he:
"noticed that he was raised about a palm over the said chair, in the same position as before the rapture. I tried to lower his leg down, but I could not; it remained stretched out…. He had been a quarter of an hour in this situation when Father Silvestro Evangelista of the monastery of Osimo came up. He observed the phenomenon for some time, and commanded Joseph under obedience to come to himself, and called him by name. Joseph then smiled and recovered his senses."
A similar levitation in sitting posture was put on record by Eugerne Rochas in Recueil de documents relatifs à la lévitation du corps humain (1897), of the stigmatist from Ardeche, Victoire Claire of Coux, who died in 1883. Mrs. D., an eyewitness, testified:
"I saw her with great amazement remain with her eyes fixed but lively, and gradually raised above the chair whereon she was sitting. She stretched forth her arms, leaned her body forward, and remained thus suspended, her right leg bent up, the other touching the earth but by a toe. I saw Victoire in this position, impossible for anyone to keep up normally, every time she was in an ecstatic trance … more than a thousand times."
D. D. Home was often levitated in good light. Lord Lindsay categorically stated before the Dialectical Society that: "I once saw Home in full light standing in the air seventeen inches from the ground."
Strength of Levitating Power
Such contemporary testimony makes Home's levitations vie in importance with the stories of levitating saints. Olivier Leroy, manifesting his ecclesiastic bias, attributed mediumistic levitations to diabolic agency, but apart from his theological evaluation, there is no objective difference between levitating saints, demoniacs, and/or mediums. All are equally interesting to the parapsychologist.
Also noteworthy, according to von Görres, is the impossibility of causing the levitants to descend. Thus the Blessed Gilles, while one day reading a passage relative to ecstasy, was lifted up above the table. When found in this state by some of his brethren, he was seized and pulled at with all their strength, but they could not get him down. When Curé Peller wanted to give the Sacrament to Francoise Fontaine, the girl:
"kneeling down had been almost alarmingly carried away, without being able to take the Sacrament, opening her mouth, rolling her eyes in her head in such a horrible way that it had been necessary, with the help of five or six persons, to pull her down by her dress as she was raised into the air, and they had thrown her down on the floor."
According to Dom La Taste, Miss Thevenet, the Jansenist convulsionaire, "was sometimes raised seven or eight feet high up to the ceiling, and then could carry two persons pulling down with all their might, three feet above the ground."
Joseph Glanvill quoted the testimony of Valentine Greatrakes, the famous healer, as given at Lady Conway's castle in 1665 in the case of a butler who rose from the ground. Notwithstanding that Greatrakes and another man caught hold of him and held him with all their strength, he was forcibly taken up, and for a considerable time floated about in the air just over their heads.
Domic de Jesus-Marie was raised up to the ceiling of his cell and remained there without earthly support for a day and night. A skeptic who seized the floating body by the feet was on another occasion borne on high. Frightened, he let go and fell to the earth.
In the days of the Salem witchcraft persecutions (see America ), the tormentors of Margaret Rule once "pulled her up to the ceiling of the chamber, and held her there before a numerous company of spectators who found it as much as they could do to pull her down again."
In séance and table-tipping experiences, the power that effects levitation is often short-circuited as soon as the chain of hands is broken, the gaze of the sitters is too intense, the light is switched on, or the levitated body is touched.
While in the house of Agnes Guppy-Volckman and in the presence of Mary Hardy, the American medium Florence Marryat observed:
"Mrs. Guppy did not wish to take part in the séance, so she retired to the back drawing-room with the Baroness Adelma Vay and other visitors, and left Mrs. Hardy with the circle in the front [drawing room]. Suddenly, however, she was levitated and carried in sight of us all into the midst of our circle. As she felt herself rising in the air she called out: 'Don't let go hands, for Heaven's sake.' We were just standing in a ring, and I had hold of the hand of Prince Albert of Solms. As Mrs. Guppy came sailing over our heads, her feet caught his neck and mine, and in our anxiety to do as she told us, we gripped tight hold of each other and were thrown forward on our knees by the force with which she was carried past us into the centre….The influence that levitated her, moreover, placed her on a chair with such a bump that it broke the two front legs off" (There is No Death, 1891).
The levitations of the medium A. Zuccarini were photographed. The flash of magnesium light caused the medium to fall back into the cabinet, but he was not hurt. One of the photographs showed the medium with his feet about 20-24 inches above the table. According to Prof. Murani, the duration of the levitation was about 12-14 seconds.
M. Macnab, an engineer, wrote in 1888 in Gaborieau's Lotus Rouge of the levitation of M. C., a sculptor: "Another time, having accidentally lighted up, while he was levitated on the music-stool, he fell heavily from a height of from fifty to sixty centimetres, so heavily that the foot of the stool was broken."
