Two articles appear below:

1    Levitation              H Edwards

2    Levitating Rocks    B S


Harry Edwards

(Investigator 84, 2002 May)

Levitation is the ability of a person to rise and hover in the air, and an apport, the seemingly unsupported movement of an object through the air. These phenomena are characteristically associated with some physical mediums, mystics and Eastern holymen.

Stories of holy men supported only by a stick apparently defying gravity and the Indian rope trick are legend and magicians continue to this day to mystify their audiences by raising and hovering their assistants without any obvious mechanical or physical aids.

One of the most celebrated mediums of all time was Daniel Dunglas Home, who gave exhibitions before royalty, peers and scientists in the mid 1900s and which, despite the closest scrutiny, was never shown to be a fraud. Apart from the usual raps, knocks, self elevating tables and chairs, and disembodied spirit manifestations dear to all mediums of his time, Home's speciality was an accordion which would play itself and a hand bell which would tinkle of its own accord. Levitation however, was his piece de resistance and several exhibitions took place during the 78 seances conducted by Home between 1867 and 1869. Robert Bell writing in the Cornhill Magazine for August 1869, describes one such event as follows:

"I was sitting nearly opposite Mr Home, and saw his hands disappear from the table and his head vanish into the deep shadow beyond. In a moment or two more he spoke again. This time his voice was in the air above our heads. He had risen from his chair to a height of four or five feet from the ground. As he ascended higher he described his position, which at first was perpendicular, and afterwards became horizontal. He said he felt as if he had been turned in the gentlest manner, as a child is turned in the arms of a nurse. In a moment or two more, he told us he was going to pass across the window, against the grey silvery light of which he would be visible. We watched in profound stillness and saw his figure pass from one side of the window to the other, feet foremost lying horizontally in the air. He spoke to us and told us that he would turn the reverse way and recross the window; which he did. His own tranquil confidence in the safety of what seemed from below a situation of the most novel peril gave confidence to everybody else; but, with the strongest nerves, it was impossible not to be conscious of a certain sensation of fear or awe."

Another account of Home's levitations was published for private circulation by Lord Adare in 1870, in which he recounts a seance he witnessed on December 16, 1868. He describes how Home floated head first out of a third storey window and back through a window in an adjoining room. Further testimony to these remarkable feats comes from a celebrated scientist of the times, William Crookes, who convinced of the genuineness of Home's powers wrote in the Quarterly Journal of Science, January 1874:

"The most striking cases of levitations which I have witnessed have been with Mr Home. On three separate occasions have I seen him raised completely from the floor of the room. Once sitting in an easy chair, once kneeling on his chair and once standing up. On each occasion I had full opportunity of watching the occurrence as it was taking place."

More mundane accomplishments, such as the levitation of tables and chairs and the apporting of trumpets and other objects, have been recorded by the hundreds at seances conducted by mediums, particularly in the second half of the last century; but whereas most were held in semi-darkness, today's psychics demonstrate their abilities (now called telekinesis or psychokinesis) under bright lights and stringent test conditions.

No doubt many readers will have had the experience in a dream, of free flying or swimming through the air, the mere thought of being able to actually levitate and fly is of course exciting and a very attractive idea to most people; courses claiming to be able to teach people how to levitate are advertised through the Transcendental Meditation (TM) organization.

Alan Parkinson, a NSW TM practitioner, claims that the force of gravity is overcome and that the matter has been scientifically explained by many scientists around the world. Experiments in scientific laboratories have shown pieces of metal suspended in the air by the effect of electrical "waves" and it is believed that human brain waves that can be detected, recorded and measured by an electroencephalograph and used to enable us to fly. At a nationwide TM meditation session in Melbourne in 1980, practitioners claimed that "when their techniques are going well they rise from the ground and float in the air. First comes a feeling of lightness, then with experience comes hopping – a brief rise from the floor and back, then hovering followed by levitation."

Dr John Price, a senior lecturer in Mathematics at the University of NSW, claimed in the March, 1980 Weekend Australian that he has a regular early morning fly. He describes the experience in the following way "a tremendous burst of energy going through me and my spine seemed to be a cylinder of white light, then my body moved up and down two or three times, then my body touched the floor very, very softly. I moved about two metres at that time." TM'er Dr Byron Rigby stated on the A B C Science Show in May 1980, that he personally levitated twice daily in the form of hops lasting about a quarter of a second.

In the USA, Mahareshi Mahesh Yogi describes levitation as being arrived at in three stages. First, one learns to hop off the ground a foot or two while seated in the lotus position. The second stage is hovering and the third is mastery of the sky – flying at will.

