Photo: Colin Evans Levitating in 1938.
Levitation is a word that came into English probably around 1870es from spiritistic circles. They coined the term from latin word levitas meaning “lightness” to denote the feeling when some object or person seems to lose its weight and starts floating in the air. Before this, when saints like St. Theresa or Saint Joseph of Cupertino were floating in mid air – people referred to this simply as “flying”. Even though the word itself is relatively new, the reports about this occurence are very old.
Buddha is said to have practiced levitation as well as his mentor Sammat who was reputed to be able to remain in the air for hours at the time.
In “The Bodhidharma Anthology: The Earliest Records of Zen” the founder of Zen Buddhism, Bodhidharma, is said to have arrived in China in 527 during the Liang Dynasty and it is believed that he taught some monks how to achieve the levitation by controlling the energy of their bodies.
Bible also reports Jesus walking on water and later ascending into heaven. Apocryphal text “Acts of Peter” reports that Simon the magus was levitating in front of St Peter and St. Paul, but their prayer made him fall and consequently die. The church of Santa Francesca Romana (in Rome, Italy) is said to stand on that same location, and basalt stones baring imprints of the knees of these two apostles are embeddd in that church.
Many Catholic saints are reputed to have levitated. For example, the levitation or “flight” as they called it then of St. Theresa was witnissed by 230 Catholic priests. She described the feeling of levitation in her autobiography from 1565. Saint Joseph of Cupertino even levitated in front of Pope Urban VIII. The list of flying saints goes on. Here are some of them:
Saint Alphonsus Liguori
Saint Archangela Girlani
Saint Catherine of Siena
Saint Christina the Astonishing
Blessed Christina von Stommeln
Saint Edmund Rich
Saint Francis of Paola
Saint Francis Fasani
Saint Francis Xavier
Saint Gemma Galgani
Saint Gerard Majella
St. Ignatius Loyola (founder of Jesuit order) is said to have became luminous during levitation.
Saint John Bosco
Saint John Joseph of the Cross
Saint Joseph of Cupertino
Saint Ludgardis of Tongeren
Saint Luke Thaumaturgus
Saint Martin de Porres
Saint Michael Garicoits
Blessed Miguel Pro
Saint Paul of the Cross
Saint Peter Claver
Saint Peter of Alcantara
Saint Philip Neri
Saint Robert de Palentin
Saint Theresa of Avila
Saint Thomas Aquinas
However, the ability of levitation is not reserved for Catholic Saints only. Daniel Douglas Home (some spell it as “Hewm”) was a spiritist in the 19th century and to this day is one of the most frequently mentioned examples of this ability, although he could also produce a number fo other effects. Beside levitating himself, he was also able to make objects levitate as well. Queen Sophia of the Netherlands wrote: “I saw him four times…I felt a hand tipping my finger; I saw a heavy golden bell moving alone from one person to another; I saw my handkerchief move alone and return to me with a knot… He himself is a pale, sickly, rather handsome young man but without a look or anything which would either fascinate or frighten you. It is wonderful. I am so glad I have seen it…”
The levitation at Ward Cheney’s house interpreted in a lithograph from Louis Figuier, Les Mystères de la science 1887
Hr. Home performed his acts before a number of influential and famous people of his time, such as Mark Twain, Napoleon III, Arthur Conan Doyle (author of Sherlock Holmes), Harvard professor David Wells, William Cullen Bryant (editor of the New York Evening Post) and many more. He was performing at the courts of Russia, Germany, Netherlands, France and the Vatican (later in 1863 Catholic church excommunicated him for dealing with spiritism).
Many skeptics were comming to see him but he was never “debunked”. On the contrary – he was performing his levitation in fully lit rooms, and some spectators wrote to the Springfield Republican newspaper about him stating that “We know that we were not imposed upon nor deceived”.
Levitation was witnissed on other continents as well. British explorer Alexandra David-Neel reported that during her visit to far east (around 1911) she saw a Buddhist monk sitting in lotus position rising tens of meters off the ground, descending, touching the ground and raising up again.
This “rising up and down” a number of times seems to be in common for most described levitations. We can also see it in the following video which I first saw in the late 1980es:
Naturally, as with any similar phenomena, skeptics claim that levitation is just a trick because they do not believe anything that they do not see in person. Judging from the fact that in most cases the person performing the levitation was described to be in some special mental state (trance, extacy, excitement, or meditation) it is not likely that skeptics will every be convinced otherwise. Who could induce the trance every time every single doubting Thomas comes along and keep it as long as poking and probing lasts?
Recording it with a camera? Doesn’t help. The above video was already labeled as “fraud” by skeptics claiming that “the cameramen, the shaman and people sitting around the fire are all in cahoots”.
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