Macnab devised an ingenious means of control. He spread on the ground a square of very thin material, placed a chair in the middle and had M. C. sit on it. The sitters then held a corner of the material and, when the medium was levitated, could lift it up and test the height of the chair on which the medium was sitting in the air.
Home often asked the sitters not to look at him at the moment he was being carried up. Robert Bell touched his foot when he passed over him in the air. It "was withdrawn quickly and with a palpable shudder," he wrote; "it was floating and sprang from the touch as a bird would." In another instance, however, James Wason, a Liverpool solicitor, testified: "Laying hold and keeping hold of his hand, I moved along with him five or six paces as he floated above me in the air, and I only let go his hand when I stumbled against a stool." Apparently the conditions greatly depend upon the available power. Crookes observed instances in which it was ample to impart levitation to others.
Psychic investigator Gambier Bolton reported a similar experience in a séance with the medium Cecil Husk in his book Psychic Force (1904):
"At one of our experimental meetings, one of the observers (a man weighing quite 12 stones) was suddenly raised from the floor, with the chair in which he was sitting; and releasing the hands of those who were holding his hands, he was levitated in his chair, greatly to his surprise, until his feet were just above the heads of the other experimenters present. He remained stationary in the air for a few seconds and then slowly descended to the floor again. Fourteen observers were present."
Lord Lindsay witnessed Home floating with an armchair in his hand: "I then felt something like velvet touch my cheek, and on looking up, was surprised to find that he had carried with him an armchair, which he held out in his hand and then floated round the room, pushing the pictures out of their places as he passed along the walls. They were far beyond the reach of a person on the ground" (Report on Spiritualism … of the London Dialectical Society, 1871).
The medium William Eglinton, noted for his fradulent phenomena, was levitated in the presence of the emperor and empress of Russia, the grand duke of Oldenburg, and the grand duke Vladimir. "My neighbours," he wrote, "had to stand on their chairs to follow me. I continued to rise till my feet touched two shoulders on which I leaned. They were those of the Czar."
At one of Eglinton's levitations in Calcutta, India, in 1882, the stage magician Harry Kellar, while holding firmly the left hand of the medium, was pulled after him: "his own body appeared for the time being to have been rendered non-susceptible to gravity."
In his book What Am I? (2 vols., 1873), E. W. Cox described a violent outburst of power:
"Mr. Williams, although held firmly by myself on one side and an F.R.S. on the other, was instantaneously lifted from his chair and placed in a sitting posture on the table. Mr. Herne was in like manner thrown flat upon his back upon the table, while his hands were held by two others of the party. While thus lying he was suddenly raised from the table, as if he had been flung by a giant, and thrown over the heads of the sitters to the corner of the room. The height to which he was actually thrown may be judged by this, that he knocked down a picture that was hung upon the wall, at a height of eight feet."
Dr. Nicholas Santangelo of Venosa wrote in a letter to psychic researcher Dr. Paul Joire:
"When the medium Ruggieri commenced to rise I held him firmly by the hand, but seeing myself drawn with such force as almost to lose my footing I held on to his arms, and thus I was raised in the air with my companion, who was on the other side of the medium. We were all three raised in the air to a height of at least three yards above the floor, since I distinctly touched with my feet the hanging lamp which was suspended from the centre of the ceiling…. The three mediums, Cecrehini, Ruggieri and Boella were also raised into space until they almost touched the ceiling."
On another occasion, Santangelo and M. Gorli, holding the hands of the medium Alberto Fontana, were suddenly lifted on the table, Gorli standing, Santangelo kneeling. Later the medium, who was seated in his chair, was suddenly thrown full length under the table with such force that Gorli was dragged with him and Santangelo was thrown down.
Accounts of such cases of simultaneous levitation are quite rare. One very early account was cited in Col. Henry Yule's The Book of Ser Marco Polo (1871). The story was told by Ibn Batuta, the Moor who lived in the fourteenth century, and concerned seven Indian jugglers who rose in the air in a sitting posture. However, Ibn Batuta confessed to a loss of consciousness, so it is possible that the experience was the result of hypnotic suggestion. Another yet earlier account from the second century
B.C.E. is found in Philostratus' Life of Apollonius of Tyana and has even less evidential value. Damis, a disciple of Apollonius, stated that he had seen Brahmins suspended in the air at the height of two cubits, and that they could walk there without visible support.
The evidential value of records improves as time progresses. St. Joseph of Copertino was seen to rise in the air with a lamb on his shoulder. Once he grasped the confessor of the convent by the hand, snatched him off the floor, and began whirling round with him in midair. Another time he seized by the hair an insane nobleman who was brought to him to be healed, uttered his usual shout, and soared up with the patient who finally came down cured. St. Teresa of Avila and St. John of the Cross, while engaged in a conversation about the Trinity, were seen lifted up simultaneously.
