Levitation Guide: History, Meanings, and Practitioners

Woman Levitating

Levitation might be dismissed by modern society as either an illusion or myth. However, many diverse religious and spiritual traditions include accounts of spiritually-evolved human beings who have levitated. This post will explore the concept of levitation, including its meanings and history. Plus you’ll learn about people from diverse cultures and spiritual traditions who have mastered the art of levitation.

What Is Levitation?

Levitation is the metaphysical phenomenon of a person ascending above the ground so that they remain suspended in air, withstanding the force of gravity. Levitation can also apply to animals and inanimate objects. However, this article will focus specifically on human levitation, which some categorize as supernatural or paranormal activity.

Etymology of the Word Levitation

Street performers demo of levitation
Street performers in Genoa, Italy giving a “demonstration” of levitating.

The word levitation is derived from the Latin word levis, which means light. In addition, it’s related to levō, which means “I lift up” or “I elevate.” Furthermore, in English, the word “levitate” is derived from “levity,” which follows the pattern of the word “gravitate” being derived from “gravity.”

Levitation is also sometimes referred to as “transvection,” particularly when referenced in the context of witchcraft. However, the term transvection usually denotes direction and momentum, as with directional flying. By comparison, levitation refers to a person, animal, or object that is floating directly upwards and hovering.

The art of levitation is more common in eastern than western religions. Thus, there are multiple Sanskrit terms that describe the phenomenon. The most common translation of levitation in Sanskrit is dardura siddhi, which translates to “frog power.” Levitation is also referred to by the word laghiman, which translates to lightness.

Who Has the Power to Levitate?

An unknown man levitating
A man named Fakir levitating. Photo: Professor X. (Apparently, it’s good to wear sunglasses when doing a demo…)

Those who believe in levitation and even metaphysics say that any human being has the innate capacity to levitate. This can apply to their own bodies or lifting objects with their minds. That being said, it’s incredibly rare for a person to seek out this power because so many think it’s impossible – or it simply never occurred to them to try it.

Furthermore, it might seem absurd to some people to dedicate the time and energy to learning a skill like hovering in mid-air when it doesn’t seem to serve any practical purpose.

Indeed, nearly all accounts of people levitating are from eyewitnesses who saw advanced yogis, monks, saints, or other mystics doing it.

Types of Levitation

In general, levitation can be classified in two ways:

  1. As a person who is controlling their external energetic environment.
  2. As a person who is controlling their internal energetic conditions.

Controlling External Energy

Scientifically speaking, levitation can be achieved through the alteration of electromagnetic fields. This is known as diamagnetic levitation. Essentially, since everything in the Universe has some level of magnetism, everything has the capacity to float while in the field of an incredibly strong magnetic force – including human beings.

Scientific research has also found that humans could potentially levitate via sound vibrations. This is known as acoustic levitation.

Controlling Internal Energy

Another way that human beings can levitate is by naturally controlling their own physical and energetic bodies. Different traditions offer specific philosophies and methods about how to do this, which we’ll go into in more detail in the following sections of this post.

However, in general, someone who has developed the ability to levitate has mastered their own energy to the point where they can physically alter it in context to the physical “laws” of time and space.

Life Force Energy

Levitation with Energy

The source of a person’s life force energy is referred to as prana in Sanskrit. Prana sometimes manifests as Kundalini Shakti, which is described as the energy that flows through the spinal column. In Chinese medicine it is referred to as chi. In Japanese it’s called ki, while in Tibetan it’s called lung. The ancient Egyptians even wrote about this concept, calling it ka.

Christians might refer to this life force as the energy of the Holy Spirit. However, since western religions don’t typically place emphasis on altering the mind and body through practice, it’s easier to discuss levitation using eastern terms.

How to Levitate

Levitation Demo Uzbekistan
Man giving a demonstration of levitation in Bukhara, Uzbekistan. Photo: Busurmanov.

Regardless of tradition, the driving force behind human levitation is psychic or spiritual energy.

In eastern philosophies, levitation is a commonly-known siddhi, or mystical power. Levitation and other siddhis typically occur as the result of a person increasing and controlling the flow of their vital life force energy. It’s also the result of consistent, intense work on the body and mind through spiritual practice or discipline.

In eastern traditions, most siddhis are the result of – or even a side effect of – a purely spiritual intention. In other words, because levitation is not usually an end in and of itself, there is no “how-to” for a typical person to achieve this phenomenon.

Thus, if you are dead set on learning how to levitate, you can’t just put the cart before the horse. Regular meditation, breathwork, a thorough understanding of energetic anatomy, and a sincere desire to achieve enlightenment in this lifetime is a good place to start!

Why Do Humans Levitate?

As mentioned earlier, there is no practical purpose for levitating. However, throughout history, people have ascended into the air for a variety of reasons, some of which will be explained in more detail in the examples of levitation in the following sections of this post.

Reasons for a person to levitate might include:

  • Providing validation of a certain spiritual path, religion, or god
  • Demonstrating spiritual power, dedication, or faith
  • Convincing skeptics and non-believers of transformation through spiritual enlightenment

In general, as described above, levitation is usually the by-product of doing deep spiritual work, intense meditation, and/or pure love of the divine.

