Wednesday, 9 October 2013


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A representation of a person levitating.
Levitation in the paranormal context is the rising of a human body into the air by mystical means. Some parapsychology and religious believers interpret alleged instances of levitation as the result of supernatural action of psychic power or spiritual energy. The scientific community state there is no evidence that levitation exists and alleged levitation events are explainable by natural causes (such as magic trickery, illusion, and hallucination).[1][2][3][4]

Religious views[edit]

Colin Evans who claimed spirits levitated him into the air was exposed as a fraud.
Various religions have claimed examples of levitation amongst their followers. This is generally used either as a demonstration of the validity or power of the religion,[5] or as evidence of the holiness or adherence to the religion of the particular levitator.


  • In Hinduism, it is believed that some Hindu gurus who have become siddhas (those who have achieved spiritual powers) have the siddhi (power) of being able to levitate. The power of levitation is called in Sanskrit[6] laghiman (lightness)[7] or dardura-siddhi (the frog power).[8] It is said that Hindu Sadhus have a history of paranormal levitation and that when one progresses on the path of spiritualism levitation comes naturally. Autobiography of a Yogi has accounts of Hindu Yogis who used to levitate in the course of their meditation.
Levitation is said to be possible by mastering the Hindu philosophy of yoga:
  • Yogi Subbayah Pullavar, was reported to have levitated into the air for four minutes in front of a crowd of 150 witnesses, June 6, 1936. He was seen suspended horizontally several feet above the ground, in a trance, lightly resting his hand on top of a cloth covered stick. Pullavar's arms and legs could not be bent from their locked position once on the ground.
  • Shirdi Sai Baba an Indian yogi is described in the Sri Sai Satcharitra to have mastered the art of levitation while sleeping.
  • The Transcendental Meditation movement claim that practitioners of the TM-Sidhi program of Maharishi Mahesh Yogi achieve what they call "Yogic Flying". They say that there are three stages on Yogic Flying – hopping, floating, and flying – and that they have so far achieved just the first stage. Transcendental meditation groups have held annual "Yogic Flying Contests" to see who could hop the farthest or the fastest. Proponents say the hopping occurs spontaneously with no effort while skeptics say they appear to bouncing in the lotus position with the use of their thighs, and no actual levitation has occurred.



Stanisława Tomczyk (left) and the magician William Marriott (right) who duplicated by natural means her trick of a glass beaker.


  • Saint Bessarion of Egypt (d. 466) walked across the waters of a river (Nile).[10][11]
  • Saint Mary of Egypt also walked across a river, according to St. Zosimas.
  • Saint Francis of Assisi is recorded as having been "suspended above the earth, often to a height of three, and often to a height of four cubits" (about 1.3 to 1.8 meters).[12]
  • St. Alphonsus Liguori, when preaching at Foggia, was lifted before the eyes of the whole congregation several feet from the ground.[13]
  • St. Joseph of Cupertino (mystic, born 17 June 1603; died at Osimo 18 September 1663; feast, 18 September) reportedly levitated high in the air, for extended periods of more than an hour, on many occasions.[14]
  • St. Teresa of Avila (born in Avila, Spain, March 28, 1515; died in Alba, October 4, 1582) claimed to have levitated at a height of about a foot and a half for an extended period somewhat less than an hour, in a state of mystical rapture. She called the experience a "spiritual visitation".[15]
  • Saint Martín de Porres (December 9, 1579 – November 3, 1639) claimed psychic powers of bilocation, being able to pass through closed doors (teleportation), and levitation.[16]
  • Girolamo Savonarola, sentenced to death, allegedly rose off the floor of his cell into midair and remained there for some time.[17]
  • Seraphim of Sarov (1759–1833) Russian Orthodox saint had a gift to levitate over the ground for some time. This was witnessed by many educated people of his time, including the emperor Alexander I. A young paralyzed man brought into his cell saw Seraphim raised from the ground during a fervent prayer. Likewise, four Diveyevo sisters saw him walking above the grass lifted up from the air.[18]
  • Padre Pio (1887–1968), Catholic saint, who had stigmata, is said to have been able to levitate, as well as being able to bilocate.
"Demonic" levitation in Christianity
  • Clara Germana Cele, a young South African girl, in 1906 reportedly levitated in a rigid position. The effect was apparently only reversed by the application of Holy water, leading to belief that it was caused by demonic possession.[19]
  • Magdalena de la Cruz (1487–1560), a Franciscan nun of Cordova, Spain.[20]
  • Margaret Rule, a young Boston girl in the 1690s who was believed to be harassed by evil forces shortly after the Salem Witchcraft Trials, reportedly levitated from her bed in the presence of a number of witnesses.[21]



