At Issue Index   Table of Contents   Previous   Next
DOWSINGby Ben G. Hester

A Note Concerning

Chapters I, II, and III

Page XIX

Do not expect to find pro-Christian conclusions drawn in these first three chapters. We have attempted to tell a straight-forward account of dowsing as it was, as it is, and its implications (physical and non-physical) without moralizing. So, if the reader finds that we have not taken advantage of the opportunities to point out obvious conservative Christian explanations, just have patience. We have attempted to touch all bases in chapters IV and V.


Chapter I

A Short History of Dowsing

With Comments

Page 1

"History is the lie commonly agreed upon." —Voltaire

Why Bother With Its History?

Why, in 500 years of examination and research hasn't someone come up with a reasonable explanation of dowsing? In fact, what in common sense is dowsing? As one man said, "Certainly I know the meaning of the word! Dousing is to throw water on something, such as dousing a fire." We tried another word—witching. "Never heard of it," he replied. "Okay," we tried again, "How about divining?" "Oh yes, that's—" and he gestured as though holding a forked stick. This man was an attorney—a man whose chief professional tool was words!

Page 2

Yet dowsing is practiced all over the world. There are British and American Societies of Dowsers, and dowsers to the last man and woman are an enthusiastic, proselyting lot that represents a cross section of every profession, trade, and interest in today's world.

But to read the dowsing literature is an exercise in futility. Even if all the writing were narrowed to the last fifty years, it would still be a collection of contradictions, omissions, and personal opinions that seem unworthy of the intelligent authors. How did it happen? Is there a reason behind it all? Is there a recognizable pattern? We believe there is, and this is why we want to examine it from a hopefully, intelligent onlooker's viewpoint.

As this is not written as an introduction to the art or a how-to-do book, we see no necessity to explain the rudiments, but it must be stated unequivocally, dowsing is not yet accepted by science—at least science as we understand it today. It is a very private act involving what a Christian calls "faith" and having such a wide variety of methods, there remains only one commonly shared aspect. The practitioner is endeavoring to tap a power source for personal use, or to seek answers to personal questions.

The methods vary from person to person and there is no language barrier. The questions asked of the device may be in any language under the sun, and the system of measurement necessary to determine the depth of underground water is up to the choosing of the dowser. Yet when all is said, it must be added that a force field is 'tapped' in the dowsing

Page 3

act. This is not only detectable in the dowsing device, but in the entire body and clearly registers with the electrocardiograph.1

Soviet, German, and Dutch researchers agree on this in their findings. Ostrander and Schroeder in their chapter on dowsing; "Wizard Rod" to "B.P.E." in Psychic Discoveries Behind the Iron Curtain write,

"The, many careful experiments by Russian geologists, biologists, physiologists, and mineralogists all pointed to a conclusion many Western researchers had also reached: force fields of an unknown nature exist."

There is no contradiction here. It just takes a lot of clarification.

It does seem, then, that everyone would be dowsing, yet we have found that nearly half of the people do not even know the meaning of the word. Of those who are knowledgeable, some are afraid of it, some are skeptical, and some use it enthusiastically. Some find it to be almost a religious ritual, while others believe it to be sorcery. Finally, there is a rapidly growing segment of dowsers who find it to be a useful tool, and refuse to inquire further. In any case there are many people who know about it, believe in it unalterably, use it, and spread the gospel of its use. Television and the press are helping with presentations which play up the advantages, whet the curiosity, and never mention the drawbacks. Modern dowsing writers also urge the teaching of

Page 4

the art to children, commenting that children and women are the most sensitive, and learn more quickly. This is one of the few things about which they do agree. (Cameron says, "A child can become a dowser, often to an amazing degree, with only a few minutes' training."2) In general they disagree, as do the researchers, on the explanation, the procedures, and the results.

To understand dowsing it is necessary to take a good look at its history and maintain an open mind. It is also necessary to ascertain whether the history presented is complete. Almost everything written on dowsing today is actually slanted toward the author's preconceived opinions. A quite common ploy is to leave out those facts that are embarrassing. Both pro and con writers are guilty. This is maddeningly true in the history of dowsing. Only the part desired to make a point will be quoted, and the rest will only be found if one runs across the original statement. This may be history in the cynical view of Voltaire, but dishonesty in a historian renders everything he writes suspect and useless. Specifically, the dowsing writer who wishes to prove scientific validity leaves out all items suggesting the supernatural. The writer who wishes to prove sorcery, leaves out information that points to the physical aspect.

This Will Not be a Typical Look at Dowsing

The research behind this particular writing, we believe to be unique, for we have seen no reference

Page 5

to its type in any other article or book. Also, it was accidental. In 1975 three men, curious, yet in complete disagreement on the subject, along with reading everything they could find, started recording interviews with every dowser, well driller, and well owner they could find in their area, southern California. Eventually this included information that came from correspondence with people throughout the state and from several other states.

