The Divining Rod

The reality or otherwise of the pretensions of the "Divining Rod" come

legitimately within the scope of the present inquiry. The physical

results which, it is alleged, follow the use of the "Divining" or

"Dowsing" Rod in certain hands are unexplained by recognised physical

science. The main fact of the success of the Rod, as a means of finding

water where all ordinary methods have failed, is, however, so widely

dged among intelligent persons, including many business men,

that it will be unnecessary to devote much space to this chapter. I

shall not do more than briefly refer to the scientific inquiry into the

whole subject which has been made in recent years, and quote a few cases

where success has attended the use of the Rod after other means had


Here again we are mainly indebted to a member of the Society for

Psychical Research for what has been done. In the early days of the

Society, two or three members, especially the late Mr. E. Vaughan

Jenkins, of Oxford, had assiduously collected the best testimony they

could obtain as to the successful use of the Rod. This was placed at the

disposal of the Society in 1884, and was amply sufficient to show that a

strong prima facie case for fuller investigation existed.[55] In 1891,

at the request of the Council of the Society, Professor W. F. Barrett,

F.R.S., of Dublin, undertook to submit the whole subject to a thorough

scientific and experimental research. The results of Professor Barrett's

indefatigable industry over a number of years are embodied in two

lengthy Reports, published in the Proceedings of the Society.[56] The

following cases are quoted from Professor Barrett's records as examples

of the work of different professional "dowsers."

I. Mr. B. Tompkins, of Pipsmore Farm, Chippenham, Wilts, was the

"diviner" in this case. Prior to 1890, Mr. Tompkins was a tenant farmer.

Having been at some expense in endeavouring to obtain a good supply of

water for his cattle, without success, he sent for Mr. Mullins, who came

and found a spot where he said a plentiful supply of water existed at a

depth of less than 30 feet. A well was sunk, and at 15 feet deep a

strong spring was tapped which has yielded an unfailing supply ever

since. Mr. Tompkins finding that the forked twig moved in his own hands,

tried some experiments on his own account which proved successful. He

was then asked by Messrs. Smith and Marshall, of Chippenham, agents to

the late Lord Methuen, to try and find a spring on Lord Methuen's

estate, as a well already sunk had proved useless. After a long search

the rod moved at a certain spot on a hillside where Mr. Tompkins

predicted a good supply of water would be found. Nine feet of solid rock

had to be blasted, but at 18 feet a spring was struck which rose 9 or 10

feet in the well. Messrs. Smith and Marshall subsequently wrote thus to

Mr. Tompkins:--



November 24, 1891.

"The decision you arrived at was perfectly correct, and it is

our opinion that if we had made the well 6 feet either way to

the right or left of the spot you marked, we should have missed

the water, which is now abundant. SMITH AND MARSHALL."

This is by way of introduction to case 99 in Professor Barrett's Report.

"No. 99. Mr. Charles Maggs, who is a Wiltshire county magistrate, and

proprietor of the Melksham Dairy Company, required a large supply of

pure water for his butter factory, and, after ineffectual attempts to

obtain it, wrote to Mr. Tompkins to come over and try the divining rod.

This was done, and subsequently Mr. Maggs writes to Mr. Tompkins as



November 10, 1890.

"'We found water at 30 feet, as stated by you at time of finding

the spring--a very strong spring. Our hopes had almost gone, and

faith was all but spent.... CHARLES MAGGS.'"

Professor Barrett wrote to Mr. Maggs, and received the following

interesting letter in reply:--


March 8, 1897.

"Briefly the facts are:--I sunk a well to find water for my

dairy and found none. Then I wrote to Mr. Tompkins, who came the

following day. He cut a forked stick out of the hedge, and

having placed it over the well, said, 'There is no water here,'

but found a slight spring within 10 feet, too small to be of any

service, he reported. He walked all over the field, and said he

had not come across any spring at all. However, in the extreme

corner of the field, a bunch of nettles was growing, and he

entered this, and instantly exclaimed--'Here it is; and a good

head of water, too! Not running away, but just ready for

tapping, and as soon as you strike it, it will come surging up.'

