(Revised 10/25/1999)

1999 Sam R. Scafferi

Once an individual gets interested in metal detecting, coin hunting and treasure hunting, it isn't too long before they run across articles and instruments having to do with dowsing. My experience was no different, and I actually spent a great deal of time and resources investigating the phenomenon known as dowsing. The bulk of my research took place between 1975 and 1980. Since 1980 I have sporadically worked on certain dowsing experiments and updated my notes as necessary. As with any worthwhile research project, an investigator can collect a large number of references, books, articles and associated materials. This project was no exception. In addition, I also designed and fabricated countless dowsing instruments of all varieties, the purpose of which was to learn and experience for myself, this phenomenon known as dowsing.

As my interest in dowsing grew, I joined a small organization known as the United Dowsers Association, based in California. Sam "Lobo" Wolfe, of La Puente, California instituted the United Dowsers Association. Although the organization was short-lived (about 2 years I believe), I wrote and contributed several articles for Sam, which were published in their magazine. Today, the nine issues of their magazine are valued as collectors' items, especially among the dowsing community. Sam Wolfe had a huge amount of information and feedback that he needed to impart to his students and other interested individuals, and he felt he could accomplish the dissemination of his knowledge more efficiently through a periodic magazine, than with phone calls and letters. (The Internet was not a viable information vehicle in those days.)

Clearly, it is quite impossible, as well as redundant, for me to try and offer up an in depth dissertation on the art and practice of dowsing (divining). There are already a significant number of sites on the Internet that contain a great deal of information including instructional, objective, subjective and critical. I will provide a listing of my favorite links elsewhere on the IRR site.

What I would like to provide, is my specific opinion on the subject of dowsing, as I have come to learn and realize it after many hours of research, experiments, reading and communicating with others who are interested in this same phenomenon.

Dowsing - A Basic Definition

Much has already been written about dowsing, and as you might imagine, most authors have defined (or attempted to define) what they believe dowsing to be. An even greater number of authors, and instructors, have proposed a theory about how and why it works. Here, I will share with you a few of the definitions that I have found in the many reference materials I have collected.

From a well-known text, entitled Principles & Practice of Radiesthesia, by Abbe Mermet; he states that…

"Everything takes place as if:

All bodies without exception are constantly emitting undulations or radiations.

The human body enters these fields of influence and becomes the seat of nervous reactions, of some kind of current, which flows through the hands.

If an appropriate object, such as a rod or a pendulum, is held in the hand, the invisible flux is made manifest in the movements given to this object, which acts as a kind of indicator."

Also from the above reference;

"Radiesthesia is defined as sensitivity to radiations. And every one without exception is sensitive to them. It is only a question of degree. The word ‘dowsing’ is the nearest equivalent to Radiesthesia, but whereas dowsing is confined to searching for latent water or minerals with a divining rod or pendulum, Radiesthesia covers the whole field of radiations from any source, living or inert."

I think it should be clearly pointed out, that the entire work of Abbe Mermet was prefaced with the statement; "…Everything takes place as if:..", and he goes on to iterate certain facets of his hypothesis. Since he had no way to actually verify the supposed undulations and radiations, other than with his dowsing instruments, he could not state unequivocally that "all bodies emitted radiations", only that they seemed to be radiating some type of wave or undulations.

From a second reference, entitled Modern Dowsing, by Raymond C. Willey; he proposes a more simplified definition…

"Dowsing is the exercise of a human faculty which allows one to obtain information in some manner beyond the power and scope of the standard human senses."

In yet another reference, entitled Steps to Dowsing Power, by Bruce and Shirley Wayland; they quote a British dowser, Major General J. Scott Elliot, C.B., C.B.E., D.S.O, who states…

"The ability to use a natural sensitivity which enables us to ‘know’ things that we cannot know by the use of the day to day brain, by learning, by experience, or by use of the five senses.

