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When People Could Fly cover
When People Could Fly - 1997

When People Could Fly


   The flying phenomenon occurred for only a brief period in history and was marked, says biologist Isobel Simms in Flight, the Great Secret, “by the cells’ ability to fill with oxygen and maintain it when a person took an exceptionally deep breath.  Then with as little effort as passing to the brain the message to rise from a chair or walk, the individual sent the brain instructions to fly.  At this command the body, visibly swollen, would rise from the ground with the portly grace of a hot air balloon.”

   The most serious problem confronting the flyers was wind, since sudden tugs of air, unexpected downdrafts, or long sweeps of horizontal gale-like currents could blow a person far from home.  Most people, however, soon learned not to fly too high, and the majority achieved the required dexterity by utilizing the wind to their advantage through kicking, pawing or sailing on the air currents, or through using hands and feet as rudders.  As an added precaution, people avoided flying after dark and in bad weather except in cases of emergency.

   Like flight, landing was achieved by sending a message to the brain to descend, at which the cells slowly released the stored oxygen “in a sort of cellular decompression,” says Simms, and the body drifted downward, feet first, touching the earth with virtually no impact, although children, to their parents’ consternation, tried to “belly in” or “dive headfirst.”  The descent was so slow, however, that the result of such juvenile enthusiasms was almost always harmless.


   This “evolutionary quirk,” as nineteenth century biologist Jacques Hebert termed the flying phenomenon, lasted for roughly a hundred years, coming to prominence somewhere between 960 and 1020 A.D., a period of relative global tranquility, when the Holy Roman Empire was revived in Europe, the Sung Dynasty was established in China, King Bagauda brought settled rule to Kano in Africa (where the Empire of Ghana was already in the middle of its 130—year Golden Age), the Mayans had come out of the jungle and were flourishing on the Yucatan Peninsula, and Mahmud, the Turkish ruler of Ghazni founded his empire in North India.

   At that time the earth was composed of a handful of large cities from which many roads led through forests and valleys, plains and mountain ranges, joining scattered towns and villages, which when seen from horseback or on foot appeared greatly isolated from each other, but when viewed from high above revealed themselves to be inextricably bound in an interlocking series of routes which webbed Europe, Asia and Africa in a continuous network of highways, roads and trails.  There is no doubt that this latter picture must have been the one seen by people as they flew.

   Historians such as Gaspar Rodriguez and Christopher Burne-Smith speculate that it was this changed point of view, in fact, which brought about the period of peace and harmony that prevailed over most of the planet at this time and, until the discovery of the flying documents, had been thought of as a coincidence or an “aberration in human relationships,” as social anthropologist Willard Petry recently wrote.



   How people discovered they could fly has still not been established, but by 980 A.D., designated town councils in Europe and Asia were regularly taking to the air at the least provocation.  When factions within a village disagreed on a religious or political issue or when two towns disputed a boundary or behavior of their citizens in one another’s territory, these councils would rise into the air over their respective clusters of houses, until each group was satisfied that the other was not armed.  Then drifting toward one another and sitting cross-legged in one large assembly hundreds of feet above the countryside, these councils of the air would discuss their differences “through the sunlit mornings and afternoons,” wrote Claude of Anjou, “as cloud-shadows dragged over the quilt-like landscape below.”

   Discovered in the archives of the Abbey of Toulouse in 1952, the private diary of this venerable historian, who lived from 950- 1030 and is known chiefly for his work on the rise of the German Kingdom under Otto I, reveals Claude to have been an eye-witness to a number of these mid-air meetings, which at one point he describes to have been “as much heightened spiritually as they were physically, as if the bird’s—eye view of the landscape below had struck the participants with a realization of the insignificance of their covetousness and complaints, although their closeness to God’s canopy could also explain the almost always felicitous results of these convocations.”

