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A faithless dowser

30 Jun 2008 / in stone hugging

You probably already know that I am not superstitious in any way; I do not believe in gods, faerie folk, Santa Claus, the soul, the flying spaghetti monster, an afterlife or indeed any of that stuff. And while I do not pretend to understand electricity, gravity, light, radio waves, kinetic energy or other natural forces, I accept that these things are scientifically proven and are measurable, repeatable phenomena. So I was momentarily thrown into a spin on Sunday while enjoying a day out among the menhirs at Avebury with some fellow stone-huggers, when a dowsing rod moved in my hand.

My friend Hamish had brought his dowsing rods with him. I watched as he gripped them firmly, held them out in front of him and walked towards a megalith. As he approached the stone they swung apart; the right one swinging to the right, the left one swinging left, as if moved by an unseen force. Blimey! That’s a bit WOOOO!

I was curious to understand. I asked if I could have a go.

I was in safe hands with Hamish; he wasn’t going to try to lure me into a yogurt-weaving commune to gaze at crystals and worship invisible tree-spirits. He couldn’t explain his ‘gift’ (a word we both giggled about) and remained rational, even skeptical about the whole thing.”I just do it” he said, “my mum could do it, but my sister can’t”.

He showed me how to hold them, and I started walking. Nothing happened. I approached the stone in the same way as he had. Nothing. He took the rods back and paced along a line which bisected a ‘well-known line of energy’ (apparently). The rods moved for him! So I tried. But got nothing again. I really wanted the rods to move for me. I mean really, really, REALLY! I tried to clear my mind, relax, close my eyes, breathe deeply… But it didn’t work. Perhaps my deep-seated cynicism and lack of faith over-rode any ‘really-wanting-something-to-happen’ vibes.

I was disappointed. But strangely also quite pleased that here was ‘proof’ that I,  a spirit-free, faithless, rational cynic, couldn’t dowse, whatever dowsing is.

I thought about it a lot as the afternoon progressed. There was one way that I could test something about dowsing…

A year ago we scattered some of my friend Bec’s ashes at Avebury, among the gnarled roots of the huge beech trees growing on the south of the henge, a place she loved so much. Perhaps I could dowse for Bec! There is no doubt about how much I loved her and how much I now miss her. Those things are real to me. Maybe the power of love and of the human mind would work?

I suggested it to Hamish. “Let’s try it” he enthused. As we approached the trees, we tried dowsing up to the nearest huge stone, ‘The Chair’, but the same thing happened: when Hamish approached the rods swerved, but with me, nothing. I tried it with eyes closed, concentrating hard. But still nothing.

We reached the trees and I took the dowsing rods. I walked along the chalk path by the trees and nothing happened. I tried again. Hamish said “talk to her”. I called her name: “Bec, show me where you are” I said, remembering exactly where we scattered her ashes, “remember where we put you?” To my utter astonishment, the rod in my right hand swerved sharply to the right, pointing at exactly the place where we scattered her ashes! (The rod in my left hand stayed put, but then my left hand is normally quite useless for anything requiring dexterity or co-ordination.) I took a couple of steps backwards and the rod moved again, continuing to fix its point on the place where we put her ashes.

I wanted to test what had happened… could I repeat this phenomenon? So I walked down the path from the other direction, closing my eyes, thinking of Bec, remembering all the truly magical times we spent at Avebury. Again I called out “Bec, show me where you are, you old tart!” and again the rod in my right hand swerved sharply and to point definitively towards her resting place.

I’ve been thinking about what happened and while I can’t explain it rationally, I do know that love and the power of the human mind to influence events is so-far scientifically unmeasurable (as far as I’m aware- please correct me if I’m wrong.)

So do I ‘believe’ in the soul, an afterlife, spirits of the dead remaining in this world? Well no. A rod in my hand spontaneously pointing on its own at the resting place of my dead friend proves nothing whatsoever.

Perhaps through the power of the human psyche, dowsing simply proves what you want to prove or shows what you want to find.


Here’s a photo that Bec took in 1991 of one of the places where she would eventually be laid to rest.

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