At the outset, this was inquiry into simple witching (the search for underground water only). It brought out one glaring fact. The pro-dowsing writing on the subject and the field interviews were in total disagreement on one important point. The books inferred (some stated positively) that the expert dowser enjoyed a success rate of 90 percent or more. Not so, according to our case histories, and for an odd reason. The dread of the expert dowser is not the loss of his ability. It is when he obtains a clear, complete picture of water present, the exact location, the depth, the amount, and sometimes the quality only to find there was no water there at all—the dry hole. This was true of hand-dug wells as well as those drilled.

As we read the bits of information that go to make up the history of dowsing we ran across the following quote from Paracelsus, a fifteenth century physician, alchemist, diviner, animist and astrologer. Writing about divination, particularly the use of the dowsing rod in locating ores for mining he advised, "Therefore care is to be sedulously taken that ye suffer not yourselves to be seduced by the divination of uncertain arts. For they are vain and frivolous,

Page 6

especially the Divinitory Rods, which have deceived many miners. For if they show anything rightly, they on the contrary deceive ten times." Remember, this statement is not from a strait-laced churchman. This man was a practicing occultist. In our findings, what appeared to be deceit was clearly spelled out 500 years ago.

We found many well drillers reluctant to discuss dowsing, but after friendly conversation their reluctance changed to bitter denunciation of the dowsers and the financial havoc they create by their failures. Dowsers do offer explanations and we will discuss these and an interesting case in point later on.

Again, the books and articles against dowsing present it as a mysterious witchcraft type of happening without pointing out that it also has a very physical aspect. On the other hand, the pro-dowsing writers, since science came out of alchemy, have ignored or double talked the supernatural part of the act. Of course it is true that the actual force field has only been identified and tentatively measured in the last few years, but dowsers have always been aware of a physical force they could not control. The many unreal and nonscientific explanations dowsers have evolved in the past will not be enumerated in this writing because we do not feel they are pertinent.

Harvey Howells has written what we believe to be one of the best and most definitive books of instruction on dowsing. In Dowsing For Everyone3

Page 7

which he subtitles Adventures and Instruction in the Art of Modern Dowsing he comes on as the perfect example of modern man who, finding dowsing a useful tool, ignores the source and any questioning about the supernatural aspect. He says, ". . . I have endeavored to avoid what some term the occult in order to give practical, down-to-earth instruction that will encourage the reader to try his or her hand at dowsing." Further on he states in the same context, "What matter as long as one gets the answer through the medium of the instrument?" After all the 'hedging' we have seen in book after book, we have to respect Howells for his honesty about telling only half of the story in his book.

When dowsers do refer to the source of this power their opinions vary widely. They run from, "What all of us are doing here at this convention is witchcraft; in another age we all could have been burned for it."4 to, "Radiesthesia is based firmly on Sensation, and is therefore within the classic domain of consciousness. Consequently it advances no claims at which the most meticulous scientist could take offense, provided he take the trouble to listen to reason and lay aside his prejudices."5 (We make no defense for the sense or logic of this last quote.)

Page 8

Finally, there is a method of presentation becoming commonplace in everything from books to television. The scientific elements of dowsing are presented first, in a most logical manner. Then, when the stage is set, the non-scientific parts of the act are innocently introduced in a casual, yet authoritative manner, and without comment. The realist, faced with this bit of manipulation, finds it infuriating.

So far we have referred to simple witching only. This, however, is only the edge of the matter. Historically, dowsing included the search for anything; minerals, people, things lost, and any information that could be given with a yes or no answer. Today it is used for all that and more. Today we heal, make ill (cast spells?), rate friendships, test foods, and forecast the weather among other things. A few hundred years ago there were rigid rules as to how to dowse. Today we use innumerable methods, from a mental set, to reactions of the body, and almost every type of device imaginable. All this is part of the story and must be considered. It is illogical to consider one aspect only, (such as simple witching) and ignore the rest. What we are saying is that from ancient times to the present day the physical act never was, and never can be, separated from the occult aspect. We believe there is a reasonable explanation. With these things in mind, even the most uninformed reader should be ready for a full understanding of what follows.

Dowsing was Common and Worldwide at the Dawn of History

The history of dowsing goes back at least to the beginnings of written history and maybe further.

Page 9

Dowsing with a "wand." The arrows indicate two precise movements. The stick generally a freshly cut green "whip," waves up and down while dowsing. The action becomes violent over water. As it moves in the vertical pattern it also bends to the right or left to guide the dowser to the water find.

