Levitation (paranormal)

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A representation of a person levitating

Levitation or transvection 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 states 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.



  • Jesus walks on the water to meet his disciples who are in a boat. Initially they are afraid, thinking he is a "spirit", but he quells their fears (Matthew 14:22 - 33) King James Version (KJV).
  • Saint Bessarion of Egypt (d. 466) walked across the waters of a river (Nile).[6][7]
  • 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).[8]
  • St. Alphonsus Liguori, when preaching at Foggia, was lifted before the eyes of the whole congregation several feet from the ground.[9]
  • 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.[10]
  • 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".[11]
  • 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.[12]
  • Girolamo Savonarola, sentenced to death, allegedly rose off the floor of his cell into midair and remained there for some time.[13]
  • 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.[14]
  • Mariam Baouardy "little Arab" (1846-1878), a Carmelite nun, who died in Bethlehem in 1878, and frequently experienced ecstasies, was seen levitating more than once by others: for example, in the garden of the monastery during times of private prayer, when living in the Carmelite monastery at Pau, in France.[15]
  • 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.[16]
  • Magdalena de la Cruz (1487–1560), a Franciscan nun of Cordova, Spain.[17]
  • 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.[18]



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


  • 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 laghiman (lightness) or dardura-siddhi (the frog power).[21] 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. Yogananda's book Autobiography of a Yogi has accounts of Hindu Yogis who levitated 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 on 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 claims that practitioners of the TM-Sidhi program of Maharishi Mahesh Yogi achieve what they call "Yogic Flying". They say that there are three stages of 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 there is no levitation and they are using their thighs to bounce in the lotus position.


Levitation has been described in Jewish text many times by use of either magic or non-magical means. Levitation by magic was depicted in Jewish texts to be practiced by Balaam who lived at the time of Moses. Magic involves directly ordering the spirits (or gods) to carry out tasks thereby ignoring infinity, the god of all gods. Instead of submission to infinity, self pride and ego of the individual is used to order the spirits to carry out tasks such as levitation.

Levitation by non-magical means was practiced by many Jewish sages throughout the ages. As such, the forehead is the most important part of the body and is responsible for the source of "energy" bringing about the levitation. Most notorious was the Baal Shem Tov who lived during the early eighteenth century. Levitation was used for long range transport of individuals who mastered this form of transportation. However Levitation as such was not a means to an end. One can not learn levitation but rather a possibility that was made available due to a state of mind that was in complete love of God and keeping his commandments (Mitzvot) to the letter. Levitation is usually carried out by several means:

  1. standing on a carpet or cloth where the carpet or cloth represents "earth".
  2. standing on the belly of a woman where the woman represents "earth" relative to the subject.
  3. Levitating upwards without using representation of "earth" where the head is higher than the feet. This state of levitation is through extreme love of God.
  4. Levitation upwards without using representation of "earth" where the feet are higher than the head. This state of levitation is through extreme fear of God.

Many Jewish rabbis and sages throughout the generations also used a form of קפיצת הדרך (Kefitzat Haderech) or "leap", which is a form of teleportation where each step taken was a distance of several miles (פרסה – literally: "horseshoe". Similar is ancient Iranian measure of distance, see parasang, about 4 miles).

The levitation of Daniel Dunglas Home at Ward Cheney's house interpreted in a lithograph from Louis Figuier, Les Mystères de la science 1887

The theory of levitation is explained by being in a state of mind where a person is abstract and spiritual in relation to the material or physical world on which he stands. When abstract or spiritual inspiration and thought grows to be sufficiently strong, the abstract observation becomes physical and concrete thereby enabling the person to stand on what others normally see as abstract and imaginary. To the levitator, the abstract is as real as the ground and earth is to others. The Rabbis have decreed that a height of three cubits from the ground is an abstract perimeter in which anything below that height is considered ground level. This decree has Halachic (legal) implications. Observing this decree to the letter enables levitation at a height of three cubits by materializing this abstract perimeter to be physical and concrete as is from the standpoint of the levitator.

