Photo of our local gal Lorna Drummond who did the Coulter cemetery, and provided us examples at St. James Cemetery in Carleton Place.
Marked Coulter private cemetery outside of Clayton, Ontario
Dowsing is an age-old art that has been used for centuries to locate water, graves and etc. I first learned about grave dowsing from a fellow volunteer, Marian Schlicher, at the Cass County Historical Society while working on “The Cemetery Project”. Since that time, I have conducted several of my own experiments and researched different theories. I still don’t know that answer as to just exactly why this technique works, but I can assure you that this technique does work and has been proven. I will attempt to teach you how to dowse for graves in this article.
MAKING DOWSING RODS
There are several ways to make dowsing rods, but I since I have only used one of these methods, that is the method that I will recommend.
Start with 2 metal coat hangers. Cut them at the neck just before the point where they join to form the hook of the hanger.
Straighten each hanger, trying to get out all bends.Once the hangers are straight, make a 90 degree bend for the handles. I recommend that the handles be 3 to 4 inches long. You may need to vary the handle length depending on the size of your hand.
BASIC DOWSING TECHNIQUE
Hold the rods lightly in your hands, with elbows at your waist and forearms parallel to the ground. The rods should be held straight out, also parallel to the ground and parallel with each other. Do not place your thumbs over the bend of the handle, this will restrict movement. Do not grip too tightly, only enough to keep the rods parallel.
Approach the suspected gravesite, walking very slowly.
If a body is present, the rods will cross in front of you when you are over the grave. Once you step off of the grave, they will uncross.
Let me stress that in order for this method to work properly, you must go to a cemetery with marked graves and PRACTICE. Everyone develops a slight variance in their technique and just because something works for me does not mean that it will work exactly the same way for everyone. For some, this method will not work at all, but I have found that it works for at least 90% of the people that I have taught this method to. Some people have associated dowsing with witchcraft, however, I do not believe that 90% of the population are practicing witches, I’m certainly not which means that there has to be a scientific explanation and requires no “Special Powers” by the person who is performing the dowsing.
Most cemeteries in the United States bury their dead in a Christian manner. This means that all bodies are laid with the head pointing west and the feet pointing east. It is very important to remember this, as the layout of the body will later help you determine the gender of the person buried there and also help determine if the burial ground contains human remains. I have not yet experimented with Indian burial grounds. It is my understanding that many of them are buried in a sitting position so some alterations to this technique may be necessary while dowsing in Indian burial grounds or cemeteries with different religious backgrounds. The techniques I describe in this segment will be based on Christian burials.
LOCATING AN UNMARKED CEMETERY
As mentioned earlier, Christian graves are laid out in a west/east direction. When trying to locate a lost cemetery, it is best to walk in north/south direction in order to pick up a pattern. Usually you will find the graves to be separated by 2-3 feet. As you cross each grave, the rods will cross and then uncross as you step off of them. I find that I take 2-3 steps between each grave (this may vary depending on the size of your step, which is why practice is, important). If you find that a pattern develops (cross, 3 steps, cross, 3 steps, etc.) you have most likely found a cemetery. You will then need to determine the perimeter of the cemetery. By walking north and south, you can come pretty close to determining where the burials begin and end. When you reach the edge of the burial ground and are not longer picking up bodies, go back to the last grave and begin walking east and west. You will now be picking up on the length of the body, you will get some variances depending on rather infants, children or adults occupy the end graves. Keep walking east and west until you are no longer picking up bodies. By the time you have completed a square, you will have a good idea of the perimeters of the cemetery. Be sure to always check past the last body for at least 20 feet. Remember that you are looking for a pattern. You will find that Christian burial grounds are very well laid out. Side by side and head to toe in perfectly straight lines. This is important to note because animals can also be picked up with dowsing rods, however, it would be unusual for an animal burial ground to be laid out so symmetrically. So, the symmetrical layout of the burials is your first clue that the remains are most likely human.