Page 10

Marco Polo brought back detailed information on it from the Orient. Herodotus writes of its use by the Persians, Scythians, and Medes. There is record of its use by the Etruscans, Hindus, Egyptians, Greeks, and Romans. A cave drawing at Tassili, Algeria may be the oldest record of a dowser, although there are some who have seen it who feel that it takes a lively imagination to see a man dowsing in the depiction. Others note that he is carrying the same kind of device pictured in ancient Chinese dowsing illustrations.

The prophet Hosea of biblical times condemned it. His people had adopted the ways of their pagan captors, including the art of divination. He stated, "They consult their piece of wood and their wand makes pronouncements to them."6 Saint Jerome, who translated the Bible into the Latin vulgate in the fourth century referred to the divining "staff" of Hosea's time and says it was cut from Myrtle wood. Saint Cyril, in the ninth century made the same reference.7

Page 11

What is, perhaps, the oldest record of dowsing in written history happens to be about water witching. It predated the time of the prophecies of Hosea by about 1400 years. It is referred to as 'divination' and was done by the expert dowser, Emperor Ta Yu, the founder of the Hsia dynasty in China at about the year 2205 B.C. (Hosea prophesied from 745-739 B.C.) This is recorded in an inscription to be found on a Bas Relief in the Shantung province of China.8 The practice of divination was world-wide, and from this Chinese inscription, and Hosea's specific mention of the 'wand' (still a popular device used today), it is reasonable to conclude that water witching was one of the earliest divination practices of man.

It should also be noted that in all historical references to divination there is no indication that it was a part of any religious rite, but rather a tool of convenience to pierce the veil beyond which the five senses of man cannot go. However, the entire practice was specifically forbidden to both Jew and Christian under the condemnation that it was a pagan supernatural act. There is no doubt that it was so considered.

Because it is such a valuable tool for obtaining information from the unknown, modern man has almost refused to class it with other methods of divination such as interpreting the arrangement of a thrown pile of bones, sticks, arrows, or the arrangement of tea leaves in a cup. This may have been true

Page 12

in Hosea's time also since he mentioned specifically only two of the many ways of practicing the divination of their pagan captors.

Of course, the biblical passage most often quoted by dowsers is the one telling of Moses striking the rock in the Sinai desert to bring forth water. This has to be discredited as a dowsing act, for according to the story Moses was not searching for water. He had been divinely instructed to go to that particular rock and verbally command water to come out of it. In his anger over another matter he disobeyed and struck the rock with his staff as he made the command. According to the account he suffered rather severe punishment for this disobedience, which implies there was some important meaning in the use of the staff, which he should not have made. Understanding that the staff was used to find water in the pagan act of divination, was this wrong implication to the witnesses of that act the very same as dowsers make today? In any case, striking the rock in a command for water to burst forth is certainly not dowsing practice.

It must be added that although the staff historically was a tool of witchcraft, magic, and sorcery, it was also a symbol of leadership, and in its most lowly use an aid to the foot traveller as well as his weapon of defense. Moses was a foot traveller, a leader, and according to your particular belief a prophet or magician, but the Sinai incident was not dowsing.

Dowsing and Christianity

As unpleasant as it may be, the history of dowsing includes a strange association with Christianity,

Page 13

most of it with the early and medieval Church. From this can be seen the important background of opinion that persists to the present day. The Church equated dowsing with sorcery, yet it occasionally condoned it and used it.

Present day writers are inclined to condemn or ridicule medieval Christianity's attitude. As one writer put it, "A paranoid fantasy which brought to life the diabolical conspiracies and sorceries of its own disordered imagination."9 What they seem to forget is that the reality of dowsing includes a factor that, even today, we class as nothing less than something outside the normal experience and knowledge of man. Because this factor was (and is) used for harm at the will of the dowser, the Church labelled it "evil." This factor, we presently label "the supernormal" element. The New Testament makes specific reference to divination and tells of its positive prohibition. Today, pro-dowsing Christians insist that the "divination" condemned in both the Old and New Testaments of the Bible has nothing to do with water witching or mineral dowsing. However, all Bible history research contradicts them. Dowsing is, and has been historically, a part of the divinatory arts. Some of the oldest references so state it. Whether we believe presently that this prohibition is correct, or a "paranoid fantasy," the beginnings of the controversy are ancient.

In fact, the early Church's proscription against divination was so strong, it is believed, as one writer

Page 14

put it, the dowsers went underground. There is, at least, no mention of dowsing for hundreds of years. Then, in the tenth century coins struck to commemorate the discovery of a silver mine in Germany depicted a dowser at work. So, at least in that area, dowsing had become such a useful tool in mining it was worthy of commemoration.10

It is believed that dowsing in Germany originated in the Harz mountain area, and oddly enough, Webster's Geographical Dictionary describes that area as "long a stronghold of paganism."

