Searching for lost property

Here is a short article about a simple, but still profound, application of dowsing – that of finding lost objects. It was entitled “Lost Property” and describes the experiences of an experienced dowser named Mrs G. Barraclough. It was published in one of the early journals of the British Society of Dowsers and makes an easy read and interesting read.

In those days dowsers often held a sample of the object sought while searching. She refers to the effect of the sample as having an amplifying effect. Some dowsers attributed the dowsing ability to supposed “emanations”, or “radiations” given off by the object, and the sample somehow helped attract these to the dowser. In fact, she makes a reference to a current  dowsing theory attributed to a M. Lakhovsky (M. Georges Lakhovsky, who wrote much about the effect of unknown energies, on the human body and proposed devices to mitigate their effects), in which he suggested the dowsing response is in the ear.

Despite this however, she observed that when searching for the lost property of others, it was not possible to use a sample, but since the ability remained, she concluded that “… all foundational dowsing ability must be psychic.” In which case, one presumes that the effect of the sample was that it helped focus the mind of the dowser. She also remarks that dowsing success was due to “… mentally excluding other radiations without at the same time undue concentration on the objective.” This seems to imply a mental action, in which it is important to free the unconscious mind of conscious ideas. It is a technique often referred to in other articles, (see previous postings).

The finding of other’s lost property, she compares with map dowsing (ability to remotely locate an object on a map and a relatively novel technique at that time), there having been no contact between herself and the object sought. (She also refers to a written description of the object sought, but this has subsequently been verified by many other dowsers.)

She recounts some incidents when searching for her own and other’s lost items. She used a pendulum for her searches. The method she used would have been to ask the pendulum to indicate the direction in which the object now lay. The line of to and fro oscillation of the pendulum, would then change until it swung along a line, the direction of which pointed to the object. Of course, the line indicates two directions, but by moving to another position and repeating the exercise, the pendulum would indicate another line directed towards the object. Therefore, the point of intersection of the two lines should coincide with the position of the object. In the accounts she gives, this indeed happens, but it was not always as easy as it sounds and shows how important faith is when interpreting dowsing results.

The problem of locating one’s own lost items, is that one might have preconceived ideas about where they are, and this can confound the dowsing response. So, searching for the items of others is perhaps easier, if one can maintain the belief that this is indeed possible. Her account of children dowsing is interesting here, in which we might presume that they experienced less inhibitions than adults might.

Interestingly, she notes that when items were deliberately hidden as a means of testing her dowsing abilities, her success was not so good. This she attributed either to her (conscious) need to succeed, which presumably interfered with the working of her unconscious mind, or to the spectator’s consciousness. In the latter case, we might speculate that she is finding the position of the item through ESP from the person who hid the item, or perhaps the intention of any spectators somehow interfered with her abilities. Similar action might account for the reported failure of dowsers when tested in experimental setups. A good example is “A controlled Test of Dowsing Abilities”, by the skeptic James Randi, available in the Articles section of And indeed, dowsers profess that their results are better when working on “real-life” problems, rather than contrived ones. I might then argue that demonstrating thar dowsing works is not a particularly constructive enterprise and that it is better to examine their accounts.