Who hasn’t at some point dreamed of being able to fly? It would certainly beat having to sit in economy on a plane. But flying is a very complex thing for an animal to do especially if, like humans, they lack wings. Perhaps we should temper our dreams and settle for something simpler like levitation.
Many people throughout history have claimed to have been able to levitate. Here are ten of the greatest floaters around.
10 Saint Joseph of Cupertino
Guiseppe Desa, born in a stable in 1603, did not seem to have the natural makings of a saint. Poor and notably uneducated he was rejected by the Franciscan Friars when he attempted to become a monk. Eventually the Capuchins took him in but Desa continued to experience visions and moments of ecstasy that had happened from childhood. These moments of mystical wonder saw him drop plates he was carrying and fail to do even the simplest of tasks. Thought unfit for work he was ejected and only later found a place in another monastery taking the name of Joseph.
His visions continued. He would “stand fixed as a statue, insensible as a stone, but nothing could move him.” Sticking him with pins or burning him could not make him move. But Joseph’s miracles really began in 1630 when, during a procession, he “suddenly soared into the sky where he remained hovering over the crowd.” At other times he floated in the air during Mass and during an audience with the Pope.
A century after his death Joseph was made a saint by the Catholic church and became Saint Joseph of Cupertino – patron saint of aviation and astronauts.
9 Colin Evans
Not all people who claim to be able to levitate enjoy a stellar reputation. In the 19th and early 20th century there was a craze for psychics. These people claimed to have many supernatural powers. They could speak to the dead, summon ectoplasm, and even levitate. Colin Evans was one of these psychics.
His claim to fame was his ability to float out of his chair. This claim was somewhat dubious because he mostly performed his feats of flight in a room so dark that the audience could not see him. The existing photos of Evans in flight were taken by flash photography and do indeed show Evans rising out of his chair.
Unfortunately Evans was outed as a fraud. In the photos of Evans levitating you can see that he is holding on to a wire. To make his audience believe he was levitating Evans simply leapt out of his chair and triggered the flash on his camera. In the brief flash of light his audience would see Evans apparently hovering in mid-air. Not everyone who saw his act was impressed. One audience was so underwhelmed that they asked for their money back.
8 St Gerard Majella
Levitation is a surprisingly common ability for Catholic saints. When a person asked St Padre Pio (the 20th century priest with stigmata) what it was like to walk on air the holy man replied “I can assure you, my child, it’s just like walking on the floor.”
St Gerard Majella packed a lot of miracles into his 29 years on Earth. He is said to have raised a boy from the dead, been able to read people’s souls, and made bread and wheat multiply by blessing it. But his most impressive miracles were his levitations.
People who stopped by to visit Majella often found him several feet off the ground. The holy man was nothing if not polite about his floating however. Once when he was holding up a dinner because of his levitation he told a priest “Please do not wait for me. I do not wish to inconvenience you.” The priest wished to remember how high Majella had been levitating so he marked the spot on the wall.
Sometimes Majella could be seen travelling nearly a mile by levitation or floating up like a feather caught in the wind.
7 Levitation as a Protest
For the hippies of the 1960s the Pentagon in Arlington was one of the most evil sites in the world as it was the place from which wars were planned and carried out around the world. As well as being symbolically evil there were those that thought it was also literally evil. In 1967 a group decided that the best way to demonstrate their beliefs was to surround the building, perform an exorcism, and “raise the Pentagon 300 feet in the air.”
On the day of the protest many gods ancient and modern were called on to drive out the evil that infested the building. Bands started playing and encouraged the crowd to shout “Out, demons, out!” Abbie Hoffman, the man behind the idea of floating the Pentagon, got couples to perform acts of love around the building in hopes of cancelling out the hate. Flowers handed out to the attendees ended up in the barrels of the guns held by the soldiers protecting the building and became iconic images of protest.
And then the moment came – and nothing happened. The physical building failed to lift off but for some the ritual was a success. Poet Allen Ginsberg said “The Pentagon was symbolically levitated in people’s minds in the sense that it lost its authority which had been unquestioned and unchallenged until then.”
6 Yogi Pullavar
Hindu gurus have for centuries claimed to have the ability to levitate. In Sanskrit this is known as ‘dardura-siddhi’ – ‘frog-power’ – or ‘laghiman’ – ‘lightness.’ Some like Sai Baba are said to have routinely levitated while they were sleeping, but for many it is a power that only manifests with deep meditation or prayer.
This is not a supernatural power that only occurred in the deep past. Some Hindu mystics have demonstrated levitation in front of cameras, though not to everyone’s satisfaction. In 1936 Subbayah Pullavar is said to have levitated for four minutes in front of a large crowd and the photos of the event were published in London.
Pullavar arrived at the site and entered into a tent. When the time came for the levitation his disciples removed the tent and revealed Pullavar hovering horizontally in the air with one hand resting lightly on a staff. After four minutes Pullavar decided to come down, but to do so he had the tent put over him again before emerging back on the ground.
