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Did an Italian priest really fly?

Posted on 23 October 2017, 10:14

When I wrote an article about levitation for Atlantis Rising, a popular national magazine, some years ago, I began with one reported to have taken place on the Sea of Galilee two-thousand years ago and then jumped ahead to October 4, 1630, when Joseph of Copertino, an Italian priest, was assisting in a procession honoring St. Francis of Assisi.  It was reported that Joseph was suddenly lifted into the sky and hovered there for some time before a crowd.  Upon descending, he was so embarrassed that he ran to his mother’s house and hid.  It was one of many “flights” that the future saint would experience, apparently while in a trance state, or in a state of ecstasy or rapture.

Well documented reports of levitations observed by some distinguished men of science,  including chemist Sir William Crookes, physicist Sir William Barrett, engineer William Crawford, and biologist Alfred Russel Wallace had led me to conclude that levitation does take place, but my limited research into the life of Joseph left me to believe that while Joseph was likely “levitated” the stories about him were probably greatly exaggerated and that his levitations were not nearly as high or as long or as often as the brief biographies I had read seemed to suggest.  Having now read Dr. Michael Grosso’s very well-done book, The Man Who Could Fly: St. Joseph of Copertino and the Mystery of Levitation, (Rowman & Littlefield,), I am less skeptical about the dynamics of Joseph’s reported levitations.

Grosso was able to locate and draw from some lengthy and detailed early references on Joseph. He stresses that Joseph’s case doesn’t depend on one or a few observations but on 35 years of roughly continuous eyewitness testimony by some very credible people, including popes, surgeons, kings, and ambassadors, much of which was documented by early historians, including one Arcangelo Rosmi, referred to as Joseph’s diarist. 

In one of Rosmi’s diary entries, he wrote that upon arriving in the basilica of Assisi, Joseph observed a painting of the Virgin Mary and “gave a huge scream and flew about thirty meters in the air and, embracing her, said, ‘Ah, Mamma mia! 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.”  Three other priests witnessed the levitation and confirmed the height of about 30 meters.

On another occasion, the Knight Baldassare Rossi, believed to be insane, was brought before Joseph by others, who asked Joseph to cure him.  When Joseph placed his hands on Rossi’s head, Joseph went into a rapture, rising high off the ground while carrying Rossi.  They remained in the air for some 10 minutes, before descending.  Rossi then appeared to be perfectly sound of mind. 

Francesco Pierpaolo, a doctor who attended Joseph, reported that he observed Joseph “lifted up” on four separate occasions, once while he was operating on him. On one of the lifts, Joseph floated in the air for seven or eight minutes.  However, his most frequent levitations were when he was saying Mass. “During a single Mass, one could verify three or four cases of levitation,” Gustavo Parisciani, one of Joseph’s biographers, wrote. “It would be impossible to narrate one by one the mystical manifestations, which were the daily joy and the daily torment of Joseph.” 

Abandoned by his father and raised by a strict mother, Joseph (1603-1663) grew up as a socially awkward person.  He was given a moniker that translates to “Gapingmouth.”  His younger years were further complicated by a physical deformity, a melon-sized growth on his back, which isolated him and caused him to turn inward.  He emerges as something of a simpleton, his superiors at one monastery referring to him as “absolutely not suited for religion, thickheaded and neglectful, ignorant and unfit for society.”  It was said he was more afraid of women than of the devil. And yet, his spirituality – his love of solitude, fasting, prayer, and meditation – apparently convinced examiners that Joseph should be ordained a Franciscan priest. 

“Once ordained, it was as if had obtained a license to pull out all stops and abandon himself to ecstacy…,” Grosso writes, going on to say that his public levitations and other strange phenomena were very visible, very dramatic, and very disturbing, especially to the Catholic Church.
Joseph had other psychic abilities, including clairvoyance, precognition, the odor of sanctity, “infused wisdom” and healing, all of which Grosso discusses.  He further examines similar psychic abilities with others and even mentions one case of levitation which he himself observed. 