History of Levitation

Stories of levitation have surfaced throughout the ages from a number of spiritual traditions. These include descriptions and eyewitness accounts of yogis, biblical figures, and modern-day mystics around the world.

Since levitation is not necessary a power that people seem to boast about (most spiritual traditions renounce the ego), it can be assumed that many (or perhaps most) people who have physically manifested their capacity to levitate remain unknown. However, the following sections reference some of the better-known examples of people who have experienced levitation.

Levitation In Hinduism

The Indian mystic, yogi, and teacher Sadghuru said, “There are certain ways through which you can become less and less available to gravity. Because of this, one may levitate.”

In yogic philosophy, these ways include different kriyas, or sets of exercises, that change the way the mind, physical body, and subtle energetic body function. In addition to these practices, levitation could result from pure devotion to god (referred to as bhakti in Sanskrit) or from actions that focus on cultivating wisdom, knowledge, or self-awareness.

Here are a few noteworthy examples of levitation in Hinduism:

Bhaduri Mahasaya was an Indian saint whose gift of levitation was fully described by Paramahansa Yogananda in his 1946 publication Autobiography of a Yogi. In this book, which was largely responsible for the popularization of yoga in the western world, Yogananda’s explanation for Mahasaya’s levitation stated that:

“A yogi’s body loses its grossness after use of certain pranayamas. Then it will levitate or hop about like a leaping frog. Even saints who do not practice a formal yoga have been known to levitate during a state of intense devotion to God.”

(Pranayamas are exercises to control prana, our vital life force energy, via the breath.)

Yogi Subbayah Pullavar made a show of himself in 1936 by levitating in front of a crowd of over 100 people. He was suspended several feet in the air in trance, where he remained for four minutes.

Shirdi Sai Baba, an Indian saint with both Hindu and Muslim followers, was reported to levitate in his sleep among having other mystical powers. When he did so, eyewitnesses said he was surrounded by a halo of light.

Sai Baba of Shirdi
Indian saint Sai Baba of Shirdi, who reportedly levitated in his sleep. Ca. 1915, Shirdi, India. Photographer Unknown.

Levitation in Buddhism

Written and oral accounts of levitation in Tibetan (Mahayana) Buddhism are numerous. In fact, depictions of levitating monks are commonplace in Tibetan artwork.

Both levitation and “flight” in Buddhism are considered to be tunmong gi ngo-drop, which translates to “common siddhi,” or a power that regularly surfaces along the spiritual path to full self-realization. Furthermore, according to the Chinese translation of the Nirvana Sutra, any person who achieves full realization (becomes a Buddha), will gain eight types of miraculous powers – one of which is levitation.

Tibetan Buddhism

In Tibetan Buddhism, some monks choose to devote themselves to yogic and tantric practices that aim to manipulate the elements in the body. By working with the elements (in particular the “winds”) they are able to attain powers that seem to transcend human capabilities – miracles of the body, speech, and mind.

Although the Buddha himself was seen levitating, it’s also recorded that he disapproved of public displays of levitation and other powers as lacking dignity.

Here are some examples of levitation in Buddhism:

Gautama Buddha (also known as Shakyamuni Buddha and Siddhartha Gautama) levitated in a cross-legged seat over the Rohini River to prevent a war from breaking out over its water.

Milarepa of the Kagyu tradition was able to walk, rest, and sleep suspended in the air as a result of attaining full enlightenment and, therefore, control of his mind. He used these and other powers to convince non-believers of the significance of spiritual belief and practice.

Milarpa
Bhutanese painting of Milarepa (1052-1135). Ca Late 19th to early 20th century. Source: Dhodeydrag Gonpa, Thimphu, Bhutan. Author Unknown.

Yeshe Tsogyel, the main female consort of Padmasambhava (who was the founder of the Nyingma school and author of the 8th century Tibetan Book of the Dead) levitated in lotus posture to “demonstrate full control of the elemental forces” and defeat a yogini of the Bon religion in Tibet.

Levitation in Christianity

According to the Catholic Church, levitation is a sign of sanctity and is considered a mental power as opposed to a miracle. It is said to be performed while under “rapture” or a spiritual trance.

Olivier Leroy, in his 1928 publication Levitation: an examination of the evidence and explanations, listed over 200 saints who were said to have levitated – with an average elevation of 20 inches.

Here are some of the most well-known people in Christianity who are said to have levitated:

Jesus Christ walking on water is the most referenced example of levitation in Christianity. This was witnessed by several of his disciples. In their account, Jesus encouraged Peter to levitate as well. Peter took a few steps and then faltered, which Jesus attributed to a lack of faith. (Please note that walking on water could be viewed as different from walking above water. Hence, some may not consider this to be a true example of levitation.)

Jesus Walking on Water
Jesus walking on the Sea of Galilee by Paul Brill and Frederik van Valckenborch. Ca. 1554–1626. Image: Museum of John Paul II Collection.

