It is a queer sensation to hold a hazel twig in your hands and have it twisting and trying to pull away from your grip as though vigorously alive.
I know because I have experienced it, and consequently cannot share the derision with which many people regard the claims that there are those specially endowed with some mysterious power, not yet explained, by which they can define the presence of water and minerals with a twig.
Because I have this power to a small degree, I readily accept the evidence that the divining rod has successfully been used down the centuries. Certainly the lead miners of Mendip had faith in dowsers, as they were called, and their services were in demand right up to the end of mining on Mendip.
My discovery that I had something of the dowser's art was made in 1936 when I was reporting the opening of Weston Airport. The airport's chief services had quickly become the Weston-Cardiff ferry, which developed into one of the busiest internal lines in the country,
A Cardiff civic party flew over for the airport's opening, and one of them who had the dowser's art brought a hazel twig with him, and to the amusement of his colleagues used it to demonstrate the presence of water as they flew over the Bristol Channel!
At the reception at the Grand Atlantic Hotel he passed the twig around, and we were invited to see if we could divine metal by placing a half-crown under a foot. I was the only member of the party who had success. As I held the twig it became a live thing in my hands and twisted down almost to breaking point.
I was given the twig as a souvenir, and my fellow Cardiff dowser, in welcoming me to the diviners' fraternity, said he understood that about one in 10 people had the power to a slight degree.
It has been said that practising the art of divining is extremely tiring. I can vouch for this. On occasions when I have experimented with it for any length of time I have felt drained of energy.
I cannot claim any great success with my divining, because my powers are only slight. Perhaps my outstanding achievement was on the occasion when I was demonstrating the art at a WI meeting in the district. The twig was sharply responsive, and bent heavily to the right.
Its action brought an explanation from a member who exclaimed: "That's the gent's toilet round there!"
I had a further experience of the art of dowsing when I visited the lead mining area of Velvet Bottom, Charterhouse, after the great floods of July 1968 had swept away the road.
There I met a man who had a plumbline in his hand. As he held it out the weight began to move in ever-widening circles until it was fairly flying around,
He explained that he had divining rod powers. When I commented that I had them to a small extent, he handed the plumbline to me. It started to revolve and soon it was whirling like a roundabout. My fellow dowser told me he was a member of the British Society of Dowsers!
Weston has had a number of noted water diviners, including 'Cough John' Osmond, of Spring Hill, Milton. Weston diviner Mr Leicester Gataker developed the art so successfully that he could only gauge not only where water could be found but also the depth at which it would be reached.
Mr Gataker had a chief assistant to help with the divining, and a staff of men to sink wells and provide necessary services. His work took him all over the British Isles, and overseas.
I have a little book called The Divining Rod, which tells the fascinating history of the firm of John Mullins and Sons, Waterworks Engineers, of Bath. They were a family of water diviners. Among their commissions was that of finding a supplementary water supply for Axbridge Rural District Council on Mendip.
With the aid of a twig Mr H W Mullins picked on a spot at which he undertook to obtain a daily supply of a minimum of 50,000 gallons of water at a cost of £500. When the water was tapped the yield was proved to be 150,000 gallons a day.
Another family member, Mr W J Mullins, traced a supply of over a half-a-million gallons a day at Somerdale, Keynsham, for Messrs Fry.
One occasion, however, a diviner located a supply for a district council, but the authority's auditors subsequently declined to approve the payment, ruling that his services were illegal!
It is not known if the auditors quoted a law surviving from the long ago which stated that a man carrying a twig ostensibly dowsing was practising witchcraft! At one time dowsers were known as water witches.
One can hardly, however, accept the story of the Exmoor dowser of over a 100 years ago who "guided by his rod, pursued a murderer by land for a distance exceeding 45 leagues, besides 30 leagues more by water", and got his man!
In his book The Mines of Mendip, J W Gough says that in some places the ore was so thickly distributed that in prospecting for a mine a man would simply dig a trench forward through the ground until he came upon a vein. Great faith, however, was placed in the use of the divining rod on Mendip, and in the old days it was used as much for finding minerals as for water.
Historically, divining for minerals preceded the use of the rod for finding water, and it was first introduced into this country by German miners during the reign of Queen Elizabeth I.
A German legend claims that the divining rod must be cut at midnight on Good Friday. A legend from West Scotland says it should be chosen on St John's Day. In Denmark, 'Finkelont', as it is named, can be used only by a man born under Aquarius.
The German scholar, Georgius Agricola, writing in 1555 says: "There are a great many contentions between miners concerning the forked twig, for some say that it is of the greatest use in discovering veins, and others deny it. Some of those who manipulate and use the twig, first cut a fork from a hazel bush with a knife, for this bush they consider more efficacious than any other for revealing the veins, especially if a hazel bush grows above a vein.
"Others use a different kind of twig for each metal, when they are seeking to discover the veins, for they employ hazel twigs for veins of silver, ash twigs for copper, pitch pine or lead and especially tin, and rods made of iron and steel for gold.
"All alike grasp the forks of the twig with their hands, clenching their fists, it being necessary that the clenched fingers should be held towards the sky ... then they wander hither and thither through mountainous regions. It is said that the moment they place their feet on a vein the twig immediately turns and twists."
Writing in 1669, Joseph Glanvil says no experienced Mendip miners at that time put reliance on the divining rod, but Joseph Billingsley, who made an exhaustive survey of the Mendips in 1795 under government auspices, wrote: "The general method of discovering the situation and direction of these seams of ore ... is by the help of the divining rod, vulgarly called dosing; and a variety of strong testimonies are advanced in support of this doctrine. Most rational people, however, give little credit to it, and consider the whole as a trick ....
"So confident, however, are the miners of its efficacy that they scarce ever sink a shaft but by its direction, and those who are dexterous in the use of it will mark on the surface the course and breadth of the vein; and after that, with the assistance of the rod, will follow the same course 20 times blindfolded."
Mr Gough in his book records that in 1872 Mr Capper Pass and a friend named Tawney were at a Mendip village where miners were sinking for iron. They were still using the divining rod.
"The foreman, an intelligent man, admitted that he had not seen the dowsing rod used in his native South Wales, but he had been converted to it since he had been in Mendip country, and he believed that not only subterranean fissures and deposits of minerals could be discovered by it, but that metal, where it was placed - hidden money, for instance - would be revealed."
Mr Gough says it seems certain that Messrs Pass and Tawney were right in their conclusion "that the motive force in dowsing is muscular, and not some mysterious attraction affecting the rod itself, and that the rod is in effect simply a mechanism which demonstrates existence of certain slight muscular actions".
Further summing up their evidence Messrs Pass and Tawney stated diviners appeared "to be endowed with a subconscious supernormal faculty which, its nature being unknown, we call after Professor Richet, cryptesthesia. By means of this cryptesthesia, knowledge of whatever object is searched for enters the dowser's subconsciousness and is revealed by means of an unconscious muscular reaction".
Gough adds that this faculty they admit to be at present beyond the range of science, "but they think that scientists will ultimately be driven to accept it from inability to explain the phenomena of dowsing by any other hypothesis".
According to the 1970 edition of the Encyclopaedia Britannica, scientific opinion remains extremely sceptical about the whole business!
(The 2005 edition actually classes water divining under occultism!)
* This article, edited by Jill Bailey, was originally published on May 12, 1972
Source : http://www.thewestonmercury.co.uk/content/twm/sport/story.aspx?brand=Westonmercury&category=sportcricket&tBrand=westonmercury&tCategory=zsport&itemid=WeED02%20Jul%202007%2012%3A29%3A41%3A957