   Entries in the long–suppressed 1000-volume Chinese encyclopedia, begun in 978 and confined to the use of only the eminent scholars until the communist takeover in 1949, document a detailed picture of how similar meetings were carried out in that country. “The talks, rarely led by a government functionary, were conducted by representative village elders, whom all below could see discussing the issue, sitting crosslegged while bobbing on the air currents, the hems of their gowns rippling like penants from their seated figures.”  Another entry concludes, “These harmonious pictures seem to have filled the peasantry with such serenity and good humor that they went about their business with happy hearts.”

   Similar reports have been found in histories written everywhere on the planet during this period, and where writing was unknown, such as in the New World and Africa, stone carvings on temples and steles depict the same observations in pictorial terms (see Carl Abbot, The Mayan Steles Speak, pp. 186- 201).



   Psychiatrists as diverse in theory as Hans Klepmeyer and Shu-tung Wu agree that the attainment of height, even through mountain-climbing, when one can survey the landscape from a commanding vantage point, affects the psyche by relaxing dogmatic opinions and rigid adherences to belief systems, even when those systems occur within such core areas as religion and politics.

   Both cite the ego’s loss of self-importance when distanced by height from communal pressures, and both describe the period when people could fly, in Shu-tung’s words “as probably the most serenely joyous in the history of the human psyche.”

   Conversely, in Klepmeyer’s works, “We have seen the scale of viciousness to which petty concerns can give rise when people are forced to live on the same mental and physical level bound by rigidly grounded traditions---that is, when they cannot ‘see’ their problems for ‘heightened’ perspectives.  Such unavoidably metaphoric language should not be dismissed as fanciful.  Nor should we forget that such tyrannical world leaders as Napoleon and Hitler were ‘short’ or ‘small’ men in the several meanings of those words.”

   Both cite the “serenely joyous” aspect of flying with several examples from the travel diaries of the Russian merchant Sergei Rubikov, which show the evolution of the town council assemblies, especially in the Kingdom of Hungary, which had been established “with 46 counties and 10 dioceses in Stephen I in 955.”  Rubikov tells us, “Here various churchmen and court officials record that groups of the populace, through their own enterprise, organized spontaneous, or regularly scheduled, festivals of the air, where the peasantry of the different towns would hold feasts and pageants high above their villages for the inhabitants of neighboring townships.  I saw with my own eyes how these festivals had grown into county celebrations complete with food stalls, games, sporting and musical events and demonstrations of local handicrafts.”

   In France, England, and the German states, the early guilds organized the festivals.   In many cases several guilds joined together to present the event, which became the basis of a friendly rivalry, especially in Hamburg and Lubeck and other north German towns, where, medievalist Rudolph Kempe argues, such cooperation among the guilds was the impetus behind the formation of the Hasseatic League several hundred years later and, more recently, of the organization of German soccer leagues.

   Such speculations have fascinated historians and anthropologists in all parts of the world.  Ethnographers in the United States, such as E. Forrest Taylor, for example, have sought to explain the origin of the Northwest Indian Potlatch in conjunction with the flying phenomenon, and cite the shaman whistles, spoon handles, and totem depictions of humans on the backs of various flying creatures as vestiges of tribal memories concerning incidents that occurred during this period.



   When the first documents regarding human flight came to light in the eighteenth century, religious leaders of every belief claimed that their particular God had blessed believers with the power to fly.  At the same time, historians were convince tat the phenomenon had occurred only in their own countries and proved the superiority of their race as well as their nation.  But as more and more evidence appeared from around the planet, each with its own claim of religious, racial, and national superiority, these areas of study were quietly abandoned. 

   Other historians argued that only the economically or socially privileged classes had been able to fly.  But this notion was abruptly curtailed by the explicit identification in the archival material of “the populace” or “the peasantry” as being the ones observed flying.

   Similarly, most historians of the nineteenth century attempted to prove that only men had been able to fly insisting that the inferiority of women, both physically and morally, argued against their inclusion in “the brotherhood of flight,” as Nelson Thomas, one of these historians, wrote in 1876.

   More subtle scholars speculated on the many mid-air accidents which would have been reported had women been given the power to fly.  However, no matter how laboriously they searched their respective archives, the historians could not find mention of the restriction of flight to males, and some, to their credit, commented on the inclusive nature of the words “peasantry” and “populace,” which they argued meant that everyone, regardless of race, gender, class or religious preference, had been given the power to fly.



