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

y Michael Guest

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:
In Rod & Pendulum #131 I wrote about the public record of this very gifted and influential dowser, who was President of the British Society of Dowsers from 1966 to 1975 and whose book “Dowsing: One Man’s Way” became a classic. His no-nonsense approach to the subject was very reassuring to someone with a scientific background and his emphasis on the importance of verification was a salutary discipline for those inclined to allow their imagination to soar untrammelled.

In that article I included some of the maxims by which he guided his dowsing (taken from his book). He also gave some tips to the learner, which I am now including here because they illustrate some of the superstitions to which dowsing has been prone, and identify sources of error to which not only beginners can be subject.

Although I never met Scott Elliot in person (he had retired before I came on the scene) I did have a dialogue with him by letter. He was famous for his archaeological work so when in 1982 I was arranging for WMD to make a field trip to the iron-age fortress of Meon Hill (SW of Stratford-upon-Avon), I contacted him for advice and this led to an interesting correspondence.

In those days my dowsing had been influenced by the 1977 “Tomorrow’s World” TV programme, which had shown how to dowse for buried pipes and such. They presented this in terms of finding numerous “side bands” accompanying the pipe so one had to decide which, in this maze of reactions, represented that actual target. You can imagine the muddle this might create if two pipes were converging towards each other at a narrow angle.

I happened to refer to this in my correspondence with Scott Elliot and it drew the following vehement comments. Perhaps you will forgive me for also running on to his second paragraph but it does demonstrate his passionate insistence on getting verifiable results. I am glad I was on his side with all these bullets flying about!

“Dear Michael: You mention “side bands from ditches”. My very strong advice to you is to forget altogether about so-called side bands in any form!! If they exist, they cannot be anything else than a muddling nuisance. If you accept side bands at all, you must accept them for, and about EVERYTHING. Can you really imagine such a mess and a muddle! Keep your dowsing simple and scrap everything that is complicated and confusing. Look for what you wish to find, using simple and clear pictures or descriptions and you will find what you seek and nothing else. From the beginning I have scrapped the idea of side bands in water and have never had difficulty. As for side bands for other things ———-!! Rubbish! Sorry about this but it is necessary!

I am delighted you are going on the Council. I think you have your feet on the floor, a badly needed ability in the BSD. If dowsers are ever to be accepted as useful people, and have their work accepted, then they must be practical and down to earth, able to prove what they allege. In the BSD at present (1982), there are extremely few I would ever use on any job. There are a few I would trust with water, but on other things one would have a job to find one whom one would have confidence in for a costly job! This is what I suggest the Council ought to be seriously bothered about.”

In defence of the BSD, I must add that in the last 20 years much has been done to make dowsing more reliable and “respectable” by means of training and education. Nevertheless there are still dowsers who tend to float off the ground into an insubstantial pageant of their own imagination.

With regard to his animadversions about side bands, I must say I would love to hear what he had to say about the phenomenon of grids. These have sprung from the imagination of dowsers since Scott Elliot’s time and I can almost hear his scorn from the grave. Likewise I think he might give short shrift to much of the “earth mysteries” and “energies” which are so popular nowadays. As I have remarked elsewhere, if everyone sees something different, is there really anything there?

There now follows his list of superstitions and mistakes and their causes:

We come now to what I call shibboleths, defined as ‘Old fashioned and generally abandoned doctrine once held essential.’ I have to be careful here because I have no wish to tread on toes or to change people’s beliefs. My only wish is to simplify dowsing for the beginner.

The books and writings about dowsing are full of shibboleths and one comes across all sorts of pet ideas which have been adopted and have become a firm part of technique and once part of the technique they are not easily uprooted. Nor indeed is there need for the dowser to change his beliefs if the technique works for him, even though it makes his working more complicated.

On the other hand it must be realised that if a dowser thinks that doing a thing a certain way may prevent him finding what he seeks by dowsing the thought is sufficient to inhibit him and he will not be able to find what he seeks because of this self imposed belief which acts as a form of mental block. Conversely if he firmly believes he can find what he seeks despite all sorts of difficulties it is more than likely that he will do so.

Dowsing is difficult enough without cluttering it up with beliefs which have no validity and I am sure we should make it as simple as is possible, hence the need to look at these ideas and be rid of them.

Many of them stem from the older concept of dowsing as a purely physical operation picking up emanations from the ground and elsewhere. We now know there is more to it than that. When a learner, I was brought up with all these ideas but for one reason or another I have abandoned them long since. Here are a few of them:

‘Don’t wear rubber boots or composition soles when dowsing’.
This stems from the concept of the dowsing force rising from the ground through the feet being unable to pass through the insulation of the rubber sole. Working as a dowser over the hills in Scotland and elsewhere I have perforce used rubber boots for many many hours and have never noticed any difference.

‘Keep both feet on the floor’.
I do not know where this originated, but it is probably based on the concept of the rising force again. It is sufficient to note that when walking and doing a dowsing job, more time is spent with one foot off the ground than with two on it! Also Dowsing works perfectly well from a car and from an aeroplane.

