Other people famous for their levitations are Saint Dunstan, Archbishop of Canterbury, who rose to the vault of the cathedral, on the day of the Ascension… There is Saint Etienne who was raised from the ground while he was praying in his tent, Saint Catherine the Admirable who, during her funeral service, rose to the vault of the church. It was then noticed that she wasn’t dead.
Others are: Saint John of the Cross whose friends often found him a few feet from the ground and who levitated one day in company of Saint Teresa of Avila; Saint Peter of Alcantara, Reformator of the Franciscans who, the witnesses say, flew like a bird to the tops of the trees; Maria of Agreda, the author of Cuidad de Dios, whose body, in the moments of ecstasy, was as light as a feather to the point that it was a game for the sisters to blow on her to make her float away; Father Suarez, one of the greatest theologians of the XVIth Century; Philippe of Neri, the founder of the Oratory; Maria Villarri, a famous Dominican nun of the XVIIth Century; Tommasso of Cori, who was raised to the roof of the Civistella Church with such force that it was feared that he would crush his skull on the rafters; Pope Pius VII; Mary Magdalene of Pazzi who, one day, at the Carmel of Saint Mary of the Angels, rose to a corniche ten metres high and remained balancing on a twenty centimetres wide ledge; John-Joseph of the Cross who, in Naples in 1734, while he was going to venerate the blood of Saint Janvier, flew above the crowd; the Venerable Antoine Margil, who was seen by the monks of the Franciscan Priory of Mexico levitating very high inside the steeple and “spinning round, his arms extended, at an incredible speed”; Mary of Crucified Jesus, a Carmelite in Pau, in the XIXth Century, who went to perch on the top of trees and forgot her sandal one day in a lime tree; etc.
All these people had the same attitude as Saint Teresa of Avila. They all felt shame and were uncomfortable about it. As Aime Michel writes in an article that he consecrates to levitation:
“It is evident that in their eyes, nothing is more incomprehensible, nothing is even more opposed to the gravity of an authentic religious sentiment than these evolutions in the air devoid of any apparent signification.”
Most of them, judging these phenomena absurd and derisory, never ceased praying to God to free them from them.
Levitation is not at all connected to sainthood. Many saints have never levitated. Only mystics or contemplatives are subject to this mysterious phenomenon, those who are called the ecstasy saints.
What is ecstasy? This is an embarrassing question, those who experience it being unable to describe what they see and what they feel… Let us say that it is a state of superior consciousness of which, scientifically speaking, we know nothing, but that scholars no longer deny. Many physiologists now perform research which will allow us perhaps one day to know more about these illuminations – these states of awakening as Doctor Godel calls them – which are nearly always accompanied by surprising secondary phenomena.
Levitation is one of them. There are others. For example, irradiation. We cite only two cases: when Francis of Assisi is surprised “floating at the height of a beech tree”, he is surrounded by such light that he is barely visible; and the day in April 1602 when Tobias de Ponte discovers Bernardi Realino “two and a half feet above the floor”, the monk is surrounded by a “light like that of a metalworker’s fire”. These irradiations are accompanied by another, secondary phenomenon: hyperthermia. When Mary-Magdalene of Pazzi entered into ecstasy, she emitted heat “formidable like that of a stove”. Renee-Paule Guillot, who has consecrated an article in Historia to these phenomena, tells us that Padre Pio, famous for his bilocations and his levitations, “made thermometres explode”.
All these cases are connected to Christian mysticism but of course they have also been observed in other religions, in Hindu and Muslim mysticism, among others. They are also found outside of any religious context. For example, with mediums like Eusapia Palladino or Daniel Dunglas Home.
It is also possible to reach ecstasy by the use of drugs. This ecstasy can be accompanied by levitation. Blaise Cendrars, who wrote a remarkable book on Joseph of Copertino, recounts that he saw, in Amazonia, some Indians smoke a plant called ibadou, which provokes ecstasy and puts the body in a state of weightlessness, to the point of making it capable of rising in the air and moving around without any point of contact…
When Aime Michel asked an eminent French physicist if the human body could fly, he replied:
“Why not? Physics have no reason to be reticent before the hypothesis of a phenomenon which does not violate the principle of the conservation of energy. The trick is to determine where the mystic in levitation finds the energy which raises him from the ground, and on what it is applied.”
In conclusion, let us quote these words from Saint Augustin:
“Man has in himself something that even his own mind does not know.”
I should like to add a personal note to Guy Breton’s text. When I was eight years old, I levitated in the street. The phenomenon was preceded and accompanied by a wonderful feeling of joy and love for the world and all that was in it. I wanted to hug the sky. I only rose thirty to forty centimetres, I think, and did not immediately realize that I was no longer touching the ground. As soon as I did, I started to worry about how I was going to land on the concrete footpath under me (I was on my way to a dancing lesson and was afraid of hurting an ankle) and if anyone could see me making a fool of myself. This put an end to the levitation. I landed safely and have flown many kilometres since then, but always inside an aeroplane.
I believe that our feelings alter the way in which our bodies vibrate and that this change can cause temporary (even permanent) physical change. When I felt fear, the levitation ceased. I think that the “walking on water” story in the Bible about Jesus and one of his disciples is a demonstration of this. Exhilaration – realisation by the non-swimmer that he is above water – fear – fall. (For those who don’t know the story, it has a happy ending. He doesn’t drown.)
I should like to add that I have never, ever, at any time, been considered a saint by anyone and, while some very weird things have happened to me in my life, they only demonstrate that absolutely anybody can experience or perform “paranormal” things. It would, however, be a lot better for the nerves if they didn’t tend to occur unexpectedly.