A Study of Possible Mechanisms of Dowsing for Water
This research into the electro-magnetic causes of the dowsing response was part of
the background work which helped me recognize the possibility that neurons in
the human brain can receive radio waves, an idea I discuss in more detail in
Turning the Solomon Key.
For many years I have lived in houses which have streams
running though the gardens. My present stream is piped for part of the route
though an old system of ceramic butt-joined pipes which feed a series of cattle
troughs. Sometimes the root of a plant grows through the butt joints trying to
reach the flowing water. Once a single fine root has sneaked though it thrives.
Soon a mass of fibrous roots will block the flow of water and cause the
water-flow to back up. To clear the blockage the pipe has to be 'rod-ed' out
using drain rods. The old countrymen who built this system, a few hundred years
ago put in a series of access holes, but there are no manholes to reach them.
The opening is buried about four feet down and has to be dug out. The sites of
the rod-gaps are marked by surface stones. Choosing the wrong hole, i.e. one
that is too far from the blockage wastes hours of digging and refilling.
The first time this piped stream blocked, I was at
somewhat of a loss as to how to tackle the problem, but help was a hand from my
neighbour, an old countryman.
'I'll get my rods and dowse it for you', he said.
I was sceptical, but too polite to say so. I smiled to
myself, watching as he ferreted around in the generations of accumulated rubbish
in one of his outbuildings. At last he emerged, clutching a pair of cut down
wire coat hangers bent into the shapes of letters L.
I could scarcely contain my amusement as he wandered to
and fro across the field, muttering to himself as his bent coathangers seemed to
blow in the wind. After a particularly energetic bout of flailing he stopped,
and pointed down.
'There's the blockage,' he said with great conviction.
We dug down at the nearest downstream entry point, and he
was right in saying the blockage was upstream. We pushed the rods up until they
met the obstruction and freed it. I then pulled the complete drain-rod-run out
and laid it on the ground to see just where the blockage had been. It reached
exactly to the point where my neighbour had indicated. I was amazed.
'How did you do that?' I asked.
'It's easy,' he said. 'Anyone can do it, if they try.'
The Electrics of Dowsing
The ancient skill of water divining was once thought to be
magic. Now water companies employ professional dowsers to find water flows under
the ground. Using a hazel twig, or a pair of bent coat hangers, to find
underground water flows has become almost respectable. Dowsing associations keep
lists of people, skilled in the art. Some local authorities even run summer
schools for would be dowsers. Water companies keep them on their books and pay
them good money.
I tend to be cynical about new-age-fringe 'skills'. But
the late Michael Bentine believed in dowsing, and some years ago he wrote to me
about it. Michael had taken a famous American dowser to Rosslyn Chapel, a site I
was interested in, and reported how the man had been able to make interesting
and perceptive comments about the under-ground layout of the site.
Some time later when I visited Rosslyn Chapel, in the
company of Dr Jack Miller, a Cambridge geologist. I spoke to him about Michael
Bentine's belief in the value of dowsing. I was surprised when Jack accepted
that dowsing could work. He viewed it as no different, in principle, to the
techniques of ground scanning that he used in his professional work.
Sometime later I had to discuss my underground streams
with an official from my local Environmental Health Department. Once again my
farmer neighbour was with us. Nobody was quite certain where the stream ran, but
this official produced his own pair of L rods (also made from wire
coat-hangers), and in a very matter of fact manner proceeded to use them to
dowse for the water flow. By now I was starting to wonder if there was something
in this strange technique.
The official and my neighbour joined forces and showed me
how to use the rods, and encouraged me to try them out. The rods seemed to take
on a life of their own and twitched as I stood over the stream. It seemed that I
also could dowse.
I soon got my own pair of L rods and started practising. I
seemed to be able to locate buried water pipes and drains quite easily.
At first I was disturbed, and a little embarrassed, with
my new found skill. Then I remembered a passing comment that Karl Pribram had
made about his wife Katherine being able to dowse. I hadn't taken much notice of
it at the time, as I put it down to a little gentle leg-pulling on his part, but
now I seemed to be able dowse myself I decided to follow it up. I emailed Karl
and his wife, and asked them what Katherine thought about dowsing. This was her
" Dear Robert-- All children who live in Idaho, as I
did, know how to dowse and that it works at least for finding water. Also no one
believes it does, so you are right to forget it as scientific evidence. That
doesn't mean you should not do it for your own info. I think one should begin
with science in the accepted concept, and if that doesn't work, then benchmark
with what you can ferret out."