‘When Map dowsing always face West (or North, South or East)’.
I think this stems from the idea that it is important to keep in some particular relationship with the earth forces. Long ago the room I had to work in and the furniture that I had, did not permit me to do what was advised and I found that it made no difference at all. ‘Always orientate the map before dowsing’.
This also stems from this earth force effect. I very soon found that the bit of the map that I wanted to work on was often the part furthest away from me, so I turned it round (I must admit with trepidation the first time!) and the Dowsing worked just as well!

Nowadays when working out the details of an archaeological site by map dowsing, the setting of the map or plan is changed repeatedly as I move it round as I wish, to get at the detail of the various parts.

‘Don‘t Dowse before 10 am or after sundown’.
This belief must be something to do with earth forces and the sun. It is sufficient to say that one dowser that I know states that he always does his best work after dark. For myself I do not find that it makes much difference, the state of my freshness or tiredness is the governing factor.

‘Don’t pierce the paper on which you are map dowsing’.
This I suppose is another earth force idea. I can assure you that a hole in the paper has no effect on my work. But if I believed it did, it might.

I have already mentioned in Section 3 two other possible shibboleths, one the idea that the longer the rod the more sensitive and the other that one might get a taste in the mouth when dowsing over water.

With these few instances I hope to make the point. We all probably have our own shibboleths but my advice to novices is to question then avoid such beliefs and keep the dowsing simple. Once you accept a shibboleth you are apt to be stuck with it, so beware. (I wonder if you walk under ladders or turn your money to the new moon?!)

Mistakes in dowsing arise from a variety of reasons and it is important that the dowser tries to find the reasons for failure for by so doing he will get to know the likely causes of his failures and be able to guard against them in the future. I give below some of the more common causes of failure.

Preconceived Ideas. Wishful Thinking.
I put these top of the list as I believe these are a cause of failure to many people at any stage of their career but particularly in their early training days. It is essential to be completely neutral when operating the pendulum, the rod or any of the tools. The question is framed and the search starts but the dowser must be in the sort of frame of mind while he is dowsing that does not mind if the object he seeks is there or not, he must be completely neutral. If he allows his own wishes and ideas to come into the business of finding he is using his brain and not his Mind alone, as he should.

Carelessness and Haste.
I put these next as a cause of failure. It never pays to hurry over the preparation of a job nor over the execution of it. Time spent over the preparation for a job and the appreciation of the problem is never wasted. This applies equally to distant dowsing as well as to on the spot dowsing. For all successful work the mind has to be fully informed and relaxed and the body reasonably so. For instance it is usually a mistake to drive a car a long way then start dowsing immediately, I find I need time to settle back and relax.

Lack of ‘contact’ with the ground in the area of work.
I find it helps to spend a little time walking over the ground in the area of the job particularly if the country is new to me, it allows me to get the ‘feel’ of that portion of the country. Sub-soils vary enormously and I think it is a good thing to get the feel of what is the sub-soil in the area of work. This applies to distant dowsing on maps, as well as to work on the spot. Neglect of this acclimatisation can lead to errors.

Effect of certain soils.
It is always said that water finders have difficulty in depthing through clay. Whether this is a shibboleth or a truth I do not know but clay can be difficult for me to work over in even comparatively shallow archaeological work. Deepish sand can also be difficult. With either sand or clay I have to be careful. For some reason that I do not understand, when map dowsing over these I am liable to get a pattern due to, or something to do with, the clay and the sand themselves and nothing to do with the anomalies being sought. There is a similar difficulty when dowsing on the ground in such areas and the same misleading pattern of reactions seem to come up. There may be some quite simple explanation to this perhaps to do with water or moisture in the clay and sand: However knowing of this possible reaction I can avoid it.

Mistaking Natural things for what is Sought.
Soil and Strata changes, Faults, Banks of Gravel and patches of it, these can all cause mistakes of identification. These often give linear patterns and can be mistaken for other things if the dowser is careless or inexperienced in that sort of work. The defence against this is to be clear about what you are looking for and allow nothing else to intrude, also in addition it is as well to have some other means of identifying what you have found.

Lack of Identification.
It is not difficult to mistake one thing for another and not only natural things. For instance a deepish field drain can be mistaken for the remains of a defensive ditch. In my work in the early days water lines used to intrude and I seemed to pick them up by mistake when looking for other things, but this seldom happens now as I know the feel of water with my tools, it is different from other things. It is important for the dowser to develop alternative dowsing means so that he can check by other means what he has found.

The Time Factor.
If time is a factor in the work it is essential to recognise this and allow for it. If for instance you are searching for a missing article it is probably necessary to know where the object of search is Now. Where the loss occurred, where the object was yesterday and where it is now may be three different places, so unless the Now is included in the question it is possible to pick up yesterday’s position and think it is today’s.

Insufficient Background Knowledge and Experience.
This last but not least factor is a cause of many failures. The dowser must know the background of the subject he is working in. Until he does he will be liable to make stupid and unnecessary mistakes.

And remember!
Demonstrable Proof.
There is always need for demonstrable proof that the dowsing is true and accurate. It is highly inadvisable to use Question and Answer alone to tackle problems to which there can be no demonstrable answer. At best it may be just frivolous, at worst it may lead to personal delusions, and, if others are concerned, to serious trouble.

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