Levitation Revisited

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Elizabeth Tucker


One intriguing but understudied form of children’s folklore is levitation, a ritual in which several preadolescents or adolescents lift a friend with only a few fingers of each hand. Sometimes the individual who gets lifted lies on the floor; other times he or she stands or sits in a chair. Records and studies since the seventeenth century have identified this process as a “spell,” an “inchantment,” a “curiosity,” a “game,” a “trick,” a “procedure,” or an “activity.” In my 1984 study of children’s levitation and trance sessions, I suggest, using Mary Douglas’s definition of ritual as symbolic action, “The presence of certain symbolic elements [in levitation], over a wide span of time and space, creates a sense of ritualistic potency” (1973,126). Revisiting the subject of my earlier study, I find that further investigation of levitation’s history enhances our understanding of its meaning. Both solemn and playful, patterned and open-ended, levitation rituals teach us important lessons about children’s, adolescents’, and adults’ behavior and needs.


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