An Introduction to Dowsing

by Grahame Gardner

(originally published as part 1 of ‘Adventures in Dowsing’; a series of articles in ‘Dowsing Today’, the journal of the British Society of Dowsers)

Mention the word ‘dowsing’ to most people and you invariably conjure up a vision of a tweed-jacketed gentleman marching across a field clutching a forked twig, looking for underground water. This is the classic image of a water diviner, and many dowsers still operate like this, although these days they are more likely to use a plastic V-rod rather than a forked twig.
But dowsing is about much more than finding water. It can also be used to find other underground features such as gas mains, cables and other utilities (and breaks in them), or even archaeological features like walls and cavities. You can dowse to find lost items, pets or people; and dowsing can help you improve your health by identifying food intolerances and allergies, and can suggest which dietary supplements or homeopathic remedies might be helpful. You can also dowse earth energies and other energy fields like the human aura or the electromagnetic fields from phone masts or power lines. There really is no limit except your own imagination.

So how does dowsing work? There is no scientifically accepted theory at present; this is mainly because there is no general agreement in the scientific community that dowsing works at all! Many scientists have researched dowsing and proposed theories on its mechanism, and in Russia it is still taught as a scientific discipline. Yet there remains a small but vociferous bunch of dedicated sceptics who refuse to even admit the possibility that dowsing might work. Some pretty rigorous testing on dowsing has been done over the years, but results tend to vary depending on who organised the tests and how they interpret the data. So sadly, at the moment we are still waiting on a definitive methodology for dowsing, and although there are a goodly number of utility companies and professional bodies who use dowsing in some way, they are usually reluctant to publicise the fact for fear of ridicule.
This doesn’t help us gain an understanding of the dowsing mechanism, and ultimately we each have to develop our own ‘map’ of the territory; so let’s take a look at some possible models.
As we progress, you will see that many aspects of dowsing have a dualistic or binary character, and the main uses of dowsing can be divided into two aspects; location and divination. Or to put it another way, finding things, and finding things out.

When we’re looking for underground water, theory and empirical evidence seems to show that there is some sort of influence given off by water flowing in geological faults and fissures in rock that can be detected at the surface. Some research using devices such as scintillometers (a very sensitive type of Geiger counter) and electroscopes seems to verify this. This ‘influence’ or ‘radiation’ rises vertically from the water. 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 detecting this at a subconscious level, and that the dowsing tool is responding to minute muscle twitches in the hands to give the response – either 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. What I mean by that statement is that, at some level, the subconscious mind can access information from the physical world that is normally unavailable to the conscious mind, and this information can be communicated to us through the movement of the dowsing tool. So dowsing is in effect a form of controlled clairsentience.

The human brain processes something like 400 billion pieces of sensory information every second; but we are only consciously aware of about 2000 of those. Our conscious mind selectively edits the information to process 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 just not processed on a conscious level. This does not mean that the other signals are discarded – everything is processed on some level, but our conscious mind decides what we get to see. Our subconscious mind is still aware of the other signals going on around us, 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 demonstrate that it is possible to access information about distant places.

This is both a very old (mystical) and a very new (scientific) world view. 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 electrons 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. Tomorrow’s quantum computers are being designed around this principle.
The implications of this are pretty staggering – quite literally, everything is connected at a quantum level.

Another way of looking at it is to think of the Universe as a hologram. If a hologram is broken, each small piece of it contains all the information needed to reconstruct the whole image, albeit at a somewhat lower resolution. This is actually quite a good analogy for map dowsing – often map dowsing produces a picture that is not completely accurate. Usually everything is there, but not necessarily in exactly the same place or at the same scale as the map dowse revealed. I’ve had this demonstrated to me in my own work on a number of occasions.