In about 1275 there appeared in Spain what was reputedly a compilation of the ancient oral traditions of the paganistic Hebrews.11 It was banned by the Church and its possession forbidden. It contained instructions for the ritual of preparing a dowsing rod it called "Solomon's Rod." It stated that by the use of the original rod, King Solomon became the most powerful and wealthy man in the world. (It must be remembered that King Solomon, at the a same time he confessed belief in "the one true God," was building temples to the pagan gods for their worship. If the above reference is true, Solomon's allegiance to paganism is more easily understood.) This book, the Cabbala (Cabala, or Kabbala) became the secret possession of only the alchemists, secret societies, and sorcerers.

In 1300 a Benedictine monk, Valentine, wrote about dowsing in a manner that indicated someone was experimenting with it seriously. He wrote of six

Page 15

kinds of rods used for locating different metals underground. Christopher Bird in The Divining Hand remarked that this seemed strange. However, we interviewed a dowser here in California, an intelligent, well-educated, professional man and expert dowser who had a number of rods he claimed he had "calibrated" for accuracy in determining mineral and vitamin deficiencies in the ill.

In 1362 a Papal Bull against the "use of a ring to obtain answers in the manner of the Devil" (pendulum dowsing) was issued by Pope John XXII. We note here that the Church of that time suffered the difficulty (seen in a lesser degree today) of positive rule over its far-flung 'empire.' While a positive dictum might be issued by The Pope, a Cardinal or even a priest in a distant nation or area might act in disagreement. So we find this contradiction of Church attitude toward dowsing.

In 1518 Martin Luther had taken a positive stand against dowsing, declaring that its use broke the first commandment. Today, the Roman Catholic Church takes somewhat the same stand as reflected in its works on Moral Theology, stating that for anything except searching for water, dowsing is "practicing superstition" which is a serious sin. The Catholic Information Service of the Knights of Columbus classifies dowsing as "rank superstition" and breaking the first commandment only if using the power as supernatural.12

Page 16

Twelve years after Martin Luther's condemnation of dowsing, a German physician and mining buff, Georgius Agricola, whose unlatinized name was Georg Bauer, wrote his first essay on mineralogy and mining lore, which by 1556 had become the greatest treatise on mining ever written. Because mining and dowsing were inseparable (at least in Germany), there was much in his work on the art of finding metals. There seems to be no evidence that the Church condemned him for his writing.

Anecdote of a Family Tragedy

Early in the seventeenth century occurred the incomprehensible story of the Beausoleil family. The Baron de Beausoleil was a mining expert. His wife, Baroness Martine de Beausoleil was an expert dowser. The family was wealthy and of excellent standing.

Because of his expertise and her ability to find ore deposits, the Beausoleils had served as mining consultants in Germany, Switzerland, Moravia, Silesia, Poland, Italy, Spain, Hungary, England, and Scotland, as well as mining advisor to the Papal States for the Holy See. In 1626 he was commissioned by the Superintendent for Mines and Ore Deposits under Louis XIII to survey the entire area of France for its mineral wealth. Using a team of sixty mine workers they spent a year in southern France discovering more than forty mines. The written report of this work was full of references to astrological

Page 17

A late eighteenth century French dowser. The bent twig twisted in his hands when over water.

Page 18

and alchemic formulas, dowsing philosophies, and indicated that all the work was done under correct astrological dates.

Then, as they continued their work in Brittany, officials under the pretext of investigating the two for the use of the "black arts," impounded their reports, detailed maps of mine surveys, ore samples, as well as 100,000 ecus worth of precious stones and silver. In spite of the fact that the Beausoleils were successful in convincing higher authorities that their commission by the Crown was legitimate and that they had made no pact with the Devil, none of their impounded possessions were returned. Bird in his account of this in The Divining Hand observed that this injustice only foreshadowed worse to come.

Because they had received no expense monies, the Baroness wrote to the Superintendent of Mines. In reply, their work was gratefully acknowledged, a new commission issued, but no payment was made. Desperate because of the huge sums they had expended, Mme. de Beausoleil wrote again. This time it was a lengthy, complete report of all mining work done in France from 1602 to 1640 and dedicated this time, as Bird puts it, "not to Louis XIII but to France's sickly, diplomatically crafty, and ruthless Prime Minister—and real king—'His Ementissmus, Cardinal le duc de Richlieu'."