The levitation of Daniel Dunglas Home at Ward Cheney's house interpreted in a lithograph from Louis Figuier, Les Mystères de la science 1887.
  • H.P. Blavatsky described the phenomenon of levitation or "Æthrobacy" in her 1877 book Isis Unveiled. She explained that the earth is a magnetic body, charged with what one could call "positive electricity" while all other forms of matter, including human bodies, produce what could be called "negative electricity." Weight, or gravity, she explains, is "simply the attraction of the earth." Therefore, an individual can levitate by aligning their own electricity with that of the earth, and they would be repelled from the earth in the way two negatively charged magnets repel one another. This can be achieved through human will, a nervous system disease, ecstasy, or other causes.[23]

Levitation by mediums[edit]

Many mediums have claimed to have levitated during séances, especially in the 19th century in Britain and America. Many have been shown to be frauds, using wires and stage magic tricks.[24] Daniel Dunglas Home the most prolific and well documented levitator of himself and other objects, was said by spiritualists to levitate outside of a window, however, skeptics have disputed such claims.[25] The researchers Joseph McCabe and Trevor H. Hall exposed the "levitation" of Home as nothing more than him moving across a connecting ledge between two iron balconies.[26]
The magician Joseph Rinn gave a full account of fraudulent behavior observed in a séance of Eusapia Palladino and explained how her levitation trick had been performed. Milbourne Christopher summarized the exposure:
Joseph F. Rinn and Warner C. Pyne, clad in black coveralls, had crawled into the dining room of Columbia professor Herbert G. Lord's house while a Palladino seance was in progress. Positioning themselves under the table, they saw the medium's foot strike a table leg to produce raps. As the table tilted to the right, due to pressure of her right hand on the surface, they saw her put her left foot under the left table leg. Pressing down on the tabletop with her left hand and up with her left foot under the table leg to form a clamp, she lifted her foot and "levitated" the table from the floor.[27]
Gambier Bolton reported that the medium Cecil Husk could levitate but Husk was exposed as a fraud by Will Goldston.[28][29] The levitation tricks of the medium Jack Webber were exposed by the magician Julien Proskauer.[30]
Another early psychical researcher and engineer W. J. Crawford (1881–1920) developed the "Cantilever Theory of Levitation" due to his experiments with the medium Kathleen Goligher. His theory was that levitation of tables and objects by mediums occurred due to "psychic rods" of ectoplasm which comes out of the body of the medium to operate as an invisible cantilever.[31] Crawford later after witnessing a number of séances claimed to have obtained flashlight photographs of the substance, he later described the substance as "plasma". He claimed the substance is not visible to the naked eye but can be felt by the body.[32] William Fletcher Barrett had also claimed to have witnessed the levitation of a table by Goligher, he was also supportive of Crawford's theory as he believed it was evidence for "an unseen intelligence behind these manifestations".[33]
Dr. Edmund Fournier d'Albe later investigated the medium Kathleen Goligher at many sittings and arrived at the opposite conclusions to Crawford, according to D'Albe no paranormal phenomena such as levitation had occurred with Goligher and stated he had found evidence of fraud. D'Albe had claimed that the substance in the photographs of Crawford was ordinary muslin.[34][35] Another psychical researcher Hereward Carrington in his book Story of Psychic Science (1930) wrote that the photographs taken by Crawford look "dubious in appearance" and that "with rare exceptions, no other investigators had an opportunity to check-up his results, since outsiders were rarely admitted to the sittings" however Carrington also stated that some type of genuine phenomena may have been observed by Crawford.[36] A later report written by the Society for Psychical Research in 1939 concluded that the photographs obtained by Crawford were of pieces of muslin and had supported the conclusions of D'Albe.[37]

