This has to be a providential sign. We’re on the brink of a drought, but the rain is pouring down and the wind rips at Basil Frostick’s uniform as he makes his slow, careful way along the pavement of a housing estate near Horsham, Surrey.
As another peal of thunder rumbles in the distance, Basil begins muttering under his breath: “Almost there. Almost there.”
He takes another step forward and his divining rods take on a life of their own. At first they start quivering like a cat’s whiskers sensing prey in the distance. A moment later they swing resolutely through 90 degrees to form a cross in front of Basil’s chest.
“There it is,” says Basil. “That’s the water main right beneath our feet.” “Nearly all of Southern Water’s leak detection team now uses divining,” he says. “It saves getting all of the electronic equipment out of the van. The detection rates are better too,” he says with a satisfied smile.
At first glance, water divining appears to be straight out of a Harry Potter novel. Surely, in the ultra-rational 21st Century, there’s no place for detecting water with two bent bits of wire or a forked hazel twig? Nothing, however, could be further from the truth. Divining is now being used by companies up and down the land to help them hunt for leaking pipes and to track down new sources of water.
This year’s drought has sparked renewed interest in divining. The British Society of Dowsers, for instance, has been fielding ever increasing numbers of enquiries from heavy water users such as farmers who are desperate for new supplies. And Southern Water, which supplies large swathes of the Home Counties, now has 90 technicians regularly divining for leaks. They have also been recruiting new leak detection technicians, many of whom will be taught to dowse by Basil. “We’re doing a lot of overtime at the moment to find as many leaks as we can as fast as we can,” says Basil. “We at Southern Water have one of the best records in the country for reducing wastage but we’re a competitive bunch and we want to do even better.” Basil may have a point. He and his colleagues have managed to reduce losses from their pipes to around ten percent (which is admittedly still a lot of wasted water). However, this is far better than neighbouring Thames Water, which loses around a third of the liquid that flows through its pipes. This amounts to an astonishing 700 swimming pools worth every day. Although Thames is the worst offender, most water utilities have an astonishingly bad record. Together they manage to lose 3.6 billion litres a day, which equates to the water consumed by 24 million people, or around 500 pints per household. To add insult to injury, several water companies have applied for drought orders, which allows them to restrict their customers’ water use. If the orders are granted, as one was to Sutton and East Surrey earlier this week, then watering the garden, washing the car and other ïÂ¿Â½non-essential’ uses will be banned. So it’s hardly surprising that heavy water users are turning to dowsers, if only out of desperation. Although divining is being used increasingly widely, it still begs the question, can you really find water with a bent bit of metal? Soon we should have a definitive answer. Scientists in Britain are now preparing a mammoth study that will decide once and for all whether divining works or not.
Professor Chris French, a psychologist at Goldsmiths College, University of London, is leading the team that will investigate the phenomena. “If you observe diviners in the field then they seem to be able to detect water,” says Professor French. “But when you ask them to do it under controlled laboratory conditions then they don’t seem to be able to do it. So we want to find out once and for all whether divining works or not.” Water divining has a long and noble history going back to Old Testament times. Moses is thought to have been an accomplished dowser. When he famously smote a rock in the desert and water came gushing forth to quench the thirst of the Israelites, it is believed he knew where to find it by dowsing with his staff. Ancient peoples used divination not only to discover water but also to hunt for precious stones, metals and lost treasures. Even today, accomplished diviners say they can dowse for virtually anything. The Daily Mail has learned, for example, that oil and gas companies, gold miners and even the US army employ dowsers. In all cases, the secret, they say, is to fix in your mind the object you’re looking for. And when your divining rods pass over it, they react by twitching or forming a cross. Diviners use a host of different tools for their craft. The simplest is a forked hazel twig, with the two branches clasped firmly in each hand. The rod twitches violently if water is detected. Some use crystal pendulums but most diviners prefer to use thin wire rods bent into an “L” shape. One of these rods is held in each hand. When the you pass over water the rods swing across each other to form an ‘X’. Despite its apparent usefulness, churchmen and scientists have done their best to stamp out divining. The Church regards it as an abomination and the work of the Devil. Many scientists treat it with equal contempt and look upon it as little more than a hoax practiced on the feeble minded. But try as they might, scientists have never managed to prove