What is Dowsing?
This page will take you through the following sections:
To dowse is to search, with the aid of simple hand held tools or instruments, for that which is otherwise hidden from view or knowledge. It can be applied to searches for a great number of artefacts and entities. It is most commonly known by most people in association with searching for underground water; not surprising considering the absolute need for water by man and his animals and cultivated plants which sustain him.
What is less readily known is that dowsing can be also used for searching for other underground features such as archaeological remains, cavities and tunnels, oil, veins of mineral ore, underground building services, missing items and occasionally missing persons.
Although no thorough scientific explanations for dowsing has yet been found it is frequently acknowledged that there is some correlation between the dowsing reaction and changes in magnetic flux when dowsing on site.
What is more difficult for the newcomer to accept is that dowsing can be carried out at a distance and, moreover, the distance itself has no bearing on the results; dowsing can be carried out for something in the next room or the next continent. This is of immense practical use for site dowsers who save themselves and their clients valuable time by initially, at least, dowsing at a distance to seek the direction of the nearest source, for example, or actually dowsing over a map of an area to determine more precisely the target of the search.
This particular faculty is frequently used by those practitioners using dowsing in the area of health when they are able to dowse for causative factors and suitable remedies at a distance from the patient, employing a sample or witness of the person, for example, on which to focus their attention.
Dowsing has been defined by Major-General Jim Scott Elliot, a Past President of the Society, in his book 'Dowsing - One Man's Way as: 'The ability to use a Natural Sensitivity which enables us to know things we cannot know by the use of the day to day brain or by learning, by experience, or by the use of the five physical senses.'
The origin of the verb is uncertain but was mentioned by in the seventeenth century essay by John Locke. 'Some Considerations of the Consequences of the Lowering of Interest in relation to dowsing for mines of gold or silver'. He spelled the word deusing whilst most modern dictionaries spell it dowsing or dousing. Pronunciation varies from the common to rhyme with browse to the rarer to rhyme with house. In either case dowsers will readily recognise the term. Not infrequently water dowsing is referred to as water divining (in North America water witching). As the French for dowser is sourcier and that for witch sorcier, it takes no great stretch of the imagination to understand the confusion in some quarters about the erroneous idea that the art of dowsing is aligned to some devilish activity. To most, though, the activity is a natural activity of mankind.
The word dowsing as spelled today first appeared in 1831 in The Quarterly Mining Review and it is possible that the word was taken from the Cornish as was suggested by Frederick Jago in his 1887 English-Cornish Dictionary. Alternatively it could be borrowed from the German deuten, to' indicate' or 'point out', or the Middle English word duschen to 'strike', echoing the action of a dowsing rod as it 'strikes' downward to indicate the presence of water.
Whilst it must be accepted that the idea that the biblical Moses, in striking the rock to bring forth much needed water, was demonstrating his skill as a dowser cannot be proven, it is surely likely that the faculty is as old as man, as is man's need for potable water to survive.
We have to rely on illustrations and the written word for evidence of dowsing practice. The mosaic floor in the ancient synagogue at Bet Alfa in Israel's Jezreel Valley contains a zodiac with a figure under Aquarius holding what could well be a forked dowsing rod.
A bas relief in the Shantung Province of China shows Yu, a 'master of the science of the earth and in those matters concerning water veins and springs'. The figure is holding a forked instrument rather like a tuning fork.
In 1556 Georgius Agricola published his work 'De Re Metallica' which clearly shows dowsing activity in the woodcut therein. One dowser is shown cutting a branch from a tree, whilst two others are shown in the act of dowsing using forked twigs, whilst surrounded by miners digging.
Just shortly after this publication, during Elizabeth I reign, German miners were employed in England to gain the zinc ore necessary to blend with the Cornish copper to make bronze for the armaments of the realm. J W Gough relates in his The Mines of Mendip how 'great faith was placed in the virtues of the divining rod'.
Many references to dowsing occur during the seventeenth century including reportage of the activities of Jacques Aymar who, starting as a successful water dowser, found in the 1690s he could also usefully employ his gift in searching for missing persons.
1693 saw the publication of La Verge de Jacob which gives many instances of the use of dowsing rods.
By the beginning of the eighteenth century it is clear that enquirers into the modus operandi of dowsing were divided into two camps; those who believed that the dowsing reaction was the result of a physical influence against those who lent support to the idea of it arising from a mental cause. This controversy remains with us today and it is possible that both may be correct.