Thirty years ago most people seemed to think that things emanated and that the dowser "picked up" the emanations. So much so was this thought that it was said that certain kinds of rods and pendulums had to be used for certain jobs.

Then with the growing use of distant dowsing or map dowsing, this theory was not enough and some other explanation had to be produced. So it was said to be a matter of the mind. For myself I think there must be a physical part to it, for it starts in me, physical, and ends in the object sought, which is physical. But how the gap is spanned I just don’t know.

The gap in practice may be a few inches or many thousands of miles, but the feeling, the method, and the result is exactly the same for me in every case whether I am using a map or plan, or am using a rod on the ground. Undoubtedly it is a matter of the "Mind" and when I use the word Mind in this sense, I mean NOT the Brain, NOT the five senses, but this dowsing sensitivity that stems from that difficult area variously called the Super-conscious, the Sub-conscious, or one of the various levels of consciousness about which we know so little."

As is evidenced by these three definitions, a clear explanation of the phenomenon is most difficult to put into words, and the explanation itself has been the subject of many debates.

Can Nearly Everyone Experience Successful Dowsing?

This question was deliberately worded with emphasis on "successful" to differentiate between dowsing, which actually locates an object, item, or information previously unknown to the operator; and the simple dowsing reaction/experience that almost any individual can observe. Therefore, in this context, the answer to this question is an emphatic, NO!

I would be the first to acknowledge that certain individuals have supposedly produced results that would appear, at first glance, to indicate that they have some type of dowsing talent. After much study and research, it is currently my belief that if these same subjects were adequately tested (double-blind), their dowsing talent would disappear, and their results would be little better than pure chance.

Unfortunately, there are a great number of individuals who honestly believe they can dowse, or are deluded into thinking they can dowse. In fact, they will never produce results that are any better than mere "chance" or happenstance, especially when properly tested in a controlled environment.  I am reminded here of a quote by Rasmus Jansson where he states --- "The propensity to score the hits and neglect the misses is probably the number one reason for the flourishing of superstition and pseudoscience today, including dowsing."

In an effort to market either dowsing instruction, dowsing instruments (or both), there are many clever marketers who would claim to the unsuspecting public (excited and overzealous treasure hunters are especially vulnerable), that successful dowsing is within the reach of almost everyone. This is pure "hogwash", and is nothing more than a clever technique in deception to get the prospective customer to invest in a certain dowsing instrument and the accompanying instructions or technique.

What can be demonstrated, in most instances, is that just about everyone with about 15 or 20 minutes instruction, can in fact be taught to properly operate a dowsing instrument, and obtain a dowsing reaction. I have, myself, shown many novices how to obtain a typical dowsing reaction, and have not found a single subject who could not experience it. Once the individual experiences a dowsing reaction, the "hook" is set, and it would be very hard to convince the operator that they can’t dowse successfully, for just about anything they can think of. The plain and simple truth is, there is a big difference between "successful dowsing", and merely observing a dowsing reaction over a mental implant (autosuggestion).

To illustrate how simple it is to observe a dowsing reaction from a mental implant, I will tell you of a procedure that was used by a once well-known dowsing instructor. This instructor would hold dowsing instruction classes, usually in a motel or hotel conference room. The typical class might be 10 to 20 students. In order to demonstrate dowsing for water, say a small stream, which might be just under the surface of the ground; the instructor would instruct everyone to imagine that there was a small stream, which existed in a certain area under the floor of the conference room. He would then walk over the supposed area of the room that was above the imaginary stream, and demonstrate the dowsing reaction from the L-rod he was holding. When the students were directed to walk (and dowse) over the same area, I doubt there was a single student who did not get the exact same dowsing response.

This exercise was no doubt effective in convincing all of these students that in fact they could get a proper dowsing response over the imagined stream. Having demonstrated that a response could be obtained over water (or imagined water), it is a simple matter to move on to locating other things such as minerals, precious metal ores, missing persons and buried treasure.