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.[22] Daniel Dunglas Home, a prolific and well-documented levitator of himself and other objects, was said by spiritualists to levitate outside of a window. Skeptics have disputed such claims.[23] 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.[24]

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."[25]

The levitation trick of the medium Jack Webber was exposed by the magician Julien Proskauer. According to Proskauer he would use a telescopic reaching rod attached to a trumpet to levitate objects in the séance room.[26] The physicist Edmund Edward Fournier d'Albe investigated the medium Kathleen Goligher at many sittings and concluded that no paranormal phenomena such as levitation had occurred with Goligher and stated he had found evidence of fraud. D'Albe had claimed the ectoplasm substance in the photographs of Goligher from her séances were made from muslin.[27][28][29][30]

In photography[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, hair being suspended in the air, etc.[31] 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.
  • In Star Trek: The Original Series, in the episode "Plato's Stepchildren", the Platonians (the inhabitants of the planet Platonius) have telekinetic powers, including the ability to levitate, from consuming plants containing the fictitious mineral "kironide".[32]
  • In Charmed Phoebe Halliwell has the power to levitate. This was one of her 'active powers'.
  • In Heroes Nathan Petrelli has the ability to levitate and is capable of flying at supersonic speed.

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. ^ Holy Trinity Russian Orthodox Church. Calendar: St. Bessarion the Great, wonderworker of Egypt (466).
  7. ^ Catholic Online. Saints and Angels: St. Bessarion.
  8. ^ Montague Summers. (1946). Witchcraft and Black Magic. Grand River Books. p. 200
  9. ^ Rosemary Ellen Guiley. (2001). The Encyclopedia of Saints. Checkmark Books. p. 13
  10. ^ John F. Michell, Bob Rickard, Robert J. M. Rickard. (2000). Unexplained Phenomena: A Rough Guide Special. Rough Guides Ltd. p. 83
  11. ^ Rosemary Ellen Guiley. (1993). Encyclopedia of Mystical & Paranormal Experience. Grange Books. p. 327
  12. ^ Rosemary Ellen Guiley. (2001). The Encyclopedia of Saints. Checkmark Books. p. 227
  13. ^ Pasquale Villari . (2005). The Life And Times Of Girolamo Savonarola. Kessinger Publishing.
  14. ^ |Valentine Zander. "St. Seraphim of Sarov". Yonkers / New York: Vladimir's Seminary Press, 1975, pp 79–81.
  15. ^ "Mariam, la petite Arabe", by Amédée Brunot, Paris: Salvator, 1981
  16. ^ Rosemary Ellen Guiley. (1993). Encyclopedia of Mystical & Paranormal Experience. Grange Books. p. 328
  17. ^ Gillian T. W. Ahlgren. (1998). Teresa of Ávila and the Politics of Sanctity. Cornell University. p. 21
  18. ^ 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
  19. ^ Jørgen Christiansen. (1999). The History of Mind Control: From Ancient Times Until Now. Turtledove Book Company. p. 25
  20. ^ 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
  21. ^ Bowker, John. (1997). The Oxford Dictionary of World Religions. Oxford University Press. p. 259, p. 567, p. 576
  22. ^ Ruth Brandon. (1984). Spiritualists: The Passion for the Occult in the Nineteenth and Twentieth Centuries. Prometheus Books. ISBN 978-0879752699
  23. ^ Gordon Stein. (1993). The Sorcerer of Kings. Prometheus Books. ISBN 978-0879758639
  24. ^ 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.
  25. ^ Milbourne Christopher. (1979). Search for the Soul. T. Y. Crowell. p. 47. ISBN 978-0690017601
  26. ^ Julien Proskauer. (1946). The Dead Do Not Talk. Harper & Brothers. p. 94
  27. ^ Edmund Edward Fournier d'Albe. (1922). The Goligher Circle. J. M. Watkins. p. 37
  28. ^ Julian Franklyn (2003). A Survey of the Occult. Kessinger publishing. p. 383. ISBN 978-0766130074
  29. ^ C. E. Bechhofer Roberts. (1932). The Truth About Spiritualism. Kessinger Publishing. p. 128. ISBN 978-1417981281
  30. ^ Martyn Jolly. (2006). Faces of the Living dead: The Belief in Spirit Photography. Miegunyah Press. pp. 84-86. ISBN 978-0712348997
  31. ^ 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. 
  32. ^ Krauss, Lawrence M. Beyond Star Trek:Physics from Alien Invasions to the End of Time New York: Basic Books, 1997, p. 124

Further reading[edit]

External links[edit]