The definition of “levitation” broadly covers either the ability to float oneself off the ground for an extended period of time or the ability to do the same with inanimate objects. This article will concern itself with the former.
History chronicles multiple occurrences of seemingly impossible instances where a person was able to hover above the ground with no visible means of support. These instances generally fall into two categories: magical and religious.
Various stage magicians and mediums over the years have claimed the ability to levitate themselves (or other people) without any slight of hand. These occurrences range in scope from rising a few inches off the ground to Daniel Dunglas Home’s 1868 levitation where he traveled out a third-story window and then floated back into the house via a different window in another room. No skeptic has ever explained how that particular feat was done.
Photographer Gambier Bolton described a 19th century séance he attended where “…one of the observers…was suddenly raised from the floor, with the chair in which he was sitting…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.”
Skeptics and scientists have attempted to explain such occurrences with the use of wires or other fraudulent trickery.
Far more compelling are the alleged instances throughout time of levitation by practitioners of a specific faith or religion.
For instance, a Buddhist tradition states that the Buddha once floated over the surface of a river to speak to a local Hindu holy man.
Hinduism itself records numerous instances of levitation, including the Yogi Subbayah Pullavar, who, in front of at least 150 eyewitnesses, levitated for nearly five minutes on June 6, 1936.
There are numerous people in the history of Catholicism who are linked to levitation in one way or another, including such notables as Saint Francis of Assisi and Padre Pio.
One of the saints very closely connected with levitation was the 17th century mystic St. Joseph of Cupertino. He reportedly experienced levitation many times throughout his life and did so in front of numerous witnesses. Unlike others who were chronicled as defying gravity, St. Joseph of Cupertino was apparently able to stay above the ground for hours at a time.
On the other hand, Christianity also contains instances where the same phenomenon of levitation can be traced to agents of evil. In 1906, a young South African girl was observed to levitate, and this phenomenon could only be stopped by the sprinkling of holy water across her. Similarly, during the infamous 17th century Salem witch trials, one of the “possessed” girls levitated over her bed in front of many witnesses.
Science has attempted to explain the phenomenon by suggesting cases could be caused by such things as mass hallucination, although one could argue that some of the chronicled instances–such as the Yogi’s levitation in front of so many witnesses and Home’s journey outside the upper floors of a house–cannot be explained by any known scientific reasoning.
And, in modern times, science has switched sides somewhat. Scientists at the University of St Andrews in Scotland are experimenting within a specific area of quantum mechanics to see if they can manipulate scientific laws into a solution that will allow everyone to be able to levitate in the not-too-distant future.