There are two methods to determine gender of the person buried. The first one can give a false reading depending on rather the undertaker buried the person correctly, the second method has proven to be foolproof, so far. It is VERY important to use both methods when determining rather a burial site contains human remains.
Method 1: (Overhead) Standing over the center of a grave, hold one rod over your head. The rod will swing around and point to the feet of a male or the head of a female. I don’t know the scientific reason for this, but I can only guess that each gender is polarized to the earth by different portion of the body. You may get a false reading. It is uncommon, but does happen, that a person can accidentally be buried backwards. I have found this several times which is why method # 2 is used as confirmation.
Method 2: (One-finger) Standing over the center of the grave, balance the handle of one rod on your index finger, holding the rod straight down. The rod will begin making a circular motion. It will rotate clockwise for a male and counterclockwise for a female. No matter how the body is laid in the grave, this method will give the correct gender. This method can also be used when more than two people are buried in one coffin or one grave. In this case you will need to go over the entire grave using the one-finger method. If there is a break between the bodies or a difference in gender, the rods will swing in a pendulum motion and then resume a circular motion. This is good to use when an infant is buried with their mother, etc.
Combining the two methods will help determine human or animal remains. Animals will also register gender but it is unlikely that they will all be buried in a Christian manner. So if you find several burials, use the gender methods to determine the layout of the bodies. If all heads point west and the one-finger method agrees with the overhead method, then most likely you have found human remains.
Since I starting using this technique, I have often wondered what causes the rods to cross. I have done some research and have found that several scientists claim that the rods pick up a disturbance in the earth’s magnetic field, other’s claim that they are picking up the gases from decaying bodies. I have proven that these theories are incorrect. I give a presentation on dowsing and use a video tape to demonstrate the different techniques; however, this could easily be faked. In order to convince my audience that this method truly works, I asked for volunteers to test the method on living subjects. Much to their amazement, the rods will cross over the body of a living human while they are lying on the floor. They will also give a gender reading. So, the above theories by scientist cannot be true if this method works on living individuals. It has to have something to do with the magnetic field given off by our bodies that remains with the body even after death.
Water dowsing is done much the same way as your basic grave dowsing, however I have found a slight difference in the reaction of the rods when finding a large body of underground water. For me, when I walk over an area that contains a well or larger body of water, my rods begin to take me in a circular motion, both of them pulling me to one direction and around. On water pipes, however, I still get the rod crossing. This segment is important as you must learn to recognize rather you are picking up on a burial or on a water source. You can usually solve this rather quickly by following the length. Most of the time, your water source is a water pipe and once you find the direction that the pipe is laid, the rods will stay crossed as long as you remain over it. One step to the left or right though, will cause your rods to uncross, further establishing the fact that you are over a pipe. This is great for finding the water pipes in your yard and will save money if you ever have to have them dug up.
Once again, I’m including another segment on practice. I cannot stress the importance of this enough. You cannot be sure that the readings you are getting are accurate unless you have perfected the technique while practicing on marked graves. Do not look at the stone before you attempt dowsing. Do all the methods mentioned above, make your determination and then verify it with the information on the stone. Doing this over and over again, varying gender and ages, and soon you will become comfortable enough to be confident of your dowsing. The more comfortable you become, the more sensitive you will become with the rods. If you are having trouble getting this method to work for you, then you are probably holding the rods too tightly, placing your thumbs over the bends of the rods or walking too fast. If you can rule out these three most common problems, then you probably fall within the 10% who cannot perform this technique.
There are many skeptics who will say that this technique does not work. In the summer of 2000, I was given the opportunity to prove that grave dowsing does work when I was called to a local cemetery to check a lot for unmarked graves. Upon dowsing, I found 3 unmarked graves located in the lot. The family, doubting this method, instructed the funeral home to dig anyway. Two wooden coffins were found in the exact locations that the dowsing rods had indicated, the 3rd location was not checked. Was this just luck? You be the judge.
Cass County Historical & Genealogy Society Volunteer