During the nineteenth and twentieth centuries dowsing for water to mark the spot for drilling wells and boreholes was a well established practice with exponents such as Mullins and Tompkins combining their practice as dowsers with the business of well drilling, frequently offering their services on the basis of 'no water, no fee', so confident were they in their abilities.
During the twentieth century dowsing organisations began to be formed with the French Les Amis de la Radiesthesie founded in 1931 whilst this Society was founded by Colonel A H Bell, OBE, DSO, MRI two years later.
Since then many societies have been formed all over the world, expanding the knowledge and practice of dowsing in all its forms. Whilst a scientific explanations still eludes us the subject attracts those who, working usually from a scientific methodology more appropriate to a Newtonian view of the universe, seek to detract from the credibility otherwise afforded to the art. The true value and worth of dowsing can be verified from the track record of successful dowsers and the experience of those who willingly spend good money in employing them today.
The best results are obtained when the dowser has expert knowledge of the field in which he or she employs their dowsing skills. Apart from the subtle interaction between exoteric and esoteric knowledge which may assist success, a dowser with expert knowledge in the geology of water and its qualities, for example, is all the more able to bring discernment into play to rightly question the dowsing results found so as to avoid error. It scarcely need be said that in many areas, particularly when dowsing the causes of ill health, such a level of knowledge is vital.
The uses of dowsing are many and include the following:-
Soil Testing and Agriculture
Mineral and Oil Prospecting
Healing and Medicine
Earth Energies and Geopathic Stress
Can Anyone Dowse?
Basically, we think the answer is yes, insofar as the ability appears to be a natural human faculty. After all animals have the instinct to seek water often from many mile distant. It is a skill which can be taught and the Society regularly holds lectures, courses and workshops to this end. However, a few people do appear to have some difficulty, whilst at the other end of the spectrum lie those who have a particular gift.
Young children often demonstrate a natural flair for dowsing but most of us can develop the art by practise and perseverance.
Tools and Equipment
The instruments and tools dowsers use are simple. For the most part they are simply an extension of the human response giving clearer signals than can sometimes be detected without them.
V Rod: Traditionally made from a forked twig, this instrument can be made up from any springy material such as wood, cane, plastic or metal.
Angle Rods: These are L shaped rods, usually used in pairs. The sorter arm of the L is held in the closed palm with the long section parallel to the ground and to each other. Typically, when the target is reached the rods will cross indicating the spot.
Wand: This is a single long rod held in the hand and will react with circular or oscillating movements.
Pendulum: A bob on a twine reacts with a number of different movements and is often used in conjunction with charts or over a map for distant dowsing.
There are a large variety of such tools and they come in all shapes and sizes but they are almost all variations of the above.
A Simple Dowsing Method
This example uses two angle rods which can be simply and quickly made from a pair of metal coat hangers cut appropriately and bent into a right angle. The short arm of the L is placed in the closed hand with just enough pressure to allow the long arm to swivel but not to wave about uncontrollably. Some people prefer to place the short arm inside a tube such as that obtained from an old ball point pen and this is a matter of personal preference.
The long arms of the rods are held parallel to the ground and parallel to each other as the dowser walks forward over the search area. It is sometimes helpful, in order to bring some degree of stability to the search mode to allow the long arms of the rods to dip down just a little to prevent wild swings of the rods giving false indications.
It is important for the dowser to have a clear mental focus of that which is being sought. Additionally it can be helpful to hold a small sample of the substance sought in the palm of one hand.
When the site of the target is reached, typically the rods will swing together and cross. The spot can be marked. This can be checked by walking towards this point from the opposite direction. If the target lies along a line, such as an underground water pipe or stream, the action can be repeated to the right and left of the original search with markers being laid down on the ground to indicate the run of the line. Alternatively the run can be followed, holding the rods as before, when it is likely that the rods will move to the left if you walk to the right of the line or right if you walk to the left.
Occasionally other dowsing signals will be given and in this case it is necessary for the dowsers to categorise and interpret their own signals in the light of experience.
The depth of the target can be determined by use of what is known as The Bishop's Rule. Having established the site of the target, the search mode is again adopted and the dowser walks away from the target until the rods again cross. This can be checked by walking away in the opposite direction. The distance from the target to where the rods cross is equal to the depth underground. Obviously there are limits to this technique depending on the nature of the terrain.
More sophisticated dowsing techniques can be learnt and a good place
to start is to attend a BSD Foundation Course.
1933 - 2006 © The British Society of Dowsers