Levitation
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
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, [1889]), 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 exLevitation
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910
tended 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 Lindsay’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 acEncyclopedia
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911
complice 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, andor 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.
Levitation Encyclopedia of Occultism & Parapsychology • 5th Ed.
912
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 musicstool,
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.’’
Simultaneous Levitations
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 nonsusceptible
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
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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 excongressman
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
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914
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
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915
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.
Anti-Gravity Phenomena
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
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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 crosslegged
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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