On a visit to Britain in late 1990, I was asked by Paul Devereux, editor of the respected 'earth-mysteries' research magazine The Ley Hunter, to provide a critique of a number of problems related to dowsing in general, and 'energy-dowsing' in particular, that he had seen developing in the research field. This was the result, as printed in TLH113:
Muddling with the Meta-Pattern
Tom GravesEnergy dowsing, as far as the Earth Mysteries scene is concerned, is a mess. I'll have to admit that some of this is my fault: I may have been one of the first to publish detailed descriptions, well over a decade ago now, but I failed to include enough warnings about mistakes that can so easily be made. So the main aim of this article is to point out some common misconceptions, in the hope that we can recover something useful from the shambles that's masquerading as energy dowsing now.
I have no doubt at all that most people who say they're dowsing for energies are indeed doing just that: dowsing for energies, and seeing patterns in the results. The key question is a very simple one: which energies? There are many, many different energies that we can perceive in dowsing - physical and not-so-physical. Yet it's a question which far too many people sidestep with glib answers, or avoid entirely. We cannot hide in a metaphysical mist of unaccountability: if we make claims, they must be on far more solid grounds than we see now. Simply saying "It's so because I and my friends say it's so" is not enough.
The question of 'which energy?' is important, because we are seeing a rapid proliferation of patterns that dowsers claim to perceive, many of which are mutually incompatible but all of which are claimed to be true, always in an absolute sense. The resultant chaos is bringing not just dowsing but the entire field of Earth Mysteries research into ridicule and disrepute - "doing more damage than old Glyn Daniel could ever do", as Paul Devereux puts it. So we need urgently to review not just what we seem to perceive in dowsing, but the process by which we interpret what we perceive.
At the first level, I have to wonder whether many of the dowsers I've seen in action have anything like enough of the experience needed to distinguish with any real degree of accuracy what energies they perceive. Dowsing is a real skill, with all that implies: it is not something that can be picked up over a weekend workshop or two, or a mystical gift granted by some self-appointed 'New Age master'. It takes a long time, and a great deal of experience, to become a competent dowser - I've been studying the field for almost twenty years, but even so I would in no way consider myself an expert. And I'm convinced that without a great deal of practice on concrete, tangible targets like water or piping or cables, it is very easy to let our dowsing become quite literally 'ungrounded'. Without the feedback from work on tangible targets - a stage missed out in almost all 'energy dowsing training' by organised groups - it is simply not possible to develop reliable skill that relates in any way to the tangible world. The tendency instead is to drift off into an imaginary space - it remains equally 'real', but only in an imaginary ('image-inary') sense.
Most of the energies we deal with in dowsing are perfectly ordinary, routine, day-to-day physical energies: magnetic variations, electrostatic fields, scents and many others. But many people seem to have an obsessional need to make things more unusual than they are. I've seen people get very excited about dowsing patterns related to crop-circles, for example: but if some of the more mundane physical theories (such as Meaden's) are even partially correct, we'd expect to see magnetic and other physical anomalies there, for purely physical reasons. And since those anomalies may be persistent, they may well be dowsable - again, for purely physical (or physiological) reasons - long after the circle itself has gone. The same is equally true of some dowsing patterns at archaeological sites: they're exactly the kind of anomalies we'd expect as a physical analogy of the landscape-use pattern. Far too often, an old, old acronym from the film industry applies: 'KISS' - Keep It Simple, Stupid!
To me one of the key problems is the ubiquity of a very poor grasp of the complex nature of reality, with its tortuous paradoxes and layer within layer of meta-levels. To be fair, this poor understanding is hardly a surprise, since our culture and almost our entire education is based on a single very crude model of reality whose primary concept is a linear one of cause and effect. On this model, everything within reality is assumed to follow strict, simple, consistent and linear 'laws' of cause and effect. This makes things very simple: but it happens to be wrong. Reality just is not that simple. The tendency amongst energy dowsers, for example, is to say that the patterns they perceive in the landscape are real, and thus the cause of the patterns they perceive - a reprise of Underwood's argument in "Pattern of the Past". The patterns are indeed real, but only in a very specific sense, as perceived information: any other interpretation we derive from them, especially of cause and effect, is an assumption and not a fact. The apparent 'universality' of Hartmann grids, Curry grids, caduceus symbols and the rest in fact stems as much from an assumption of the reality of their existence as anything else. German dowsers find grids, wherever they go; but 'Fountain Groupies' find Maltese crosses, whilst members of the ASD (American Society of Dowsers) find 'energy leys'. But these are all, bluntly, assumptions: ones that make it very difficult for any dowser to perceive energies that really are there to be seen. It's only once we accept that these are indeed assumptions, and not the absolute realities claimed by their proponents, that we can begin to work our way out of the mess that energy dowsing is now in.