Some time later I met with somebody who was ready, and
able, to have a scientific debate about dowsing. At the time he was Chief
Engineer, at Marconi Space and Defence Systems. Over lunch in the Senior Common
Room the conversation drifted towards dowsing, and I was surprised when this
practical radar engineer admitted that he was a secret adept.
This odd skill was not something I wanted to talk about in
front of my university colleagues. However, I thought about Katherine's
encouragement and decided to come out and admit my shameful secret. After all it
was Kent Robinson, the man to whom I was talking, who first turned the
conversation to the problem of locating buried pipes.
'I usually find them with a set of dowsing rods,' Kent
'You can dowse?' I asked, amazed he was admitting it.
'Yes' Kent replied, 'I learned to do it as a kid and once
you know how it's easy.'
He went on to tell me how he had once conducted a test
with a group of twenty young engineers. He had shown them how to hold the rods
and then asked them to test if a wire was live, using only the dowsing rods.
'Nineteen out of the twenty could dowse for the electric
field,' he said.
This conversation made me think about how dowsing might
work. Flowing water creates an electrical field, in fact during the First World
War a device was patented which used a high powered jet of water to create a
electric charge to set off magnetic mines. It has long been a standard fire
safety procedure, when using a high pressure water hose to clean out oil tanker
bilges, to earth the hose nozzle to avoid the sparks generated by the fast flow
of water. The earthing prevents water-sparks setting fire to the oil vapour.
Could dowsing be an example of the human brain reacting to
this watery electrical field?
Our discussion turned to how dowsing might work, and some
interesting facts emerged.
'If you take someone who can dowse and put them inside a
Faraday cage, then they can't do it anymore', Kent told me. (A Faraday cage is a
screen which blocks all electrical fields.)
After doing these experiments, his project group came to
the tentative conclusion that dowsing was an electrical sensing phenomena. The
function of the rods was to amplify small muscle twitches. They also thought
that the dowsing response may be similar to a well known effect of high
frequency radar wave dispersion which is known to be caused by water vapour in
clouds. Small droplets of water can reflect and mix up radar signals. This
effect is used by weather forecasters to see rain clouds, using specially tuned
radar. You may have seen radar plots on the TV weather forecasts. So perhaps
flowing water can mix up neurone signals and make us twitch.
Humans can sense electric fields. Moving water, flowing
through the Earth's magnetic field, creates its own electric field. This is one
of the reasons water droplets blowing in the wind reflect radar signals. There
is no magic here, it is straightforward science.
To follow up these ideas about how electric fields effect
human nervous systems I decided to look more closely at dowsing.
Tom Lethbridge was an active field archaeologist as well
as being curator of the Cambridge University Museum of Archaeology and Ethnology
for thirty years. He made a detailed study of dowsing. This is what he said
"It is of course a kind of magic. But it is obvious
to anyone who can dowse that this is a subject which properly belongs to
physics. The twig reacts to what appear to be electromagnetic fields of force.
You can put down a sheet of corrugated iron on your lawn and plot out the field
of force with a hazel twig in just the same way that you can plot the field of
force round a bar magnet with iron filings. If this is not science, what is? You
can repeat the performance with the sheet of iron day after day if you can be
bothered to do so. I have found graves and ditches cut in the chalk rock in
Cambridgeshire which were invisible on the surface, and also various metal
objects which had been deliberately concealed. So, as far I am concerned,
dowsing is a scientific method of finding things. Those who try to find out how
it works are pursuing a serious scientific study. It is those who deny that it
can exist who are being dogmatic and superstitious. There is nothing to be
afraid of. Measurements can be made and this is vital to orthodoxy."
He is right, water vapour affects high frequency radar
waves by interacting electrically with them. And it is well known that moving
water generates voltage. So dowsers must be sensing the electric field created
by moving water when they use their L rods or hazel twigs.