In the mediumistic age, the first record is of the Davenport Brothers. The three children, Ira, William, and Elizabeth, were seen at an early age floating high up in the air at the same time. A joint levitation of Frank Herne and Guppy-Volckman was described in an attested record in Catherine Berry 's Experiences in Spiritualism (1876):
"After this, Mr. Herne was floated in the air, his voice being heard near the ceiling, while his feet were felt by several persons in the room, Mrs. Guppy who sat next to him being struck on the head by his boots as he sank into the chair. In a few minutes he recommenced ascending, and as Mrs. Guppy on this occasion determined, if possible, to prevent it, she held his arm, but the only result was that she ascended with him, and both floated together with the chairs on which they sat. Rather unfortunately, at this moment the door was unexpectedly opened, and Mr. Herne fell to the ground, injuring his shoulder, Mrs. Guppy alighting with considerable noise on the table where, on the production of light, she was found comfortably seated though considerably alarmed."
On occasions, the American medium Charles Foster also registered great anxiety. According to Dr. John Ashburner, author of Notes and Studies on the Philosophy of Animal Magnetism and Spiritualism (1867): "He grasped my right hand, and beseeched me not to quit my hold of him; for he said there was no knowing where the spirits might convey him. I held his hand, and he was floated in the air towards the ceiling. At one time Mrs. W. C. felt a substance at her head, and putting up her hands, discovered a pair of boots above her head."
The following case is an interesting contrast. About 1858, strong physical phenomena were recorded in the Poston Circle in America. The seven-year-old son of Charles Cathcart, an ex-congressman of Indiana, was often levitated and tossed about in the air. The spirit control, "John King" was credited with the manifestation. The little boy shouted with delight and cried: "Go it, old King. I am not a bit afraid; take me again." For details of the Poston Circle, see Modern American Spiritualism by Emma Hardinge (1869; 1970).
Another "baby story" was told by Florence Marryat about "Dewdrop," the child control of Bessie Williams, who grew very impatient when the medium's 15-month-old baby interrupted her chants with crying. She usually went up to quiet him, relinquishing the control of the medium for a few minutes, and reassuming it after. One day her attempt at pacifying the baby failed, for she returned saying: "It is no good, I have had to bring him down. He is on the mat outside the door." The baby, who was on the top story and could not yet walk, was found there, wailing, in his night shirt.
Cases in which the mediums have been levitated to the top of the table while sitting in a chair and holding the hands of the sitters are very numerous. Charles Richet classified them as semi-levitations, including as such the loss of weight of the medium also. Many physical mediums have at one time or other performed this feat. A curious testimony of the medium Henry Slade was given by Dr. Kettredge, a schoolmate, in Light (1909), according to which Slade was once levitated when sound asleep and was carried from one bed to another in a recumbent position.
The Levitations of Eusapia Palladino and Other Mediums
The levitations of Eusapia Palladino were among the best observed cases. Cesare Lombroso, Dr. Ercole Chiaia, Dr. Julien Ochorowitz, Col. Rochas, Prof. Porro, Prof. Enrico Morselli, and Dr. de Albertis testified to the facts. Chiaia reported a case in which he:
"found the medium stretched out, her head and a small portion of her back supported on the top of the table, and the remainder of the body extended horizontally, straight as a bar, and without any support to the lower part, whilst her dress was adhering to her legs as if her clothing was fastened or stitched around her. One evening I saw the medium stretched out rigid in the most complete cataleptic state, holding herself in a horizontal position, with only her head resting on the edge of the table for five minutes with the gas lighted in the presence of Prof. de Cinties, Dr. Capuano, the well-known writer, and Mr. Frederic Verdinois and other persons."
In Lombroso's After Death—What? (1909) there is an account of Palladino's levitation by a semi-materialized phantom:
"On the evening of the 28th September, while her hands were being held back by MM. Richet and Lombroso, she complained of hands which were grasping her under the arms; then, while in trance, with the changed voice characteristic of this state, she said: 'Now I lift my medium up on the table.' After two or three seconds the chair, with Eusapia in it, was not violently dashed, but lifted without hitting anything, on the top of the table and MM. Richet and I are sure that we did not even assist the levitation by our force. After some talk in the trance state the medium announced her descent and (M. Finzi having been substituted for me) was deposited on the floor with the same security and precision, while MM. Richet and Finzi followed the movements of her hands and body without at all assisting them, and kept asking each other questions about the position of the hands. Moreover during the descent, both gentlemen repeatedly felt a hand touch them on the head."