Whatever model you choose to adopt, the central concept is that the dowsing tool provides a means of accessing this normally hidden information in our subconscious. By acting as a bridge between our conscious and subconscious minds, the dowsing tool provides a safe and convenient means for us to dialogue with our subconscious; something that is normally only available to people in deep trance states. Unlike trance states, 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 and yet engaged with the deeper levels of consciousness. Indeed, the correct state of mind for good dowsing is best described as ‘engaged yet unattached’. Your mind has to be focussed on what you are dowsing for, yet there must be no desire to achieve a particular result.

At first, this can seem like being asked not to think about pink rhinoceroses – it’s very difficult to think of anything else in such circumstances. So you have to develop ways of distracting the conscious mind from desiring a particular result; in this way you can hear what your intuition is trying to tell you. One way to achieve this is to mentally repeat the object of the search to yourself over and over like a mantra, e.g. “I’m looking for man-made underground structures, man-made underground structures … and so on. Another technique is to try inducing a state of child-like innocence as though you earnestly desire to know the answer but have no idea what it will be and are looking forward to the surprise of finding out – “I wonder what the answer’s going to be?” In either case the repetition of the phrase will be enough to distract the conscious mind enough for the dowsing reaction to manifest.

The other essential attribute for accurate dowsing is to ask clear and concise questions about the object of the 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. A better question would be “potable 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 pet collie Fido at this moment in time”, rather than simply “Where’s Fido?”
I was recently asked to dowse for a missing dog and got a strong response from a map dowse of the area. I reported back to the client, and off they went in search of the dog. Unfortunately, by the time they had got there the dog had moved on and they didn’t find it for another two days. However, they later heard from a local bus driver that he had seen the dog in that area at the time of my dowsing.

It is important to realise that there is no inherent magic in the dowsing tool. Don’t be fooled into buying an expensive rock crystal pendulum because you’ve been told that it’s stronger or better than your home-made nut-and-string combo. Of course, you can buy the expensive crystal pendulum because it looks pretty, but that won’t make it work any better. The reaction happens because the muscles in the hand twitch very subtly in response to your subconscious stimulus, and this small movement is amplified by the dowsing tool. All we have to do is learn how to control and interpret this reaction.
As we progress with our lessons, you will find that this process becomes easier and easier. Eventually it becomes so automatic that you often don’t need to use a dowsing tool, and at this stage you are a ‘deviceless dowser’, which is the ultimate goal for many of us.

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. A bunch of keys will do if you can’t find anything else. The cord should be as thin as you can manage; a fine chain is also good. Try not to use a pendant hanging on a loop of chain as the double length can affect the swing of the pendulum.
Hold the cord or chain between your thumb and index finger of your dominant hand 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. Don’t rest it on your knee, the arm of your chair or anything else unless that object is absolutely stable (like a large rock), otherwise the swing can be affected.
Experiment to find what length of cord gives you a moderately rapid swing – usually around three or four inches of cord is ideal. Swing the pendulum back and forth until you are comfortable with the swing.

Many people, when they first start using a pendulum, will sit with it stationary and wait for it to move in response to the question. Although this approach works, it becomes very laborious if you are dowsing through a series of questions, as each time the pendulum has to overcome the inertia of being at rest and it takes time to get up to speed. A far faster approach is to start with the pendulum swinging back and forwards. We call this our ‘search position’. When the pendulum is already moving this way it’s much quicker to give a response.

Next, we have to establish our 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. You can help reinforce this idea by holding it over your right (dominant) knee. This develops the idea of the body having a polarity – positive on the dominant side, negative on the non-dominant side (note positive and negative are only terms for comparison here; don’t start thinking of them as ‘good’ and ‘bad’ in any way).

Once you’re happy that you’re getting a good reaction, repeat the exercise by asking for your ‘no’ response. Again, you can hold the pendulum over your non-dominant knee to reinforce the idea if you like. 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 (I once found one of my students was asking for her basic responses with each new pendulum she used!). Otherwise you will get to a point someday where you cannot remember what your yes response is, and will never feel confident enough to trust your dowsing.

