An Experience in Levitation


IN my somewhat isolated childhood, I enjoyed, in common with the four or five others necessary to the experiment, a secret and thrilling familiarity with those “ very curious experiences of levitation ” to which a Contributor of the Club invites investigation ; and I still believe in those experiences, though in maintaining that belief I subject myself to the derision of superior minds by whom I am now adjudged old enough to know better. I do not pretend to account for the performance in which I have successfully assisted, and of which I have myself been the subject ; I only know that, under certain conditions of respiration, it is possible to cause a person of no light weight, prone upon a table, to rise several feet in air, supported only by the tips of the forefingers of the — operators, shall I say ?

I was made acquainted with the “ tradition ” by a cousin who had come to visit us on the old plantation. She was a girl of twelve, — a little older than myself, — with nerves of steel and a will of iron, whom to hear was to obey : therefore, when she whispered that she could teach us a mystery, we consented forthwith to be instructed. But she did not give to this mystery the learned term “ levitation ; ” she called it “ hoisting by the spirit,” and she initiated us under circumstances that possibly aided the success of the experiment.

There were six of us, between the ages of eleven and thirteen, left to our own devices, one rainy autumn day. Our elders had gone to dine at a neighboring plantation, some miles away, and Mom Binah had us in charge. She was old and rheumatic, and loved ease and quiet; so she locked the outer doors to protect us against exposure to the weather, and sat down to doze by the nursery fire, while we stole away to the garret at the bidding of our irresistible cousin.

The garret, reached by a steep stair in a closet at the end of the second - story hall, occupied the entire space under the roof, and was dimly lighted by a small window in each gable. Like the generality of garrets, this one was a receptacle for dilapidated furniture, old trunks, and all such odds and ends. After some search we discovered a table, which by a little tinkering was made to stand firmly upon its legs. This we placed in that part of the garret farthest from the entrance, and one of our number, a jolly, fat boy of thirteen, consented to stretch himself upon it straight out on his back, with his arms lightly crossed at the waist. (It will be observed that this is the easiest possible position to assume.) Then four of us took our places, two on each side, and followed directions. We were told to close the thumb and all the fingers of each hand except the forefinger ; then, drawing a deep breath, to raise our hands simultaneously high above our heads ; as we slowly “ released ” our breath, we were to bring our hands down so that the forefingers touched the table. This was to be done three times, with great solemnity and in perfect silence, save for the profound inspirations, in which the “patient also took part ; at the third descent of the clenched hands, the extended forefingers were thrust under the ankles or the shoulders — according as we stood — of the boy on the table, whereupon, by no conscious effort on our part beyond that required to retain the deep breath, the boy was lifted as high as our heads. I will not affirm that he was lifted as high as we had raised our hands during the initiatory process, but he was raised on the support of eight slender forefingers much higher than we four together could have lifted him in our arms, for he was a heavy boy. He did not fall when he “ had gone as high as the spirit willed,” to use our cousin’s occult formula, but seemed to descend gently, and without any tax upon our strength.

Now this was done many times, until the experiment had been tried upon each one of us. We had been required to maintain the utmost solemnity, and indeed we were too earnestly interested for levity, until one of our number — I think it was that dreadful boy — burst a button, whereupon laughter took possession of us, just as we had “ hoisted” the patient, who fell, in spite of our eight supporting fingers, and the table came to the floor with a crash that instantly hushed our ill-timed mirth. In the midst of the ominous silence that followed, and through the dull drip, drip, of the rain outside, we heard a step, slow, measured, inevitable ; I shiver even now as I recall that rhythmic sound of doom. It was dark in the garret, and we huddled together against the chimney, awaiting we knew nut what horror of the invisible, with eyes staring at the garret entrance, where presently towered Mom Binah in judicial wrath.

“ Mom Binah ! Mom Binah ! ” we cried in shrill chorus, hoping to propitiate her by a frank confession, and eager to excite an interest in our strange experiment. “ Mom Binah, sure as you live, we can lift people on the tips of our fingers as high as our heads. It is hoisting by the spirit. We could lift you. If you don’t believe it, just let us try ” —

“In cose I b’lieves hit,” said Mom Binah, with stately displeasure. “Hit is plumb beginst natcher, — dat hukkom I’m boun’ ter b’lieve hit. But you don’t projic’ on me. You all is tamperin’wid Satan unbeknownst,”— we ourselves had thought as much when we heard those steps on the stairs, — “an’ you all hustle outen yere,” commanded Mom Binah ; “ hustle out, I tell you, an’ say yo’ prahs, every one on you, an’ don’t let me hear no mo’ h’istin’ by the sperrit.”

That last injunction we strictly obeyed ; but the dread thought of tampering with Satan could not withhold us from practicing in secret, and I know whereof I speak when I say the lifting can be done.