At a later date, there are records by Dr. Schwab on the levitation of Maria Vollhardt and by Baron Schrenck-Notzing on Willy Schneider. Willy, to quote from René Sudre's Introduction à la metapsychique humaine (1926), "horizontally … seemed to rest on an invisible cloud. He ascended to the ceiling and remained five minutes suspended there, moving his legs about rhythmically. The descent was as sudden as the up-lighting. The supervision had been perfect. Geley in his last journey to Vienna also witnessed a levitation of Willy at Dr. Holub's and he told me he felt absolutely sure of the genuineness of the phenomenon."
Carlo Mirabelli, the South American medium, was fastened to an armchair in the presence of several members of the Academia de Estudo Psychicos "Cesare Lombroso." After that he rose from the ground and remained two minutes suspended twelve feet over the floor. The witnesses passed under the levitated body. At Santos, in the street, he was lifted up from a motor car for about three minutes.
Length of Time, Height, Luminosity
The period of mediumistic levitation seldom exceeds a few minutes. The fakir Covindassamy, of whom Louis Jacolliot wrote in Occult Science in India (1884), established a fairly good duration.
"As the Fakir was about to leave me, to go to his breakfast…. He stopped in the embrasure of the door leading from the terrace to the outside stairs, and, crossing his arms upon his chest, lifted himself up gradually, without any apparent support or assistance, to the height of about ten to twelve inches. I was able to determine the distance exactly by means of a point of comparison which I had fixed upon during the continuance of the phenomenon. Behind the Fakir's back there was a silken hanging, which was used as a portière, striped in gold and white bands of equal width. I noticed that the Fakir's feet were on a level with the sixth band. At the commencement of his ascension I had seized my chronometer; the entire time from the moment when the Fakir commenced to rise until he touched the ground again, was more than eight minutes. He remained perfectly still, at the highest point of elevation for nearly five minutes."
In this case, however, we have only Jacolliot's unsupported statements. Ten minutes is far behind the achievements of the saints. St. Joseph of Copertino was testified to have once remained suspended in the air at the height of the trees in the garden for more than two hours. And accounts of his levitations were confirmed by reliable witnesses.
The record of height attained belongs to a fakir who, according to Count Perovsky-Petrovo Solovovo in Proceedings of the Society for Psychic Research (Vol. 38, p. 276) was levitated in the presence of a crowd, about twice the height of a five-story building.
The levitation of saints is often accompanied by luminous phenomena, like the aura. The light that surrounds their body is said to be dazzling, sometimes lighting up the room. In mediumistic cases, the luminous phenomena are of a separate order. But they may also accompany levitation. Home wrote in Incidents in My Life (2nd series, 1872), "Just before this took place [levitation] we saw his whole face and chest covered with the same silvery light which we had observed on our host's [Mr. S. C. Hall's] face." With some of the saints, intense corporeal heat was also noticed during their elevation. The difference between the ecstatic and ordinary trance state may eventually shed light on such epiphenomena.
More Recent Accounts of Levitation
During the 1930s, various mediums apparently demonstrated levitations. In 1938 the British newspaper Daily Mirror (June 13) published an impressive photograph of the medium Colin Evans apparently levitating. However, such photographic evidence is far from conclusive.
In his book The Haunted Mind (1959), Dr. Nandor Fodor devoted a chapter to "Phenomena of Levitation" and described his own investigation of the claimed levitation of the medium Harry Brown. A photograph of the medium apparently levitated in trance showing his coat-line dead straight and the buttons without blurring. Had the medium jumped from his chair, one would have expected the coat to have flapped and the buttons to blur.
Recent accounts of mediumistic levitation are rare. In the Enfield Poltergeist case in 1977, one of the children involved claimed to have floated about a room, and there is a photograph of her apparently levitated during an investigation.
A case of levitation associated with demonic possession was reported in Rome. The British newspaper Sunday People (May 15, 1977) described how the nun "Sister Rosa" in a Rome convent was the center of poltergeist type disturbances in which objects around her in a room would rise up and fly around, and the nun herself was levitated on several occasions. The Sisters of the convent stated to a reporter that Sister Rosa had once floated through the ceiling and was found standing on the floor above. The Mother Superior of the convent consulted Padre Candido, a leading exorcist in Rome, but the phenomena persisted. Sister Rosa was sent to no less than five different exorcists in other parts of Italy, but after returning was again surrounded by diabolic disturbances. These included persecution of the nun by inanimate objects, such as cactus thorns that became embedded in her head and could not be removed until washed with holy water. An iron bar is said to have broken loose from a door and moved through the walls to materialize in the nun's cell and commenced beating her while she slept. Kitchen knives were reported as flying from a table and trying to stab the nun in the chest. On other occasions, the nun is said to have spoken obscenities, using a gutteral "animal-like" voice, and had to be restrained by five nuns from attacking the cross and the altar.