To do this, we need to recognise the differences between what the linear causal model says happens in perception, and what actuallyhappens in all forms of perception, dowsing included. We can understand this best by a computing analogy. In the linear model, only a single mechanism or sensor is involved: this gives us the familiar 'this, therefore that', or 'IF...THEN', of conventional computing. Perceptual systems in the brain, however, do not work this way at all: instead, each synapse produces a 'weighted sum' of its inputs, leading to an immensely (possibly infinitely) complex 'cascading' in which the overall results from many different sensors end up pointing to a single end-result. Neither the pathway nor the end-result can be predicted in its entirety; and massive 'multiple redundancy' in the brain - duplication on a grand scale - allows for an almost infinite number of pathways and mechanisms by which a given end-result can be achieved. This type of information processing can be emulated by computer, but it's right at the limits of present-day computing research: the new neural-network systems are the nearest to true self-teaching 'artificial intelligence' devices that have yet been constructed - though so far they barely match the intelligence level of the simplest slug!
The key point here is that no single mechanism or sensor can ever be said, with any true degree of certainty, to be the 'cause' of a perceptual response: the response is, in effect, an intuitive (as opposed to analytic) result of all of them. All scientific studies of dowsing that I know (Eeman, Tromp, Maby and Franklin, Taylor and others) show either explicitly or implicitly that dowsing works this way - no single mechanism is involved. There can be little doubt that dowsing, like all other forms of perception, works in this 'multiple-redundant' manner: a good dowser is bringing the combination of many different 'energies' - physical and, probably, otherwise - to a single response.
The result can be biased, though, by a process of 'weighting', in which specific mechanisms or sources of information are considered more significant than others. The result is that a 'preferred pathway' for processing information develops - analogous to Sheldrake's 'morphic resonance' - which, if extended far enough, gives rise to the apparent, though erroneous, concept of cause and effect.
Ultimately, there is no cause and effect: all we have is information - literally, 'coincidences' - and its interpretation. Any concept of 'cause' is solely an interpretation of a more or less common pattern of events, with improbabilities and uncertainties occurring everywhere: the only 'law' turns out to be that there are no laws...
To understand the problem we have with energy dowsing, consider the fact that, within the neural-network of the brain, there is only information: input and output. At this level we have almost no way of linking information with the original source of that information. Ideas and images and metaphors - metalevels of information - are, at this level, indistinguishable from sensory information: they are all equally 'real'. The only way to distinguish between them is to have sufficient self-knowledge to identify them before they enter the net: otherwise a symbol, an image, a metaphor - any kind of pattern - can easily become a 'preferred pathway', a pseudo-cause of the dowsing effect. (I suspect, very strongly, that this is usually, rather than occasionally, the case with most so-called 'energy dowsing' that happens today.) Now add in the known situation that 'thought-forms' can not only be dowsed (the Dragon Project crew did an experiment on this at Rollright) but are all but indistinguishable from more tangible energy patterns; add in the knowledge that (in a manner again like Sheldrake's morphic resonance) the expectation of a pattern - even someone else's expectation - can become a 'preferred pathway' for a dowsing response; and we have the perfect recipe for an absolute babel.
It would be farcical if it wasn't for the fact that real research gets drowned out in the cacophony. At times it seems that every dowser is screaming at the top of their voice the Bellman's supreme expression of wishful thinking (from Lewis Carroll's The Hunting of the Snark): "What I tell you three times is true". Saying "it is so" does not make it so - except, it seems, in dowsing. But oh, how many dowsers have I heard say "No, no, you have to do it this way!"... The sad thing is that most often these arguments about 'dowsable patterns' break down, under the slightest real scrutiny, to nothing more than a circular 'proof': "the pattern is real, and causes what I perceive; what I perceive is the effect of the pattern, therefore the pattern is real". This is ridiculous! But there are plenty of otherwise skilled dowsers - including some well-known names - who promote rubbish of this sort, even though they damn' well ought to know better. As always, in this. intellectually dishonest New Age, the ease with which a pattern or two can expand an already over-inflated ego perhaps plays a significant part... you never know, you might make yourself out to be the Leader of the New World Order...
And far too many of the dowsers I've dealt with don't have a clue what energies they're looking for: and energy dowsing is probably the most difficult of all forms of dowsing we know. Everyone wants to leap in at the deep end, however: the Cornish water dowser Donovan Wilkins has commented to Paul Devereux, for example, that he suspects at least some would-be energy dowsers claim to find 'energy patterns' that are probably related to underground water - but because they are not expert at water dowsing (instead dowsing only for undefined 'energies'), they don't know the difference!