Doug Henning, the brilliant star of Broadway's "Magic Show", also spent time studying with the TM gurus and reported that the whole thing was "part of a mathematics we do not yet understand".

It is significant that the apparently unassisted movement of objects and levitation has, in the case of seances, always taken place in darkness or semi-darkness and in the case of objects moved or caused to fly through the air allegedly by poltergeists, the initial movement or "take off" is never observed. The reasons, to even the least sceptical, should be obvious. In the former, a variety of gadgets – extension rods, hooks and eyes, cotton thread, rubber gloves, bodily contortions and/or an assistant – allowed all sorts of trickery to be employed without detection; and expectation, imagination and the proclivity to believe added to the conviction that unseen forces were at work. In the second case, where it has been possible to use hidden cameras or observers, the initial impetus given to the mysterious "unaided flight" has been seen to have been provided by the very earthly hands of a wilful teenager!

Although Home was never exposed as a fraud, considerable controversy surrounds many of his performances, and explanations of how he achieved the illusions have been given by observers and investigators. Whereas Elizabeth Barrett Browning, the English poet, was convinced that Home performed miracles, her husband Robert considered him an aversion, leading him to write his famous poem, "Mr Sludge, The Medium", published in 1864. At one seance, Home took an accordion with one hand, held it below the table and several tunes were played, an invisible hand was held up which opened and closed its fingers, and the table tilted without objects rolling off. Robert Browning was totally unimpressed, calling the whole performance

"most clumsy and unworthy of anybody really setting up for a 'medium', I, the poorest of mechanicians can fancy such an obvious contrivance as a tube, fixed and flexible, under Mr H's loose clothes and sack-like paletot [an overcoat] and inordinate sleeves which should convey some half dozen strings, and no more, to his breast for instance, and work the three fantoccini-hands (marionettes), after these various fashions – just as he did, and easily."

On another occasion in France, Baron Morio de I'Isle looked under the table at one of Home's seances and saw an empty shoe. Then, after a woman had said she had been touched by a spirit, the baron saw Home's foot slip back into the shoe.

Home's alleged levitations are supported by the testimonies of irreproachable witnesses including that of William Crookes, a celebrated scientist of the times. But what did they really see? Well first up, the unimpeachable character or intelligence of a witness is no criterion in detecting fraud, particularly where a witness is a believer or where the conditions preclude clear and unobstructed observation. What witnesses thought they saw and what they were led to believe they saw, played a major part in Home's illusions.

The seances featuring levitation were always conducted in the dark or in very dim light when it was necessary to see such things as "spirit" hands and other objects. The marks he left on ceilings as an indication that he had risen up and touched it were easily made by using an extension rod with chalk tied on the end; he would take off his shoes, put them on his hands and the sitters would get the impression that they were rising; and most of the time the only evidence those present would have that Home was levitating was his word for it.

The event which has endured above all other accounts of levitation feats is the levitation out of one third story window and in through another. Among the contradictions and discrepancies in the eyewitness accounts is the one by Lord Lindsay who said that he saw Home float out of the window horizontally and later said that what he saw was not the man himself but his shadow, cast by the new moon, which would imply that he had his back to the window at the time. Lord Adare, on the other hand, saw Home "standing upright outside our window."

A contemporary commentator remarked as follows: "It is a familiar fact of physiological optics that, in a faint light, if the eyes are fixed upon an object, the latter gradually becomes clouded and finally disappears entirely. It then requires only a little heightening of a not unusual imagination to believe that, if the object that disappeared was a man, he wafted himself through the air and went out of the window."

Many magicians have described ways in which the illusion could have been achieved, one in fact, Joseph Rinn, performed the illusion on a New York stage, working with a committee who had been blindfolded to simulate the same conditions prevailing in Home's time, while the audience could see everything that was happening. The committee believed that Rinn had actually levitated.

Most readers will have seen levitation acts performed on the stage and under bright lights, and while they certainly look miraculous the mechanics behind the illusion are quite simple and can be achieved in a variety of physical ways. We are told that they are illusions, we know them to be illusions, so why should undue credit be given to a medium who performs in the dark and would have us believe otherwise? Belief in levitation is strong however, courses are offered to teach people to overcome gravity by mind power alone. The Maharishi Mahesh Yogi's Transcendental Meditation (TM) movement, is the principal proponent of "miracles made easy" – for a price! Among them, the ability to walk through solid walls, to become invisible and of course, to fly.

