Part 1 of a two-part series on dowsing, originally published in March 2009 issue of Paranormal magazine.
The practice of dowsing remains unexplained after thousands of years of successful use. GRAHAME GARDNER outlines easy ways to explore a paranormal phenomenon that is both accessible and practical.
What image do you see in your head when someone mentions the word ‘dowser’? Is it a mental picture of a tweed jacketed gentleman marching across a field clutching a forked twig, looking for underground water? These days you’re much more likely to find the dowser clad in the best high-performance outdoor gear and wielding a nylon V-rod in place of the forked twig. Perhaps you might also have come across a technician from your local water board using some copper L-rods to pinpoint a leaking water main; and that therapist at the local health shop – haven’t you seen her twiddling a pendulum over some charts?
Dowsing has always been a bit of a closet activity, but it’s finally becoming trendy as people realize what a valuable tool it can be in all walks of life, particularly for enhancing one’s intuition and decision-making ability. Dowsing may be an old technology, but it is as relevant today as it was to a Neolithic nomad in the African desert.
As well as finding water or other underground features such as gas mains, cables and utilities (and breaks in them), dowsing can be used to locate lost items, pets or people; improve health by identifying food intolerances and allergies;
survey archaeological sites in advance of more expensive geophysical surveys; and map the mysterious meridians of ‘earth energy’ that flow through the landscape, connecting ancient sites like stone circles and old churches along invisible ley lines. Dowsing is useful in all areas of human endeavour, from the practical site work where the emphasis is on the tangible result, through to the more esoteric end of the spectrum where a dowser might be employed to clear ghosts from your home and check your aura for geopathic stress.
How does dowsing work?
Sadly, there is no scientifically accepted explanation at present. No-one has yet proposed a model that can explain all aspects of dowsing, so most scientists and sceptics tend to dismiss the whole thing as nonsense. Yet anyone who has tried dowsing will know that there is definitely something going on. It is an ethereal and sometimes fickle phenomenon, but with practice results become more reliable and confidence quickly grows.
There are two main aspects of dowsing theory, which we may call the ‘radiation’ and the ‘information’ models. Empirical evidence seems to show that there is some sort of influence, probably electromagnetic in nature, given off by underground water flowing in geological faults and fissures in the ground and that this can be detected at the surface directly above. It used to be thought that the wood of the traditional ‘forked twig’ dowsing rod somehow vibrated sympathetically to these emanations, but today it seems clear that it is the human organism that is doing the detecting, and the dowsing tool is responding to minute muscle twitches in the hands to give the response – the twig lowers or raises, the L-rods cross, the pendulum swings, and so forth. However, this ‘radiation’ model can’t explain the divinatory side of dowsing, nor can it explain how it is possible to dowse for things on a plan or map of the area without being physically present on site. To explain how this works we have to accept that dowsing is, at least partly, a phenomenon of the mind. The human brain processes billions of pieces of sensory information every second but our conscious mind selectively edits this information to fabricate what we perceive as ‘reality’. Psychologists call this filtering process ‘latent inhibition’, and it is a survival trait that enables us to disregard stimuli that have had no impact on us in the past: signals that are not important to our survival from moment to moment are simply ignored by the conscious mind.
Dean Radin, in his Entangled Minds(2006) states that people with low latent inhibition tend to be more creative and open to new experiences; traits that are common to many dowsers. The process of latent inhibition does not mean non-essential signals are discarded: everything is processed on some level, but our conscious mind decides what we get to see. Our subconscious is still aware of the other stimuli, and at a deeper level may be able to access the collective unconscious and gain information about other places and events. Many successful ‘remote viewing’ experiments have demonstrated that this is possible – but how? Well, if you’ve done any reading at all on quantum physics then you may be familiar with the phenomenon known as ‘quantum entanglement’, which shows that two particles that have been in contact with each other maintain some sort of connection and can transfer information between them, no matter how far apart they are moved. So if we take two paired electrons, then move one to the other side of the galaxy, it will still react instantaneously to changes we make to the first electron. The implications of this are pretty staggering – as the Universe grew out of the singularity that was the Big Bang, then quite literally, everything is connected at a quantum level.
So in our model, the subconscious can access information that is normally unavailable to the conscious mind, and this can be communicated to us through the movement of the dowsing tool. By acting as a bridge between our conscious and subconscious minds, the dowsing tool provides a safe and convenient means for us to communicate with our subconscious; something that is normally only available to people in deep trance states. Unlike mediums, brain scans of dowsers at work show that both hemispheres of the brain are balanced and producing brainwaves across all frequencies; so dowsers are not in a trance, they are fully conscious, yet engaged with the deeper levels of consciousness.
