Great Dowsers of the Past: Major-General James Scott Elliot (Part One)

by Michael Guest

Webmaster’s Notes: Part One of this article first appeared in the March 2003 issue (#131) of the Rod & Pendulum newsletter. Part Two was printed in the July issue (#133) of the same newsletter and Part Three was printed in the September issue (#134).

“Dowsing: One Man’s Way” was reprinted by the British Society of Dowsers in softcover. Please contact the British Society of Dowsers to see if it is still available.

Michael Guest writes:
Much impetus was given to dowsing in the middle decades of the 20th century by army officers, often from the Royal Engineers, who used dowsing in their jobs or as a useful personal skill. They helped to generate interest and confidence in dowsing by their support for the British Society of Dowsers, of which the first two presidents were Colonel A.H. Bell and Colonel K. W. Merrylees. The third president was Jim Scott-Elliot, a brave and decorated soldier whose modest manner and business-like way of conducting meetings concealed one of the great dowsing talents of his day.

There follows a small part of his obituary in the Daily Telegraph 21st September 1996 which gives a glimpse of his qualities as a soldier, followed by some of the advice about dowsing which he gave in this famous book, Dowsing, One Man’s Way published in 1977.

Adventures in the Army
Major-General James Scott Elliot, who has died aged 93, was awarded a DSO when commanding the 8th Battalion Argyll & Sutherland Highlanders at Centuripe, Sicily, in August 1943, and a Bar to it at Termoli, Italy, later the same year. He had already been appointed OBE in 1940 in the Battle of France. Later in the war he was mentioned in despatches and in 1945 appointed CBE. After retirement from the Army he became a successful, though unorthodox, dowser.

James Scott Elliot was born on Nov 6 1902 into a military family, and was educated at Wellington and Sandhurst. He was commissioned into the King’s Own Scottish Borderers in 1923, and served in the 2nd Battalion in Egypt, China, India and Palestine, and the 1st Battalion in Malta.

Scott Elliot commanded the 6th Argyll & Sutherland Highlanders from April 1942 to April 1943, landing with them at Bône in North Africa in December 1942. The regiment had been assigned an anti-tank role, normally a gunner function, and converted into 93 A/Tk Regiment, RA.

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Jim Scott Elliot
President of the BSD 1966 to 1975


In 1948 he became Deputy Director of Military Training at the War Office, and from 1952 to 1956 he commanded the 51st Highland Division and Highland District. He was Colonel of the King’s Own Scottish Borderers from 1954 to 1961.

Scott Elliot was an excellent horseman, an above average polo player, a successful steeplechaser and a first class shot. After he retired from the Army he decided to take up archaeology and this led him into dowsing.

In 1977 he wrote Dowsing: One Man’s Way, which was first published privately but became so popular that it was republished by Sphere in 1979.

Scott Elliot was unusual in that most of his dowsing was done with a pendulum over a map, and was concerned less with finding water than with locating minerals, ancient sites, oil, gas, cables and lost objects.

Once by going over the outside brickwork of a blocked chimney, he was able to identify the cause of the blockage as a dead owl stuck half way up. On another occasion he astonished some sceptical archaeologists by identifying a piece of shrapnel that had been lodged in the back of one of them since the First World War.

His success at finding lost objects such as jewellery, was remarkable, particularly as he could obtain directions from a map on which he was using a pendulum. In 1973, before most of the oil fields of the North Sea had been found, he was able, working with a geologist and a map, to identify areas, quantities and even types of oil in fields that were later exploited.

He believed it was possible to dowse by using the hands alone, without even a pendulum, but only if the dowser was completely relaxed. He also used maps to locate mineral and oil deposits in continents he had not previously visited, such as Australia and South America.

Scott Elliot was Lieutenant of the County of Dumfries from 1962 to 1967. He was President of the Society of Antiquaries of Scotland from 1965 to 1967, and of the British Society of Dowsers from 1966 to 1975.

Scott Elliot’s Basic Rules which are a guide to beginners but apply at all stages of a dowser’s career.

  1. Virtually all dowsing is seeking. This must be appreciated and the mind focused in this direction. 
  2. Develop the dowsing sensibility. Before a dowser is any use he must learn the ability to cut out the brain and the five senses and allow the mind to reach out for the answer. He must practise this in his early training by exercises and in elementary dowsing work. 
  3. Practise and test on demonstrable results. If the results are not demonstrable, the novice will never know if he is correct or not and hence in practice he may be using the brain or the imagination and not the mind. 
  4. The question asked must be Correct, Clear and Appropriate. Surprisingly this is not always easy and care must be taken when framing the question. The wider one’s dowsing interests the more I find this care in wording necessary. 
  5. There must be a “need” to know. With it the mind does seem to work with more precision. The reason why dowsers so often fail in tests set to them to prove that dowsing works is this element of the Need to Know. Under such conditions there is seldom a need to know the answer, only a need to show that dowsing works – thus the mind machinery seems to get confused. 
  6. Have confidence that dowsing works for you. This is an essential stage. Develop it and hang on to it, despite failures. So many people say to me: “Oh it works for me. But I don’t think I would be any good. I don’t really trust it.” My reply to them is “Oh ye of little faith.” 
  7. It is essential to know the background of the field in which you are working. Study it. There is no need to be an expert, but sufficient must be known to be able to understand the rudiments, general working, and language of the field. If the background is not known, stupid and unnecessary mistakes may occur and mistakes are costly. 
  8. Be bold in application. You’ve got to be prepared to take on things you have never tried before and which appear difficult (paying due regard to Rule 7). 
  9. Time. If there is any question of Time in a dowsing problem, this must be remembered and taken into account. If this is omitted Remenance and other factors may lead to mistakes. 
  10. Identification. If there are many objects similar to the object sought, there must be some form of identification in order to differentiate from others similar. Examples of these are humans and animals. If the object is well-known to the dowser, then the means of identification is not so necessary. The best identification is a blood spot, a fingerprint, photo of a piece of intimate garment belonging to and exclusively handled by the person. Handwriting is sometimes used, as are photographs, but I do not find these easy. 
  11. Preconceived ideas, wishful thinking. These are the biggest menaces in dowsing. I believe they are the reason for the majority of dowsing failures among novices. Failure comes from one or other of these when the brain or one of the five senses is allowed to do the work and not the Mind. When this happens it is the Brain that activates the muscles that operate the device instead of the Mind. All dowsers, however skilled, have to be aware of this and guard against mistakes from this cause. 


Reprinted with the permission of Michael Guest, editor of Rod & Pendulum, the bi-monthly newsletter of West Midland Dowsers/Northamptonshire Dowsers. Information about these dowsing groups is carried on the BSD Website.

© Copyright, Michael Guest