A recent documentary film "Journey into the Beyond" (Burbank International Pictures) featured a spectacular scene of the apparent levitation of an African witch doctor. It was filmed in a small village somewhere between Dahomey and Togo. Witch doctor Togo Owaku is shown meditating on the shores of a lake, then at dusk walking in front of a large palm tree and drawing a circle in the sand with his staff. A fire is built, and as darkness falls, drummers build up an impressive rhythm. Inside the circle, Owaku spreads out his arms and begins to float upwards to a height of about three feet. The scene is shown by two cameras, one in front and the other in the rear, and the ascent occupies about ten seconds. The film was directed by Frank Martin Lang, later known as "Rolf Olsen." When he was interviewed by Alan Vaughan, one of the editors of New Realities magazine, it seemed that the film team believed this to be a genuine case of levitation. However, some doubts remain, since the witch doctor himself picked the site, and the incident took place in darkness illuminated by the light of the fires.
In the 1970s a teaching course in levitation was offered by an academy organized by Maharishi Mahesh Yogi in Lucerne, Switzerland. This novel development of Transcendental Meditation was reported by various newspapers between May and July 1977. The London Evening News (May 16) stated that 12 individuals had just graduated from the first six-month course in levitation. One of them, Mrs. Albertine Haupt, stated: "I suddenly found myself six feet above the floor and thought, 'Heavens, I've done it.' " Although the floor was covered with foam rubber, she landed precipitately, and other students, equally successful in levitating, sustained bruises. Haupt stated: "It is just a matter of learning to control the power."
The Daily Mirror (July 14, 1977) stated that reporter Michael Hellicar interviewed the maharishi but was refused a demonstration of levitation. His followers refused to permit photographs being taken and stated, "We will not turn this into a circus." However, they produced their own picture taken two days earlier showing disciples apparently levitating, and this was reproduced in the Daily Mirror report.
In the London Evening News (May 18, 1977), professional magician David Berglas offered to pay £2,000 to any levitator who could hover six inches or more above the ground in a public demonstration, and up to £10,000 if as many as five of the Maharishi disciples demonstrated the ability together. The challenge was not accepted. In India, if certain yoga practices result in the ability to levitate, as well as other siddhis, or psychic powers, yogis are enjoined to avoid pride in such feats, which might hinder spiritual emancipation. As of the mid-1990s, no general satisfactory evidence exists that levitation is occurring among the maharishi's students, and several former siddha students have successfully sued the Maharishi's organization, claiming that it had failed to teach them to levitate.
Theories of Levitation
How can levitation be possible? What power or agent accomplishes it? The most obvious explanation—the possession of a word of mystical power—is little more than legendary. This appears in an ancient Jewish anti-gospel Toledoth Jeshu: Life of Jesus, composed about the sixth century B.C.E. which G. R. S. Mead quoted in his book Did Jesus Live 100 Years B.C. ?:
"And there was in the sanctuary a foundation stone—and this is its interpretation: God founded it and this is the stone on which Jacob poured oil—and on it were written the letters of the Shem [Shem Hamephoresch, the ineffable name, of which only the consonants Y.H.V.H. are given to indicate the pronunciation as known to the initiated] and whosoever learned it, could do whatsoever he would. But as the wise feared that the disciples of Israel might learn them and therewith destroy the world, they took measures that no one should do so.
"Brazen dogs were bound to two iron pillars at the entrance of the place of burnt offerings, and whosoever entered in and learned these letters—as soon as he went forth again, the dogs bayed at him; if he then looked at them the letters vanished from his memory.
"This Jeschu came, learned them, wrote them on parchment, cut into his hip and laid the parchment with the letters therein—so that the cutting of his flesh did not hurt him—then he restored the skin to its place. When he went forth the brazen dogs bayed at him, and the letters vanished from his memory. He went home, cut open his flesh with his knife, took out the writing, learned the letters."
Queen Helene, being greatly troubled by the miracles of Jesus, sent for the wise men of Israel. They decided to use against Jesus his own medicine and taught Juda Ischariota the secret of learning the letters of the Shem. In the presence of Queen Helene and the wise men, Jesus (says the chronicle) "raised his hands like unto the wings of an eagle and flew, and the people were amazed because of him: How is he able to fly twixt heaven and earth?"
"Then spake the wise men of Israel to Juda Ischariota: 'Do thou also utter the letters and ascend after him. Forthwith he did so, flew in the air, and the people marvelled: How can they fly like eagles?' Ischariota acted cleverly, flew in the air, but neither could overpower the other, so as to make him fall by means of the Shem, because the Shem was equally with both of them."
The belief expressed in Robert Kirk's Secret Commonwealth of Elves, Fauns and Fairies (written 1691, published 1815 etc.), that levitation is accomplished by fairies, explains as little as crediting spirits with the feat or ascribing it to Taoist charms which, when swallowed, have the effect of carrying people to any place they think of. Nevertheless, the legend of the world of power persists alongside with the fairy agency. Writing of the teleportation of Lord Duffus, John Aubrey stated in his Miscellanies (1696 etc.) that the fairies cry "Horse and Hattock," and whenever a man is moved to repeat the cry he will be caught up.