The Church didn’t know what to make of his levitations and other psychic abilities. They were observed fact, but the question was whether they were divine gifts or diabolic influences.  As a result, Joseph was subject to several inquisitions and it was finally decided that he should live segregated from the general public.  In effect, he was under “house arrest” for much of life. 

“ explain the whole mass of reports and claims as pie in the sky, we would have to assume that large numbers of people were having the same illusion, systematically misinterpreting the movements of one friar for thirty-five years, and that grades of people were swearing in public that they saw things they only imagined,” Grosso writes. “We would have to assume that numerous Church authorities were lying or exaggerating and for some unknown reason hiding and shunting around a completely innocent, nonlevitating friar.  One would have posit an incredible amount of mendacity and stupidity on the part of Rossi, Nuti, Bernini, Lambertini, and all the processi deposers who recorded their observations.”

Grosso sees levitation as “just a very spectacular manifestation of mind acting on body,” seemingly rejecting or ignoring the “spirit” explanation of the phenomenon as advanced or implied in the levitation of others, i.e., the individual wasn’t “levitating” of his own free will, but was “being levitated,” or “lifted,” by spirit entities around him. He does allude to this explanation in places and the stories of Joseph’s levitations indicate that most, if not all, were not voluntary, but academics, of which Grosso is one, are usually reluctant to suggest spirit intervention. It is more “scientific” to attribute it all to the mind and avoid the idea of spirits altogether, even if there might be some kind of mind-spirit link. 

Grosso considers the possibility of sexual repression triggering Joseph’s states of ecstasy.  Nothing is mentioned of autism, which seemed to me to fit with much of Joseph’s personality. Nevertheless, as Grosso states in the Introduction, his book is about the possibility of transcendence. “Joseph’s story has implications for the mind-body problem, for the study of extraordinary mental and physical phenomena, for possible links to the new physics, and for new ways of approaching the old debate between science and religion,” he explains, also speculating on the life after death implications. 

“If we hope to mentally grasp these experiences,” Grosso concludes, “a more elastic concept of mind and body seems necessary.”

Michael Tymn is the author of The Afterlife Revealed: What Happens After We Die, Resurrecting Leonora Piper: How Science Discovered the Afterlife, and Dead Men Talking: Afterlife Communication from World War I.

Next blog post:  November 6 (more on levitation)

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Professor works to develop Soul Phone

Posted on 09 October 2017, 12:37

Because the flying machine developed by Wilbur and Orville Wright remained in the air for only 59 seconds and covered a distance of only 852 feet on that first day of machine-powered human flight in 1903, the idea of commercial air travel must have seemed very far-fetched or impractical at the time.  In fact, the Wright Brothers were initially ignored by the scientific community and the media. “But their proof-of-concept experiments at Kitty Hawk clearly showed the feasibility of future human flight,” says Gary E. Schwartz, Ph.D., professor of psychology, (below) medicine, neurology, psychiatry, and surgery at the University of Arizona. “Similarly, our soul phone research demonstrates the feasibility of future electronic communication with spirits.”


Little seems to have changed since the days of the Wright Brothers when it comes to thinking outside the box, especially when it involves something not perfectly fitting into a materialistic paradigm. In a day and age when academicians and scientists invite scorn and impeachment from their peers and the mainstream media by daring to even hint at the possibility of a spirit world, Schwartz speaks frankly and without hesitation about the soul phone prototype project (SoulPhone™) to which he is now dedicated.  This project goes well beyond recognizing the existence of a spirit world; it hypothesizes that we can establish regular communication with its inhabitants.

“Currently we are working on developing two practical first generation prototypes,” Schwartz explains.  “One is an optical soul switch (SoulSwitch™), the other is an electronic soul switch.  Each has the potential, in principle, to be developed to produce 98-99 percent accurate ‘yes – no’ binary responses [from spirit communicators]. Our goal is to have a working ‘yes – no’ soul switch in as early as a year from now that can accurately use a ‘twenty questions’ paradigm.”

Schwartz goes on to say that if either the optical or electronic prototype soul switch is developed, as predicted, he anticipates that it will take a second year to produce a working prototype soul keyboard consisting of a minimum of 40 keys using the standard qwerty arrangement.  This will permit “soul texting,” potentially as effective as the everyday texting we are now familiar with.

