meets the new breed keeping alive the ancient art of
High up on Dartmoor Aaron Bray is
demonstrating rhabdomancy. That's dowsing or divining
to the rest of us - the art (some would say the
science) of finding things that are hidden.
Along an uneven stretch of moorland, the tall
29-year-old Cornishman walks slowly, with a pair of
L-shaped metal rods held out in front of him, his face
masked with concentration.
The two rods suddenly swing towards each other. He
stops. "There's a watercourse down here," he says with
He swaps the metal rods for what he calls a Y-rod.
This is traditionally made of hazel; Bray's consists of
two kite poles taped together. He walks over the site
where he pinpointed the water: the rod swings up in the
air. Y marks the spot.
In the past dowsers were known as "water witches"
and regarded with a mixture of grudging respect and
suspicion. Times have changed. What Bray calls "the old
boys in tweed with their hazel rods" are passing on.
Modern dowsers such as Bray are often called on to
locate not just water but gas supplies, mineral lodes,
unmapped water pipes and sewers. In Austria and
Germany, dowsing for "geopathic stress" (unhealthy
water lines or energy lines) is big business and
dowsers work alongside architects and builders.
It's true that an element of ley lines and earth
mysteries still lingers in the ether. Many dowsers
claim the ability to track missing pets and people
(some will swing a pendulum over a map to find the
spot). Some offer to find stolen goods or lost items.
Inevitably, oil is the holy grail. One Exmoor farmer
rubbed her hands with glee when her dowser detected
black gold. Visions of untold wealth danced before her
eyes, until it was discovered that the "oil field" was
merely a spill from a tank.
|Still, it doesn't put off construction
companies, hard-nosed farmers and even (rumour has it)
the British Army, which allegedly dowsed for
land-mines in the Falklands.
Bray is typical of the
new breed: open-minded, enthusiastic, matter-of-fact
and unpretentious about his dowsing abilities. "Anyone
can do it," he insists. It is telling that he terms
himself both dowser and water engineer, his position in
his family's firm, Chenpump, which supplies domestic,
industrial and marine pumps.
Unfortunately, no one can explain exactly how
dowsing works. There is talk about something in the
brain that triggers the hands to move. The old sixth
sense is often brought into the equation. Some people
claim that electromagnetic fields or quantum physics
hold the answers.
Sceptics roll their eyes in disbelief. "Pie in the
sky," says quantity surveyor Simon Lee, who has 20
years' experience in the construction industry. "If you
walk along the surface, there is always water below
you. When we work on a job, we use good engineers and
equipment to find out where the water is."
His views are echoed by John Jackson, of UK Skeptics
www.ukskeptics.com ). "There are many
other reasons why dowsing may appear to work," he says.
"Prior knowledge, experience, environmental cues,
probability, etc. All these other possible explanations
need to be eliminated. Whenever this is done under
controlled experimental conditions, dowsing does not
work. The obvious conclusion is that whatever results
dowsers get, it's due to reasons other than dowsing
Laurence Blewett disagrees. A no-nonsense Cornish
farmer, he grows vegetables plus a crucial crop of
early- and late-season strawberries. So he needs a lot
of water. Last year he hired Bray to dowse, drill and
fit a pump system. "My grandfather could dowse and so
can I," Blewett says.