Appendix F. The History of Dowsing by Hamish Miller
© Hamish Miller 2002
In the mid 5th century BC the ‘father of history' Herodotus the Greek reported the use of wooden Y-forks for the finding of water while he was roving around Scythia north of the Black Sea. It's the first written evidence of true dowsing, although there are references to similar functions in ancient Chinese literature.
Cave drawings from thousands of years ago have been claimed to depict dowsing implements of various shapes but it's difficult to believe that these slightly hairy outlines are anything to do with dowsing. A silver coin struck in 936 AD clearly shows a wee man with a forked stick in action above mine workings.
Martin Luther outrageously pronounced that it was "Devil's Work” in the early 16th century and as a result the art has been fiercely opposed by religious establishments for centuries. Fortunately the knowledge was preserved and passed on quietly by people whose lives were closely connected to the earth.
About the same time a German mineralogist and metallurgist called Georgius Agricola published De Re Metallica, a treatise which included precise details of dowsing techniques in mining. It aroused considerable interest in the industry throughout Europe although Agricola himself, still acutely conscious of the association of the art to the occult, hedged his bets by admonishing prospective miners "not to make use of the enchanted twig”.
Elizabeth I of England first got wind of the valuable ‘forked stick' methods of finding metal ores through Agricola's work and introduced German miners to help develop England's resources. They brought their knowledge of dowsing with them, and by 1660 Charles II, recognising the importance of the art to the financial success of the mining industry, demanded to know everything about the operation of the ‘Baguette Divinitoire'…splendid name for a dowsing rod.
In 1693 Pierre de Lorrain, Abbé de Vallemont caused consternation in religious circles and Paris society by publishing his Occult Physics which included detailed illustrations of dowsing techniques. It was promptly put on the prohibited list by the Inquisition, and he was probably one of the first authors to create a bestseller by having his book banned. His work triggered a vigorous pro- and anti- debate in the world of scientists and religious leaders, leading to a proliferation of scientific tests on the abilities of dowsers over the next century.
In museums round the world there are some fine examples of seventeenth and eighteenth century artwork, including silver drinking mugs, paintings and Meissen pottery, which figure little men with Y-rods akimbo looking for minerals. The burgeoning mining industry was a major contributor to the development of dowsing and the art thrived under the increasing pressure to find more and more mineral and water sources.
In eighteenth century France, Germany and Italy, the use of ‘wands', ‘sceptres', ‘deusers', ‘twiggers', ‘dowsers', and ‘water-witchers' to find all sorts of things became fair game for scientists and priests to investigate, and for the public to have fun with. A plethora of essays and publications by Lebrun, Menestrier, Zeidler, Albinus and Thouvenal fired broadsides at each other for and against the mysterious art.
Barthelemy Bleton, a brilliant natural water-witcher, working with the Bishop of Grenoble (author of the ‘Bishop's Rule' for finding the depth of water) became the focus of Thouvenal's attempt to associate dowsing with electrical effects, but physicists could find no simple explanation of his talents.
Further work in Italy with the elegant Pennet, who constantly confounded observers by achieving remarkably accurate results, still failed to persuade the authorities that dowsing was a talent worthy of serious debate. On the contrary it seemed that as ‘absolute proof' in scientific terms was not readily available it was easier to accept the French astronomer LaLande's arrogant dismissal of all dowsing as trickery. He put dowsing rods in the same category as ‘flying ships' declaring "it is impossible for a man to raise himself from the ground”. A year later the Montgolfier brothers were off in their first balloon.
In the late eighteenth century William Cookworthy of Plymouth, England gave the art a shot in the arm by chronicling the undeniable talents of the Cornish mining dowsers. They had earned their reputation purely by the accurate results they had produced for that very tough industry, and had begun to be rewarded accordingly.
For a time local people who ‘could just do it' were used to find water sources, but gradually some eminent Victorian British and Irish geologists became aware of the growing water needs of industry and the larger estates. One of the greatest practitioners of all time was Wiltshire's John Mullins. The legendary stories of his successes probably did more to make dowsing acceptable in the right circles than any contemporary academic papers.
In 1912 the mighty Metallica was translated from Latin to English by Mining Magazine in London, and sparked a fresh interest for many lateral thinkers of all disciplines. Then, in 1969, Guy Underwood's The Patterns of the Past broke new ground by exploring in meticulous detail the energies of sacred sites and their connections with water.
In 1976 Tom Lethbridge's The Power of the Pendulum explored other realities and in 1978 their work and the perceptions of John Michell inspired Tom Graves to write Needles of Stone, a dowsing book which introduced far-reaching concepts of our relationship with earth and cosmic energies.
In the last few decades an international array of dowsers have applied their talents to an expanding range of dowsing disciplines.
Terry Ross from Vermont could find water for villages in Mexico by instructing a surrogate dowser over the telephone, and wrote that dowsing could lead ultimately to "co-creation with nature”. Bill Lewis of Wales had an awesome talent for finding objects in all parts of the world without leaving his home, and Roger Brown from Australia accurately recorded complex manifestations of earth energy field changes for a hundred-mile radius of Adelaide.
Russian specialists like Pluzhnikkov could pin-point mineral resources and archaeological remains, and paranormal expert Neklessa developed a unique combination of pairs of scientists and mystics working together using advanced dowsing techniques to investigate the reasons for the failure of historic civilisations.
Many ‘doodlebuggers' across the USA are fine-tuned to locate obscure oil deposits, while Elizabeth Sullivan of Wales is recognised by the authorities as an expert on the location of humans and animals by map dowsing.
Colin Bloy in Spain initiated a sophisticated form of the dowsing process in the delicate art of healing, additionally applying it to the energy centres or ‘haras' of towns and villages to improve the quality of life of people living there.
The list is endless and confirms a continuing global interest in the ancient art of dowsing.