Divining for Brass and Gold
By Paul Whincup
The following account of large-scale divining tests for brass and gold held in Perth in 1980 is from the Skeptic 1(1), 2, 1981. The author was then a consulting hydrogeologist with Layton Groundwater Consultants in Perth. At the end is a typical exchange between skeptics and diviners that appeared in POST Newspapers in 1995.
The failure of water diviners in Sydney to locate water, brass, or gold, despite Dick Smith's prize money of $40,000 had repercussions in Western Australia. As WA President of the National Well Water Association I appeared on an ABC radio programme to discuss the results of the test and water divining in general. Needless to say I took the opportunity of using phrases such as "more water underground in NSW than you can poke a stick at" etc. As a result, WA diviners got up in arms and said that NSW diviners were only learners and if the challenge had been held in WA a 100 percent success rate would certainly have been achieved.
Divining is of wide public interest, so ABC radio 6WF organised a test of their own for the WA diviners, using ten cardboard boxes, a kilo of brass and a kilo of gold. It took place in September 1980 before a large audience on a site not far from the Swan River.
First test (brass)
Eventually all twenty-six diviners stood proudly by the box of their choice, with only one box not having a diviner alongside. Surprise, surprise. Box no 2 with the kilo of brass was the only one not divined. The odds against that happening must be quite large. [Actually about 15 to 1.] For the record we in Western Australia do not have a requirement for diviners who can locate sand, for that is a commodity we sandgropers have in some abundance. At this stage, one very verbal diviner pulled out of the contest because didn't we know you can't divine through glue, and of course all cardboard boxes have a component of glue otherwise they would fall apart.
Second test (gold)
By this time, thanks to our long-distance diviner, time was beginning to run short and so the contest was modified so that the kilo of gold was put in one of boxes 1 to 5, and the kilo of brass in one of boxes 6 to 10. 1 was curious to watch the five successful diviners from the previous round and noted that, as before, they all picked the same box as each other. Perhaps there was something in this divining after all. Sad to say, another fizzer, for the gold was not in the box of their choice.
Now for the excuses
In the end, possibly because of the way in which the contest was shortened and thus the odds of success increased, one diviner finished up with a 50 percent success ratio. Statistically, the chances of success were 18 percent, and overall the success rate in our contest was 17.6 percent. Enough said. Nevertheless our (successful?) diviner was flown to Sydney courtesy of TAA and was given the opportunity of winning the skeptics $40,000 prize. Unfortunately, on this more auspicious occasion, his forked twig let him down and he returned home empty handed. [End of Paul Whincup's article.]
An exchange between skeptics and diviners
"To find out if divining works, try it," says Susan Blackmore. First, cut a springy, flexible twig, or make one of wire, then hold it in your hands and walk slowly across the land. If it tweaks and trembles and you dig a hole and find water, good. Then arrange for somebody else to get six buckets, fill three of them with water and leave three empty. Cover them all. Now try the divining rod over the buckets. If it accurately points to the water, then you have some real evidence.
This probing and challenging have led Dr Blackmore into an international circuit of skeptics who constantly question everything. She passed through Subiaco last week on an Australian tour as guest of Australian Skeptics Inc. She was eager to emphasise the difference between a skeptic and a cynic: a skeptic questions what a cynic suspects. "There are certainly many wonderful mysteries in life, but close examination can show that biochemical explanations or simple mechanics are often more likely than something mystic and magic," she said.
Water divining works -- ask me
As a matter of fact, if I hold the divining rod over a site previously determined by a diviner, and he holds my hands, the rod will pull downwards and point to the water, even to the extent of twisting the bark off a lucerne tree forked rod. A light rod not much thicker than a pencil is very effective. Even water flowing through an underground pipe can be detected with the divining rod, provided the water is moving. Also, an experienced diviner can tell whether the underground water is salt or brackish by holding thin bags of salt in his hands, then the previously strong pull will be weakened depending on how salty the underground water is.
I bored for and found four such supplies near the farm homestead about 6 metres down, so proved the diviner correct. In one of our paddocks there was always a damp patch, even in mid-summer, so I dug to clay level about 3 metres down, and only a weak flow filled the hole to about 50 cm deep. However, a water diviner indicated a strong flow about 6 metres away where the ground was dry. After digging again, I found a strong flow of pure water, which rose to 1.5 metres after shoring up with railway sleepers. It supplies a stock water trough to this day. Many things in this world are used but not fully understood, like electricity, sunlight, and water divining.
So does divining work?