Mircea Eliade - On 'magical flight'
Type of Spiritual Experience
A cross cultural study by Dean Shiels [Journal of the Society for Psychical research, March 1978] traced 67 indigenous societies in the world who had traditions relating to out-of -body travel. In Mircea Eliade’s extremely comprehensive research, however, he more or less came to the conclusion that most cultures were able to experience this at one time
A description of the experience
Mircea Eliade – Shamanism Archaic techniques of ecstasy
Ascension and magical flight have a leading place among the popular beliefs and mystical techniques of India. Rising into the air, flying like a bird, travelling immense distances in a flash, disappearing – these are some of the magical powers that Buddhism and Hinduism attribute to arhats, kings and magicians………..
Buddhist texts speak of four different magical powers of translation (gamana), the first being the ability to fly like a bird. In his list of siddhis obtainable by yogins, Patanjali cites the power to fly through the air (laghiman). It is always by the ‘power of yoga’ that, in the Mahabharata, the sage Narada soars into the sky and reaches the summit of Mount Meru (the Centre of the World); from there, far away in the Ocean of Milk, he sees Svetadvipa. ‘For with such a [yogic] body, the yogin goes where he will’.
But another tradition recorded in the Mahabharata already makes a distinction between true mystical ascent ………. and magical flight, which is only an illusion ‘We too can fly to the heavens and manifest ourselves under various forms, but through illusion’.
We see in what direction Yoga and the other Indian techniques of meditation elaborated the ecstatic experiences and magical prowesses belonging to an immemorial spiritual heritage. However this may be, the secret of magical flight is also known to Indian alchemy.
The same miracle is so common among the Budhist arhats that arahant yielded the Singhalese verb rahatve, ‘to disappear’, ‘to pass instantaneously from one place to another’.
The dakinis, fairy sorceresses who play an important role in some tantric schools, are called in Mongolian ‘they who walk through the air’ and in Tibetan ‘they who go to the sky’.
Magical flight and ascending to the sky by means of a ladder or rope are also frequent motifs in Tibet where they are not necessarily borrowed from India, the more so since they are documented in the Bon-po traditions or in traditions deriving from them. In addition, as we shall soon see, the same motifs play a considerable role in Chinese magical beliefs and folklore and they are also found almost everywhere in the archaic world..................
Siberian, Eskimo and North American shamans fly. All over the world the same magical power is credited to sorcerors and medicine men................
There is no need to repeat all the details of flight symbolism ….. (feathers, wings etc). We will add that a universal belief, amply documented in Europe, gives wizards and witches the ability to fly through the air. We have seen that the same magical powers are credited to yogins, fakirs and alchemists…………
What concerns us… is the fact that shamans are able, here on earth and as often as they wish, to accomplish ‘coming out of the body’, that is, the death that alone has power to transform the rest of mankind into ‘birds’; shamans… can enjoy the condition of ‘souls’, of ‘discarnate beings’, which is accessible to the profane only when they die.