At the dawn of the scientific age, early observers of psychic phenomena speculated on "electric," "magnetic," "mesmeric," and "odic" forces. They are all now antiquated notions.
From a theological viewpoint, J. J. von Görres explained nothing when he stated that the source of levitation is in the human organism and is produced by a pathological process or a mystic disposition of the soul. He described the pathological process of somnambules as a "kind of interior tempest aroused by the mechanical forces of the organism being suddenly upset." He described the mystical disposition as a condition for the reception of the Holy Ghost, with levitation due to this special gift setting the natural mechanism of the body in motion. Von Görres' idea may be a halfway house between naturalistic and supernatural theories, but it is more satisfactory than the Catholic view, which ascribed the levitation of the saints to a divine marvel and that of "demoniacs" and mediums to diabolic trickery. While the first claim is unacceptable to science, the second is too much in agreement with the extreme Spiritualistic idea that spirits have the power to act on matter directly.
Scientific interest in anti-gravity phenomena goes back many years. Documentation about variations of the gravitational field of the Earth were noted as early as 1672 by Jean Richer, and the first practical gravity meter was invented in 1833 by Sir John Herschel.
The repulsion effect of aluminum to electromagnetism is well known, and in 1914 the French inventor M. Bachelet demonstrated a working model of his Levitated Railway system. A Bachelet Levitated Railway Syndicate was formed to promote a full-scale layout, but the development was abandoned at the outbreak of World War I.
Scientists in various countries have conducted secret researches in "electro-gravities," the science of anti-gravity effects, and some devices have been constructed in which levitation of disk-like forms has been achieved in laboratory tests. Little has so far been published on such work, and conjecture exists that some UFO reports may concern such levitated devices. The Gravity Research Foundation of New Boston, New Hampshire, which was founded by Roger W. Babson, investigated various aspects of scientific inquiry into gravity and its anomalies. Recently the principle of magnetic levitation has been revived in novelty advertising displays. In Germany and Japan, researchers have investigated the feasibility of creating high-speed magnetic levitation railroads, while in Britain, a section of magnetic levitation railroad is operating at Birmingham International Airport.
The Cantilever Theory of Levitation
Some investigators have attempted to explain human levitation on the same basis as movement of objects by psychic force (telekinesis or psychokinesis ). Between 1917 and 1920, Dr. W. J. Crawford of Belfast, Ireland, investigated the phenomena of the Goligher Circle. He studied alteration in weight of the medium Kathleen Goligher during levitation of a table, and claimed that the levitation was effected by "psychic rods" of ectoplasm emanating from the medium, which found leverage in the medium's body, acting as cantilevers. He obtained flashlight photographs of these psychic structures.
The parapsychologist René Sudre believed that Crawford's cantilever theory accounted for the movement of distant objects by the extrusion of elastic and resisting pseudopods from the body of the medium and thus sufficiently explained levitation:
"From a theoretical point of view, the levitation of a person is as easy to understand as that of an object. The teleplastic levers have naturally their fulcrum on the floor. Their shape is not definite; it may be that of a simple stay, of a cloudy cushion, or even a complete human materialization. The force of gravity is not eluded, but simply opposed by a contrary upward power. The spent amount of energy is not above that required for the production of the phenomenon of telekinesis."
According to Crawford, however, the sphere of action of pseudopods was limited to about 7 feet, the extreme mobility of the levitated body had to be accounted for, and the cantilever structure was very sensitive to light. Therefore such ectoplasm hardly lent itself as a mechanism for daylight levitation as in the case of Home or saints and stigmatics. (Later Crawford's observations were called into question due to fraud in the Goligher Circle.)
The Effect of Willpower
The possibility of the effect of willpower on levitation was suggested by Capt. J. Alleyne Bartlett in a lecture before the London Spiritualist Alliance on May 3, 1931. He often had the feeling that he could lighten his weight at will. He stepped on a scale and willed that his weight should be reduced, and the scale indicated, in fact, a loss of several pounds. To make such observations unobjectionable, the possible pressure of cantilever structures on the floor around the weighing machine ought to be made a matter of control.
The loss of weight in the levitated body may be an appearance due to the effect of a force which lifts or, if internally applied, makes the body buoyant. The best evidence as to the alleged extraordinary lightness of the bodies of saints and ecstatics is furnished in a case quoted by Col. Rochas of an ecstatic who lived in a convent near Grenoble. Three eyewitnesses, a parish priest, a university professor, and a student of the polytechnic school, stated that "her body would sometimes become stiff and so light that it was possible to lift her up like a feather by holding her by the elbow." According to some hypnotists, the phenomenon could be accomplished by simple hypnotic suggestion. During the early 1980s the question of possible paranormal changes of weight was the subject of experiments by parapsychologists John B. Hasted, David Robertson, and Ernesto Spinelli.