In her report Mme. de Beausoleil pointed out that she and her husband were neither "mining apprentices" nor had they been "constrained by necessity," but that they had worked "nine long years" to produce solid evidence of France's mineral wealth for the Royal Court. She suggested the formation of

Page 19

a mining administration of mining engineers with branches in each province. It would have seemed that such an inclusive report should have pleased even the grasping personality of Richlieu. but it was ignored. She had made the mistake of openly revealing the extensive use of alchemy, astrology, and the dowsing rod, and had praised the dowsing rod's effectiveness.

Richlieu's reaction was immediate and cruel. He remanded the Baroness and a daughter who was with her at the time of the arrest to the prison castle of Vincennes. The Baron was arrested and placed in the Bastille. Then when one of his young sons dared to visit his father, he too was imprisoned.

The Baron and his wife were never allowed to see each other again, and they remained in prison the rest of their lives. They had been incarcerated without trial, which was not unusual for certain offenses, and the charge was sorcery.13 It might be noted that this charge was brought only after their monumental work had been nearly completed—sorcery or no. A century and a half later, Napoleon acted on the advice of the Baroness de Beausoleil, and their work is still reference material.

The Dowsing Rod Christianized?

Whether the Church vacillated or the Church authorities in Germany were disobedient is not known, but sometime during the sixteenth or seventeenth centuries the Church claimed the dowsing

Page 20

rod as holy Church property. Theodore Besterman in Water Divining, pages 188 and 189, tells of the Holy Mass instituted to be read over the rod before allowing it to be used by an outsider. After the Mass, the rod was to be held in the hands and these words intoned, "Dowsing Rod, I adjure you in the name of God the Father, the Son, and the Holy Ghost." Then the rod would work.

Francis Hitching, on page 49 of Pendulum remarks that it was common during this time in Germany for the rod to be "Christianized" by placing it in the bed of a newly baptized child, after which the rod was addressed first in the names of the Father, the Son, and the Holy Ghost, then in the child's name, roughly translated, "that thou tell me so pure and true as Mary the Virgin was, who bore our Lord Jesus Christ, how many fathoms it is from here to the ore" after which the stick held in the hands would answer by nodding a certain number of times indicating the number of fathoms. This is exactly the method used today except the rod answers in feet, and it does not have to be addressed in the name of the Father etc. Hitching goes on to say that one of the problems of the Church at that time was that so many of their priests were natural born dowsers.

A Dowsing Device That Lied

In 1692 occurred the famous story of Jacques Aymar Vernay, a wealthy peasant farmer from the province of Dauphiné, France. Not everything is known about Aymar, as he is generally called, and certainly not everything that is known is always told.

Page 21

The story apparently started when the city officials in the city of Lyon, France, desperate over the unsolved and particularly brutal murder of a man and his wife by burglars, for some unknown reason accepted the advice to call in Aymar the dowser. He came with his forked stick and tracked the murderers to their escape point in the seaport of Toulon. They had fled the country, but his stick guided him to an accomplice who was in jail in Toulon on another charge. Aymar confronted the terrified man and caused him to confess. The man, a hunchback, was tried, convicted and sentenced to death on the, wheel. He was the last man in Europe to be "broken on the wheel." Aymar was immediately called upon to track down other criminals in other jurisdictions.14 This caused a furor among the Church leaders because of the possibility of putting innocent people in jeopardy by this suspect process.

Then, when a dowser was discovered walking down the city streets followed by an excited crowd which was witness to the dowser's rod pointing out the houses of respected matrons who the rod indicated were guilty of illicit sexual relations, the uproar reached national proportions. The "press," which was not the newspaper we know today, but was private printing of the 'editorial opinions' of the young and generally wealthy owners, took up the cry and something had to be done. So late in 1692 Aymar was called back to Lyon for public testing of his ability. This he passed easily. He had come to the

Page 22

attention of the Royal Court and was in demand to perform what one author called "parlor tricks" with the rod. Finally, the Prince de Condé set up an interesting test in Paris. Holes were dug in a courtyard and some left empty, some filled with metals and others filled with gravel. When they were carefully covered and all traces of their locations removed, Aymar was called in to dowse. This time he failed miserably and in the manner that has always plagued dowsers. (Remember the warning of Paracelsus?) His stick pointed out metal in holes that contained none. (One was empty and the other contained gravel.) Over night his popularity was gone. This should have been the end of the story of Aymar the dowser, but there is a curious and thoroughly revolting climax to this story.

About ten years later, in 1703 Aymar was dowsing for the Church, tracking down Protestants for massacre.15 This is the part of the Aymar story almost never mentioned, and would be suspect except for its unimpeachable source. It is all the more revolting in the light of the added fact that only two years earlier the Inquisition had forbade the use of the dowsing rod in criminal prosecution.16 Whether this was by order of the Pope or one of the Tribunals we do not know. It is recorded that the dowsing rod was used not only to track down the accused, but as a lie detector in the trials proper.