They don't know the difference: they couldn't know the difference, in fact don't want to know the difference, because as New Age 'healers of the planet' they weren't going to dirty their lilywhite hands on anything as mundane as water! This isn't Earth Mysteries research: it's 'newage' (it rhymes with 'sewage'), in a pure, undiluted form. Can we cut out this crap, once and for all?
Again, many dilettante dowsers have no idea of the need for precision or sheer hard work. (One of the advantages of a pre-packaged pattern like Hartmann grids or the Fountain symbols is that it's supposed to be already there for you to find - look, Ma, no work!) I'll admit that I too have been guilty of jumping to conclusions too early in my time. After a two-week-long study at Rollright, for example, I thought I'd identified a pattern of seven concentric rings within the circle. But even in my two weeks I had not covered the ground in enough detail to extrapolate from my data correctly: according to the physical-energy surveys done by Charles Brooker (New Scientist, January 13th, 1983), it seems that the actual pattern is more likely to be a seven-fold spiral. Real research is not easy, is not trivial. There is always more detail to be found, always more work to be done. Research is not 'real' or significant until it's done properly. So I simply do not believe the claims that Hamish Miller and Paul Broadhurst, to (unfairly) select one example, make in "The Sun and the Serpent". In my view, they've published their findings far too early, long before they have done anything resembling real work: and the fact that their work is published will cause us problems for years, if not decades, to come - long after they themselves may have disowned them, as most researchers eventually do.
Hamish is unquestionably a good dowser: but the work in this book is not science; in fact it cannot truly be called real dowsing. Their route was pre-selected (the claimed 'St Michael line'); they have not checked elsewhere for alternate patterns that might cross or counter the ones they show; they have not covered a single site in real detail - they physically cannot have covered the ground of the entire two 400-mile 'Mary current' and 'Michael current' patterns they claim in the book in the time they took to research it; and so on, and so on. Their diagram of the Avebury district implies many weeks of work, but the book makes it clear that it was all done in a day. And all too obviously, much of what they see is what they expected to see.
It adds up at best to a small but interesting collection of data, an awful lot of conjecture and assumption, strung together in a pleasant little tale of country hostelries, and all rather reminiscent of the happily amateur days of the Old Straight Track Club. But bluntly, it's 'an empty thunder, signifying nothing': it may be an interesting form of landscape art, but in no way is it 'scientific truth' - which is what is claimed for it.
Yet "The Sun and the Serpent" is merely the least bad of the new genre of so-called 'energy dowsing research'. Some of the new stuff I've seen, particularly in the States, is unbelievably bad: garbage about 'Dodmasters' and 'crystal energy nodes' and the rest, with the worst excesses of the New Age - its mindlessness, its elitism, its intellectual (and other!) laziness, its crass 'instant enlightenment' - displayed for all to see. And yet this rubbish is in print, and will stay in print for years to come, to be misquoted again and again as 'fact', like the fallacious fable of Alfred Watkins 'Bredwardine vision'. [A poetic invention which claimed Watkins had his ley revelation in the form of a vision of a web of lines in the landscape, spread out below him as he sat on horseback on the Bredwardine Hills. This invented story is wrong in virtually every particular. ED.] Is this really what we want from this field?
And think of poor Glastonbury, and so many other sites, still reeling years later from the effects of the Harmonic Invasion...er, Convergence. Crystals everywhere, put down by arrogant if well-meaning 'earth healers' - I even saw some on Wearyall Hill, glued onto the Holy Thorn with epoxy resin. It will take years to get them all out... Glastonbury is enough of a mess already without that to add to the confusion.
There are a few dowsers around who understand the practical complexities of manipulating earth energies by dowsing and such-like means (and no, I don't include myself among them!). But they're terrifyingly rare: most of the self-styled 'earth healers' - including, or perhaps especially, their teachers - have not a clue what they are doing. Usually, it seems to be nothing more than an exercise in overblown egotism, though it often has highly disturbing side-effects: the 'cure', so called, is often far worse than the 'problem'! For example, I heard recently one horror story of a very smug couple visiting (with a tour) a beautiful Russian monastery, who proudly proclaimed that they'd placed a pair of crystals under the main crucifix "to cure the place of atheistic Communist influence" - and were quite incapable of sensing the appalling effect on the 'feel' of the place, 'that sound which is no-sound', of which everyone else present was acutely aware... Or again, the man who accosted me at an ASD conference in Vermont, saying: "You know those neat things we can do with little tiddy crystals to the energies at sacred sites? Well, what d'ya think we can do with this great sucker!?" - holding up a ten-pound blob of quartz...
