19 October 2014

Do It Yourself Dowsing

The following describes a dowsing experiment in Francis Hitching's 1976 book Earth Magic (pages 197-99). Given the opportunity (and the funds) I would love turning this book into a documentary film. Hitching's thorough presentation of the facts is what convinced me that ley lines exist.

That bit at the end is telling about the whole field of parapsychology, and psi in general. It doesn't work like in the movies. You can't just make things happen on command, especially when under pressure. Psi effects manifest when a person is relaxed, which makes studying these phenomena very difficult in a laboratory setting. It also explains why a psychic cannot perform the skep-dick's much touted feat of winning big money in a casino, as the environment of a casino is very distracting (intentionally).

Having never attempted any of these exercises myself I cannot comment on the in particular. I can say that dowsing is real (Uri Geller made his millions not on bending spoons but on dowsing for oil) and that I do not know how it works. Feel free to experiment on your own.

Experiments and Theories

Most dowsers were introduced to the art by watching another dowser at work and then having a try themselves, and simple experiments for newcomers have been devised. Tom Lethbridge, the archaeologist who was able to date Stonehenge correctly, used to suggest holding a short pendulum about three inches long, between thumb and finger, and letting it swing between two coins placed a few inches apart on a table. If the coins are the same metal and value – say, two 10 penny pieces – a natural rhythm will set up in the pendulum, keeping it swinging in a straight line between them. If someone then replaces one of the coins with a different kind of coin – say, a 2 penny piece – the pendulum will swing out of line and probably begin to gyrate. Switch the coins back again, and the pendulum will return to its swing.

Major-General James Scott Elliot, a president of the British Society of Dowsers for some years, thinks it is easier to imagine the pendulum as simply an instrument to find out the answer "yes" or "no" to a question. If you switch on an electric light, hold a pendulum over the cord and ask the question (in your mind): "Is this cord live or not?" the chances are that the pendulum, instead of staying stationary or oscillating, will begin to gyrate clockwise or anticlockwise. If you try the experiment again, this time with the light switched off, and ask the same question, the pendulum will probably gyrate in the opposite direction. The purpose of the exercise is to establish for yourself which way the pendulum gyrates when you want to find the answer "yes" or "no". Afterwards, it is just a question of practice, using common household objects to experiment with. Those suggested often include:

Put four similar coins and one different, under a cloth; seek the different one. (The question you ask must be precise, such as "Is the different coin here?" The pendulum's "yes" or "no" gyration will tell you.)

Take half a dozen or so black playing cards and one red; shuffle and lay face downward on the table: seek the red one.

Get someone to hid a note or object in the shelf of a book case. Work along the book case with a pendulum and locate it.

Take half a dozen cups of water. Ask someone to dissolve a little salt in one. Find the cup with the salt water.

How successful  anybody is at these tests, beginners or not, may depend on a number of unmeasurable factors: how good an innate dowser the person is, his or her state of mind, the influence of outsiders – almost anything including, some dowsers would say, the phase of the moon. For the truth is that although expert dowsers would regard the exercises as very basic, none of them would guarantee to get the answers right all the time, and on unresponsive days no better than chance would predict. The very best water dowsers, of whom there are only a handful in the whole of Great Britain, can claim and prove a success rate of at least 90 percent, but they of all people know that dowsing is a tantalizing, personal and irrational gift and that because of its unpredictability, it is extremely difficult to produce enough of the repeated and repeatable experiments demanded for scientific proof.

When we try for these kinds of tests, they so often go wrong," says one such dowser. "Expecting or hoping for a specific result, anxiety that we'll fail, distraction caused by other people on the site, self-consciousness – any of these things can lead to a misleading result."