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Letter Excerpts on Dowsing (S582: 1900)

Editor Charles H. Smith's Note: A pair of letter excerpts to William F. Barrett concerning dowsers and dowsing; printed in a long article of Barrett's titled "On the So-called Divining Rod. A Psycho-Physical Research on a Peculiar Faculty Alleged to Exist in Certain Persons Locally Known as Dowsers. Book II." published in Volume 15 of the Proceedings of the Society for Psychical Research (1900-1901). The first letter appeared in the main text of the article, while the second appeared in Appendix G to the work. Original pagination indicated within double brackets. To link directly to this page, connect with: http://people.wku.edu/charles.smith/wallace/S582.htm

     [[p. 277]] If the rod does move wholly by muscular action, it does not at all affect the power of the dowser in finding water,--but the fact should be proved. To me, the evidence you adduce shows that it is not muscular action, and if this can be proved it, of course, places the dowser in the rank of a physical "medium," which I have always held him to be. If the two facts you state are facts: (1) That the motion of the rod cannot be intentionally produced (by any novice) without visible muscular action of an energetic kind; and (2) that in an outsider's hands, holding the rod for the first time, it will often move if the dowser holds his wrists, and with no conscious, and little visible, muscular action on the experimenter's part,--then it follows that the motion is not produced by muscular action at all, but is a physical phenomenon analogous to hundreds of others occurring in the presence of "mediums."

     I think you should have said: "The obvious explanation, of course, is that the rod is moved by the hands of the operator, acting consciously or unconsciously. There are, however, many difficulties in the way of this view, and many facts which seem directly opposed to it." After which your various statements would follow naturally. Now, they seem to me to be in the nature of a non sequitur! . . .

     Of course, I am a confirmed lunatic in these matters, so excuse the ravings of a lunatic, but sincere, friend,

Alfred R. Wallace.

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[[p. 374]] Parkstone, Dorset, September 12th, 1897.

     I read your excellent and very thorough paper with the greatest pleasure, and noted a few points of slight disagreement on which I determined to write to you.

     I have long been convinced of the reality of the power of the "dowsers." Your résumé shows how impossible it is to convince men by any amount of evidence till the time is ripe for them to receive it. The large amount of the evidence is even a disadvantage. Few will read and weigh the mass of evidence you have collected, and I have no doubt many of the sceptics will accuse you of believing anything you are told.

     Now for my criticism. At p. 239 you say there are two points adverse to the dowser--one being their "absurd" idea of the general distribution of underground water--either as springs on definite spots or as narrow [[p. 375]] underground rivers. But if they really and as a rule believed the former--of which I can find no evidence in your Report--it would, as it seems to me, not be adverse to their possession of some exceptional faculty, but in their favour.1 For if they are totally ignorant of the real laws of water-distribution, the chief objection, that they work by acute observation and knowledge, falls to the ground. And as to the second "absurd" supposition--of water being often in narrow underground streams or veins--if your evidence proves anything, it proves that it is often a fact, and how can believing in a fact of nature be "absurd"? Again, the whole of the dowsers' business would be gone if the geologists' theory of saturated strata or surfaces was always or generally true. For then, as is the case over considerable areas, any one could get water by sinking to the necessary depths to reach the water-bearing stratum. Consequently, in such districts dowsers are never required. But where the reverse is the case--and your neighbour may have a good well at 30 ft. while you sink 60 ft. in vain--in such districts alone the dowser is employed; hence, to him, all the available evidence shows underground water to be strictly limited. If he professes to know that this is the universal mode of distribution, of course he would be "absurdly" ignorant, but I am not aware that he ever says so; whereas the geologists do say, or imply, that the reverse is so generally the case that the dowser can do nothing except by guess, etc., etc.! If either of the two is "absurd," it is not the dowser.

     Some geologists are sublime in their inconsistency. One geologic critic says "any cottager could have given the same advice" as the dowser,--as if in a district where "every cottager" knew where to obtain water, any man would be fool enough to get either a dowser or a geologist to find it!

Note Appearing in the Original Work

     1. I stated on the page referred to by Mr. Wallace that according to geological opinion "underground water usually exists in wide saturated areas" and this opinion was discussed more fully in Appendix B to the previous Report. At the same time I ventured to say that the evidence cited in that Report pointed to the frequent occurrence, underground, of permeable channels as well as permeable areas, and hence that geologists had not sufficiently recognised the truth of the dowser's point of view. As a matter of fact, the dowser's most successful achievements are just in those districts where geologists most often fail, viz., in regions where underground water does exist in narrow fissures or channels. This is shown in Mr. Westlake's useful Appendix, p. 340.--W. F. B. [[on p. 375]]

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