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Divining for Brass and Gold
A public test in Perth of 26 diviners

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)
Twenty-six diviners turned up to display their prowess. Not one was driving a Rolls Royce. An armoured car was used to conceal the cardboard boxes while they were being filled. For the first test, the kilo of brass was put in box no 2 and a kilo of sand in all other boxes. As in the NSW test a variety of sticks, wires, keys and pendulums was employed and each diviners got a positive response showing he had detected what he said was the kilo of brass. One diviner did not use any instruments, claiming he could feel the vibes through his fingers. Another, whom we termed the long-distance diviner, used a method which required him to stand back 8O metres and take a sight on each box from four different points of the compass -- a fairly lengthy and time consuming exercise.

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)
The second test, under great security, used the kilo of gold. Now, if I were a security guard I would watch that kilo of gold very closely. Five diviners successfully picked the box containing the gold claiming gold is a pure metal whereas brass is a mixture of metals. However in fairness I think that the successful five were not aware of the security guards close proximity and attention to his gold bar. [The odds against 5 diviners being successful is about 9 to 1.]

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
And so it went on, and as time progressed the explanations began to come thick and fast. Were we not aware that seventy-three streams of water were racing along beneath the test site; that we were sited over a large sheet of aluminium, a rubbish dump and a Water Board pipeline; that the metal jewellery worn by the female (and some male) spectators was throwing the instrumentation out of line; and so on. Fortunately, as twilight began to fall, we were able to start eliminating diviners who had no chance of reaching the magic 50 percent success rate. A country diviner who had arrived in his own plane had to leave before dark, otherwise he would have been grounded. He actually flew over on his way home and I'm sure I saw his wings dip down like a divining rod as he passed over the site -- perhaps that was the secret of success, being airborne.

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
The example that follows arose from the 1995 visit to Perth by one of the UK's leading skeptics, Dr Susan Blackmore, and is from POST Newspapers 27 June 1995 page 6, "Skeptic makes sense of the weird and wonderful".

"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
Dr Blackmore's comments led to the following response from farmer Harold Vawser (4 July 1995 page 12): Although I cannot personally divine for water, I have had a lot of experience, having bought a boring plant and found supplies of water where indicated by experienced diviners. I can point to sites with bores (pumped by windmills), open soaks, and wells on the farm we owned near Narrogin 50 years ago. Dr Blackmore should get her facts right. The experiment with buckets of water does not apply because the diviner's rod will only respond to running water, and in the hands of a gifted diviner. I do not pretend to understand why some people have this God-given gift, but they do, as I have used the services of at least four such people.

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?
Farmer Harold Vawser claims that tests have got it wrong, and that real diviners in real fields get it right. His argument is typical of those made by diviners. So what happens when real diviners are tested in real fields? You will find the answer in Divining for Water on this website under Weird Things meet Critical Thinking > Strange Powers.

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