Last week a Hindu friend of mine sent me a photograph of a man who was levitating in the middle of Grafton Street in Dublin city centre. The levitator was wearing the orange-robes of a Hindu holy man but was pale skinned and blue-eyed. My friend also sent me the levitator’s name (Ananda) and phone number.
I call the number and a South African-accented man answers. He tells me he is only in Dublin for a few days, that he lives in Cork. We arrange to meet. He suggests McDonalds. I am surprised.
And so this morning I head into town armed with a spiral bound notebook and we meet in McDonalds. We sit in the café section. An elderly woman sitting next to us seems to be eavesdropping and throws me occasional dirty looks as the conversation progresses.
Ananda is wearing a black jacket and black trousers and his long hair is held up on the back of his head, tied up with his one dreadlock. He tells me his real name is Emil. He has a small black backpack beside him.
‘I’m a world traveller’ he says. ‘I’ve been travelling for 25 years looking for a place to settle and haven’t found a place yet so I’ve settled in myself’.
He tells me that he started life in South Africa as a Christian ‘but that didn’t really do it for me and then I looked into Hinduism and that didn’t do it for me either’. So now he does his own thing. He was even a Hindu monk or yogi for a time.
He quit life as a monk because, he says, he was disappointed by his teachers. ‘They were supposed to be vegetarian and spiritual and I caught one of them doing something very far removed from the path they were teaching. I’m not going to say what it was. But I left immediately. Then I met a person who taught me what I know now’. This person, he says, was an African from a remote village.
These days Ananda lives on a farm in West Cork, makes his own electricity and lives 20 minutes walk from the nearest road. He uses a thing called ‘woofing’ whereby people come and stay on the farm and help him with the work in exchange for accommodation. He spends three or four days a month in Dublin and this is when he levitates. He tells me that he’s not vegetarian. For the moment he is celibate (but not tied to it as a life choice).
He says that in his country it is said that those who are born with a helmet on their head are called to a spiritual life. It seems the ‘helmet’ is what in Ireland is known as a ‘caul’ or ‘cowl’ which is a kind of membrane that sometimes covers the head of a baby after birth. In South Africa it is said that a spiritual life is unavoidable for people born with this helmet.
I myself once worked with a woman from county Cork who’d been born with a ‘caul’ and it was seen as a precious thing because a caul meant a person couldn’t drown. As a child she kept her caul in a shoebox under her bed. It looked like shrivelled skin. She used to bring friends upstairs, pull out the shoebox and proudly show them the caul. Fishermen or sailors sometimes used to buy cauls in the hopes it would keep them safe.
Regardless of the reason why, Ananda has spent a lot of his life searching for spiritual answers. He talks about different dimensions of being – physical, mental, spiritual, astral. He mentions twelve dimensions and says that these are not removed from god but lead to god. He says he is ‘very involved in spiritual things’.
So what about the levitation? ‘It’s an illusion’ he tells me. ‘I can’t levitate. No-one can really levitate. I saw it in India and it’s very simple to do. It’s the same as what the yogis or sadhus in India do. They fake it. In all religions there are people who make use of religion to make money’.
Ananda then tells me about an Indian guy called Basava Premanand who spent most of his life exposing the tricks of holy men in India and then sending people out onto the streets to perform the tricks. ‘There’s a lot of trickery in the Christian revival movement too’ he says.
On Grafton street when he ‘levitates’ he sometimes has a crowd of hundreds around him. He says people respond in all kinds of ways – ‘disbelief, aggression, anger, jealousy’. He’s also been attacked but, he says, looking bemused, ‘I’ve only been attacked by women not men’.
‘Why do they attack you?’ I ask him. ‘I think it’s too much for them to comprehend’ he explains. ‘I allow them to take pictures and to check underneath. It’s very well done’.
I chance my arm – ‘you’d hardly tell me how it’s done?’ ‘No’ he says, smiling, ‘I don’t tell the secret’.
So why do the levitation trick? ‘It’s something I do. I enjoy it. It makes people happy. It makes people sad. I make good money. And I give something in return’.
He pulls a little piece of white paper from his pocket and hands it to me. This is what he gives to people who watch him. It says ‘smile, be happy’. ‘The simple order in life’ he says ‘is smile and be happy and don’t think too much’.