The term levitation comes from the Latin word, 'levitas', which means 'lightness'. Levitation refers to the process of an object resisting gravity, and is most often used in a paranormal or metaphysical context to describe an object seemingly rising in the air by itself. In a scientific context, levitation is technically achieved on aircraft, such as through the use of aerodynamic forces, or on small objects such as through the use of magnets. The illusion of levitating humans is often conjured as part of a magic or illusionist show, through the manipulation of lighting and other special effects.
In Hinduism, the power of levitation is believed to be achieved through mystical means by certain Hindu gurus who have mastered the philosophy of yoga. In 1936, Yogi Subbayah Pullavar reportedly levitated in front of 150 witnesses for four minutes while in a trance and horizontal position. Another practice known as “yogic bouncing” is sometimes referred to as levitation but does not technically qualify under the definition. Yogic bouncing or flying involves meditating and bouncing on one’s knees while in the lotus position.
Christianity includes several accounts of levitation, such as The New Testament accounts of Christ’s ability to walk on water as well as his ascension into heaven. Several saints are also said to have levitated, including Saint Joseph of Cupertino, Saint Teresa of Avila, Saint Philip of Neri, Saint John of the Cross, and Saint Martín de Porres. On the opposite side of the Christian spectrum, levitation has also been attributed to demonic possession, such as in the 1906 case of Clara Germana Cele, a young girl who allegedly levitated in South Africa, and could only be brought down to the ground again by receiving douses of holy water.
Mediums have also reportedly levitated as part of spiritual seances; however, the majority of medium levitation claims have been debunked as akin to illusionist shows, involving stage tricks such as wires and pulleys. Psychokinetics also claim to be able to levitate themselves or other objects. One such Psychokinetic, Nina Kulagina, levitated small objects such as wine glasses and table tennis balls in controlled environments where she was observed by scientists.
One theory held by some Physicists concerning human levitation is that the mind many be able to tap into the zero-point energy level, the lowest possible energy level held by a quantum mechanical physical system, while in an altered state of consciousness.