Taking on “Shibboleths”

by Diane Marcotte

There are many theories as to why certain people are able to get a ‘dowsing response’, either through the use of a tool (a rod(s) or pendulum), or simply through a physical bodily response (shaking, feeling weak or faint, etc.). In earlier times it was widely believed that the water, mineral, or object being searched for gave off emanations of some sort. Many names were given to these ‘emanations’, including radiation, energy rays, electromagnetic energy, etc.

One belief was that the dowsing instrument itself was sensitive to these emanations and it reacted in a specific manner as it passed over the object. However a sufficiently sensitive person had to be holding the instrument for any reaction to occur. That is, there has never been an instance where an instrument would react on it’s own.

Another belief, which is more common today, is that the dowsing reaction originates in the dowser’s mind or subconscious. The dowser is able by his or her intent to open some unconscious channel through which the answer is received. The dowser’s nervous system is then stimulated in such a way that muscular contractions occur which make the instrument move or the body shake, etc.

Many established dowsers have certain beliefs, rituals, specific techniques, etc. that they firmly believe they must follow to have any measure of success. J. Scott Elliot, an archaeologist and dowser who was a past president of the British Society of Dowsers (1966-75), used the word ‘shibboleth’ in his book ‘Dowsing: One Man’s Way’ when referring to these beliefs that dowsers adopted. He defined the term as ‘old-fashioned and generally abandoned doctrine once held essential.’ Oftentimes these beliefs stemmed from the older concepts of dowsing as an operation of picking up emanations.

Webster’s New World Dictionary gives the meaning of a shibboleth as a phrase, custom, etc. which is distinctive of a particular party or class. The Bible shows how the word originated. As the Ephraimites tried to cross the Jordan fords, they ran into the enemy soldiers of Jephthah. Their identity was established by their ability to pronounce the word ‘Shibboleth’. If they were unable to make the ‘sh’ sound, they were known to be enemies and subsequently killed.

It was J. Scott Elliot’s belief that new dowsers should refrain as much as possible from taking on shibboleths or any pet ideas that become a firm part of their technique, for once accepted they can become impossible to let go of.

Some examples of shibboleths are:

  • Don’t wear rubber boots when dowsing 
  • Keep both feet on the floor 
  • Don’t dowse before 10 a.m. or after sundown 
  • When map dowsing, always face West (or North, South, or East) 
  • Always orientate the map before dowsing 
  • Don’t pierce the paper on which you are map dowsing 
  • A longer rod is more sensitive 
  • One might get a taste in the mouth when dowsing over water 
  • Pendulums must be made of a ‘natural’ substance 
  • Wearing leather gloves prevent a dowsing reaction from occurring 
  • It is dangerous to dowse when the moon is on the wane 
  • You must wear (or not wear) a particular item, e.g., a copper bracelet 
  • You must hold the pendulum only in your dominant hand 

It is important to know that if you believe that you must follow a certain ritual or technique then it will be so. The positive result then reinforces the belief. Once you take on a shibboleth of any kind it will become incorporated into your technique. His advice to novice dowsers was to question then avoid such beliefs and to keep the dowsing simple.

Probably all experienced dowsers have their shibboleths. As long as it works there really is no need to change the beliefs but it can make dowsing more complicated. The danger occurs when a dowser thinks that a certain way may prevent him or her from finding what is being searched for. This self-imposed belief or thought will then act as a mental block and actually prevent the dowser from being successful.

Conversely, by being open to believing that there are no restrictions or impediments that will prevent a positive response, it will be much more likely that the dowser will have a higher success rate. Thus, keeping things as simple as possible will make dowsing more accurate.

Diane is a dowser from Oakville, Ontario, was a past board member of the Canadian Society of Dowsers. 

© Copyright 2002, Diane Marcotte.