A trickster levitator in Cartagena, Colombia
One of the poses I often teach in my yoga class is called the butterfly. You sit up with the bottom of your feet together, knees out to the sides. You hold onto your toes and move your knees up and down like wings of a butterfly. After fifteen or twenty seconds, I sometimes say, “Okay, now pick up speed, and maybe a little elevation.”
That’s the same thing as saying, “Start levitating now.” It’s a joke, of course. I don’t expect any of my students to levitate. If someone did, I would say, “Okay, you teach the class and show me how to do that!”
However, levitation apparently is something more than we can just do in our dreams. One of the most documented stories about levitation was the case of a Catholic priest, who was observed levitating many times by many people. He wasn’t a yogi, either. His name was Joseph Desa and he was born in Copertino, Italy in 1604. Like most people of his time, he lived in poverty and under the thumb of the Catholic Church, which dominated life in 17th century Europe.
At age nine, Joseph contracted an infection that led to gangrene. He was crippled and bedridden for five years. Finally, a hermit, known for his surgical skills, operated on the boy and amazingly (for that era) he survived. But Joseph was uneducated and socially isolated and often fell into trances, especially when he heard church music. His head would drop back and his jaw would go slack, resulting in his nickname, “Boccaperta” (gaping mouth).
In spite of his lack of social skills, by age 25, he was ordained a priest and his unusual abilities as a prophet and healer grew. Not not only was he capable of telepathy, precognition and power over animals and natural forces, but while leading mass he had the habit of levitating, which startled and disturbed his congregation.
As a result, the Church moved him from parish to parish to avoid controversy, and the attention of the Inquisition. But soon the inquisitors took an interest in the priest and his supernatural abilities. He was put on trial by the Inquisition and ordered to say mass for the inquisitors. He did so, and levitated in front of the Inquisition. Amazingly, he escaped being burned at the stake, and simply received a stern warning.
However, he couldn’t control his abilities and when he continued to levitate, He was tried again by the Inquisition. He was found guilty and put under house arrest for the rest of his life, a modest sentence considering he lived during the peak years of the Inquisition. No doubt his life was saved by the fact that he wore the Church vestments as an ordained priest. A century after his death he was canonized by Pope Benedict XIV as St. Joseph. In vetting the new saint, the Vatican amassed 13 volumes of information about him that remains in the Vatican archives to this day.
Joseph spent 16 years at the Grotella Convent near Copertino. During that time, he was observed levitating 70 times by numerous witnesses. Here’s one example from the book, The Man Who Could Fly, by Michael Gross.
”April 30, 1639: After stepping inside the Church, Giuseppe (St. Joseph) glanced at a painting of the Holy Virgin located in the vault above the wooden frieze of the altar of the Immaculate Conception, a Madonna painted with the Baby Jesus in her arms in a way that strikingly resembled the Madonna of the Grotella Convent. At the sight of her, Padre Giuseppe gave a huge scream and flew about thirty meters in the air and, embracing her, said, ‘Ah, Mamma mia!and, embracing the her, said, “Ah, Mamma, you have followed me!” It all happened so quickly that those present were filled with sacred terror, marveling to each other , and remaining in a stupor over the Padre’s performance.”
Grosso is convinced that the stories are true and said that during Joseph’s live thousands of people witness the levitating priest. So it seems, levitation is possible. After all, it only takes one person rising from the floor without trickery to prove that humans can fly.