Carlos S. Alvarado, PhD, Research Fellow, Parapsychology Foundation
Philosopher Dr. Michael Grosso, who I have known for many years, has a PhD in philosophy and an MA in classical Greek. He is known for various publications in which he has used psychic phenomena to broaden our understanding of the world and ourselves, among them Frontiers of the Soul: Exploring Psychic Evolution (1992), and Experiencing the Next World Now (2004). In addition, he has discussed in various forums the implications of parapsychology for religion.
Dr. Michael Grosso
In the book discussed here, The Man Who Could Fly: St Joseph of Copertino and the Mystery of Levitation (Rowman and Littlefield, 2015), Michael continues and extends his work focusing on the levitations of Italian saint Joseph of Copertino.
Here is the book’s table of contents, followed by an interview with Michael.
Table of Contents
Part I: The Man and His Marvels
1. Life and Times
2. A New Force
3. The Case for Joseph’s Levitations
4. A Complement of Talents
5. The Mystic
Part II: Steps Toward Understanding
6. Reconnoitering Explanations
7. Joseph as Performance Artist
8. Speculations on the Physics of Levitation
Part III: Concluding Reflections
9. The Parapsychology of Religion: A New Science of Spirit?
Can you give us a brief summary of the book?
The book has an Introduction and three parts. The Introduction discusses the general purpose and peculiar challenge of writing about a man who could fly. The first part is about the man and his strange talents: the first chapter on Joseph’s life and turbulent times; a chapter that describes the eyewitness testimony of his levitations; one that reviews accounts of his precognition, clairvoyance, supernormal healing, odor of sanctity, etc.; and a crucial chapter on his mystical life and practices. The repeated ecstasies are causally linked to the anomalous movements: his body hovering, soaring, and flying backwards.
In describing Joseph’s phenomena, I compare them to similar accounts, e.g., other saints and mediums. This leads to part two where I try to put Joseph’s case in a larger frame of meaning and suggest possible explanations. There are chapters on ecstasy and the mind-body connection; on the Counter-Reformation baroque sensibility; on Joseph as performance artist; on art, music, and architecture as conducive to mystical flight; and a chapter of conjectures on the physics of levitation.
The last part of the book is short, one concluding chapter. In light of phenomena of the Joseph type, it talks about the parapsychology of religion. It attempts to shift the emphasis in the science-religion debate from cosmology to consciousness research.
What is your background in parapsychology, and with the topic of the book specifically?
From early childhood I recall distinct but fleeting psychic oddities. Periodically they flare up, sometimes with more panache than usual. For example, I’ve been physically attacked by ghosts and once foretold in public (from three dreams) the near-assassination of president Reagan in 1981. Along the way I discovered parapsychology and psychical research and soon found that my experiences were drops in an ocean of mostly forgotten data.
My interest lies in phenomena of extreme situations like near-death, crisis coincidences, emotions of love and war, artistic inspiration, shamanic trance, mystical transport, and so on. The more extreme claims of mind-body influence prompt one to wonder about the mind’s limits: voodoo deaths, placebos that melt tumors, hypnotic suggestions that cure congenital diseases like icthyosis, mediums that materialize hands you can shake, stigmata that never get infected and exude strange perfumes, and, of course, the star of anomalies — levitation.
What motivated you to write this book?
On a trip to Italy I acquired a 1722 copy of Domenico Bernini’s biography of the Venerable Joseph of Copertino. Eric Dingwall singled out this text for its copious quotes of eyewitness testimony to Joseph’s phenomena. So the biography was translated into English and I started to write a short introduction. Instead, I wrote a book, feeling the need to put Joseph’s story into historical context.
Several things motivated me. The case is extraordinary in the annals of psychophysical supernormality; as far as the variety of the phenomena and the abundance of documented testimony. All in all, the friar’s tale is a whopping body-blow to materialism, for it appears that a peculiar mental state can under rare circumstances attenuate the common effects of gravity. This kind of fact, I think it can be shown, has implications for the theory of religion. Is levitation a “miracle” or a rare human potential? If, moreover, the facts are as described, they present a fascinating problem for modern science, especially for quantum mechanics.
Why do you think your book is important and what do you hope to accomplish with it?
I think it’s important to call attention to paradigm-busting phenomena like levitation, the records for which exist but lie mostly hidden in dusty archives, ignored and unexamined.
Without a vision the people will perish, said the old psalm writer, and William James strongly agreed. You hear it nowadays: the world needs a new vision, a new story to compete with the dominant visions and stories, the ones wreaking all the havoc on the planet.
Joseph is a radical counterexample to everything normal and comprehensible in our present world. At the same time, he had a strange gift for keeping at bay the might of the physical universe: gravity. A mystery to dwell on. How is such a fantastic thing possible?
What do I hope to accomplish? I would hope in some way to advance the cause of self-knowledge. I’m not sure how, except perhaps to thoughtfuly ask: Is there (after all) a spark of divinity in us that we have forgotten? Are we beings who exist in oblivion to what we are?
What have I learned from my study of Joseph? It is hard to explain but after my rummaging around in the saint’s universe for a while, I find myself more disposed to make light of things. An attitude, like an atmosphere settles around me. True, I may not be able to levitate like St. Joseph, but I can practice levity; in levity, I make light of myself and of the world. As long as I manage to abide there, nothing can bring me down.
To order the book click here.