Dowsing for detectorists PART 1: THE L-ROD

The Penrith Hoard in the British Museum Copyright 2010 Ealdgyth and reused under a Creative Commons Attribution-Share Alike 3.0 Unportedlicense

“There are more things in heaven and earth, Horatio, Than are dreamt of in your philosophy.” Hamlet 1:5

I would imagine that all detectorists have an interest in improving the quality and quantity of their finds. Yet very few make use of a free technology that can bring spectacular results when employed alongside a metal detector. Dowsing probably hasn’t caught on with detectorists because of common beliefs that either it doesn’t work or it is impractical. My own experiences, however, have convinced me that dowsing does work and that it can be very easily put to practical use.

Many years ago, having long had a casual interest in the so-called paranormal, I decided to give dowsing a try and bought a pair of L-rods. The instructions claimed that it was necessary to rest one end of each rod in the palm of each hand while supporting the rod loosely between the thumb and forefinger. I found this terribly uncomfortable; couldn’t get them to work and didn’t have a clue what to do with them if I did get them to work. I gave up on the idea of being able to dowse myself, and discarded the rods. There were two important points that I later learned from this experience:

  1. I had unwittingly fallen foul of one of the basic rules of dowsing – you need to be relaxed and comfortable with what you are doing.
  2. The fact that nobody really knows how dowsing works, tends to attract those with fanciful ideas on how you should or shouldn’t dowse; there are no strict rules, you just dowse as you want.

Sometime later, I asked accomplished dowser Jimmy Longton to dowse a map for me. (See post: To the Manor Drawn, February 22 2015). In addition to dowsing the map, Jimmy tried very hard to encourage me to learn his craft. I was still very sceptical, even though the British Society of Dowsers claim that: “Most of us can develop the art by practice and perseverance”. When Jimmy told me of his find of a hoard of Viking silver brooches, I could see the improvements that dowsing might bring to my own finds. There appeared to be a more convincing alternative, however, the Long Range Locator. I bought an Electroscope and learned to use it with good results.

About a year later, following a discussion on dowsing, my mother-in-law announced that she would like a pair of dowsing rods for her birthday. I thought she deserved a little more than two remodelled coat hangers so I splashed out on a pair of commercial rods. On her birthday she handed me the rods and asked me to show her how to use them. “They don’t work for me” I explained, “But this is what you are supposed to do …” With that, I threw a pound coin on the lawn in front of me and proceeded to walk towards it, rods in dowsing mode. To my surprise the rods crossed as I walked over the coin. Intrigued by my new-found ability, I experimented with L-rods and discovered that they responded to buried metal in much the same way as the Electroscope. I can only conclude that by using the Electroscope I had actually taught myself to dowse.

There is no need to spend several hundreds of pounds just to learn to dowse. Jimmy Longton kindly allowed me to reproduce his rod design and dowsing work-out, so you can learn for nothing! If you already have a pair of L-rods, you can use them, if you like, or you can make excellent rods as follows:

You will need 22 in. (56 cm) of round metal bar (brass is considered best) of diameter 1/16 in. (1.5 mm) to 3/16 in. (5mm) to make each rod. Unless you have easy access to round bar, I suggest you use two wire coat hangers (N.B. Measurements and angles do not need to be too precise to make a working rod):

  1. Invert the first hanger and measure 14 in. (36 cm.) from one side, along the horizontal bar then mark and cut through with a pair of pliers or a junior hacksaw, measure 22 in. (56 cm.) back from the first cut and make a second cut. Discard the hooked portion. (Fig. 1).
  2. Smooth the cut ends with a file or emery cloth.
  3. Using a pair of pliers or a vice, first straighten and then bend the shorter arm back to an angle of 135 degrees (Fig. 2).
  4. Measure 7 in. (18 cm.) along the shorter arm, from its end and bend this portion back until horizontal (Fig. 3), then turn the last 5.5 in. (14 cm.) up at right angles. Finally, turn the last 0.5 in. (1 cm.) of the upright inwards, at right angles (fig 4.).
  5. Lay the rod on a level surface and adjust it until it lies reasonably flat.
  6. Make a second rod from the other coat hanger.

Health warning: The rods are perfectly harmless when used as described. If you wish to use them to play Conan the Barbarian, Robin Hood, Ivanhoe or act out any other fantasy, don’t blame me if you puncture your eyeball or any other part of your body. I would suggest that children using the rods should be supervised by a responsible adult. The rods can be made extra safe by folding their tips back on themselves, wrapping their tips with insulating tape or applying a blob of resin such as Araldite.

Take the short arm of a rod in each hand so that the long arm is on the opposite side to your thumbs. Clench your fists around them loosely and turn your wrists so that your thumbs are uppermost. Tuck your elbows into your body and keep your upper arms in line with your body. Hold your forearms straight out in front of you, the width of your body apart and at whatever angle necessary to keep the rods reasonably parallel to the ground. The rods should now be pointing forward like extensions of your forearms. You may need to adjust your grip so that the rods are just free to move but not sloppy. When you are happy with holding the rods we can move on to the exercises:

1. Hold the rods in the normal dowsing position as just described. Ask the rods to turn left. (You have to treat them like pets; talk to them nicely at first but if they don’t do as they are told, shout at them – it works, honest!) After they have moved, restart the rods pointing forward. The easy way to get the rods to point forward is to drop your forearms so that the rods point to the ground then raise your forearms back to the horizontal. Ask the rods to turn right. Restart. Ask the rods to cross. The rods will cross on your chest. Practice until the rods move easily.

2. Place a coin on the floor then take a few paces back from it. Hold your rods in the normal dowsing position and walk slowly toward the coin saying, (out loud, preferably): “I am looking for a coin”. The rods will either cross as you pass immediately over the coin or within a few paces past the coin. Keep practising until the rods cross at the coin.

3. Place a copper coin, a silver coin and a brass coin some distance apart on the ground. Hold your rods in the normal dowsing position and walk slowly toward the coin saying: “I am looking for a copper coin”. The rods will cross as you pass over the copper coin but not the other two. Repeat the exercise with the silver coin and then the brass. Keep practising until you can differentiate between various metals.

4. Stand sideways to a distant building or other large object that you know the location of and ask the rods to show you where it is. Give the full name of the place, i.e. “Show me St. James’ Church”. Clear you mind of everything else and concentrate. Once you get this to work, try standing with your back to the “target” (as dowsers tend to call objects they are trying to find) and see what happens.

5. When you have succeeded with exercise 4, take your rods to the gate of a field, which is available to you for searching. Hold the rods as normal and ask: “are there any coins buried in this field?” The rods will cross if there are. Ask the rods to point to the nearest coin, then walk slowly in the direction indicated by the rods, turning, as necessary, to keep the rods pointing straight out in front of you. On reaching the coin the rods will cross. If you want to search for other objects as well as coins, ask the rods to find treasure.

Keep practising. Once you can obtain a response from the rods in all these exercises, you are basically ready to do anything. Even if you can’t do it all at first, you should find that the rods will produce some useful results in the field and you will improve with time. You may have noticed that in exercise 5 you reached your first buried coin but how do you recover it, bearing in mind that you have no hands free to carry anything? Hopefully you will have brought someone else along who can, at least, carry your metal detector and extraction tool, if not do the detecting and digging for you. If you are the independent sort, you don’t need to have a partner, it’s very easy to both dowse and recover targets by yourself. I’ll show you how next time.

First published in The Searcher /November 1997

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