Special Breathing Techniques
Breathing exercises that form an important part in Eastern psychic development are believed by some practitioners to have a curious effect on the weight of the human body. According to Hindu yoga teachings, they generate a force that partially counteracts gravitation. They say that he who awakens the Anahata Chakra (a psychic and spiritual center situated in the region of the heart) "can walk in the air."
The psychic researcher Camille Flammarion believed that by breathing, even the ordinary sitters of a circle release a motor energy comparable to that which they release when repeatedly moving their arms. Hereward Carrington 's experiments with the "lifting game" seemed to show that, for some mysterious reason, rhythmical breathing may considerably reduce the weight of the human body. At the third International Psychical Congress in Paris in 1927, Baron Schrenck-Notzing described the case of a young man who claimed that by breathing exercises he had levitated his own body 27 times.
In Alexandra David-Neel 's With Mystics and Magicians in Tibet (1931 etc.), there is a description of a practice that especially enabled its adepts to take extraordinary long hikes with amazing rapidity. It is called lung-gom and it combines mental concentration with various breathing gymnastics. Meeting a lung-gom-pa in Northern Tibet, she noticed: "The man did not run. He seemed to lift himself from the ground, proceeding by leaps. It looked as if he had been endowed with the elasticity of a ball and rebounded each time his feet touched the ground. His steps had the regularity of a pendulum."
The breathing exercises of the lung-gom-pa had to be practiced for three years and three months during strict seclusion in complete darkness. It was claimed that the body of those who trained themselves for years became exceedingly light, nearly without weight: "These men, they say, are able to sit on an ear of barley without bending its stalk or to stand on the top of a heap of grain without displacing any of it. In fact the aim is levitation." One of these exercises was described as follows: "The student sits cross-legged on a large and thick cushion. He inhales slowly and for a long time, just as if he wanted to fill his body with air. Then, holding his breath he jumps up with legs crossed, without using his hands and falls back on his cushion, still remaining in the same position. He repeats that exercise a number of times during each period of practice. Some lamas succeed in jumping very high in that way."
Some initiates asserted that "as a result of long years of practice, after he has traveled over a certain distance the feet of the lung-gom-pa no longer touch the ground and that he glides on the air with an extreme celerity." Some lung-gom-pas wore iron chains around their body for "they are always in danger of floating in the air."
David-Neel discovered that during their walk the lung-gompas were in a state of trance. They concentrated on the cadenced mental recitation of a mystic formula with which, during the walk, the in and out breathing must be in rhythm, the steps keeping time with the breath and the syllables of the formula. The walker must neither speak, nor look from side to side. He must keep his eyes fixed on a single distant object and never allow his attention to be attracted by anything else. The use of a mystical formula, or mantra, as an adjunct to levitation recalls the legends of sacred words in the Judeo-Christian tradition.
The Elevation of Famous Dancers
The observation that the lung-gom-pas are able to sit on an ear of barley without bending its stalk finds a suggestive parallel in the history of famous dancers. It was said of Maria Taglioni that "she seemed to be able to walk on a cornfield without bending the ears." While such unusual lightness may be purely metaphorical hyperbole, there is evidence that the élévation of some famous dancers demonstrated the rudiments of levitation.
Vestris père, the "Dioux de la Dance," said of his famous son, Augustus Vestris: "Il resterait toujours en l'air, s'il ne craignait d'humilier ces camarades" (He would always remain in the air but feared to humiliate his comrades). Cyril W. Beaumont wrote of Vaslav Nijinski that "in execution of leaps he displayed a rare quality which contemporaries observed in the dancing of both Vestris and Taglioni—the ability to remain in the air at the highest point of élévation before descending."
There is a specific technique for dancers who try remaining in the air. Before taking a leap, the dancer breathes deeply and keeps on drawing in during the leap. He holds his breath while up and tightens his thigh muscles so that his trunk should rest on his thighs.
However, the capacity of the lungs appears to have less to do with the feat than the development of thigh muscles. Diaghilev noticed of Nijinski: "His élévation is nearly three feet…. Nature has endowed him with tendons of steel and tensile muscles so strong that they resemble those of the great cats. A real lion of the dance, he could cross the diagonal of the stage in two bounds."