'How deep?' 'Not over 25 feet.' He cut out a turf to indicate

the spot, and we commenced sinking next day. The person employed

was an old well-sinker, and he came to me two or three times

whilst engaged in sinking, showing specimens of the soil or

marl, assuring me there never was water where such existed, and

it was worse than useless to go further. I told him to go on if

he had to get to New Zealand--it was my money, and he need not

regard me nor my pocket. When he had gone about 22 feet, his

pickaxe tapped the spring and the water came up like a fountain,

and at such a rate he feared he should be drowned before he

could get pulled up--his mates being away! The water rose

rapidly to within 12 or 15 inches of the surface. We put in

pumps and kept the water down whilst he went a little deeper,

but the rush of water was such that we had to desist going

lower. Since then we have had a splendid supply....


II. Mr. John Mullins and Mr. H. W. Mullins, father and son, Colerne,

Chippenham, Wilts.

Mr. Mullins, sen., who died rather more than ten years ago, was for

thirty years engaged all over Great Britain and Ireland in finding water

by means of the divining rod. He was a professional well-sinker. His

sons carry on their father's business. One of them, Mr. H. W. Mullins,

inherits his fathers faculty.

Cases Nos. 62 and 63 in Professor Barrett's Report illustrate the powers

of both father and son.

Mr. E.G. Allen writes:--


LINCOLN, March 25, 1893.

"Having frequently availed myself of Mr. John Mullins' services

during the last twenty years, I can say I have never known him

to fail. I have sunk six wells, two on a heath farm about 30

feet deep (surrounding wells measuring about 70 feet) in

limestone rock, thus saving a great expense in sinking. I took

him one morning to a farm which was at that time farmed by the

owner, the Right Hon. H. Chaplin, M.P. The well in the yard

(nearly always dry) was about 30 feet deep. In a few minutes,

Mullins, carrying in his hand his twig, found a good spring a

very short distance from the old well. A new well was sunk, and

at 10 feet a splendid supply of water was found. It has never

failed, and has supplied the yards, &c., with water ever since.

"Being in want of water for a large grass field, called 'Catley

Abbey Field,' I went with Mullins, who placed down a peg to

denote a spring. We sunk a well, and bored 70 feet obtaining a

good supply of water. Being struck with a peculiarity in its

taste, it was submitted to Professor Attfield, Ph.D., who

pronounced it to be the only natural seltzer spring in the

kingdom. E. G. ALLEN."[58]

The next case in Professor Barrett's collection, No. 63, forms an

interesting sequel to the above. The following is abridged from a long

report, in the Lincolnshire Chronicle of 8th June 1895, of a visit of

Mr. H.W. Mullins, son of Mr. John Mullins, to Catley Abbey:--

"The object of the Catley Abbey Company in sending for Mr. Mullins was

to secure a well of pure water for bottle-washing. A well on the

adjoining farm of Mr. Allen had run dry, and recently the seltzer water

had been used for the purpose of bottle-washing. Eight years ago, Mr. J.

Mullins, the father of the family, located the spot at Catley, where now

stands the only natural seltzer spring in Britain.... Proceeding to the

site of the dried-up well, Mullins took out a =V=-shaped twig, the forks

of which were each about a foot long, and walked slowly along the ground

a short distance from the well. Suddenly the twig revolved ... and

Mullins confidently asserted that he was standing over a subterranean

watercourse. Proceeding to the other side of the well, he traced, or

professed to trace, the course of the hidden stream, and marked a spot

contiguous to the buildings where he asserted a good spring would be

tapped at a depth of from 120 to 130 feet, and he advised that a well

should be sunk there.