Indeed, the correct state of mind for good dowsing is best described as ‘engaged yet unattached’. The mind has to be focused on what you are dowsing for, yet there must be no desire to achieve a particular result. You need to be in a state of ignorance and apathy about the whole issue.
Using a pendulum
The simplest dowsing tool is the pendulum, and it’s what nearly everyone starts to learn with. If you haven’t got a pendulum to hand, you can easily make one with a small weight and a piece of fine cord or strong thread. A steel hex nut or a lead fishing weight is ideal. The cord should be as thin as you can manage; a fine chain is also good.
Hold the cord or chain between your thumb and index finger of the hand you usually use, with the finger pointing downwards. The idea is to minimise the contact area between the cord and your fingers. Keep your arm relaxed but free to move. Experiment to find what length of cord gives you a moderately rapid swing for you – usually around three or four inches (10cm) of cord is ideal. The best way to first start using a pendulum is to sit down and set it gently in motion, swinging backwards and forwards. It is much easier to get a response to a question when it has already been given some initial momentum, rather than going from a ‘cold start’. Next you must establish a code for communicating. This will take some time to develop fully as many reactions are possible, but for the moment we’re only interested in our ‘yes’ and ‘no’ responses. Sit comfortably with your feet apart, and start the pendulum swinging between your legs. Each time you do this say to yourself, ‘This is my search position’. When the pendulum is swinging comfortably, ask it to ‘Show me my “yes” answer’. Most people will find the pendulum develops a clockwise swing.
When you’re happy that you’re getting a definite reaction, repeat the exercise by asking for your ‘no’ response. Most people here find that they get an anti-clockwise swing developing, but it’s possible that you get something else, such as a side-to-side swing. Once you have programmed these reactions, they will always be the same for you, no matter what pendulum you’re using. Remember it’s you that you are programming here, not the pendulum.
Next, try asking some simple questions to which you know the answer, such as ‘Is my name John?’ or ‘Do I live in London?’ Practice by asking yourself these kinds of questions until you are confident with your responses. The hardest thing is phrasing clear and concise questions about the object of your search. It’s no good just asking for ‘underground water’ if you’re looking for a place to sink a well – this could find water in pipes or septic tanks as well as aquifers or water flows. It would be better to ask for ‘drinking water flowing all-year round in underground streams’. Or, if you’re looking for a lost pet, it is better to say ‘Where is so-and-so’s dog Fido at this moment in time?’, rather than simply ‘Where’s Fido?’ Be precise.
If you’re having trouble getting a consistent result, try swinging your pendulum in the search position with your eyes shut, then visualise it swinging the way you want it to whilst affirming to yourself ‘This is my “yes” response’. When you open your eyes, you should find that the pendulum is behaving exactly as you pictured it.
Once you are reasonably confident with your responses, try exercises like the traditional ‘three-card Monte’ dowsing trick of identifying one red card out of three face-down cards; or have someone place a coin under one card and try to find that; try to identify a pound coin hidden under a newspaper with several other coins; try to dowse whether current is flowing in an electric cable. There are many little tests like this that you can devise for yourself. Practising at these is the best way to develop your dowsing.
As you get more confident with your pendulum, you may find other reactions developing. For instance, if I get a weak oval swing in a clockwise direction, it means ‘yes-maybe’ (and conversely for ‘no-maybe’). In this case I’ll try and refine my questioning further. I also get a side-to-side motion, which for me interprets as ‘impossible to answer, the question doesn’t make sense’.
If my pendulum simply continues in the ‘search’ position, for me it means ‘don’t know’. In either case, I know I have to ask a totally different question to try and come at the issue from another angle.
Working with rods
The pendulum is great for asking questions, but if you want to locate something in the field, it’s better to use a tool like L-rods. Like many people, I made my first pair from some old wire coat hangers and a couple of old pen cases. Make sure the rods are free to swing, and keep your fists relaxed – the most common mistake beginners make is to grip the rods too tightly. Point the rods slightly downwards, and then slowly lift the ends up until just before they start to swing outwards. This is the most sensitive position. Focus your mind on the object of your search, and walk forwards until your rods react. The main use of L-rods is to locate tangible targets like water pipes, cables and septic tanks; but they are also good at detecting energy fields like auras and the subtle earth energies.
You can program your rods to cross when over a target like a pipe or water vein, and to open out for energy lines. They can also be used to indicate direction of flow, or to locate something by pointing in the direction that the target lies. They can also give ‘yes’ and ‘no’ answers, just like the pendulum.
If you’re interested in developing your dowsing, the best way to progress is to attend some workshops and courses, and meet up with other dowsers. The British Society of Dowsers has 1,600 members and over two dozen Affiliated Local Groups around the UK. The Society organises a comprehensive series of regional workshops and training courses that can train you up to professional practitioner level in all areas. Check their website at britishdowsers.org for more information.