that it is a trick, largely because people have continued to make vast fortunes by apparently using it to successfully discover gold, gems and oil. Scientists may dismiss divining as a con, but those who make money from it are apt to believe in it. Oilmen, in particular, seem to have a passion for dowsing, probably because finding oil remains something of a black art – no matter how sophisticated the technology you use to locate it. And the industry seems to have profited vastly from dowsing. In 1910, diviners reputedly discovered one of the most spectacular oilfields in the US. At its peak, the California Lakeview Number 1 “gusher’ spurted a fountain of oil 200 feet into the air and produced over 100,000 barrels a day. It was so prolific that the price of oil temporarily collapsed by over two thirds. Atlantic Richfield, now part of BP, was also reputedly founded by dowsers, as was Union Oil. Pemex, the Mexican oil major, made a fortune from an oilfield pinpointed by Uri Geller. Mining companies, too, continue to employ diviners behind the scenes. RTZ, the giant mining conglomerate, has used dowsers to help it find minerals around the world. In the 1970s, Sir Val Duncan, its chairman and a director of the Bank of England, taught Uri Geller to divine. After witnessing Uri bend a spoon he took him aside and pointedly told him: “There’s more money in finding metal than bending metal.” As a result, says Uri: “I found oil and gold. I didn’t make my wealth by bending spoons. I made it by finding oil and gold. Bending spoons is passe.” Other mining companies continue to make fortunes through divination. The Clogau gold mine in North Wales struck a rich seam after bringing in the diviner Peter Taylor. Bill Roberts, chairman of the mine, says: “He went down into our mine and his divining forks went wild. They seemed to seize control of him. Although we thought it a little spooky we decided to follow his advice and mine a new area that we’d never looked at before.” “And we struck gold,” he says. “We discovered a significant amount of gold.” The military are also keen on divining. The US Army still apparently teaches recruits to dowse for water. Special forces were also taught to divine for enemy mines during the Vietnam War. The British armed forces are also believed to use dowsing from time to time. It was used as recently as the Falkland’s War but the Ministry of Defence will neither confirm nor deny whether they still do so. Although many scientists continue to dismiss divining as mere superstition, a brave few have begun sticking their necks out to try and discover how it might work. A massive study conducted by physicists at the University of Munich has proved categorically that dowsers are better at finding water than professional hydrologists. As part of a massive series of experiments, Professor Hans Dieter Betz took diviners to ten different countries around the world and asked them to work alongside professional hydrologists. The aim was to see who was the best at finding water. Over 2000 wells were drilled and the diviners won hands down. In Sri Lanka, the dowsers had a hit rate of 96 percent whereas the hydrologists succeeded only 21 percent of the time. To cap it all, the hydrologists would typically take two months to locate a potential water source, the dowsers a few minutes. Professor Betz says: “In hundreds of cases the dowsers were able to predict the depth of the water source and the yield of the well to within 10 percent or 20 percent. We carefully considered the statistics of these correlations, and they far exceeded lucky guesses.” As a result of Professor Betz’s work, the German government has now sent over 100 dowsers to work in Southern India to hunt for drinkable water. Professor Chris French of Goldsmiths College believes that if dowsing works – as it appears to do in the field – then it is because the diviners are picking up subtle cues from the environment. He thinks a paranormal explanation unlikely. “It could be that they are consciously or unconsciously picking up clues about where you would expect water to be found,” says Professor French. “They could be picking up on such things as the lie of the land or the structure of the soil. But having said that, divining may indeed work and I’m happy to be proved wrong.” Diviners are often as perplexed by their powers as the scientists. Most genuinely do not know how they successfully find water, oil or gold. Peter Golding, spokesman for the British Society of Dowsers, who was taught to divine whilst working for the RAF, admits he doesn’t know how it works. He just knows that it does. “My feeling is that the brain can transmit and receive different frequencies of energy,” says Golding. “These are different to normal electromagnetic frequencies such as radio waves. If we want to detect water our minds tune into the water frequency. If we want to detect gold then we tune into the gold frequency. Other people feel that dowsers somehow tap into a universal mind.” But all this talk of a universal mind and paranormal powers is irrelevant to Basil Frostick and Southern Water. “I’m not remotely religious or spiritual,” says Basil. “I don’t know how it works. All I know is that it does work. That’s why we use it.”
For more information on dowsing contact the British Society of Dowsers at: http://www.britishdowsers.org