Levitation in photographies[edit]

A person photographed while bouncing may appear to be levitating. This optical illusion is used by religious groups and by spiritualist mediums, claiming that their meditation techniques allow them to levitate in the air. You can usually find telltale signs in the photography indicating that the subject was in the act of bouncing, like blurry body parts, a flailing scarf, his hair being suspended in the air, etc.[38] Those who practice transcendental meditation (which claims to be able to teach people how to levitate), when quizzed, generally admit they were not actually levitating but bouncing.

Popular culture[edit]

  • In World Of Warcraft, "Priests" have the ability to use the spell "Levitate" with the tooltip: "Allows the friendly party or raid target to levitate, floating a few feet above the ground".
  • In The Elder Scrolls III: Morrowind, characters and the player can craft and consume Levitation potions to gain access to normally impossible areas.
  • In Street Fighter, the Yoga fanatic Dhalsim has the ability to levitate, which was gained through his Yoga background. He also has other techniques that resemble Siddhi described by Hinduism and Buddhism.
  • In Psychonauts levitation is used by the player and several other characters, notably world famous levitator Milla Vodello.

See also[edit]


  1. ^ Gordon Stein. (1996). The Encyclopedia of the Paranormal. Prometheus Books. ISBN 978-1573920216
  2. ^ Robert Todd Carroll. (2003). The Skeptic's Dictionary: A Collection of Strange Beliefs, Amusing Deceptions, and Dangerous Delusions. Wiley. p. 198 "Levitation is the act of ascending into the air and floating in apparent defiance of gravity. Spiritual masters or fakirs are often depicted levitating. Some take the ability to levitate as a sign of blessedness. Others see levitation as a conjurer's trick. No one really levitates; they just appear to do so. Clever people can use illusion, "invisible string", and magnets to make things appear to levitate." ISBN 978-0471272427
  3. ^ Joe Nickell. (2005). Camera Clues: A Handbook for Photographic Investigation. The University Press of Kentucky. p. 177 "Some claims — of levitation, for instance — may be performed either as an illusion for an audience, as a magician's stage trick, or for the camera." ISBN 978-0813191249
  4. ^ Jonathan Smith. (2009). Pseudoscience and Extraordinary Claims of the Paranormal: A Critical Thinker's Toolkit. Wiley-Blackwell. ISBN 978-1405181228
  5. ^ a b Schulberg, Lucille Historic India (Great Ages of Man: A History of the World's Cultures) 1968:New York:Time-Life Books Page 69—Stone bas relief depicting the levitation of Buddha
  6. ^ Bowker, page 576 Names for levitation in Sanskrit
  7. ^ Bowker, page 567
  8. ^ Bowker, page 259
  9. ^ Hornblower, Simon and Spawforth, Antony, editors The Oxford Classical Dictionary Third Edition Oxford/New York: 1996 Oxford University Press—Article on Apollonius of Tyana Page 128
  10. ^ Holy Trinity Russian Orthodox Church. Calendar: St. Bessarion the Great, wonderworker of Egypt (466).
  11. ^ Catholic Online. Saints and Angels: St. Bessarion.
  12. ^ Montague Summers. (1946). Witchcraft and Black Magic. Grand River Books. p. 200
  13. ^ Rosemary Ellen Guiley. (2001). The Encyclopedia of Saints. Checkmark Books. p. 13
