Levitation is the act of raising one’s self or an object without external aid. It has been scientifically verified aboard space stations, but is otherwise impossible. Tricksters have used illusion, strings, magnets, and other devices pull the ruse. However, since it is one of the easiest frauds to disprove, it is among the least frequently claimed of paranormal abilities. The few who attempt the charade today do it for a handful of audience members in a home setting, aided by darkness, lackeys, and suspension devices or weight-assisted trickery.
The only regular modern claimants are Transcendental Meditation proponents, who assume the lotus and bounce around chanting and rocking. They refer to this as Yogic Flying, which has three stages: Hopping, Floating, and Flying, with the first stage being the only one ever attained.
One technique for the charlatan of yore was to be sandwiched by a pair of strong henchmen, whom he tells he is becoming weightless. The sitter to the medium’s left would take his left hand, while the one on the right would place a hand on the medium’s shoes and hold them together. Done correctly, this would cause it to look like the medium was floating with minimal support, when of course his assistants were entirely responsible for his gravity defying.
Parlor tricksters and mediums were the most frequent levitation claimants, but the idea was too mystical for faith to be left out. It was a feature in the extinct religions of Gnosticism and Hellenism. It is still supported by Satanists, Buddhists, and Hindus, while Catholics have claimed a number of saints could do the trick. The ability is largely vacant in Protestant lore, although Jesus walking on water would be a close approximation. None of these claims have ever survived a scientific challenge, although the Hindus at least give the ability the excellent moniker of Frog Power.
Levitation reached its heyday in the 19th Century, being most popular in the urban U.S. and U.K. It fell out of favor when skeptics exposed their use of wires, pulleys, and lifting techniques. One of the more prominent charlatans was Daniel Home, who wowed audience members by levitating between two balconies before skeptics revealed that Home was merely resting on a connecting ledge, which oversized clothes shielded.
Another fraudster, Easapia Palldiono, claimed she could lift a table. Then two skeptics clandestinely entered a darkened dining room she was working in and snuck under the table. There, they saw the charlatan’s foot strike a table leg to produce raps, which was meant to frighten and distract. The table tilted to the right because of the pressure of her right hand on the surface. Next, she placed her left foot under the left table leg. Pressing down on the tabletop with her left hand and up with her left foot under the table leg, she lifted her foot, causing the table to seemingly rise.
Those less confident in their abilities used photographs. Examination revealed the ruse, with the usual culprit being muslin incorporated to suspend the objects. Signs of the fraud included blurry body parts that suggested bouncing, a waving scarf, and suspended hair. Very few photographs of purported levitation are offered any more since photos are much easier to manipulate and even the gullible would likely not be swayed.
If attempted at all today, the objects are much lighter than a body or table. The levitator, for instance, may use a pencil or telephone book pages. Doing this successfully requires control, not of the brain but of the breath. The trick is to clandestinely blow on the object, usually with the mouth half open. During the short time it takes the shot of breath to reach the object, the person will look away. Also, they are careful to blow at the surface, not the object.
The most well-known practitioner was James Hydrick, who demonstrated the ability on “That’s Incredible!” He failed to replicate the feat on Bob Barker’s “That’s My Line” when James Randi was on stage. Hydrick did it once, but then Randi placed packaging peanuts around the pages, peanuts that would move away if blown on.
Hydrick failed to show any telekinesis talents, but he demonstrated remarkable ability in the ad hoc reasoning department. He said stage lights were infusing the peanuts with a static charge, and that this charge added weight to the pages. Hydrick spent 90 minutes flailing and failing, blowing it indeed.