   These studies went along with the curious observations in many of the documents that whenever a dispute ensued during flight, or an act of bigotry or racial or social intolerance occurred, the promulgator immediately lost altitude, as if he or she were being pulled back to earth.  Continued indulgence in such behavior resulted in the loss of flying powers by the person or persons, or even townships, involved for however long the behavior lasted – a situation that in at least two instances, one recorded in Persia by the chronicler Abdul ibn Kassim, and the other by the Indian court poet, Gopal Chaudhuri, resulted in the subjects’ suicides from despair at no longer being able to fly.

   In most instances, a period of repentance, during which a readjustment of attitude took place, was enough to restore the transgressor’s ability to fly, although the Belgian behaviorist Monica Somers sees no reason to doubt that chronic offenders suffered permanent suspension.



   Such examples make it clear that human flight was contingent on a capacity to tolerate extremes that was as much mental as it was physical.  In other words, the physical ability to fly was at least partially dependent on finding an attitude of acceptance toward the ideas and opinions of others.

   This postulate, first advanced by the Italian historian Luigi Gambini in 1968, was followed two years later by his encyclopedic study of various aspects of the flight phenomenon based on documents collected from around the world.  The documents proved that the best of the flyers, “the athletes of the air,” as he termed them, were those who had “neutralized their belligerent, envious, and dogmatic attitudes.”

   It was only a year later that Sven Angstrom, the Norwegian microbiologist, put forth the theory that the physical ability of flight was stimulated by a mental quietude which fostered the release, “in layman’s terminology, of a ‘flight’ solution into the DNA component of the cell.”

   Although they were unaware of it at the time, Gambini and Angstrom had discovered not only the causes that enabled human flight to occur, but the very reasons which, in the end, destroyed it, as the Chilean naturalist, Francisco Podia, demonstrated in 1986.  In his own words: “The coming of ‘the athletes of the air,’ as Gambini calls them, those perfectly adjusted beings who synchronized their physical and mental states into finely tuned instruments, so they could soar and swoop with acrobatic freedom, thereby enjoying the pure aesthetic pleasures of flight itself, was the undoing of the human ability to fly.

   “As more and more people attempted to perfect themselves in this way, so their flying would lift them to the heights of enjoyment, they lost the balance that was necessary to maintain the phenomenon, for they abandoned contact with their earthly selves, neglecting the worldly concerns which sustain both body and mind.  Specifically, their physical and mental toleration became so great, so laissez-faire, that it no longer existed, creating a chemical imbalance in the cell which caused the destruction of the flight capability.  Add to this that ‘the athletes of the air’ were so intent on perfecting their flying techniques that they starved their bodies, and there is a strong possibility that in the process they shriveled the tissue-producing chemical which allowed the DNA molecule to manufacture the cell’s oxygen-storing ability.

   “At the same time as the young people, wearing colorful costumes of their own design so they could be identified from the ground, tumbled and somersaulted through the heavens, outraced eagles and clouds, and executed their movements with an almost angelic grace, more and more farmlands went unplanted, the towns and their economies fell into neglect, and the principles formulated by the town councils of the air and adopted by the principles formulated by the town councils of the air and adopted by the populace fell into disuse and were forgotten, like the abandoned thatchroofed cottages which dotted the countryside.

   “As matters became economically chaotic in the towns and cities, the inhabitants began accusing one another of being the cause of the catastrophe, resorting to arguments based on religious, racial or social prejudices.  Meanwhile, the children, oblivious to what was going on below, feverishly fluttered and flapped high above in their gaily-colored costumes, not noticing as their friends, one after another, stalled in mid-flight and, a moment later, plummeted to the ground, although the instant they too were falling through the air, joining those bodies that were sprinkling the landscape like a shower of pebbles, until the sky was empty and windswept for as far as the eye could see, and once more the world descended into barbarism.”

From: When People Could Fly

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