Page 23


The method of dowsing used by Barthelemey Bléton to illustrate his ability to the priests. The stick revolved rapidly in his fingers when over water. This was not his usual way, for he needed no device. He merely sensed the presence of water.

Page 24

The Bishop's Rule

In 1870 Dr. Pierre Thouvenel began to investigate a young French peasant herdsman, Barthelemey Bléton who was exhibiting a new phenomenon in the act of dowsing. Bléton had been tested repeatedly by the Bishop of Grenoble for his oddity. He would consistently obtain a dowsing rod reaction at a distance from the located water vein and the same on each side of the vein. The Bishop discovered that this distance from center of vein location to the far reaction point was the same as the found depth of the vein, and could thus be used as a means of ascertaining the depth before touching a shovel to the earth. Ever since, this method of ascertaining water depth has been known as "The Bishop's Rule." It might be added that dowsing to Bléton was a painful affair for the act caused him to suffer convulsions. In spite of this he was tested repeatedly by skeptical priests and "scientists." Even so, he repeated the act successfully every time except when he was so intimidated, frightened and confused by the accusations and ill will of his 'accusers' that he could not even begin to perform. It was said of him that he was "uncommonly timorous," so the whole affair must have been traumatic to him. His method of dowsing was without a device, but to illustrate accurately to the investigators he used an unusual method with a stick. This was laid across the index fingers of his outstretched hands and it revolved rapidly when over water. Even though it was impossible to imitate this device reaction manually, his accusers would believe nothing less than that he was a 'fake.' Other dowsers found that they,

Page 25

too, could get this depth measurement reaction, so the method has survived to modern times. We will examine it further in the chapter on Modern Dowsing.

Dowsing Comes to the New World

It should not be inferred that dowsing was confined to the Old World during these centuries. Without a doubt it travelled to the New World with the first dowser to take passage. One account tells of a nonsectarian band of religious mystics from Germany, self-titled The Chapter of Perfection, who came over here in 1649. They settled not far from Philadelphia and Germantown on the Wissahickon River. They practiced "a variety of mystical and cabalistic rites," and were faith healers, dowsers, and clairvoyants.

Their leader, Johannes Kelpius "was a mystic and thoroughly familiar with the occult practices of the Rosicrucians, who claim him as their first forebear in America." The poet John Greenleaf Whittier referred to him as "the maddest of good men."

The surrounding colonists were "attracted to the Tabernacle by the lure of the occult," and not only made use of the occult powers of the "monks," but received religious teaching at "classes in religious instruction in the morning and evening, well attended by both children and adults."17

The Beginnings of "Scientific Dowsing"

Page 26

During the latter part of the eighteenth century the argument over dowsing began to change. First the cast of characters changed. From clergyman against clergyman was added clergyman against laymen (physicians and such), then the locus moved away from the Church to the 'scientifically minded' individuals—the intellectuals. The vocabulary began to change with a shift in belief, and such terms as "felonious matter," "murderous matter" and "magnetic corpuscles" gave way to "animal electrometry," "organo electricity," "nutation," "siderism" and "odic force." The actual knowledge of dowsing had not I changed, but it had come out of the condemnation and general acceptance that it was sorcery to a point that men of intelligence were attempting to explain it in terms of reality. The rule of repeatable experiment—the scientific method—had not yet appeared, but men were beginning to think along those lines.

Early in the nineteenth century the pendulum was discovered again. The same attempt to explain it was halted by the research of a brilliant Bavarian Academy of Sciences member, Johann Wilhelm Ritter, who after a thorough examination discovered that instead of reacting to physical things, the pendulum reacted to the desire of the user, foretelling or answering any question requiring no more than a yes or no answer. He came to the uncomfortable conclusion that "Magic has been recreated, and along with it, that dangerous frontier at which one is capable of deciding questions of good or evil." His pronouncement, however, had no effect on dowsing or experimentation which continued with the researchers coming very close to the present day

Page 27

belief in 'mind over matter' or what was later to be known as PK (psychokinesis). We would refer you again to the excellent book The Divining Hand by Bird for details he records in chapter seven.

For dowsers, the twentieth century started with an explosion. Roentgen had discovered the X-ray, and the Curies radioactivity. This, the dowsers were certain, was the physical explanation of the "emanations" that they needed. They seemed to have forgotten the supernatural aspects. It seemed as if every dowser who could write did so and went into print. It was about this time that the "black box" came into being. It gave dowsing another boost toward the scientific, for here was an instrument that had every appearance of a most professional, scientific device (with a gleaming front full of dials), and though it took no power to operate it, it did everything the pendulum used to do. In fact in his recently written book Rhythms of Vision, Dr. Lawrence Blair refers to it as, "merely a form of a complex pendulum."18

When someone remembered remote and map dowsing, the psychologists were appealed to for explanation. They had no adequate answer and by the 1930s researchers were admitting that neither physics nor psychology seemed to have an answer. Then in the early 1940s, Tromp, a Dutch professor of geology at Fuad I University in Cairo, Egypt, after

Page 28

Map dowsing with a pendulum, or "information dowsing." This ancient method of question-and-answer dowsing is also the tool of the medical dowser.

