By Stephen Morrissey
Montreal Journal of Poetics
Series Two, # 1
My interest in dowsing began several years ago when Reg Skinner, a friend in England, wrote saying that he could dowse his "bee hives to determine when they would swarm;" his success rate was such that he rarely needed to open his hives, he dowsed them to see what state they were in. There are several theories of how dowsing works. Robert Leftwich writes in his Dowsing: The Ancient Art of Rhabdomancy, that the first theory,
which, for lack of a recognized name, I have called the Radiation Theory, is that all matter emits some kind of radiation and, depending on the sensitivity of the operator, he is unconsciously able to sense and differentiate one radiation from another.1
Of the second theory, Leftwich writes,
In principle, it is thought that, like bats, we possess a built-in system capable of emmitting some form of high-frequency signal which, on its reflection from an article being sought, can be re-interpreted to provide desired information.2
Reg Skinner not only dowses his bees, but he can also diagnose physical problems by dowsing a person's body with a pendulum; he has even located malfunctions in machines by dowsing. Apparently one can dowse for just about anything, from the direction of the prevailing wind to the discovery of archaeological ruins. Dowsers have also been used by the police to locate missing persons; however, the most common use of dowsing is for water.
A pamphlet published by the American Society of Dowsers explains more fully what dowsing is:
Dowsing is the name given to the quest for information, with or without the assistance of a device such as a forked stick or pendulum. Such information can be for personal benefit or on behalf of others, and appears to come to the dowser through a means other than the five senses. Intelligent and productive use of dowsing as a method of search is nevertheless possible despite the mystery of its operation.3
Another pamphlet published by the A.S.D. discusses the use of angle rods as a device for dowsing.
Angle rods will respond to most people on the first attempt. You can make them from round metal stock, preferably 1/8 to 3/16 inch in diameter, and from 18 to 30 inches long. Bend two such rods at a point approximately 6 inches from the ends to form a right angle "grip". Metal or plastic tubing slipped over the "grips" will permit the rods to swivel more easily but is not necessary to get a reaction. Hold the rods at wais-level, pointing forward like two pistols. As you walk forward mentally ask for an underground stream of water, water pipe, electric or gas line—whatever it is you seek. The rods will swivel, either crossing inward or diverging outward, as you pass over its actual location. As you pass beyond it, they should resume their original fore-and-aft position, aligned with your forearms.4
Dowsers claim that their art is not unusual and that approximately 80% of the population have the ability to dowse, if only in a rudimentary way. This natural ability has been allowed to atrophy; we have accepted a diminished perception of the world, as the mind is conditioned to censor what it cannot "logically" or "scientifically" accept.
It is the censoring mind that interests me. A discussion of how the mind filters reality according to its perceptions and conditioning will not only illuminate something of the art of dowsing but may also help define the quality of mind necessary for the composition of poetry.
We are like the inhabitants of the cave in Plato's myth who have only limited perceptions and .understanding of reality. Our conscious mind censors what we perceive: perhaps this is because there is too much stimuli in our modern world for us to be exposed to and retain our sanity. For whatever reasons, we censor reality and we have thereby imposed limitations on our understanding of reality. It seems obvious that the quality of the mind essential for any art is sensitivity, but how can one be sensitive to reality when the mind is actively evaluating and categorizing everything it perceives? What do we know of reality when the instrument we use to perceive reality is not functioning properly?
All thought is a filter separating us from the perceived world. J. Krishnamurti writes in You Are the World:
... this is a very important thing to understand. The central thing to understand, when we are concerned with this question of immediate psychological change—not change in some future state or at some future time. Is the "observer", the "me", the "ego," the "thinker", the "experiencer", different from the thing, the experience, the thought, which he observes?
. . . . .
As long as there is a division between the "observer" and the "observed" there is conflict. The division, spacial and verbal that comes into the mind with the imagery, the knowledge, the memory of last year's autumnal colours, creates the "observer" and the division from the observed is conflict. Thought brings about this division.5
What we observe is selected according to the filter so that we are what we observe the world to be: however, we erroneously claim that our perception is based on objective fact. Dowsers tell us there is much more to reality than what we "normally" perceive. This assertion is also made by poets; William Blake writes, "How do you know but every Bird that cuts the airy way, /Is an immense world of delight, clos'd by your senses five?" The mind's filters, by which we "understand" the world, are also the instruments that dull the mind. Again, to quote Blake, "If the doors of perception were cleansed everything would appear to man as it is, infinite, For man has closed himself up, till he sees all things thro' narrow chinks of his cavern."6
A creative person should endeavour to understand the censoring activity of the mind. We filter life through our ego which is a construction of ideology, belief, traditions, fears, anxieties, etc. Truly experimental poetry is not preoccupied with the manipulation of form, but is poetry that attempts to understand our existence, and out of this comes a new form and a new content perfectly congruent with each other.
