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Popular Superstitions - Divining Rods

( Originally Published 1884 )


So early as Agricola the divining rod was in much request, and has obtained great credit for its discovering where to dig for metals and springs of water ; for some years past its reputation has been on the decline, but lately it has been revived with great success by an ingenious gentleman, who, from numerous experiments, hath good reason to believe its effects to be more than imagination, and to enable others to do the like, has laid down some short rules, as follows;


The hazel and willow rods, he has by experience found, will actually answer with all persons in a good state of health, if they are used with moderation, and at some distance of time, and after meals, when the operator is in good spirits.

The hazel, willow, and elm are all attracted by springs of water; some persons have the virtue intermittently, the rod in their hands will attract one half hour, and repel the next.

The rod is attracted by all metals, coals, amber, and limestone, but with different degrees of strength.

The best rods are those from the hazel or nut-tree, as they are pliant and tough, and cut in the winter months ; a shoot that terminates equally forked is to be preferred, about two feet and a half long; but as such a forked rod is rarely to be met with, two single ones of a length and size may be tied together with thread, and they will answer as well as the other. The figure of each is here nearly represented :

Two rods tied together. A twig that grows forked.

The most convenient and handy method of holding the rod is with the palms of the hands turned upwards, and the two ends of the rod coming outwards; the palms should be held horizontally as nearly as possible, the part of the rod in the hand ought to be straight, and not bent backward or forward, The upper part of the arm should be kept pretty close to the sides, and the elbows resting on them; the lower part of the arm, making nearly a right angle with the upper, though rather a little more acute. The rod ought to be so held, that in its working the sides may move clear of the little fingers. The position of the rod when properly held is much like the figure annexed :

Where the distance between the four downward lines is the part that is supposed to be held in the hands.

The best manner of carrying the rod is, with the end prolaided in an angle of about 8o degrees from the horizon, as by this method of carrying it the repulsion is more plainly perceived than if it was held perpendicularly.

But after all the directions that can be given, the adroit use of it can only be attained by practice and attention.

It is necessary that the grasp should be steady, for if, when the rod is going, there be the least succussion or counteraction in the hands, though ever so small, it will greatly impair and generally totally prevent its activity, which is not to be done by the mere strength of the grasp, for, provided this be steady, no strength can stop it.


As soon as the person's foremost foot comes near the attracting body (as far as I can observe, its semi-diameter) the end of the rod is repelled towards the face ; then open the hands a little, replace the rod, and approach nearer, and the repulsion will be continued until the foot is on or over the attracting body.

When this is the case the rod will first be repelled a little, viz., 2 or 3 inches, and then be attracted towards the metallic body, i.e., its end will be drawn down towards it.

When it hath been drawn down, it must not be thrown back without opening the hands, a fresh grasp being necessary to every attraction, but then the least opening of the hand is sufficient.

As long as the person stands over the attracting body the rod continues to be attracted, but as soon as the forefoot is beyond it, then the rod is drawn backward to the face.

Metals have different degrees of attraction ; gold is strongest, next copper, then iron, silver, tin, lead, bones, coals, springs of water, and limestone.


Set the foot on a piece or coin of any of these metals, having the rod in your hands as before directed.

In using the rod to discover springs and metals, let the person hold the rod as already directed, and then advancing north or south with a slow pace, just one foot before the other, at first the rod may be repelled, but as the person advances slowly and comes over the spring or vein of ore, the rod will be strongly attracted.

A person who, by frequent practice and experience, can use the rod tolerably, may soon give the greatest sceptics sufficient satisfaction, except they are determined not to be convinced.

To what has been asserted concerning the Virgula Divinatoria, in your Mag. for November, 1751, p. 507, you may add the following relation, as it rests upon the authority of the very eminent Dr. Linnaeus, physician in ordinary to the present King of Sweden :

M. Linnaeus, when he was upon his voyage to Scania, hearing his Secretary highly extol the virtues of his divining wand, was willing to convince him of its insufficiency, and for that purpose concealed a purse of one hundred ducats under a ranunculus which grew by itself in a meadow, and bid the Secretary find it if he could. The wand discovered nothing, and M. Linnaeus's mark was soon trampled down by the company who were present; so that when M. Linnaeus went to finish the experiment by fetching the gold himself, he was utterly at a loss where to seek it. The man with the wand assisted him, and pronounced that it could not lie the way they were going, but quite the contrary ; so pursued the direction of his wand, and actually dug out the gold. M. Linnaeus adds that such another experiment would be sufficient to make a proselyte of him.