  14. ^ John F. Michell, Bob Rickard, Robert J. M. Rickard. (2000). Unexplained Phenomena: A Rough Guide Special. Rough Guides Ltd. p. 83
  15. ^ Rosemary Ellen Guiley. (1993). Encyclopedia of Mystical & Paranormal Experience. Grange Books. p. 327
  16. ^ Rosemary Ellen Guiley. (2001). The Encyclopedia of Saints. Checkmark Books. p. 227
  17. ^ Pasquale Villari . (2005). The Life And Times Of Girolamo Savonarola. Kessinger Publishing.
  18. ^ Zander. "St. Seraphim of Sarov". Yonkers / New York: Vladimir's Seminary Press, 1975, pp 79–81.
  19. ^ Rosemary Ellen Guiley. (1993). Encyclopedia of Mystical & Paranormal Experience. Grange Books. p. 328
  20. ^ Gillian T. W. Ahlgren. (1998). Teresa of Ávila and the Politics of Sanctity. Cornell University. p. 21
  21. ^ Marilynne Roach. (2004). The Salem Witch Trials: A Day-by-Day Chronicle of a Community Under Siege. Taylor Trade Publishing. p. 442. ISBN 978-1589791329
  22. ^ Jørgen Christiansen. (1999). The History of Mind Control: From Ancient Times Until Now. Turtledove Book Company. p. 25
  23. ^ H.P. Blavatsky Isis Unveiled: A master-key to the mysteries of ancient and modern science and theology vol. 1, 1877, p. xxx–xxxii Accessed online on 3/5/2012 at Isis Unveiled
  24. ^ Ruth Brandon. (1984). Spiritualists: The Passion for the Occult in the Nineteenth and Twentieth Centuries. Prometheus Books. ISBN 978-0879752699
  25. ^ Gordon Stein. (1993). The Sorcerer of Kings. Prometheus Books. ISBN 978-0879758639
  26. ^ Joseph McCabe. (1920). Is Spiritualism based on Fraud?: The Evidence Given by Sir A.C. Doyle and Others Drastically Examined. London: Watts & Co. pp. 48-50. Also see the review of The Enigma of Daniel Home: Medium or Fraud? by Trevor H. Hall in F. B. Smith. (1986). Victorian Studies. Volume. 29, No. 4. pp. 613-614.
  27. ^ Milbourne Christopher. (1979). Search for the Soul. T. Y. Crowell. p. 47
  28. ^ Gambier Bolton. Psychic force: an experimental investigation of a little known power 1904
  29. ^ Will Goldston. (1942). Tricks Of The Masters. G. Routledge & Sons, Ltd. p. 4
  30. ^ Julien Proskauer. (1946). The Dead Do Not Talk. Harper & Brothers. p. 94
  31. ^ The Journal of the American Society for Psychical Research: Volume 32 American Society for Psychical Research, 1938, p. 81
  32. ^ Bernard M. L. Ernst, Hereward Carrington Houdini and Conan Doyle: The Story of a Strange Friendship Kessinger Reprint Edition, 2003, p. 67
  33. ^ Edward Clodd Occultism p. 30
  34. ^ George Nugent Merle Tyrrell Science and psychical phenomena 1938, p. 331
  35. ^ Julian Franklyn Ed A Survey of the Occult 2005, p. 383
  36. ^ Hereward Carrington The Story of Psychic Science Kessinger Reprint Edition, 2003, p. 197-200
  37. ^ Proceedings of the Society for Psychical Research, Volume 45 Society for Psychical Research., 1939, p. 10
  38. ^ Joe Nickell (2005). Camera Clues: A Handbook for Photographic Investigation (illustrated ed.). University Press of Kentucky. pp. 177–178. ISBN 978-0-8131-9124-9. 
  39. ^ Krauss, Lawrence M. Beyond Star Trek:Physics from Alien Invasions to the End of Time New York: Basic Books, 1997, p. 124
  • Bowker, John (editor) The Oxford Dictionary of World Religions Oxford, England, U.K.:1997 Oxford University Press Page 259

External links[edit]

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