If the energies weren't real, it perhaps wouldn't matter - it would all be no more than a childish game. But these energies are real, including those at an emotional or imaginary level - though their reality is quite different, and far more paradoxical, than is indicated in the rose-tinted nonsense put around by some groups. (Imaginary energies are not all 'sweetness and light': "Do what you will - but be very sure that you will it!") Other than the strictly physical energies - such as magnetism and natural radiation - to which dowsers do demonstrably respond, we don't know what most of these energies are, and we probably never will. Everything is energy: so what are energy dowsers picking up?
The answer is simple: perceived patterns of perceived energy - interpretations of what we perceive and identify as coincidences in a network of energies, none of which are truly understood. And that is all. Anything else is a fiction of fools: another entry in the muddled mystical menagerie of the meta-levels...
So a pattern is not 'true': it simply is. It's our creation: it is what we make it (or, if we're lazy, what we've let other people make it, for us to accept unthinkingly).
A pattern is not a thing, but a tool, a construct at the meta-level of reality. More specifically, it's a conceptual tool: and the whole point of tools is to put them to use. Arguing about whether one pattern or another is 'true', is 'really there', is exactly as stupid as arguing whether a drill or a screwdriver is 'true'.
It's in fact exactly the same as the argument as to whether light is waves or particles. The strict answer is 'apparently both - therefore neither'. But both models are useful: we can usefully understand - and make work phenomena such as refraction with one, and photo-electricity with the other. We choose the model according to what we want to do; for the purposes of the work we believe that the model is true, but we do not forget that it is a choice of belief, and not an absolute 'fact'.
Patterns found by dowsing can be useful: we can use them, when - and only when - we know what we're doing, to heal both our understanding and our relationship with the land. But it is not simple, and it is not something to play with. For those interested, try reading Dowsing for Health by Arthur Bailey (former president of the British Society of Dowsers), especially his chapter on "Ley Lines, Black Streams and Geopathic Stress" - it's a breath of fresh air in this much-fouled field.
Hartmann grids, Curry nets, energy leys, caducei, Underwood's aquastats and track lines, my own work on 'overgrounds' - there's an infinity of patterns to be found, and all and none of them are true. What they mean is simply what we make them mean. For each of us, 'it's my own invention' a way of making sense of what we see. As dowsers we need to understand that now, before we make this world of ours into an even worse mess than it is already.
Paul Devereux, then the editor of The Ley Hunter, added a couple of explanatory sidebars:
The article drew an unusual amount of correspondence in the magazine. The first clutch of letters, in TLH 114 (early 1991), were definitely in favour:
Present Level I enjoyed Tom Graves' article in TLH 113. I do have to take some issue with his assessment that Earth Energy dowsers ignore the possibility that they're finding underground water: in America, at least, many have suggested to me that most if not all of the 'energy' they're finding relates somehow to underground water.
The generally positive comments continued in the next issue, TLH115 (late 1991); and at the request of Paul Devereux I sent in another letter of my own, in response to a valid challenge in a column by Nigel Pennick in the same TLH113 issue:
Very Glad I am very glad that TLH reveals itself to be of a critical and sceptical nature. That is what is really needed in all this esoteric nonsense-stuff around these days. Especially the article by Tom Graves in TLH 113 was very interesting to me. I fully agree with his opinion.
However, Sig Lonegren, author of "The Pendulum Kit" and "Spiritual Dowsing", was far from happy. He was, and still is, one of the main proponents of exactly those kinds of energy-dowsing and supposed 'spiritual dowsing' which I had criticised in the article, and he put in a strong if perhaps all-too-predictable complaint:
Diversity Is TLH trying to do to dowsing what Glyn Daniel tried (unsuccessfully) to do to Watkins and ley hunting? Scientific research and its hallowed precept of repeatability is not the only lens with which to view the Earth Mysteries. For example, I believe that it is spiritual (rather than scientific) awareness that is the ultimate goal of these Mysteries.
As editor, Paul Devereux took up Sig's challenge in his Editorial for that issue, indicating that Sig had exactly illustrated my point:
Sadly, The Ley Hunter is no more: the person who took over from Paul Devereux as Editor killed the magazine without warning a few months later. And although Sig Lonegren may have moved on by now, his many followers still refuse to face any of the serious issues that Paul and I had identified in the article: so 'energy dowsing' is for the most part still a dangerous mess, exactly as I'd warned in the article. A small amount of real and genuine work is being done in the field - particularly by the successors to the 'Dragon Project' research-effort at Rollright and elsewhere - but its credibility continues to be eroded by the grandiose claims and self-aggrandising fantasies of inexperienced, ill-disciplined self-styled 'experts' - "a triumph of marketing over technical expertise", as in so many other fields. Oh well, I tried...