Page 29

years of skeptical research, shook the dowsing world with the positive conclusion that dowsing was "as real as electricity and other physical phenomena."

Others were experimenting with what was termed the "electrodynamic theory of life" from the experiments with oat and barley shoots increasing or decreasing growth with the phases of the moon and the position of some planets. Later came the conclusion that there was a "life field" or electrical field around every living thing.

By 1975 enough serious scientific investigation of dowsing had been done that it was suspected by some and stated as a certainty by others that there was an unknown force field tapped in the dowsing act, and that it could be measured. However there was disagreement on whether it was a weak field measurable on a Gauss meter, or whether this measurement was only that reaction of the dowser. There was question as to the identity of the field—electrostatic or a new unknown. It would not react consistently, and the conclusions reached by investigators in, for instance, Russia, were in complete contradiction to those in the West. The element of "intelligence" that seemed so evident in all dowsing methods, suddenly became a 'non-factor' and was not considered or mentioned. The desire to prove physical reality of the phenomenon resulted in serious claims and conclusions that no 'establishment' scientist could accept. Serious pseudoscientific papers were presented and published. These presented a new method of 'proof,' justification by analogy. Because the phenomenon they were discussing had the same paradoxes as an accepted

Page 30

scientific thesis, it was claimed to be factual by comparison. This is still a serious presentation in the 1980s. A few physicists began experimenting to ascertain whether the dowsing device or the dowser was the "sensor" in picking up the dowsing signal. Their conclusions were based on so much conjecture, even the most casual reader was astonished. These investigators based their entire thesis on the unproven assumption that every living and nonliving thing gave off an identifiable 'signature' or vibration that the dowser could single out and tune in on. This was reminiscent of the age old belief (still accepted by some parapsychologists) that even the inanimate object has an intelligent 'spirit.' A careful reading of the material of this era of dowsing investigation revealed that the many dissimilar force fields encountered by the dowser (earth radiation, living cell vibrations, signature of inanimate objects, etc.) were all thrown together in a single classification called THE FORCE, also reminiscent of the belief of sorcery. Still ignored was the fact that every one of these force fields also answered questions, had total recall of history, could and would predict the future, and would give advice. They were also selective at the desire or demand of the dowser.

It would seem that dowsing must have been used in times of war. However, there are only a few recorded instances, but they are significant. It was used successfully by both sides during World War II. The German sea captains used it to locate Allied shipping for torpedoing. The British Admiralty employed two dowsers during 1939-1945 to map-dowse enemy harbors for the presence of ships

Page 31

worth bombing. They were successful 75 percent of the time.19 The U.S. Marines used it successfully during the Viet Nam war. Its efficacy was proven beyond a shadow of a doubt to the Marine Command, but it was not sanctioned for use. The Marines used it anyway for locating everything from mines to Viet Cong underground emplacements. It was reputed to have saved many lives. Obviously the intelligence behind dowsing was either unbiased or amoral in bestowing war favors.

Summing up the many centuries of dowsing, it cannot be said we are back to point one in our inquiry or understanding. We are aware of a force field or fields involved. However, we must either ignore or be embarrassed by the intelligence evident. All of the explanations which endeavor to separate the force fields from the intelligence are either arbitrary statements of belief, or the theories hold only if some of the facts are ignored. The centuries-old charge of sorcery has not been refuted, and unfortunately it will not go away in spite of the acid comments of the modern writers.

Our short history of dowsing (with comments) is the result of sifting out the accounts of the erroneous theories, efforts, and conclusions of past centuries, and attempting to present only the factual events. Hundreds of pages could be filled with the entire story. Much of this will be found in Bird's The Divining Hand. It is heartbreaking to read of the lifetimes of work, the cost, and the mental energy

Page 32

spent on attempting to prove personal opinions that a generation or two later were completely ignored or discredited. The live thread that runs through it all is the fact that within certain confines dowsing is a working (if undependable) hypothesis. No one has yet come up with an inclusive explanation, and maybe it is not possible.

The frustrating problem in examining dowsing literature is the subjective view taken by every writer. It would seem that each one has concluded that he has developed the right and unique explanation by his own elaborate theory. He has also either coined a few new words and terms, or has put a new interpretation on the old. Then he has put it all in writing.


