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. 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. 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
"CHIPPENHAM, WILTS, and
7 WHITEHALL PLACE, LONDON,
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
"'MELKSHAM DAIRY COMPANY,
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:--
"BOWERHILL LODGE, MELKSHAM,
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,
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."
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
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
"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:--
"'BRIDGWATER, SOMERSET, July 1896.
"'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.'"
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, 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:--
"LAURISTON, NEW ELTHAM, KENT,
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
quickly. "'MAUDE CRAIGIE HALKETT.'
"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."
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