Wednesday, November 11, 2009

Everyday Psi ?: DOWSING

I find this an interesting subject from a lot of angles [Good Grief! I sounded like Donald Keyhoe just then---gotta get away from the old UFO history for a while]. Because I have almost no experience with Dowsing, one might expect that I have no business writing about it...but that hasn't stopped me yet so here goes. ----------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------
Dowsing, or something like it seems to have been around for a long time, and, due to extant treatises like Agricola's De Re Metallica [yeh, the head-bangers weren't the first to use this], we're certain that it existed in its traditional form at least from the 16th century. Some people have tried, as they always do, to stretch the Bible out of shape and say that when Moses struck the rock with his staff and produced water, he was the first dowser. Obviously the mediaeval Church did not honor that Biblical precedent, and considered it to be "divination", i.e. magical foreseeing, and therefore the work of the Devil [see the woodcut to the left where the bishop unmasks the dowser to show the Devil beneath. Dowsers get their revenge in the lower right woodcut, when Leviathan belches forth dowsing rods and a dowser tweaks the nose of the bishop in one smaller scene, while in the large scene, he tweaks the nose of a symbol of the whole city.] Yep, it was good old mediaeval thinking: don't trust in dowsing because it is somehow bad. Today we are more advanced: don't even consider dowsing because it is somehow bad...hmmm...wait a minute....--------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------
As I've adventured across the fields of the anomalies, I've noticed a common failure [maybe necessary, but I don't think so]. There are almost no "texts" in any of these fields which try to do a somewhat comprehensive job of setting out the consensus reality, as shared or potentially shareable, by the serious experts in the field. UFOlogy has no such thing. Even Parapsychology seems to have no such thing. Without a foundational reference upon which the field stands, there is no field of study--just individuals doing what they do and dying off, leaving nothing really built into the consensus. I was pleasantly surprised to find that someone had tried to do this for Dowsing--though it seems not to have "worked", since people rarely cite it and build off it. The text is Barrett and Besterman's The Divining Rod. Quite good as a historical and empirical/definitional attempt at a synthesis. If one wanted a quick and scholarly grounding [albeit old] in this field, I'd recommend it. Huge numbers of publications on the subject exist: the US Government pamphlet shown in the collage lists right at 500 references , 1532-1917. Dowsing has applied everything from the famous witching wands of Hazel or Willow to the copper rods preferred today to shovels, sausage, or personal "sensitivity" alone [that sausage thing boggled me and, right or wrong, doesn't help the field being taken seriously]. Sometime, a fork in the divining occurred, and people began scrapping the rods for pendulums. Abbe Alexis Mermet, a French-born Swiss priest, made pendulum dowsing famous with his exploits saving his parishioners from a drought and using the pendulum to diagnose illnesses and find missing persons. He called the "force" that he sensed "radio-aesthesia" energy, and insisted that this was a physical thing and that he was not performing these feats by "psychic" means. In this, the Abbe was being like most people I know who are interested in dowsing: he was trying to make this mystery the least possible alteration of the consensus reality's comfort zone that he could rationalize. "Just sensing normal forces somehow"---no All-The-Way-Fool for him. The British pusher of the power of the pendulum is/was T.C.Lethbridge, who seems to believe that nothing is beyond the answer-giving prowess of the pendulum [even the real "beyond"... ghosts]. Abbe Mermet was much respected, even loved. Was he really accurate?-----------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------
It's hard to say how accurate anyone is in this business, as, although on paper good controlled variable studies of dowsing are easy to imagine, in reality the complexity of the real world of time, place, and man-power availability make them difficult to pull off. To go to the ridiculous: one Alabama county did a "test" where they reported 100% accuracy for the dowsers. Looking at the geology of the place, it was seen that water lay under the surface within 20 feet in 100% of the area. A miracle, I guess. Less ridiculous was the test that was set up with conditions that all of the participating dowsers said [pre-test] was fair, wherein bottles of oil were buried in sandboxes. Each of the 50 dowsers had 10 tries. Compared with raw chance probability, they were actually worse. But, as the targets were static and "unnatural", maybe a dowser can't do that. John Mullins was a British water system supplier and a dowser. Whereas at several places geologists could not find water, Mullins would do so. Barrett himself watched over one of these tests. The geologists were impressed even if the skeptics were not. Modern hyper-believer-in-nothing Ray Hymen brushed off Mullins' findings as mere "anecdotes". Since Hymen was a founding member of CSICOP we should not be surprised. The Barrett/Besterman book has another test [the Carrigoona test] which is pretty good. This involved one dowser dowsing and the spots were marked on a map. Another was brought in and the same. They both dowsed the same locations. When bores were dug, the spots were all hits. Anecdotal? Just good luck? We have to decide on our own.---------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------
My position on this is that some dowsers seem to be able to find water but how they do it is still very mysterious. Are they just in situations where they can't miss [like Alabama]? That doesn't seem to cover it, particularly when persons like Mullins are involved. Do they just have a superior natural knowledge of the water-bearing environment? Maybe, but the geologists couldn't come anywhere near Mullins either. Does an Earth Force "speak" through the device? Lots of folks prefer this answer, whether that force is "ordinary" or a "new-to-science" phenomenon. Well, I might go there if there weren't so many varieties of wands AND NO WANDS, and people claiming to dowse at-a-distance. Nope. Sounds like Psi to me. Clairvoyance with the wand as a confidence giving "occasion" to optimizing the talent. In this I have the support of our favorite Irish girl, Eileen Garrett, who thought exactly that. -----------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------But, last for today, what's this stuff in the picture collage all about? The main guy who sold Frank Scully on the story of the crashed disk in 1948 [a year after Roswell] was a life-time dowser and prospector. As you can see, all did not end well for his plans. I found once, however, in "dusty" old UFO records, that Silas Newton actually believed that he COULD dowse for minerals etal. He tells a whole story of how he was taught the art. So, making up that part of his crashed disk lie was not a big stretch for him. Also, on a different tack, Newton was visited by government agents after he had floated the phoney crash story. He tells the story in his diary which ended up in the hands of Roswell and general UFO skeptic, Karl Pflock. It's to Pflock's credit that he released to the general community the entries which stated that the agents told Newton that they knew what he was doing was a con game, but they were happy for him to go on doing it. The Scully tale was a great diversion from Roswell, and Newton's ultimate exposure cinched that no one would pay any attention to a crashed disk story [even in the UFO community] for 35 years. Accident? Clever plan? Random meaningless data bit? -----------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------In the next post, I want to go a bit more out-on-a-hazel-limb and say a little something about a relatively unknown guy named John Williams, who I learned some things about by, as usual, accident. Till then.


  1. Dear Prof

    You read the FSR case on a dowser and his pyschic friend doing it in some mound in UK and when they drove back home (at night) they encounter BOL that culminates on the BOL approaching from the front and playing chicken with their car ? all the time of the BOL sighting their dowsing rod in the luggage jumped around like crazy ?


    1. I have no memory of having read this case. Perhaps it's from a relatively recent FSR. [relatively recent for me and FSR would be the 1990s].

  2. Dear Prof

    I am currently searching thru the piles of FSR ebook PDFs.. that article is really hard to find because its a side-note to an article toward dowsing in UK's scottish mound (IIRC)

    will update later if i found the right FSR volume number




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