In the late seventies, concerned to see the TM enrolment figures dropping, the great guru advertised a special course to teach meditators how to perform miracles, among them levitation, for a fee of $US3000. Interviewed on the "Merv Griffin Sho" in 1978, the Maharishi said that some 40,000 students had enrolled in the course. When asked how many had learned to levitate, he replied, "thousands". When it comes to the evidence however, a different picture emerges. Photos of TM students "levitating" were issued by the TM Ministry of Information, but quickly withdrawn when the magazine ridiculed them as trivial, and no one since has ever given or seen a demonstration that could be remotely perceived of as hovering unsupported above the ground.

Doug Henning, who once claimed to have levitated three feet above the ground, later retracted that claim and said that he had never actually levitated.

When Australia's TM'er Byron Rigby stated on the ABC Science Show in May 1980, that he had personally levitated and that "we open ourselves to every kind of investigation", the Australian Skeptics took up his offer and suggested that they examine his ability to control paranormally the force of gravity using various scientific measurement tools which would include a video camera. Dr Rigby denied that he had ever made the claim despite it being recorded on a tape of the ABC Science Show and would not enter into any further correspondence.

An interesting aside however, the Corporate Affairs records show that $587,960 was sent between July 1, 1976 and September 30, 1978 to the parent body of TM "The World Plan Executive Council" in Europe. That the prime concern of the TM movement appears to be the business of making money rather than teaching people to levitate is borne out by other reports such as the one in the New Zealand Consumers magazine, which told the sad story of Mrs Shirley Koszti, a widowed paraplegic, who paid over $5000 to the organization to learn how to levitate and fly and is still unable to, and in England, five former TM'ers paid over $60,000 for the courses and the result was succinctly summed up by one of them, Mrs Linda Pearce, who stated, "It was nonsense. We were all completely taken in, no one ever learnt to fly."

In recent times the TM organization has turned to politics under the banner of the Natural Law Party.


Beloff, J. 1986. "Home's Self-Levitation." Skeptical Inquirer. 10:370-371.
Brandon, R. 1984. The Spiritualists. Prometheus Books. Buffalo NY.
Frazier, K. 1979. "Levitation for a Fee in New Zealand." S.I. 4(2): 6-7.
Houdini, H. 1272. A Magician Among the Spirits. NY. Arno Press.
Kurtz, P (Ed.) l995. A Skeptic's Handbook of Parapsychology." Yale Review,
New Series, XXXIII. pp 125-138.
Nichols, B. 1966. Powers That Be: Authenticated Cases of Man and the Supernatural. Popular Library NY.
Phelps, W.L. 1986 "Robert Browning on Spiritualism." Yale Review, New Series, XXIII. pp 125-138.
Randi, J. 1982. Flim Flam. Prometheus Books. Buffalo, NY.

[From: A Skeptic's Guide to the New Age, Harry Edwards]

Levitating Rocks

(Investigator 19, 1991 July)

"Quamar Ali Davesh," they chant as the 70 kg round rock is lifted by 11 index fingers of 11 right hands.

This scene occurs at a shrine in Shivapur a village near Poona about 130km South-East of Bombay (India). Either of two rocks can be "levitated" – the 70kg rock with 11 index fingers or a smaller rock with nine index fingers.

An article in Simply Living (Vol 2 1985 No. 10) calls them "The Levitating Rocks of Shivapur". The authors claim: "logic and rationalization are inadequate procedures by which to evaluate phenomena outside the scheme of the normal."

The guy who inaugurated the "levitation" procedure – Quamar Ali Davesh – was a 12th century teenager of the Sufi sect of Islam who died at 18 and was considered a saint. His tomb, where the two stones are kept, became a place of pilgrimage.

The Simply Living article suggests mesmerism, faith, mind power and "the spirit of the dead saint". The phenomenon apparently does not work if one too many or one too few index fingers are applied.

The article also suggests the "scientific approach" –  "the generation of the exact amount of bio-energy complemented by the sound frequencies which resonate with the particular vibrations of the rocks." I couldn't find out what this means although I checked a textbook of University Physics and others.

The explanation for the "levitation" is, I suggest, that eleven or nine index fingers of eleven or nine people are stronger than the ten fingers of one person.

Consider this example from The Boys Book of Conjuring (1953 Eugene Stone):


Two persons put their index fingers under the insteps of the person who is to be lifted, two others place a finger under each elbow, and a fifth puts his forefinger under the chin of the subject. At a given signal each person lifts his hand, and the person is raised up. The result may seem very surprising, but it is only a question of the equal subdivision of weight. The average human being weighs about 11 stone, so that each finger has only to sustain about 30 lbs. weight, which is not difficult.

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