In June, I attended The American
Society of Dowsers 46th Annual Convention at Lyndon State College in Vermont. Lyndon is a picture-post card village with a
town green and bandstand in Vermont’s picturesque Northeast Kingdom. The convention was populated
by an assortment of crystal gazers, psychics, necromancers, new-age pagans, alchemists, astrologists, shamans and too many
old beatniks and ageing hippies, including myself. The one thing they all had in common was they didn’t fit easily into
the mass culture. Vermont has always attracted iconoclasts.
Dowsing is the ancient art
of finding underground water with a forked stick, usually from a willow tree. In Vermont
almost every village has dowser or “water witch” who will find underground water, usually for a small fee or a
case of beer. With the high cost of well drilling, dowsing is still an option for many Vermonters from the old school.
At the conference, I learned
that dowsing has morphed into much more than looking for water. Some of the lectures were interesting. Like a farmer that
measures EMF- exposure to electrical and magnetic field pollution and its effects upon humans and animals. Or the workshop
on the mysterious crop circles, flattened geometric patterns that appear in wheat fields in
Britain and even the United
States. But some of the lectures were the product of overactive imagination and wishful thinking.
One guy, for instance, gave a lecture about how he gets 50 miles a gallon on his 6-cylinder Ford Explorer by meditating and
swinging a pendulum over the engine before he drives it. He cautioned that the government doesn’t want us to know about
this because “they are in league with the oil companies.” I was skeptical of this claim, of course, but not of
the entire conference. I have seen real dowsing before.
In the 1950’s, my father
was the superintendent of distribution for the Lawrence Gas Company. The greater Lawrence
gas distribution system contains many miles of underground gas lines. Nowadays the system is computerized, so diagnosing problems
is relatively easy. But in the old days, locating low pressure areas or leaks in the labyrinthine system of distribution was
art, not science. My father was, in a Zen Buddhist sense, one with the system.
One of his many talents was
dowsing, Only my father didn’t dowse for water with a willow twig; he dowsed for gas lines, and he used brass rods.
This was no will o’ the wisp caprice, but serious business. A work crew complete with air compressors and jackhammers
would be dispatched to a city street. But where to dig? Time is money; the crew would be waiting for directions. They don’t just tear up the whole street
until they find the offending gas main. That’s where my father came in.
He carried in his company
car two brass tubes about six inches long and a half inch wide. He would hold
the tubes upright in front of his body. In each brass tube was a wire bent in an L-shape and free to swing in any direction.
When he would walk over a gas line, the two brass rods would swing immediately into a straight line as if magnetized. It was
not a vague, wishy- washy motion, but a real, pronounced magnetic force that acted on the rods. It was an amazing thing to
see. And he was dead-on right every time. Stranger still was that none of the crew seemed to think it was a big deal-as if
this were the most natural thing in the world! I asked my father a number of times to show me how to do it, but I could never
learn. I would take the brass rods, walk across the street, and nothing would ever happen.
I asked him recently about
dowsing. He just said matter-of-factly that “some of the guys could do it.” He doesn’t remember where he
learned it; he’s unimpressed with what -to me- is a formidable ability. He just says that some people have magnetism.
My father is a meat-and-potatoes, World War 2 veteran, and a no-nonsense guy- about as far away as you can get from the Shirley
MacLaine, New Age lifestyle.
I would like to bring my father to the convention next year, but I don’t think he would be interested.
Instead of discussing the engagement of earth energy, which everybody at the convention does, he actually does it. If you
are not convinced, I don’t blame you. It’s one of those things you have to see yourself. But the earth is indeed
ancient and mysterious and with all our inventions we don’t understand much about anything. If you doubt this, just
try to answer a 4-year-old’s questions about life. As Hamlet said, “There are more things in heaven and earth,
Horatio, than are dreampt of in your philosophy.”