All-Purpose Dowsing


BARNEY D. EMMART served in the Army Air Forres as a meteorologist during the war, was graduated from Harvard in 1947, and took his doctorate at the University of London. He is now living in Baltimore.

ONE would like to see Kenneth Roberts’s morning mail since the publication of his book Henry Gross and His Dowsing Rod last year. R. J. Santschi, who has been writing for over ten years on the subject, quotes in his little volume, Doodlebugs, a letter that is typical of the enthusiastic response to many books on dowsing. “The sad part of it is that, of all the treasures we have found,” says his correspondent, “and there have been a great number, we have never been able to dig one up — they are all wild. We generally carry a rod to stick down to them, and when you get within six inches of the supposed treasure it will suddenly move sideways from two to four feet; if not sideways, it moves downward. . . . If you can furnish any information so that we could stop, hold, and dig up these treasures, we would be willing to share with you a certain per cent . . .”

This sort of thing, of course, represents the frantic fringe, which dowses for hidden treasures with all the gusto of a pig snouting for truflles. There is, however, a more serious side to dowsing. This is especially true abroad, where interest in dowsing is far more widespread and better organized than in the United States. In England there is the excellent British Society of Dowsers, with its quarterly journal; in France s’Association des Amis de la Radiesthésie, with about two thousand members; and in Belgium, the Centre International d’Étude Scientifique de la Radiesthesie. In Italy four journals are published on the subject, including the Rivista Italiana di Radiestesia. In Germany the Gesellschaft für Wissenschaftliche Pendelforschung existed before the war, and has, I believe, been re-formed.

The governments of Bombay and British Columbia employ — or have employed — official state dowsers; and in 1919 the French government commissioned the Abbé Bouly to locate hidden caches of munitions — some buried in France by the Germans, and some by the French themselves, who, like squirrels, had forgotten their exact location. Some governments take a dim view of dowsing: the only U.S. Government pamphlet on the* subject is dated 1917 and is distinctly hostile; but as late as 1936 the Italian Army is reported to have employed “dowsing engineers” in the Ethiopian campaign.

Apart from this use of dowsing by the military and the large European organizations, dowsing submerges like an iceberg. Eight ninths of the dowsing world practice in secret. In England, for example, where the official geological opinion is that water can be struck at reasonable depths anywhere in the island, at least half a dozen large companies of well diggers use dowsers. Though they would wish to give little publicity to the fact, they have found that the dowser can usually save them time by locating the point where the water rises nearest to the surface of the ground. There is no doubt that they are remarkably successful at this.

How much success obtains in some of the minor branches of dowsing remains a question. In Belgium, for example, a magazine enthusiastically suggests to its readers that dowsing can be used in connection with their professions. “You are a traveling salesman? Then use your pendulum (or rod) to plan your itineraries on the map, to determine which clients to visit and at what hour, to estimate credit (see ‘Dowsing Applied to Business’ by F. and W. Servranx).” In Belgium, one suspects, the death of the salesman may be a more complicated matter than here.

The enormous interest, activity, and sometimes antagonism centering in dowsing on the Continent can be laid, in large part, to the rather spectacular achievements of the Abbé Mermet, a Swiss subject, whose book Comment j’opère (Paris, 1935) is now a standard text in its field. His success was so astonishing, and spread over such a wide area, that he was bound to arouse interest. Consider that during the years 1934-1936 the Abbé was credited with locating nineteen missing persons in addition to carrying on his regular work as a water diviner. Most of these persons had been drowned and their bodies were located by the Abbé without his budging from his study in Switzerland.

The case that brought this Swiss Sherlock Holmes (who could dispense with clues) the greatest publicity was that of the Baloz family at Miège. Their six-year-old boy disappeared from his home in the canton of Valais in the autumn of 1933. The village of Miège, near the Zermatt in the heart of the Swiss Alps, sent out several search parties but could find no trace. Then a police dog was borrowed from Lausanne, but the animal was unable to pick up any scent of the child. Finally the mayor of Miège besought the help of the great sourcier; and after consulting his dowsing pendulum the Abbé announced, by letter, that the child had been carried off into the mountains by a bird of prey.