Such ideas exceed the boggle threshold of even those who believe in a spirit world, but perhaps no more so than the Boeing 787 Dreamliner would have completely dumbfounded or awed people of a century ago. 

Preliminarily, before accepting the possibility of Schwartz’s ideas, one must acknowledge the existence of a spirit world and further accept the abundance of research carried out by Schwartz and other esteemed scientists and scholars strongly suggesting that communication between the spirit realms and this more material realm has taken place and continues to take place.

Schwartz, who received his doctorate from Harvard University and served as professor of psychology and psychiatry at Yale before assuming his position at the University of Arizona, where he is also director of the Laboratory for Advances in Consciousness in Health, carried out replicated laboratory research using double-blinded experiment designs with a number of clairvoyant mediums during the late 1990s and early 2000s, finally concluding that communication with the “dead” does take place, though not without many obstacles, and that human consciousness survives physical death.  “I can no longer ignore the data and dismiss the words,” he wrote in his 2002 book, The Afterlife Experiments, about what he had observed with the mediums he tested.  “They are as real as the sun, the trees, and our television sets, which seem to pull pictures out of the air.”

Much more recently, in the May 2017 issue of The Journal for Spiritual and Consciousness Studies, he stated that over the past 20 years, extensive scientific evidence has led to the conclusion that human consciousness survives physical death, and he stressed that much of the information obtained through skilled mediums cannot be explained by fraud, magician tricks, rater bias, experimenter bias, or even by mind reading. “The scientific evidence ... may seem impossible to some readers,” he explained.  “The evidence may challenge your assumptions and beliefs about reality.  The evidence may defy your commonsense and knowledge, and even seem absurd.”  Nevertheless, he went on to say, “the totality of the experimental evidence ... points to a deep and transformative truth.”

Early Scientific Research

Long before Schwartz began his research, well before he was born, during the latter part of the nineteenth and early part of the twentieth centuries, some very distinguished scientists, including biologist Alfred Russel Wallace, co-originator with Charles Darwin of the natural selection theory of evolution, chemist Sir William Crookes, a pioneer in x-ray technology, physicist Sir Oliver Lodge, a pioneer in electricity and radio, and astronomer Camille Flammarion, founder of the French Astronomical Society, arrived at the same conclusions after extensive research with different types of mediums, mostly trance mediums.  But perhaps the most dedicated researcher of that era was psychologist James H. Hyslop, a professor of logic and ethics at Columbia University before becoming a full-time psychical researcher in 1902 after being introduced to the subject by William James, the esteemed Harvard professor who is considered one of the pioneers of modern day psychology.

Hyslop cautiously moved from skeptic to neutral scientific observer to believer.  After arriving at some conclusions, he was not one to sit safely on the fence as so many other researchers of the time did for fear of ridicule. 

“Personally I regard the fact of survival after death as scientifically proved,” he wrote. “I agree that this opinion is not upheld in scientific quarters.  But this is neither our fault nor the fault of the facts.  Evolution was not believed until long after it was proved.  The fault lay with those who were too ignorant or too stubborn to accept the facts.  History shows that every intelligent man who has gone into this investigation, if he gave it adequate examination at all, has come out believing in spirits; this circumstance places the burden or proof on the shoulders of the skeptic.”

But while Hyslop, Wallace, Crookes, Lodge, Flammarion, and numerous others found strong evidence to support the survival hypothesis, the fundamentalists of both orthodox religion and mainstream science rejected or simply ignored their findings. Religion saw it as demonic because some of the information coming through mediums was in conflict with established dogma and doctrine, while science saw the “spiritual” phenomena of mediumship as a return to the superstitions and follies of religion.  In an age of reason and enlightenment, such beliefs were held only by the uneducated.  Moreover, there were too many charlatans muddying up the “spiritualism” scene.  While William James reasoned that one white crow proved that all crows aren’t black, the general public reasoned that the existence of black crows proved that all crows are black. 

