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Observations placeholder

Hasted, Professor John - Levitation, who and how



Type of Spiritual Experience


A description of the experience


There have been several reported instances of religious mystics levitating themselves slowly off the ground during prayer; the most famous are St. James of Compostella and St. Joseph of Copertino.(59) The nineteenth-century psychic, Daniel Dunglass Home, was reported by responsible investigators and scientists to have floated about the room and, on 13 December 1868, out of a window and back again.(60)

Other reported cases of levitation are those of Sister Maria Vilani, Veronica Giulani St. Bernadino Realino, St. Theresa of Avila, St. Francis of Assisi, Stainton Moses, Florence Cook, Eusapia Palladino, (Not all of these in this list are of equal sanctity, and it will be recalled by students of psychical research that Eusapia Palladino enjoys a particularly poor reputation in the matter of fraudulent phenomena. It appears that what especially disenchanted the British researchers with Eusapia was her conviction of being caught cheating on the croquet field!) Maria Vollhardt, Willi Schneider, Schrenck-Notzing’s 1927 anonymous subject(40) and the Eddy children of Chittenden, Vermont. I have seen an interesting short moving pictures(61) made by a German journalist named Ohlsen portraying the levitation of a West African priest Nana Dwaku above burning coals. Human levitation is one of the ‘siddhis’ or powers supposed to be available to Hindu mystics, and attempts have been made to teach their development in Europe. Photographs of airborne meditators have been widely publicized, but of course still photographs provide much less information than moving pictures. It is believed that in the first stage the subject experiences a violent but slow vibration of the entire body – these are almost muscular twitches; a more advanced subject becomes able to make small leaps from a bodily position in which leaping would normally be impossible – the lotus position, seated cross-legged on the ground. In the final stage, the subject becomes able to levitate his body steadily at will.

Probably the nearest thing to levitation encountered by psychic researchers is the throwing about of human bodies in a poltergeist attack. There are accounts of this in the literature, and in 1977 in England witnesses reported this phenomenon in the Enfield poltergeist case, which is in course of documentation by Maurice Gross and Guy Playfair. There have been instances of sleeping child metal-benders being found on top of wardrobes, etc., complete with bedclothes; climbing would have been just possible, but the presumption, not well proven, is that the bodies were levitated up to their new situation. In 1979 the throwing about was again reported in the Midlands. There is also the possibility of teleportation, and of composite processes of successive teleportations and levitations. One witness at Enfield (Mr B.) claimed that he was lifted out of his chair and that the feeling was as though a cushion of air, not a draught, pushed him upwards. There was also a twisting motion, which rotated him almost half a turn in the process. I can only conjecture at this stage, but I think it at least reasonably likely that in some poltergeist cases bodies have been thrown about.

In British schools ‘levitation games’ are sometimes played by children. A ritual is occasionally followed (e.g. running round and round a seated or lying child and chanting, ‘He is ill; he is dead’ etc.); after the ritual a number of children attempt to raise the body, each placing one or two fingers underneath it. The game starts with many children, who find the task easy, using only normal forces. The number is reduced one by one, and the continuing ease might suggest a paranormal contribution. The unexpected success has sometimes caused worried teachers to forbid the continuance of the game. I have found many children who insist that the body suddenly seems to lose weight.

But occasionally the lifters press their hands downwards before the lift, and the relaxation of this muscular tension makes the lifting seem easier than it would otherwise be. If we are looking for a paranormal rather than a physiological effect, then obviously this pressing of hands should be avoided.
I have been impressed by taking part myself in the lifting of fifteen-year-old Gill Costin by Kim Griffiths and her schoolfriends. Gill makes her body go rigid, and it certainly takes an effort. to get her off the ground. But when she is off the ground she sometimes appears to become lighter. Sometimes her raised body glides forwards or sideways, and the lifters have difficulty in preventing this. Naturally the idea comes to mind that one or more of the lifters are pulling or pushing her horizontally. All the lifters deny this, and changes in arrangement of the lifters make no difference.

This children’s game is sufficiently strange to be worth further investigation with the aid of instruments, the lifters standing on a chart-recording weighing machine.

The source of the experience

Hasted, Professor John

Concepts, symbols and science items



Science Items


Activities and commonsteps



Being a child