The point is, probably 98% of all individuals who attempt to obtain a dowsing response, are successful with just a few minutes of instruction. They honestly believe they can be successful, and continue to practice and work at it, but will in fact obtain results which are generally about the same as pure "chance", if properly tested.

Predetermined Excuses when Dowsing Fails

Without a single exception, all of the dowsing instruction materials, texts, and techniques that I have collected, are common in at least one singular characteristic. That is, they all have what I call "escape routes", or a list of predetermined excuses why/how a dowsing response can fail to produce an accurate result. The instruction materials that accompany most dowsing instruments, also contain similar excuses or reasons why the instrument may not operate accurately on all occasions.

Just as in the early writings and accounts from 30 years ago, which attributed dowsing to rays and radiations that were supposedly being emitted from all bodies; there were certain rays, which supposedly existed, that could cause these inaccuracies. Chief among these was the Ray of Remanence; and was explained as the traces of an object that remained in the original resting place, after the object had been removed. It was said that this was a well-known phenomenon that may cause errors of judgment.

Later, in more recent writings, the terminology has been modified somewhat, but the list of reasons for failures still exists. One author/instructor attributes erroneous dowsing responses to "magnetic pockets". Magnetic pockets, he suggests, are made up of magnetite and magnetic iron ore. It is suggested that since these magnetic particles are present in nearly all soil that heavy rains can wash away the soil and leave only these heavy magnetic minerals in the form of pockets. Further, that these magnetic pockets create magnetic images that are picked up by the dowser, instead of the desired target.

Whether or not these pockets actually exist, I don’t know. But it is true that much of our soil does contain trace amounts of black magnetic sands, and of course certain areas would contain more than trace amounts. However, the premise that these magnetic pockets are somehow the cause of dowsing inaccuracies, is still just conjecture on the part of certain authors and instructors.

About 20 years ago, during the height of my dowsing research, I was told by a well known treasure hunter, that one of the popular commercial dowsing rods of that era was actually "loaded" with black magnetic sands. He said this was done so that if the dowser got close to anything in the field which was magnetic in any way, that the rod would pull towards iron or other magnetic materials, and the dowser would be more apt to believe that his instrument was working correctly.

Apparent Success

Dowsing, being an art (so to speak), has been practiced by many people dating back for thousands of years, and will continue to be practiced in the future. As I’ve indicated above, all dowsing, no matter what the technique or instrument, comes complete with a collection of excuses to explain away the countless inaccuracies and failures of those who believe they can dowse. Nevertheless, there are a few who seem to be able to demonstrate apparent success, and a few more that will hit targets on a random "chance" basis –and it is these occurrences and the dreams of success, which I suppose perpetuate the constant interest in dowsing. (For a complete explanation of "apparent success", see the LRL Logix #4 article.)

Real Success

Then, of course, there are those instances of success that can neither be termed apparent success, or a chance occurrence. These occurrences, in some cases, are very well witnessed and documented, while a great many others are merely stories that are handed down and embellished along the way. The biggest problem surrounding even the best of these accounts is they are usually very poorly documented or witnessed. We are then left at the mercy of one, or perhaps two, eye witness accounts and many of the details and extenuating circumstances are often lost in the reporting, or are skewed severely. Chief among the details that are often missing, is the accounting of all the other parameters and characteristics that were known and actually aided in the eventual recovery. For instance, research alone often narrows the area of search significantly. Then, of course, there may have been other instruments, not just pure dowsing, that played a major role in the ultimate recovery process. Such assistance as ordinary steel probes, conventional metal detectors, ground resistance measurements, GPR or a host of other geo-physical instrumentation may have been employed –but, once a real target is found, they are quickly forgotten, or their importance is downplayed.