"It was told to Mullins that his father asserted the seltzer spring

flowed under a hedge on the other side of the field in which we were

then standing, and he was asked to indicate the place. Starting at one

end of the field, he walked close by the hedge side. He had gone about

100 yards when the twig began to play, and digging his heel in the

ground, he thus marked the spot. Mr. Allen, who was present when

Mullins, sen., also located the spring, sent a man for a spade, and a

stake was dug up which eight years ago was driven in by Mr. Allen to

mark the place. Mullins, jun., had touched the spot exactly."

The same newspaper of 23rd August 1895 announces the result of digging

in the spot indicated as follows:--

"Our readers will remember that a few weeks ago our columns contained an

article relative to the finding of water at Catley Abbey by means of

hazel twigs in the hands of Mr. Mullins, the eminent 'dowser.' We are

now able to state that a well having been sunk in the position indicated

by Mr. Mullins, a valuable supply of water has been obtained, and that

at a depth of about 5 feet less than that mentioned by him."

Professor Barrett says: "I sent Mr. Allen the foregoing account, and

asked if it were correct. He replies that it is perfectly accurate, the

facts being most interesting, and occurred as stated in the letter and

newspaper report."[59]

III. Mr. Leicester Gataker, Crescent Gardens, Bath, who is a gentleman

by birth and education, soon after leaving Bath College, discovered to

his surprise that a forked twig revolved in his hands in the same way as

it did with a local "diviner." The following is Case 123 in Professor

Barrett's Report:--

"Mr. Gataker states that, being engaged by Messrs Ruscombe Poole & Son,

the well-known solicitors of Bridgwater, he found a spring less than 14

feet deep, and within 3 or 4 yards of a useless well, 20 feet deep, sunk

prior to his visit. In corroboration he encloses the following letter:--


"'We have sunk a well in the garden, and a copious spring has

been found at 13 feet 6 inches, which amply verifies your

prediction. "'J. RUSCOMBE POOLE & SON.'"

Professor Barrett says: "I wrote to Mr. Ruscombe Poole, and asked him if

Mr. Gataker's statements were correct, and he replies:--

"'BRIDGWATER, January 15, 1897.

"'We return the paper you sent us. As regards the statement that

there was a well about 20 feet deep which was useless, this is

perfectly true, because the water in it was foul and smelt

badly. The supply found is a very much more copious one than the

old well, which contained very little water.'"[60]

The Index to Professor Barrett's Reports enumerates between three and

four hundred persons with whom experiments with the Divining Rod are

described. A list of the names of "dowsers" is also given. This list

includes the names of about seventy professional "dowsers," and of

nearly as many amateur "dowsers." These figures show the extent to which

the use of the rod prevails, and also the work which the preparation of

the Reports involved. As a specimen of the kind of evidence presented by

Professor Barrett from miscellaneous sources, the following may be


"In the present Report numerous independent witnesses of unimpeachable

integrity, and some with high scientific attainments, testify to the

same class of facts, viz.:--(1) The automatic and apparently

irresistible motion of the twig in the hands often of a complete novice;

and (2) that, when the forked twig does not move in a person's hands,

if the dowser takes one link of the twig, or even places his hand on the

wrist of the insensitive person, the previously inert twig now turns

vigorously and often breaks in two in the effort to resist its motion.

As regards (1), see the letter from the President of the Royal

Geological Society of Cornwall on p. 219,[61] who states that the Clerk

of his Parish Council, on finding the rod suddenly twist in his hands,

called out--'It is alive, sir, it is alive!' Mr. Enys adds: 'This

exactly describes the sensation when the rod moves.' ... Mr. Bennett, of

Oxford, on p. 176, refers to the frantic motion and the ultimate

breaking of the twig 'held firmly' in the dowser's hands.... As regards

(2), see Mr. Morton's letter to The Engineer, given on p. 172; Mr.

