More on Water Finding: Pendulums, Rods and Skills

There are a few different techniques for using pendulums but the suggested basic method in The Diviner’s Handbook is to gently swing the pendulum back and forth as a ‘neutral’ setting and watch for it to either start rotating or change axis which indicates water underneath where you are walking.

Jon uses a pendulum during water finding projects to assess the depth, speed and amount of the water, it can also be used for gauging things like mineral composition.  His is a piece of iron ore on a string (see previous post).

I have a basic understanding of dowsing techniques now and I have seen it work and heard fantastic anecdotes about dowsing success, but as I get drawn further into the practical and mystical elements, I am still trying to understand how it really works, hunting through books, podcasts and newspaper articles for old and new information on the subject.  

Both Jon and these books suggest that almost anything with some weight suspended on any kind of string, thread or a free moving chain can be used for water finding, but the tool should be chosen according to the environment, for example heavier pieces should be used if you are aiming to walk a windy exposed area whereas small light things should be used if you are attempting to dowse from a map.

The 1974 edition of Malcome Strutt’s booklet states at the beginning that the field is under researched and that it is but a guide for your own experiments. It’s speculative and unscientific with lots of talk of cosmic intelligence and consciousness.  It contains a few phrases I really liked such as:

‘Our bodies and all that we perceive with our physical senses are but bundles of vibrating energy.’

A section about the forces of different metals and the effects they have on a swinging pendulum sits beside a section about the effect of thought waves on a swinging pendulum, and despite the explanation presented I find it difficult to reconcile those things – which seem quite different to me. I enjoy the clear descriptions of practical elements such as ‘tuning’ the pendulum: Finding the correct point at which to hold it.

The books suggest that to be an effective pendulum user we must have a developed sense of intuition. I spent a while questioning the differences between intuition and knowledge. There is speculation that dowsers might be using other signals from the environment:

‘They might be using clues from vegetation, geography or temperature. They might not realise what they’re doing, and so believe in the supernatural power of the rods. Experiments have been done that eliminate these possibilities, by running water through one of 10 pipes laid underground, or moving the position of water pipes. Under such controlled conditions dowsers do not succeed.’

I have no doubt that there is a level of intuition which can be tapped into here. I suppose it might be connected to this prior knowledge of a particular landscape and the environment in general. Dowsers have different skills, Jon said that he doesn’t really do pipes, he finds groundwater and deep water, but some people find that they can specifically locate water pipes.

Some dowsers are able to ignore manmade interventions in order to perceive the geological landscape beneath. In one way it appears to me that the pendulum can act as a way to help focus and do this, however, it’s not only that; it’s also physics, forces are at work. I think the ambiguity between scientifically observable phenomenon and intuitive interpretation is hard to understand but I can get there, maybe because of my interest in highly speculative and mystical assertions alongside observable evidence and anecdotes, alongside peer reviewed experiments etc. I am approaching this with an open and flexible mind, as so often with my projects I arrive at a cusp between received academic wisdom and folk, intuitive knowledge examining the space between different approaches, beliefs, interpretations.

I’m also enjoying experimenting with these techniques.

Dowsing is widely regarded as a pseudoscience, and there is a lack of hard evidence (other than anecdotal) for it’s effectiveness, biologist Sally Le Page, furious about her discovery that 10 out of 12 UK water companies still use dowsing, wrote about her frustration.

This led to several newspaper articles criticising the water companies and outrage from people demanding to know why they would use dowsing instead of ‘modern equipment’. Sue Scott, a cartographer from Wessex Water (which serves the Chard area) told me that Wessex Water do not use dowsing anymore. This is also the answer Le Page received, and it turns out that they are 1 of only 2 companies in the UK who do not use divining rods.

So why are the water companies, or anyone else, still dowsing if it is not proven to work? Regardless of the criticism water divining has been practiced for definitely hundreds, probably thousands of years by humans. Historically by farmers and land workers and more recently by engineers and geologists. It seems that it has been so often found to work anecdotally that people are willing to ignore the lack of double blind trials. Using dowsing rods or a pendulum can also be fun, social or meditative and feels like a gorgeous attempt to connect with the landscape above and below ground. I observed this with the Holyrood students, the museum divining excursion and my own experiments.