After the death of Hyslop in 1920, the field of psychical research began to fade away.  Seeing the scorn heaped on respected scientists and scholars who had ventured into such research, fewer and fewer men and women dared enter the field,  a field in which there was very little funding. During the 1930s, psychical research gave way to a new field, called parapsychology.  To give the field some respectability, the parapsychologist avoided mediumship as much as possible, as well as the survival hypothesis, focusing their efforts on examining extra-sensory perception (ESP), such phenomena as telepathy,  telekinesis and holistic healing. While evidence of ESP conflicted somewhat with the materialistic paradigm of mainstream science, it did not seriously threaten it as the phenomena of ESP were viewed as not-yet understood workings of the subconscious mind.  Parapsychologists found it easier to get funding if they attributed it all to the subconscious mind, thereby aligning it all with psychology rather than religion. 

Meanwhile, research in the disciplines of reincarnation studies and near-death experiences developed during the second half of the twentieth century and renewed interest in the survival hypothesis.  Not until Schwartz began studying clairvoyant mediums during the late 1990s was there again any serious research involving mediums.  However, the resistance met by Schwartz from his peers in science was just as great, if not greater, than that encountered by the pioneers a hundred years earlier.  The skeptics, more properly the pseudoskeptics, attempted to poke holes in his methodology or to impugn his character.  But Schwartz refused to wimp out, as so many have done, and pushed on in the pursuit of truth – a truth that involves the most important issue concerning humankind.

Soul Phone Prototype

Schwartz says that, over the past decade, he and his team have tested nine different possible methods for detecting the presence of spirit, and all have produced positive “proof-of-concept” effects.  “By ‘proof-of-concept’ we mean statistically significant effects measuring diverse signals ranging from (1) single photons of light in a pitch black environment, through (2) tiny changes in magnetic fields recorded in a completely shielded zero gauss chamber, to (3) subliminal audio signals recorded in a Faraday shielded professional sound isolation chamber,” he explains.  He presented the results of three proof-of-concept Soul Voice (SoulVoice™) experiments at the June 2017 meetings of the Society for Scientific Exploration held at Yale University. 

I asked Schwartz if he anticipates difficulties in getting mainstream science to accept the soul phone if he does develop a working model.  “The answer depends upon the level of accuracy of the soul phone and the kinds of demonstration experiments we perform,” he responded. “I have designed a set of three categories of ‘thought experiments’ – what Einstein and others have historically called ‘gedankenexperiments.’ Taken together, this trilogy of experiments provides convincing evidence that a specific spirit is using the soul keyboard to answer specific questions.

“The trilogy of experiments involve: (1) typing skills tests, (2) content knowledge tests, and (3) identification verification tests.  None of the types of tests are convincing by themselves. However, it is the combination of the three tests that inexorably points to the conclusion that an ‘identifiable spirit’ is using the soul keyboard and is ‘expressing accurate content knowledge’ unique to her or him.”

Schwartz has concluded that mainstream science will come to accept the reality of the soul phone to the extent that the above trilogy of experiments can be replicated.  However, he has also concluded that a number of diehard skeptics will resist the overwhelming evidence no matter how convincing it is to others.

Michael Tymn is the author of The Afterlife Revealed: What Happens After We Die, Resurrecting Leonora Piper: How Science Discovered the Afterlife, and Dead Men Talking: Afterlife Communication from World War I.

The Survival of the Soul and Its Evolution After Death by Pierre-Emile Cornillier is available from Amazon

Next blog post:  October 23 

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The Only Planet of Choice: Visitations – Many people use the word ‘Alien’ to describe a visitor from outer space. Extra terrestrial is another word, which is rather more user friendly. For the sake of the question and answer format, the word used by the questioner has been left, though even Tom questions our use of‘Alien’. Should we wish to foster openess between all beings of the Universe perhaps we should also look at our vocabulary? In a discussion between Andrew and Tom many years earlier, Andrew had asked Tom about UFOs and whether they were created manifestations. Tom had replied: “Many of the flying things that you call UFOs come from our place, but they come from other places also, and they do come in physical form. But many of them are not physical. They are like your movie screen”. Read here
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