Morton found the rod would not move in his hands, but when the late John

Mullins, the dowser, 'laid his hands on my wrists and grasped them

firmly, then the twig instantly began to turn, and continued turning

till he removed his hands. He never touched the twig while it was in my

hands.' Mr. Montague Price in his letter on p. 181 states: 'I held one

side of the forked rod myself and the diviner the other, and when we

came to water [alleged underground water] the strain was so great on my

fingers I was obliged to ask him to stop. From the position of the rod

it was almost impossible for him to produce the pressure, which

increased with the strength of the stream.' ...

"The usual practice, after watching a dowser at work, is for some of

the onlookers to try if the forked twig will move in their hands.

Generally speaking, one or more, out of perhaps ten or twelve persons,

discover, to their astonishment, that the twig curls up in their

hands--at the same places at which it did with the dowser. Here is such

an experience. Mrs. Hollands writes to me as follows:--

"'DENE PARK, TONBRIDGE, October 9, 1899.

"'In answer to your note of inquiry about the divining rod, the

whole thing is rather a long story, but the practical result of

the water dowser's visit was to find water which now supplies

the house. One of my daughters found she had the strange power

which moves the divining rod, and it works for her now quickly

over any spring. It is most interesting, as you can feel the rod

move if you take one side of it, and take one of her hands, she

holding the other end of the rod--it struggles up, and would

break off altogether if you did not allow it to move. My

daughter has since found several springs on the estate, where we

have sunk wells. They have stood us in very good stead these

last dry seasons. MINNIE HOLLANDS.'

"A similar experience is given by Miss M. Craigie Halkett, who published

some excellent photographs of a dowser at work in Sketch for 23rd

August 1899. Miss Halkett writes to me as follows:--


September 8, 1899.

"The man depicted in the photographs is not a water-finder by

profession. He is a tenant farmer residing at Catcolt, a

village near Bridgwater, and merely exercises the art to oblige

his neighbours. Several of the country people in this

neighbourhood (Somerset) have the gift. It has never been known

to fail. Personally I was rather sceptical on the subject, but

was converted by the stick turning in my hands when standing

over a spring. There were about six persons present at the time;

all tried it, but it would turn for no one excepting the man in

the picture and myself. I experienced a sort of tingling

sensation in my arms and wrists, but otherwise was quite unaware

when the forked stick began to turn, it seemed to go over so


"Miss Halkett does not say how she knew she was 'standing over a

spring' when the twig turned in her hands; this statement is

very characteristic of many others that have reached me."[62]

Professor Barrett's views as to the source of the power which moves the

rod are entitled to more attention than those of any one else. In a

chapter on "Theoretical Conclusions" in the first of his two Reports, he

says: "Few will dispute the proposition that the motion of the forked

twig is due to unconscious muscular action." He then gives a summary of

the causes which, he believes, determine that action. Among these he

enumerates, impressions from without unconsciously made upon the

dowser's mind from his own trained observation and practice, and from

bystanders. He also believed that in some cases an impression appears

to be gained through Thought-Transference. He did not, however, think

this covered the whole ground. A peculiar pathological effect is

produced on the dowser; but to what this is due can only be ascertained

by persevering and unbiassed investigation.

Professor Barrett's second Report contains a long and interesting

discussion of this problem. His views had undergone some modification.

He adheres to his previous view that the "curious phenomena attending

the motion of the so-called divining rod are capable of explanation by

causes known to science" (e.g. involuntary muscular action). But he

has become more impressed with the view that the suggestion may arise

"from some kind of transcendental discernment possessed by the dowser's

subconscious self." And he further says: "For my own part, I am disposed

to think that this cause, though less acceptable to science, will be

found to be a truer explanation of the more striking successes of a good

dowser." In conclusion Professor Barrett says still more definitely:

"This subconscious perceptive power, commonly called 'clairvoyance,' may

provisionally be taken as the explanation of those successes of the

dowser which are inexplicable on any grounds at present known to