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James Randi Educational Foundation

An Encyclopedia of Claims, Frauds, and Hoaxes of the Occult and Supernatural

Introduction | "R" Reading | Curse of the Pharaoh | End-of-the-World Prophecies

Index | A | B | C | D | E | F | G | H | I | J | K | L | M | N | O | P | Q | R | S | T | U | V | W | Y | Z

flying Known to the Roman Catholic church as “transvection,” the supposed ability of witches to fly——with or without a broomstick——has always been an essential feature of witchcraft. An awkward dilemma for the demonologists occurred when, in A.D. 906 (or perhaps earlier), the Canon Episcopi (which became part of church law) denied that witches could really fly. They resolved this by deciding that if a witch merely believed that he or she could fly, sufficient reason existed for condemnation.
      Flying was supposed to be brought about by the use of an anointing oil made by straining a mixture of olive oil, vervain, and mint. Psychedelic substances such as belladonna and mandrake applied to the body might also produce hallucinations of flying or of levitation.
      To conjurors, of course, the illusion known as levitation is well-known. It is accomplished by a number of means, some very technically complex, others quite simple. A popular trick performed by persons with pretensions of psychic powers consists of asking four or five volunteers to place one of their index fingers beneath the armpits and knees of a seated person (or, in the case of a standing person, beneath the insteps, chin, and elbows) and by simultaneously lifting upward, cause the person to rise. The even distribution of the weight allows the trick to work easily. This was described by Samuel Pepys (1633-1703) in his famous Diary as being done by French schoolgirls upon a corpulent pastry chef.
      Certain Christian holy persons are said to have levitated. Saint Philip of Neri went up several yards during prayer, even to the ceiling on occasion. Ignatius Loyola not only raised several feet but became luminous in the process. Saint Robert of Palentin was not as holy, going up only eighteen or twenty inches, and Saint Dunstan rose off the ground a little bit just before his death. Even the famous Girolamo Savonarola, sentenced to death, rose off the floor of his cell into midair and remained there for some time. Either this was not seen by his jailers, or they didn't care: He was taken out and burned alive, anyway.
      See also ointment.

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