1 S. Tromp, INTERNATIONAL JOURNAL OF PARAPSYCHOLOGY, Winter, 1968 on researching dowsing for UNESCO.

2 Verne Cameron, AQUAVIDEO, p. 11, obtainable from Life Understanding Foundation, P.O. Box 30305, Santa Barbara, CA 93105.

3 Harvey I. Howells, DOWSING FOR EVERYONE, Author's Note. p. IX, 1979. The Stephen Green Press. Brattleboro, Vermont.

4 Statement of Major General Jedyll Scott Elliot, then president of the British Society of Dowsers, made to George Crile at the annual convention of the American Society of Dowsers. From an article WATER WITCHING by George Crile in New Times Magazine.

5 Henry De France, THE ELEMENTS OF DOWSING, p. 79. Pub. 1948 by G. Bell and Sons, London.

6 Hosea 4:12. NEW AMERICAN BIBLE. Since the word "wand" is translated differently in other Bibles, the casual reader takes exception to the use of one specific text. However, this text best fits the actual meaning. Cruden's Complete Concordance specifies "wand" as one of the many methods of divination mentioned in the O. T. Vol. I of the INTERNATIONAL STANDARD BIBLE ENCYLOPEDIA at the chapter on DIVINATION describes the many methods used by the ancients. Number six on the list is "Staff or Rod (Rhabdomancy)." It states 'While the use of the rod or staff for a variety of magico-religious purposes is not uncommon in the O. T. (cf. Ex 4: 4, 17, 17:9 [The rod of Moses]; 7:9, 19 [the rod of Aaron]), the use of the rod for purposes of divination is referred to in the O. T. only in Hosea 4:12: "My people inquire of a thing of wood, and their staff gives them oracles." Here the "thing of wood" may refer to the Asherah that was a cult object found in all Canaanite sanctuaries of Baal; the "staff undoubtedly refers to the practice of rhabdomancy, though the precise technique of this form of divination is not known. It is clear, however, that Hosea condemns such practices." Webster's dictionary defines "Rhabdomancy" as "divination by a rod or wand; especially the supposed art of finding underground water, ores, etc., by means of a divining rod; dowsing."

7 Christopher Bird THE DIVINING HAND, p. 80. Published 1979 by E P Dutton, 2 Park Avenue, New York, N.Y., 10016.

8 A Photograph of the Bas Relief and the inscription is to be found in the Freer Gallery in Washington D.C. This photograph is reproduced, and details of the inscription is noted on page 72 of Bird's THE DIVINING HAND. The Encyclopedia Britannica sets the dates of the Hsia dynasty as 2205-1765 B.C.

9 Leslie Shepard in the introduction to DEMONOLATORY by Nicholas Remy (U.S. reprint). University Books, Secaucus, New Jersey, Pub.

10 Bird, THE DIVINING HAND, p. 80.

11 Francis Hitching, PENDULUM: The Psi Connection, pp. 44, 45. William Collins Sons & Co. Ltd. Glasgow, Scotland.

12 The Reverend Stanislaus Woywod, O.F.M., LL.B., A PRACTICAL COMMENTARY ON THE CODE OF CANNON LAW, p. 23. Joseph F. Wagner Inc. N.Y. Pub. Dominic M. Plummer, O.P., HANDBOOK OF MORAL THEOLOGY, p. 199. The Mercer Press Ltd., Cork, Ireland. The Reverend Antony Krock, D.D., A HANDBOOK OF MORAL THEOLOGY, pp. 300-302. B. Herder Book Co., St. Louis, Mo., Pub. The Reverend Francis J. Connel, C.Ss.R. S.T.D., L.H.D., OUTLINES OF MORAL THEOLOGY, p. 151. The Bruce Publishing Co., Milwaukee, Wis. CATHOLIC INFORMATION SERVICE, Knights of Columbus, New Haven Conn.

13 Bird, THE DIVINING HAND, p. 94. Francis Hitching, PENDULUM, p. 48.

14 Bird. THE DIVINING HAND, p. 97. Francis Hitching, PENDULUM, pp. 57-60.


16 Britannica Library Research Service. MINERAL AND WATER DIVINING, quoting from Eve and Keys, APPLIED GEOPHYSICS IN THE SEARCH FOR MINERALS, pp. 8-11. University of Cambridge Pub.

17 Ernest Schell, HERMIT OF THE WISSAHICKON, an article in AMERICAN HISTORY ILLUSTRATED, October 1981.

18 Lawrence Blair, RHYTHMS OF VISION, pp. 148-9. Schocken Books and Croom Helm Ltd. Pub.

19 Francis Hitching, EARTH MAGIC, p. 226. 1977, William Morrow and Co. Inc. New York.

At Issue Index   Table of Contents   Previous   Next