Lethbridge studied the use of various dowsing indicators
such as the hazel twig, the watch spring, the L rods and the pendulum. The first
three tools are very limited in their ability to measure the fields which are
sensed by the dowser. They are digital in their use, indicating the presence or
absence of a field. Lethbridge saw this as a serious limitation of technique, as
he thought that the sensing of different materials involves a subjective choice
on the part of the dowser. He said that this subjective element left the
technique wide open to valid criticism. The dowsing literature talks about this
problem, but not always in a way which scientists find helpful.
Pseudo-scientific attempts to rationalise this basic problem often verge on the
mystical. Mary Marie Satterlee contributing to a book on how to dowse said this.
"I believe that the unconscious has the ability to
tap into a realm of consciousness that our conscious rational mind is not aware
of. ... Dowsing can be likened to a super Computer, in that it stores
information to which only our unconscious can gain access. With our Computer we
use Yes and No, instead of the binary 0 and 1. But like any other computer, if
you put garbage in you'll get garbage out. So, in the same way that we cannot
carry on an intelligent conversation with another individual unless we speak the
same language, we must try and use a language that our Computer understands if
we want to communicate with it effectively. ... Whatever dowsing instrument you
choose to use, however, you must be able to get a consistent Yes and No answer
to be proficient. ... There are two very important principles to remember in
dowsing. One is to ask the right question correctly... the other is to withdraw
your conscious mind from the question."
When dowsers attempt to measure high frequency
electromagnetic fields with a yes/no indicator they are using a subjective
programming of their own minds. Accepting such results is an act of total faith
in the internal workings of the mind of a dowser which few scientists will make.
This is what Katherine pointed out in her email. If you can dowse you believe it
works, but you have no way of proving it to anybody else. In this it is rather
like consciousness itself. You know what it is but you can only prove its
existence within yourself. As the philosopher Daniel Dennett put it, other
people could be zombies, trying to fool you they are really alive.
When I dowse a flow of water I get a triple twitch of the
rods as I walk the line of water flow. I had mentioned this effect to one or two
other people who told me that they can dowse, but it seemed to be a quirk of my
own technique. Then I discovered a book, by a man who had been employed as a
professional water dowser, by many large companies. His name was mentioned to me
by a senior civil engineer who has worked for a number of water companies. I had
asked if his company had ever employed dowsers to find underground water
sources. He had told me that they had, and one man in particular had an
excellent track record in successful dowsing.
This dowser is a civil engineer called George Applegate,
and his book [The Complete Guide to Dowsing, Vega, 2002] covers the engineering
use of dowsing. He describes how the rods behave above a water flow, writing of
a 'band of trio reactions'. The diagram he drew showed the same triple twitch
response I had noticed occurring in my own dowsing. His book gives a lot of
technical detail about how to use the dowsing response to predict the exact
position of water flows. His explanations of technique make sense if it is an
electric field that he is measuring.
Applegate is not interested in any dowsing response except
that caused by flowing water. His book goes into great detail about the geology
of underground water flows and his technique confirms that the dowsing effect
relies on detecting a flow of water. He is sceptical about asking questions of
the dowsing rods.
George Applegate's practical approach to the use of
dowsing includes a section on how to 'attune' your consciousness, to be alert to
the presence of water. He calls this technique, 'attaining dowsing
consciousness'. In his own words.
I have come to the conclusion that dowsing is both a
physical and a psychological phenomenon. And my experience has led me to believe
that the key to dowsing lies in our personal consciousness. More specifically,
it lies in what I call the 'dowsing consciousness', which I shall explain is
really an individualised force or energy field of concentrated psychic or
'spiritual' energy. When the vibrations of this energy field are raised by, say,
the desire to find water, it becomes attuned (like a tuning fork) to the object
to be located – in my case water. But the desire to find water is simply the
first step in raising the vibrations of our individual energy field. It needs to
be reinforced by a firm belief that water can be found, and a faith in our
ability to find it. Together these three components – desire, belief, and
faith – step up the vibratory rate of our energy field, our dowsing
consciousness, and in doing so program our subconscious mind to find water. It
is the subconscious mind that does the work for us.