In reading the British Critic for April, 1815, I met with a Review of Dr. Hutton's "Recreations in Mathematics and Natural Philosophy." I was much struck with some remarks (p. 415) on a subject to me entirely new, viz., "the divining rod ;" the passage runs thus :

" There is a peculiar property, it would appear, residing in certain constitutions, which enables the possessor, upon taking a hazel or some other twig, to discover a spring below the surface of the earth. Upon the arrival of the person endowed with this faculty, upon a spot where water is to be found, the twig will be found to twist itself in the hand. Upon a bridge, or in a boat, no effect is perceived ; the water must be under ground to produce the phenomenon." Dr.Hutton gives an account of a lady who, in consequence of an article in a former edition of his translation of ' 'Montucla,' sent a message to him, offering to show an instance of this extraordinary faculty in her own person.

If any of your numerous readers can throw any light upon this singular subject, they will greatly oblige. Yours, etc., CLERICUS BEDFORDIENSIS.

Reading in your last Magazine that Dr. Hutton, in his "Recreations in Mathematics," had said something about the Divining Rod, I beg leave to say, that about seven years ago, I was building a house upon a hill of limestone, where there was little probability of getting a spring of water; and a farmer having just left me, with whom I was in treaty for the purchase of a piece of land, my bailiff, who was with me, observed that the farmer was celebrated as a famous Dewster, and could find out a spring of water, if there was one. I asked him what he meant by a Dewster. He replied, that by using a rod or twig of hazel, he could find out a spring of water. Having before heard of the Divining Rod, and having little faith in it, I desired him to run after the farmer, which he immediately did; and the farmer told me, if I could get him a hazel rod he could easily find a spring of water, if there was one. Having procured a rod for the farmer, who, holding it in both his hands, and bending it into a bow, traversed for some little time a likely spot of ground, a little way from the house, and presently said there was a spring of water or goods, in a particular spot. I asked him what he meant by goods? he said lead ore, or calamy (lapis caliminaris). I desired him to inform me how he knew there were water or goods, and he replied, by the rod of hazel forcibly bending in his hands. I requested him to show me how to hold the rod, which he did; and I traversed the spot several times before I found any pressure on the rod : but, after directing me several times how to hold it, I at last found a very considerable pressure on the rod, whenever I went over a particular spot of ground, and I could scarcely keep the rod in my hands. This convinced me that there was some truth in it, and I ordered a shaft to be dug on the spot; and after going down three or four yards, the man came to some old workings of lead ore; but there was no water. On conversing with the farmer on the . subject, he offered to lay me a bet that he would put 20 hats in a row, at some distance from each other, and under one of them I should put a dollar, and that he would point out the hat under which the dollar was; but I did not accept his bet. He further told me that a steel rod was as good or better than the hazel rod; and that it was a general practice among the miners on the Mendip Hills to find out veins of calamy (lapis caliminaris) and lead by the rod. Yours, etc., JOHN R. LUCAS.

Having lately witnessed an experiment made by a lady who imagines that she has the power of discovering subterraneous springs by means of the Divining Rod, and shortly afterwards finding that I possessed that extraordinary property myself, I take the liberty of answering a query on that subject, which appeared in a late number of the Gentle-man's Magazine; and proceed to give directions for the benefit of persons desiring to make the experiment. Take a fresh hazel-twig, forked similar to the prongs of a hay-fork, about one foot in length, and sufficiently flexible to be twisted, which must be done by holding the two prongs rather tightly in your closed hands, allowing the ends to project a little beyond your little fingers; when so held, its own elasticity, and tendency to return to its former unrestrained position, will cause it gradually to untwist itself, in doing which it will move upwards or downwards without the least motion of the hands.

So gentle, and almost imperceptible is the twist required, that it is very possible for persons to deceive themselves (which I am confident was the case with the lady whom I saw, and which had almost been so with myself). Dr. Hutton's recantation of his former incredulity on this subject, and my own experience, convince me that it is also very easy to deceive others.

The experiment succeeds best with twigs from those trees of which the bark is rather rough, such as hazel, apple, etc., as they afford a firmer hold. They are not so fit for the use of the diviner in winter, or when dry, being then less flexible,. The idea of its not succeeding on a bridge, or in a boat, is erroneous.

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