If you’re having trouble getting a reaction, after a while try asking simple questions to which you know the answer, such as “Is my name John?”
Practice by asking yourself these kinds of questions until you are confident with the response.

If you’re still not able to get a consistent result, it is possible to actively program yourself by forcing the pendulum swing into the pattern you want, whilst affirming to yourself “This is my ‘yes’ response” and “this is my ‘no’ response”.

Once you are reasonably confident with your responses, devise a list of twenty questions that you can dowse for. Try to ask questions with verifiable true or false answers, such as “is my wife’s name Sue?” If you are asking personal questions about somebody else make sure you have their permission before dowsing and always keep your dowsing ethical.
Try also 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 table cloth with a bunch of other coins; try to identify if there is current flowing in an electric cable. There are loads of little tests like this that you can devise for yourself and practising at these is the best way to develop your dowsing before you get into areas where it’s not always possible to get a verifiable answer at the time (for example dowsing for a borehole – you won’t get confirmation until the hole is actually drilled).

In many books on dowsing, you will see sectored pendulum charts for dowsing, where different areas of the chart provide different answers. You hold the pendulum over the centre point, and the angle of its swing determines which sector of the chart contains your answer.
Although these are popular with publishers because they look pretty and fill up the page, I don’t believe that they are a good tool to use with pendulum dowsing, especially when you are just starting out. Having a multiplicity of possible answers dependent on pendulum swing will only confuse your normal responses. It is far better to devise a list of possible questions before you start dowsing and keeping to your yes/no responses as you work through the list.

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.

Ok, if you’ve got this far, you’re almost ready to start finding stuff in the field; but there is one more thing we have to cover first, and that is the issue of ethics and protection. Some dowsers disdain this as unnecessary, but I always take the attitude that it’s better to have protection than not. This is especially true if you’re doing dowsing at a sacred site where you may run into some strong negative energies. Fortunately, dowsing has built-in safeguards that can and should be activated every time you try it. Here’s a quick test you should do before you do any dowsing each day, or at each new site.
With the pendulum swinging in your ‘search’ position:

1. State what you want to do (e.g. “I want to dowse this stone circle for water lines”, or “I want to find my sunglasses” and so on). “Is this appropriate at this time?”
The pendulum should start to show a ‘yes’ response if this is OK.
2. Ask “CAN I do this?” (Do I have the dowsing ability for this task?)
3. Ask “MAY I do this?” (Do I have permission from the site guardian/ landowner/ Spirit of Place to do this?) It always pays to check in with the site guardians before entering stone circles or other sacred space. The last time I visited Wayland’s Smithy, I asked my questions as I walked up the access path from the Ridgeway. Just as I asked this question, a huge fluffy bumble-bee came right up in front of my nose, hovered for a moment, then turned and flew ahead of me down the path. I took that as a ‘yes’ answer!
4. Ask “SHOULD I do this?” (Is it safe for me to do this? Am I ready to do this now? Is there anything I’ve forgotten? Are there any unforeseen factors that I don’t know about?). I once got a ‘no’ for this question when I wanted to dowse a neglected stone circle in Perthshire. It was then I became aware of a nest of newly-hatched chicks behind one of the stones. Clearly not a good time for me to be tramping about in the circle!

If you get a ‘no’ response to any of these questions, postpone your dowsing to another time. You can try rephrasing the first affirmation a bit to narrow it down, but if you’re not confident of any of the answers then come back and try again another day. But if everything checks out, then go ahead, ask your question (e.g.” I want to find any water veins in this area”) and dowse. What you are looking for is only limited by the questions you can formulate in your head. And the more precise these are the clearer the results you get. It’s sometimes difficult to phrase your intent in a yes/no question, but persevere; try a different angle on it and narrow it down gradually.

© Grahame Gardner 2007


 Dowsing MagicIf you found this short lesson useful and would like to learn more about dowsing, you may wish to consider purchasing Grahame’s book ‘Dowsing Magic’, available from his website by clicking on the picture.

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