St. Teresa of Avila was seen levitating on numerous occasions. However, unlike other saints, she was said to find it both embarrassing and frightening… to the point where she prayed for her levitation experiences to stop.

As opposed to yogis who consider the power of the human to be one with universal or “god” energy, St. Teresa attributed the power of God as greater than her own (in line with her religion.) Thus, she viewed the phenomenon as God bringing her closer to himself through a power stronger than (but also against) her own will.

St. Joseph of Cupertino is reported to have levitated in front of witnesses on 70 different occasions. In fact, witnessed said he reached great heights. In one example, he rose up to perch on the branch of an olive tree over a large group of people. St. Joseph’s levitation experiences were typically triggered by his ecstatic devotion to God, and they sometimes lasted for up to two hours.

St. Catherine of Sienna, who began her spiritual renunciation at age 7 and who passed away at age 33, was seen levitating her body as well as objects. St. Catherine left behind many accounts of her relationship with God. These included poems written during her short 12th century life. In the following excerpt from the final stanzas of her poem “Smells of Good Food,” she references being “lifted” by God:

I saw him coming. We ran into each other’s arms
and he lifted me as he so often had –
twirled me through the air,
his hands beneath
my arms.

This is what the Truth does:
lifts and lets us
fly.

Source: Smells of Good Food translated by Daniel Ladinsky in his 2002 compilation Love Poems from God

Levitation in Other Traditions

Simon Magus was called the “Father of Heresies” by the Christian Church. The reason was his alleged use of magic and other demonic forces. In addition, he used levitation to challenge the teachings of Peter in the early days of Christianity.

Simon said he would fly as proof of his own beliefs – and, indeed, he did. However, religious scholars say that Simon’s teachings were actually those of Satan and not of God. The story continues with Peter praying to God to stop Simon from levitating. As a result, Simon fell, broke his legs, and died.

Mrs. Guppy, a 19th century spiritual medium, was reported in the London Daily Telegraph to have levitated and flown through the air from one friend’s house to another in front of eight eyewitnesses (not including her two friends) in June of 1871.

Mrs. Guppy

Mrs. Tebb (left), Georgiana Houghton (middle), Agnes Guppy-Volckman (right).
Source: Chronicles of the Photographs of Spiritual Beings and Phenomena Invisible to the Material Eye by E. W. Allen, 1882. Image: Georgiana Houghton.

Clara Germana Cele, a 16-year old South African girl who allegedly made a pact with the devil also levitated. According to witnesses, she had showed numerous signs of possession. Then, she levitated in front of 170 people during her exorcism by two priests in the early 1900s. (The exorcism, during which she choked one of the priests, was said to have freed her.)

Recent Examples of Levitation

There has been a modern-day surge in illusive or otherwise deceptive levitation claims. For example, magicians, spiritual mediums, and stunt artists have claimed to levitate. And photographers can easily manipulate photos to show it.

Magic show "levitation"
Magicians Marc and Alex performing a “levitation” in 2010. Photo: Fabian Amann.

However, there are also some modern-day people who have legitimately levitated.

Here are some examples of modern-day levitation by practitioners of various spiritual traditions, which have not been proven false:

Padre Pio was a 20th century Italian priest. He is quoted by fellow priest Father Ascanio as saying that walking above the heads of his congregation was “just like walking on the floor.”

Kachu Rinpoche, a teacher of the Nyingma tradition of Tibetan Buddhism in Kalimpong, India, reported that he had witnessed levitation on multiple occasions in Tibet. In addition, he said he was also able to levitate a little bit. While he could not do it randomly, he was capable of doing so with few months of intense spiritual practice to prepare his mind and body.

Michio Kuchi, a Japanese spiritual teacher and author who was largely responsible for the popularization of the macrobiotic diet in the west, levitated in front of a large group during a talk in Los Angeles. He did so to demonstrate a teaching that his audience was not grasping:

“The world is all energy. Everything is energy. And if you understand that, you can understand the real dynamics behind how things happen the way they do in the ‘so-called’ physical universe.”

According to one of his students, a man named Keith Varnum, Kuchi stated post-descent that, “Levitation is very easy. It is a natural, simple process. You all can do it.”

Keith Varnum, a spiritual teacher and student of Kuchi, said he “emptied” himself and connected to a different energetic field. He reportedly achieved brief moments of levitation and successfully encouraged a couple of his friends to do so too.

Zhou Ting-Jue, a Qi Gong and Kung Fu master, practices a form of Qi Gong that is intended to make the body lighter in weight. Ting-Jue is captured in videos standing on a piece of paper (which, admittedly, may not be considered levitation). However, this idea of lightness is the concept behind levitation or hovering mid-air in martial arts as well.

Ovacu was an African Shaman who was filmed levitating in the 1970s.

You can watch him levitating in this video:

Roar Skjervø, a Norwegian engineer, levitated over a full table at the Norwegian University of Science and Technology. The photo appeared on the front page of a local newspaper in 1986.

There are probably more people who don’t believe levitation is possible than those who do. But hopefully after reading this, you are more in the latter camp!

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