Still, there remains a certain number of valid recoveries (finds), which seemingly can not be attributed to anything else except someone’s dowsing talent, or a dowsing related instrument. Since there is currently no logical or scientific way to explain the art of dowsing, there is also no way to logically account for certain recoveries attributed to the art of dowsing. Although these instances must be relegated to a category of the "as yet unexplained", which logical science may someday provide an answer, this in itself can not be construed as "proof" and/or "validation" for the entire phenomenon known as dowsing, and it’s related instrumentation.

Mental Implants - Biggest Cause of Failures

Before concluding this brief article on dowsing, I would like to offer my opinion as to the real cause of dowsing failures. Quite simply, it is the result of autosuggestion. That is, a preconceived thought, or desired outcome, can most assuredly affect the dowsing response. Errors are not the result of a mineral pocket of black sand laying somewhere in the distance. Neither are errors the result of remanence rays, hanging around in the ether, which the dowser tunes in to by accident.

What does occur is that an autosuggestion is planted in the dowser’s mind at the very beginning of the search. The mere fact that the dowser is seeking something that they intend to find (or hope to find) through the act of dowsing; starts the formation of the autosuggestion. It is extremely difficult to dowse for something that you have been told in all likelihood is out there someplace (it’s just that we don’t know where it is), and come up empty-handed. The human mind, in an effort to satisfy the ego, often times then, concocts an answer (and thus a response) which it knows is pleasing or likely.

Several dowsers, and perpetuators of dowsing equipment and related instrument, are quite aware of the pitfalls and empty holes that can result due to autosuggestion. Many of them have come up with some very ingenious ideas and methods, in an attempt to eliminate this malady of dowsing. For instance, when the dowsing instrument is an L-rod (or pair of L-rods), it is quite common to hear the recommendation that the tip of the rod should be lowered by some five to perhaps 15 degrees or more from dead level.

Since the ultimate movement of any L-rod is the combination of the overall unstableness, and the ideomotor effect from the dowser holding the rod, naturally lowering the tip serves to reduce the unstableness and consequently the general sensitivity of the instrument. It is true that as the rod tip is lowered, it requires a stronger ideomotor effect to cause the dowsing response, however, it is still the ideomotor effect that is responsible for the movement.

Some practitioners contend that they are able to discern between an autosuggestion response and a "real" response by lowering the L-rod tip several degrees from level. I have experimented at great lengths with rods tipped at all different angles from level, and fail to see any difference in the response, other than a change of sensitivity. To this day, I challenge anyone to demonstrate to me the difference between the two responses, accomplished by merely lowering the tip of the rod.


It is difficult to adequately summarize all of what I have learned to this date about the art of dowsing. However, I suppose there are a few key points that can be enumerated.

In the final analysis, each individual must look at all the facts provided them, and through their own experiments and testing, decide if the art of dowsing is something they want to become involved in.  (Remember, a great deal of experimenting and testing can be accomplished with homemade instruments, costing perhaps no more than a few dollars to build.)

From all of my preceding tests and experiments, I have concluded, that dowsing and all related instrumentation relying on dowsing, currently provides me with NO significant benefit over "pure chance" results. Nevertheless, I continue to research the phenomena, and remain ever watchful for new ideas or technology that may change my current findings.

Some experimenters and practitioners may have gone through a similar evaluation of the art of dowsing (and related instruments) and come up with significantly different conclusions. Those individuals may well believe that their practice of dowsing is an asset to them. Naturally, if one can prove to themselves that it does in fact "work", they would be a fool not to utilize it to the fullest.   In simple terms, if it works for you... use it. 

When considering the purchase of commercially available dowsing instruments --always try before you buy.  Don't settle on a simple "ideomotor effect" dowsing response test over a target in full view (such as the old water in the garden hose gimmick).  Ask the salesman what the specific limitations are of a particular instrument.  Then, figure out a simple, or not so simple test, on totally hidden, and unknown targets.  The salesman is the expert.  Have him demonstrate the instrument on your own test conditions.  If the instrument passes that test, then you operate it, and be sure you get the same results.  For more information on how to devise an adequate and fair test, see the article on Double-Blind Testing.