Levitation is the lifting up into the air of objects, persons and animals without apparent natural means and in defiance of gravity. Levitations occur in Mediumship, shamanistic trance, mystical rapture and trance, magic, bewitchment, Hauntings, and Possession. In parapsychology, Levitation is considered a phenomenon of Psychokinesis (PK), or “mind over matter.” Most Levitations last only a few seconds or perhaps a few minutes.
Levitations of a spiritual nature are numerous in religions. Saints and mystics reportedly levitate as proof of the powers of God, or in rapture, or because of their saintly nature. The 17th-century Christian saint, Joseph of Cupertino, allegedly could levitate and fly about in the air for long periods of time. In Eastern mysticism, Levitation is a feat made possible by mastery of concentration and breathing techniques that control the universal life energy.
The Western view of Levitation is contradictory: saints can levitate by the grace of God, but ordinary persons who levitate are often believed to be under the evil influence of witches, Fairies, or Demons. Levitation is one of the certain signs of the diabolical, according to the Catholic Church’s criteria for Demonic possession. In 1906, a 16-year-old possessed schoolgirl from South Africa, Clara Germana Cele levitated up to five feet high, sometimes vertically and sometimes horizontally. She fell if sprinkled with holy water.
Poltergeist cases and hauntings are sometimes characterized by levitating and flying objects, blamed on ghosts or discarnate beings. In some poltergeist cases, investigators think that a human focal point, typically an adolescent or an adult with intense, repressed emotions, unwittingly creates psychokinetic energy that causes the activity.
Levitation was a phenomenon of the physical mediumship popular in the early days of Spiritualism. Spirits allegedly caused mediums to rise up out of their chairs at Séances, and similarly caused tables and objects to rise and float about the room. Floating Trumpets, through which the spirits were said to amplify their voices, came into vogue in the 1850s.
The most spectacular Levitations were credited to D.D. Home, who reportedly caused furniture and objects to rise on many occasions during his career as a physical medium. Home levitated himself on more than 100 occasions before witnesses, and in 1868, he reportedly floated out and in windows. Unlike most other Mediums, Home was not always in trance during Levitations and so was aware of what was happening and how he felt. He said an unseen power lifted him, and he had “an electrical fulness (sic)” in his feet. The Catholic Church expelled him as a sorcerer; perhaps if he had been a saint instead of a medium, the church would have championed him. Home was never exposed as a fraud, but many other mediums were caught “levitating” objects with hidden wires and contraptions.
Levitation in controlled experiments is rare. Parapsychologists achieved Table-Tilting, most likely due to PK, in the “PHILIP” experiments to create an artificial poltergeist in the 1970s.
Skeptics argue that Levitations may be explained by hallucination, hypnosis or fraud; Home was accused of using hypnosis to trick his witnesses into thinking he levitated, when in fact he sat in a chair. According to stage magicians, a medium skilled in ventriloquism could easily have faked the type of Levitation in the dark that characterized most early spiritualist Séances. The medium removed his (or her) shoes or boots and placed them on top of his hands. He would say, “I am rising,” and sitters would be convinced they saw the dim shapes of the boots rising in the air.
Not all Levitations have a plausible natural explanation.
- Brandon, Ruth. The Spiritualists. New York: Alfred A. Knopf, 1983.
- Edge, Hoyt L., Robert L. Morris, John Palmer, and Joseph H. Rush. Foundations of Parapsychology. Boston: Routledge & Kegan Paul, 1986.
- Guiley, Rosemary Ellen. Harper’s Encyclopedia of Mystical and Paranormal Experience. San Francisco: HarperSanFrancisco, 1991.