Moreover, he indicated three points on a map. One was where the child would, he thought, be found — a peak inaccessible at that time of year; the other two points were where the bird must have touched ground with its heavy burden, to rest and to feed. These last two points, being accessible, were investigated by the villagers. At the first they found no traces of the child. The second had been covered by a snowslide; so they could expect to find nothing there. On this evidence it was decided that the Abbé must have been mistaken. But when, a fortnight later, the snows melted, woodcutters pushing on to the peak found the body at the point indicated by the Abbé as the final resting place of the child.

The woodcutters, the report says, “found the cadaver of the child rather badly torn. It appeared that the bird of prey had been prevented from continuing his macabre dinner by a fall of two meters of snow. According to the inquest, the child’s shoes and clothes had not touched ground, and no other creature than a bird of prey could have transported the body to the solitary and inaccessible point where it was found.”

For the newspapers this story had almost everything, and it was given a great play. Naturally, the public was impressed, and Mermet must have been pleased by this recognition of his skill. But then the letters began.

“We have,” said one from France, which the Abbé properly calls the bouquet, “an uncle who has been in America for thirty years: tell us if he is still alive; and in case he is dead, if he has made us his heirs; and if he has, what sum it amounts to; and if it is on route; and when it will get to us.” So incensed was the Abbé — by all accounts a mild-tempered man — by such demands that in his next book he wrote: “Let me say this: I advise those who do me the honor of reading my books, that if they are ever tempted— they or their friends — to write me such rubbish as this, I shall not hesitate to throw their black nonsense into the wastepaper basket, and for the trouble of having read it, to keep whatever stamps are included (if any)!”

It was Mermet who was responsible for the now prevalent use of the pendulum — in preference to the hazel or whalebone rod — in Europe. At the dowsing tests of 1913 in Paris the Abbé was the only one who relied wholly on the pendulum. It performed so admirably for him that a whole generation of European dowsers adopted it. Today the Maison de la Radiesthésie in Paris (the only shop in the world to specialize in dowsers’ equipment) lists about twenty models of pendulums, and a famous instrument maker on the Rue de Bac makes another six models. All in all, more than a thousand types of pendulum have been devised. Paul Augard, second engineer of the ill-fated Normandie, was responsible for one of the most complex; and M. Pitois, once chief engineer of the French Air Service, designed several models.

It is Mermet’s pendulum, however, that remains standard. I have one before me as I write. It is of black plastic, and shaped much like a small top, about one inch high and three quarters of an inch broad. The pendulum is hollowed out and is fitted with a screw top so that it may contain a sample of the material for which the dowser is looking. The string on which it hangs is about six inches long. Mermet’s preference for this pendulum instead of the forked rod was based on the fact that the rod must be sprung in a state of tension during its use, and is therefore tiresome to use for long periods of time. But the pendulum starts from a state of rest, and moves only when the object sought for is present. In addition, it does not move as violently as the rod, and has a more subtle variety of motions.

Any reader who would like to test his own dowsing talents would do best to start with a pendulum, because it is easily mastered. A good pendulum may be made from a small two-dram medicine bottle. Wash this out well in warm water and pierce the cork from top to bottom. Draw a string about seven inches long through this hole and knot it at the bottom of the cork. Put the cork in the bottle, and you will have a satisfactory hollow pendulum, capable of holding a sample.

For a start, you might fill it with tap water and try finding the mains which bring water into your house. Hold the string between thumb and index finger. The bottle should swing like a pendulum in the direction of the source of water. When you are directly over a pipe (if there is water flowing, not simply standing at the time), it should begin to rotate in clockwise circles (except in the case of a few experimenters, who will get a counterclockwise reaction). Mark all the places where you get this rotary motion, and you should be able to trace the principal pipes and drains.

Be sure to wash and dry the bottle carefully before putting any other sorts of samples into it; and if you succeed, don’t boast too publicly of your successes, if any, or your morning mail may begin, rather rousingly: “Dear Sir, I think I’ve cornered a small treasure in my basement, but it is digging its way out and snarls when I come near it. If you could come quickly. . . .”