Nikolai Legat, who was the leader of the class of perfection at the Imperial Theatre School of Warsaw, disclosed in Der Tanz (Berlin, February 1933) the following observations: "As an example of phenomenally high, beautiful and elastic élévation I hold the memory of N. P. Damaschoff, the dancer of the great Imperial Theatre of Moscow…. I have never seen such an élévation in my life. The impression was that Damaschoff, after the high jump, remained for a longer time in the air. Rather smaller than of middle stature he possessed extraordinary leg muscles with respectable thighs and impressive calves. Tightening his leg muscles, especially those of the thighs in the air, he made all his moderate jumps fairly high. During the leap he held his breath, i.e., he breathed in shortly before the spring and breathed out as soon as he was down again." It is for future research to elucidate the relationship between muscular tension in the thighs, deep breathing, and suspension in the air.
The question of levitation remains a fascinating one. The evidence for levitation of Christian saints is strong, even if anecdotal. Particular interest is attached to the subjective aspect, as expressed in the writings of St. Teresa of Avila and other saints.
There seems good ground for believing that levitation has sometimes been characteristic of possession and poltergeist cases, but the evidence is less reliable. Abnormal morbid mental states may involve uncontrolled muscular feats such as leaps in the air that could be mistaken for levitation. Moreover the spectator moods of horror or loathing could impede clear observation. It is not clear whether movement of objects without contact (psychokinesis) is related to the same mechanisms as levitation of human beings. On the face of things, it seems unlikely since the subjective human aspects of levitation are distinct from the objective application of some kind of psychic force to inanimate objects.
The Hindu yoga teachings on pranayama breathing techniques offer one line of inquiry. The concept of prana as the dynamic force in the human body, connected with the latent power of kundalini, offer a repeatable, observable situation. In this connection, the expensive special TM-Siddhi courses of the Transcendental Meditation movement (siddhi is a yoga term for special accomplishment) are clearly a packaging of the standard Hindu yoga teachings of Patanjali and others. The cross-legged position sounds like a copy of the lung-gom-pa exercise described by David-Neel. There is no supporting evidence, but some of the TM meditators may have achieved degrees of levitation because they were accelerated by the suggestible aura of success.
Indeed, suggestion may be a secondary factor in achieving levitation, in much the same way that Jules Romains claimed that it assisted the development of the special faculty of " eyeless sight. "
In some cases, out-of-the-body phenomena may have been confused with levitation, particularly from the point of view of the subjective sensations of floating in the air. The evidence for the reality of the claimed levitations of some psychic mediums, in particular D. D. Home, is impressive. It is possible that special aspects of breathing may play some part, as with the elevation of some dancers, but combined with states of exaltation.
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Kuvalayananda, Swami. Pranayama. Bombay, India: 1931. Frequently reprinted.
Leroy, Olivier. Levitation. London: Burns, Oates, 1928.
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Plinth, August. Principles of Levitation. New York: White Sun Prees, 1970.
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Richards, Steve. Levitation: What It Is, How It Works, How to Do It. Wellingborough, England: Aquarian Press, 1980.
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Underhill, Evelyn. Mysticism: A Study in the Nature and Development of Man's Spiritual Consciousness. New York: E. P. Dutton, 1911.
Von Görres, J. J. Die Christliche Mystik. 5 vols. Regensburg & Landshut, 1836-42.
"Levitation." Encyclopedia of Occultism and Parapsychology. . Encyclopedia.com. (April 18, 2018). http://www.encyclopedia.com/science/encyclopedias-almanacs-transcripts-and-maps/levitation
"Levitation." Encyclopedia of Occultism and Parapsychology. . Retrieved April 18, 2018 from Encyclopedia.com: http://www.encyclopedia.com/science/encyclopedias-almanacs-transcripts-and-maps/levitation
Modern Language Association
The Chicago Manual of Style
American Psychological Association
levitation (lĕvĬtā´shən), the raising of a human or other body in the air without mechanical aid. The idea is ancient; holy men, both pagan and Christian, were reputed to have had the power of becoming light at will and of moving through the air. It is a favorite manifestation in séances. It is also a popular conjuring trick, the illusion being produced by clever mechanical or lighting arrangements or other means.
"levitation." The Columbia Encyclopedia, 6th ed.. . Encyclopedia.com. (April 18, 2018). http://www.encyclopedia.com/reference/encyclopedias-almanacs-transcripts-and-maps/levitation
"levitation." The Columbia Encyclopedia, 6th ed.. . Retrieved April 18, 2018 from Encyclopedia.com: http://www.encyclopedia.com/reference/encyclopedias-almanacs-transcripts-and-maps/levitation
Modern Language Association
The Chicago Manual of Style
American Psychological Association
"Levitation." The Concise Oxford Dictionary of World Religions. . Encyclopedia.com. (April 18, 2018). http://www.encyclopedia.com/religion/dictionaries-thesauruses-pictures-and-press-releases/levitation
"Levitation." The Concise Oxford Dictionary of World Religions. . Retrieved April 18, 2018 from Encyclopedia.com: http://www.encyclopedia.com/religion/dictionaries-thesauruses-pictures-and-press-releases/levitation