He believes there should be a strong link between dowsing
and geology. His intention is to bring the two together. He adds that he has
never been interested in 'fringe' dowsing methods but has concentrated on 'the
development of a reliable method of finding underground flows of water'. He does
this by combining the best use of dowsing skills with a sound knowledge of water
bearing substrates. Dowsing, Applegate asserts, is a combination of physical and
psychological aspects which he calls 'psycho-physics'. It is a specific skill
which improves with practice.
When I first read his comments on dowsing consciousness I
was sceptical. However, I knew from my own experiments with dowsing that I also
feel a triple twitch of the dowsing rods, when I respond to both water flows and
electric fields. I also knew that I had to concentrate in order to be able to
dowse, and if I became distracted the twitching response of my rods disappeared.
Everything I knew about dowsing suggested that it is a
mechanical response to changes in the Earth's electromagnetic field. Why did
George Applegate seem to believe that he had to 'tune' his mind into the 'feel'
of water before he could respond to it? This fitted with my own experience, but
it was hard to explain in terms of muscles being activated by pulses of
electromagnetic force. If that was what was happening then it shouldn't matter
if the dowser was concentrating or not. The response should be involuntary. If a
dowser has be 'tuned in', what is being adjusted to detect water?
Applegate describes the mental process he uses to get his
mind ready to resonate with flowing water.
Mental currents are real, and the dowsing
consciousness attracts us to the object of our desire... Every cell of our body
is a transmitter of dowsing intelligence, while the brain is a receiving centre,
and information flows back and forth between the two via the subconscious
mind... the subconscious mind cannot think for itself, but it will attract to us
those things that are in line with our deepest inner beliefs... You will always
dowse successfully if your subconscious is provided with the correct
instructions... Ask it to direct you to an underground flow of water of the
required volume, and it will.’
He goes on to explain how to train your mind to respond to
the 'feel' of water sources, and by practising and remembering how the water
'feels' you attune yourself to respond to it, when ever you need to. This
technique made sense in terms of the way I had been shown how to dowse. The
farmer who taught me, first made me dowse flows of water which I knew were
there, and not until I could get a response from the rods over a well known
stream did he encourage me to try my skills on unknown flows.
It would appear, from my own experience and from George
Applegate's advice, that dowsing is learned by practice. Not until you develop,
what he calls, your 'dowsing consciousness' can you twitch as you need to. You
have to become attuned to the electromagnetic blips which surround any flow of
water moving across the Earth's magnetic field before you are able to respond to
As Applegate said.
"If you desire to become a dowser, you will have to
believe that you can."
There is one other factor mentioned by Applegate which is
that only moving water can be detected by dowsing. I would go a little further
and add that I also need to be moving to be able to obtain a dowsing reaction,
to either water flow or electric fields. I have to sway to and fro over the
water flow in order to check exactly where it is. If I stand still I can't
twitch. This suggests to me that at some level in my brain I must be moving a
conductor through the electromagnetic field of the water flow to trigger the
twitch. The only sensors I know of within my brain are neurones, and if I was
sensing the resonant frequency of water, then I was using neurones about 7.5 mm
in length. Is Applegate's 'dowsing consciousness' a way of making sure the
dowser is paying attention to neurones of the critical wavelength? When I focus
on water am I triggering neurones of a critical length to receive the signal?
Does this information help me understand how my senses
work and how I 'feel' water as I dowse?
The answer seems to lie in how my brain responds to the
signals it receives. If it thinks the chain of pulses are coming from the ear,
then it assumes they are caused by sound. When the intense electric field of the
lightening pulse stimulated my audio nerve, I 'heard' it as a 'zizzing' sound.
(I describe how this happened during a near miss by a thunderbolt in the opening
of Turning the Hiram Key) My optical nerve was probably stimulated in just the same way,
but as it was also being stimulated by the light of the flash at the same moment
I 'saw' no conflict. The sound of the thunder, however, came much later, and
even the click on the radio was delayed enough for me to misinterpret the
electrical stimulation of my audio nerve as the experience of 'hearing' the
When I 'feel' the 98 Ghz resonant field of moving water
molecules, as I dowse, then I am concentrating on using neurones of the right
length to detect the signal. But I have no way of choosing a group of 7.5 mm
neurones by conscious control, so I have to learn how to make my brain listen to
groups of neurones of the right size. This is done by practice, and by
remembering the state of mind that achieves success. I then try to repeat that
inner feeling, and so use the same part of my brain.