The Magic of Dowsing

Dowsing, or divining, is an ancient practice that’s been used for centuries to find hidden sources of water. In the Tassili n’Ajjer caves in Algeria, one of the many the wall paintings shows,
“… a group of people watching a diviner with a forked stick. It has been estimated that these drawings could be 8,000 years old.”

Dowsing has also long been used to find more than hidden water. Elizabeth Mayer told a very modern story about a different use for dowsing in her book, EXTRAORDINARY KNOWING: Science, Skepticism, and the Inexplicable Powers of the Human Mind. Her daughter’s very valuable hand-carved harp was stolen after a Christmas recital, and despite two months of doing everything they could think of – calling in the police, posting ads, even going on a TV show – it had not been recovered. A friend challenged her saying, “If you really want that harp back, you should be willing to try anything. Try calling a dowser.

Mayer was a psychoanalyst and professor of psychology at Berkeley and definitely not the kind of person to believe in something as strange as dowsing. But she was desperate, so she got in touch with the American Society of Dowsers and was given the name of their then president, Harold McCoy, who lived in Arkansas.

She wrote,
“I called him that day. Harold picked up the phone – friendly, cheerful, heavy Arkansas accent. I told him I’d heard he could dowse for lost objects and that I’d had a valuable harp stolen in Oakland, California. Could he help locate it?
“’Give me a second, ‘ he said. ‘I’ll tell you if it’s still in Oakland.’ He paused, then ‘Well, it’s still there. Send me a street map of Oakland and I’ll locate that harp for you.’”

 Mayer overnighted a map of Oakland, and two days later McCoy called back with an address. Mayer followed up by going to see the street and house he had named. She posted flyers about the harp around the neighborhood, and, to shorten the story, the harp was returned. Then she had to deal with her realization that, “This changes everything.”

She said, “It changed the way I go about living … it changed the way I perceive the world and try to make sense of it. … Most of all, it changed my relatively established, relatively contented, relatively secure sense of how the world adds up. If Harold McCoy did what he appeared to have done, I had to face the fact that my notions of space, time, reality, and the nature of the human mind were stunningly inadequate.”

After finding the harp, she had to begin a new search. As she looked for ways to understand this extraordinary experience she was, “… discovering a vast, strange new territory of research regarding anomalous mind and matter interactions, interactions between mind and matter that simply cannot be contained inside what we call normal science.”

Tom Graves, a well-known dowser, wrote something brief and clear about the limitations of normal science,
“We’re taught in school that everything has a simple explanation, that everything can be shown to be caused by something else in a known way: as long as you leave it at school-level platitudes which explain everything so neatly, you can indeed leave it at that. Everything fits, everything is certain, everything works within the ‘laws of nature.’”

But for many of us, direct experiences of extraordinary phenomena can open us to the many dimensions of reality that are found far beyond what we were taught in school.

When people heard Elizabeth Mayer’s story, they began to tell her their own true stories about extraordinary experiences. Her book tells many of them and they are well worth reading. In his foreword to EXTRAORDINARY KNOWING, Freeman Dyson wrote, “Scientists call such stories ‘anecdotal’ meaning that they are scientifically useless.”

I believe in the value of stories and WINN includes many that are not just “anecdotes.” Stories allow us to learn from what others have experienced and to open areas for us to explore on our own. Beyond that, these stories, when gathered, can form a useful body of knowledge.

I’d like to add a little more about dowsing. Tom Graves said that it is a technology, not a science and is,
“… a magical technology. The magic and the technology meet in you, work through you.”

He also wrote, “… One of the shortest yet most accurate descriptions of dowsing is to say that it’s entirely coincidence and mostly imaginary: which would hardly inspire confidence if you look at it only as a science, but should make perfect practical sense when we get there.”

 When we “get there,” we too can see that although no one can explain exactly how it works, dowsing has proven to be a very useful tool.

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EXTRAORDINARY KNOWING: Science, Skepticism, and the Inexplicable Powers of the Human Mind, by Elizabeth Lloyd Mayer, Ph.D., Bantam Books, 2007.

I first learned about the Tassili n’Ajjer caves in DOWSING For BEGINNERS: The Art of Discovering Water, Treasure, Gold, Oil, Artifacts by Richard Webster.

THE ELEMENTS OF PENDULUM DOWSING, by Tom Graves, Element Books, 1989. Tom Graves has written many good books – this just happened to be the one on my shelves.




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  1. What is life without
    some inexplicable mystery?

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