Many artists have realized that the ego filters reality and they have attempted to short circuit the censor. They claim to have done this through the use of alcohol, various other drugs, violence, sex, or through any means that overwhelms and shuts down the censor, (e.g. Allen Ginsberg, Jack Kerouac, etc.).
This world is something we have created, and we then try to change the world by using the same process that was used to create it. We attempt, without much success, to escape our thought-filled minds, and, occasionally, we see what life would be like if our actions weren't always premeditated. Experiences of acting for its own sake, sometimes coming from a sense of urgency that preclude the intervention of the self, are awe-inspiring because they are experiences of self-transcendence. In nature there is only action, there is not the intervention of thought and then action, nor is there the need to anesthetize the mind with drugs. Thought is obviously necessary but there are many times when the only effect of thought is to abort action, to corrupt action; to endlessly become and not to be.
If we write out of a tradition we are merely repeating the old; Blake writes, "if we do not cast off this world we shall be only Venetian Painters, who will be cast off and lost from Art." According to G.I. Gurdjieff, contemporary literature is substantially of the "Venetian Painter" variety, he writes:
The fundamental cause of this corruption of present-day literature is, in my opinion, that the whole attention in writing has gradually, of itself, come to be concentrated not in the quality of the thought and the exactitude with which it is transmitted, but only on the striving for exterior polish or, as is otherwise said, beauty of style—thanks to which there has finally resulted what I called word prostitution.7
The real revolution in art and the mind comes when we see how the mind pervades every area of our lives. All formulas for eradicating the censor are creations of the very censor we are attempting to eradicate, for who decides what to eradicate and what not to eradicate in the first place? Thus all systems for overcoming our psychological fragmentation, the many ways that people torture themselves for some illusory and ideational end, are of the very substance of the censor itself, and finally only strengthen the censoring mind. These systems include meditating for long hours, the use of drugs, vows of celibacy and silence, praying and what have you.
Keats writes that "if poetry comes not as naturally as the leaves to a tree, it had better not come at all." But of course this quietist approach runs directly counter to our philosophy of force and intervention. James Agee writes:
For in the immediate world, everything is to be disclosed, for him who can discern it, and centrally and simply, without either dissection into science, or digestion into art, but with the whole consciousness, seeking to perceive it as it stands, so that the aspect of a street in sunlight can roar in the heart as a symphony, perhaps as no symphony can: and all consciousness is shifted from the imagined, the, revisive, to the effort to perceive simply the cruel radiance of what is. (my italics)8
The possibility of change, of being free of the censoring mind, exists in the understanding of "what is." When a poem is written that enlarges our understanding of ourselves and other people, that is a movement of compassion in this fragmented world, then there is change that is not grounded in preconceptions. One value of dowsing is when studied or performed it disturbs our belief in the ready-made construction of reality maintained by the scientific, rational and intellectual mind. The censoring mind seems to offer a certain security but it is ultimately the security of mediocrity. Arthur Miller writes in his play After the Fall:
How few the days are that hold the mind in place; like a tapestry hung on four or five hooks. Especially the day you stop becoming; the day you merely are. I suppose it's when the principles dissolve, and instead of the general gray of what ought to be you begin to see what is. Even the bench by the park seems alive, having held so many actual men. The word "now" is like a bomb through the window, and it ticks. 9
1. Robert Leftwich, Dowsing, The Ancient Art of Rhabdomancy, Wellingborough, The Acquarian Press , 1977, p. 28.
2. Leftwich, p. 30.
3 & 4. Untitled pamphlets from the American Society of Dowsers, Danville Vermont, 05828,
5. J. Krishnamurti, You Are the World, New York, 1972, p.p. 12 -13.
6. William Blake, The Portable Blake, edited by Alfred Kazin, New York, The Viking Press, p. 258.
7. G.I. Gurdjieff, Meetings With Remarkable Men, New York, E.P. Dutton, 1963, p. 8.
8. James Agee and Walker Evans, Let Us Now Praise Famous Men, New York, Ballantine Books, 1973.
9. Arthur Miller, After the Fall, New York, Penguin Books, 1980, p. 42.
Copyright © 2007 The author