For some this has all the marks of a hoax. Indeed if you visit any major city you might see street performers appearing to float – but all of them have their hand on a staff or other item. A concealed support is really holding them up.
5 David Blaine
In 1996 the magician David Blaine was introduced to the world with his first TV special called ‘Street Magic.’ His act involved strangers on the street being amazed by his trickery. The one that seemed to blow his audiences minds the most was when Blaine spontaneously raised himself into the air.
The people who saw Blaine hovering an inch or two above the ground seem truly baffled about how he could have done it. But a quick view of the trick gives some hints. Blaine always moves away from the audience and turns to the side. This puts the camera at an odd angle but we see his body move up and the astounded reaction of the crowd. How has Blaine floated?
The answer lies in the Balducci trick. By turning to the side one of the magician’s feet is hidden from view. This allows the magician to use the hidden foot to raise their body and appear to levitate. Or Blaine really might be able to levitate and just doesn’t like cameras being pointed at his feet.
4 Daniel Dunglas Home
The Victorians were pretty obsessed with the dead. Spiritual mediums were all the rage and seances where the dead were contacted could make mystics a fortune. One of the most successful and famous was Daniel Dunglas Home. Born in 1833 he claimed to have uncanny powers from a young age. Travelling to America Home won many admirers and turned many sceptics into believers when they saw his performances – which sometimes included him levitating up the ceiling.
Not everyone was impressed. The writer William Makepeace Thackeray thought Home’s act was “dire humbug.” Harry Houdini called him “the forerunner of the mediums whose forte is fleecing by presuming on the credulity of the public.” Despite these opinions many people continued to believe in Home’s abilities and he was never publicly debunked.
In one famous event Home was seen to float out of a third-floor window during a trance only for him to come hovering back into the building by another window.
3 World peace by levitation
Many people find a natural peace by pursuing meditation. A group known as the Transcendental Meditation movement, founded by Maharishi Mahesh Yogi, believe that they can achieve not only world peace but they can do it while levitating.
“In the silent, self-referral level of their consciousness, they introduce the technique for Yogic Flying, according to the specific procedure they’ve learned, and their bodies spontaneously lift up. At the same time, they experience great clarity of consciousness, energy, exhilaration, and unboundedness.” So says The Yogic Flying Club. Other people have described the act of Yogic Flying as “bouncing on your butt.”
Indeed to outsiders it may look as if practitioners are hopping about on their buttocks but to the meditators they really are levitating – and helping to bring about universal peace. Even the Maharishi knows his limits however. In 2005 after the invasion of Iraq he told his followers to stop flying in the United Kingdom. “The maharishi explained to us that the poison in this country was so concentrated that he felt it was no use our continuing to nurture creativity and intelligence here.”
Levitation really has stopped a war however, at least if you believe the tale of Buddha floating in the air across the Rohini river. At the time the river was dammed and shared by the Sakiya and Koliya peoples. However when a drought threatened both sides wanted to claim the entire river to irrigate their crops and leave the other side’s to rot in the field. Neither side would budge and abuse soon turned to threats, which soon turned to violence. Armies lined up on either side of the Rohini.
The Buddha was meditating at this time and psychically saw that there would be much bloodshed if he did not go to them. He levitated from his quiet spot and travelled to the Rohini where he floated cross-legged above the water. The Buddha asked both sides how much water was worth. When they said “Very little,” he asked them how much human blood was worth. “It is beyond price,” they replied. Realising they were about to kill each other over a bit of water both sides backed down and shared the river.
One another occasion the Buddha needed to cross the Ganges. When the ferryman asked for a fee to carry him across Buddha remarked that he had no money – and so levitated across the river.
1 Simon Magus
Miracles abounded in the ancient world but there was a problem with them. How could you tell which ones were miracles sent by God and which ones were powered by Demons? One case from the Book of Acts shows that resolving this issue could be fatal.
Simon Magus, or Simon the Sorcerer, is said to have had a large following because of the many amazing feats he performed in front of crowds. When he saw the followers of Jesus, Peter and John, Simon wanted to receive the Holy Ghost and its powers for himself. He offered to pay money for them but was rebuffed. That’s as far as the Bible goes on Simon but later texts give more explicit accounts of his miracles.
In the apocryphal Acts of Peter, Simon and St Peter (then already the first Pope) go head-to-head in a miracle-off. We are told “when Simon entered into Rome, he amazed the multitudes by flying.” Saint Peter then worries that Simon will lead people away from faith in Jesus if he keeps levitating so he prays “O Lord, and let him fall from the height and be disabled; and let him not die but be brought to nought, and break his leg in three places. And he fell from the height and brake his leg in three places.”
Simon immediately falls from the sky and breaks his leg in three places. Despite Peter’s prayer that Simon not die however some doctors come and cut Simon to try and treat his wounds, killing the sorcerer. “And so Simon the angel of Satan came to his end.”