Dowsing / Divination

Xunantunich, Belize

Dowsing is a type of divination, used to locate ground water, buried metals, gemstones, oil and gravesites without the use of scientific instruments. It’s consider a pseudoscience and there is no scientific evidence that it is any more effective than random chance. The dowsing rod only moves due to accidental or involuntary movements of the person using it. As practiced today it probably originated in Germany in the 16th century. So says Wikipedia.

I used to believe that its effectiveness was due to random change combined with the mental state of the person doing the “divining.” Then I experienced it first hand. My Maya guide at Xunantunich in Belize told me how dowsing was used to orient the primary structures across the long central plaza. Reading my expression, he went to a tree, cut off a branch and shaped it into the “rod” pictured above. Crossing back and forth over the central axis in the plaza, the rod dipped strongly at the invisible center line. He specified that the rod had to be cut from a living branch. When I asked if I could try it, he said “Gringos can’t do it.” He had several non-Maya people try it and, sure enough, they couldn’t do it. I wanted to try.

You’re not going to believe this, but it worked for me. He couldn’t believe it, so he had me close my eyes, turn around several times and he led me by the hand in a random course of maybe thirty yards. With my eyes still closed, I walked without any guidance and the rod pulled down—hard. I resisted, but the only way it would release was by my walking away. Back and forth I went. Even at different distances I got the same result. With the rod pointing straight down I opened my eyes and was clearly standing in the center of the plaza. The guide was amazed. “I never seen nothin’ like it!” he said.

I thought that might have been a setup or an anomoly, so I tried it again at another location and got the same result—the rod pointed down forcefully wherever there was a central eye-line (called a ley-line) between two structures. I came away a believer—that in addition to making  structural alignments relative to the position of the sun, moon and stars, the ancients may have also used dowsing rods to verify ley-lines, perhaps even find water. Normally I wear my “science hat,” but there are instances like this when I’m challenged to keep an open mind.

Dowsing At Xunantunich
Excerpt From Jaguar Sun (p. 247-248 )

“I told him about your apprenticeship with the K’uhuuntak. He wants to see if you have powers.” 

“What kind of powers?”

My brother continued. “Some people have the gift of locating spirit forces—lines in the underworld made by the gods when they ordered the world. Have you heard of them?” I hadn’t. “He calls them ‘footprints of the gods.’ The man who he engages to find them lives three days from here, so he is always looking for someone who has that gift. He liked what you did with the chert. Just play along.”

“What do the lines look like?”

“They are felt, not seen. Xunantunich is a pilgrimage center because there are so many of them here. Everything you see, every structure here, is aligned with those footprints. ”

Knows Best stopped short of the middle of the plaza. He had me cover my eyes with both hands and then he turned me around three times. “Now,” he said. “Keep one hand over your eyes so you cannot see, and point with the other to the place where Lord K’in will make his descent.” There was no trick to it. Because of the heat on my face, it took only a moment to point west.

“Did the K’uhuuntak teach you that?” 

I told him about the heat on my face, but I didn’t tell him I was in the habit of turning to face the sun as a general rule—something I learned from the K’uhuuntak. Even as an apprentice, I just naturally aligned myself with the center of things, near and far. At Dos Pilas I was most comfortable sitting in the center of the cage—except when I was sleeping or when there was a commotion.

Knows Best had me take hold of the “handles” of the branch he’d stripped so the longest part pointed away of me. “Walk out,” he said. “Point the stick straight ahead. Grip it tight.” I started to walk. “Look ahead, not at the stick.” To my right, there was the high temple with its gleaming headband. Opposite, well down the plaza was the palace. “Slowly!” Knows Best shouted. 

Ayaahh, this is ridiculous. 

Suddenly, I felt a tug on the end of the stick, so I pulled it up. “Hold it tighter,” the man said. Three more steps and the branch pointed to the ground so forcefully the arms of the branch twisted in my grip. I resisted, but it was difficult. 

“Step back three paces,” Knows Best said. When I did, the tugging on the branch relaxed. I stepped forward again, and again it was like an invisible hand had grabbed hold of the stick and was pulling it down. “Continue on now.” Within four steps, the tugging eased and then stopped. Looking, I was standing on the north-south centerline between the temple and the palace.

Almost on a run, we followed Knows Best to the temple. On the upper terrace—apparently, following him was all the permission I needed—we walked around to the eastern side where he had me hold out the branch and walk south to north. At the mid-point of the temple, I felt the tug again and the stick pointed down—hard. At the front of the temple, Obsidian pointed to the palace in the distance. “Five hundred and twenty paces,” he said. “I walked it off.” Within a few steps of walking east to west the stick pointed down again and I couldn’t pull it up. 

“I do not understand,” I said to Knows Best. “What is doing that? What does it mean?”

“It means you have a special power. We will talk later.”

Special power? That was what Sharp Tooth, the healer, had said about my being raised up. So this is my special power?


For a brief description of The Path Of The Jaguar novels: Go to the Home Page—Novels

Links To for paperback books and Kindle Editions

Jaguar Rising: A novel of the Preclassic Maya 

Jaguar Wind And Waves: A novel of the Early Classic Maya

Jaguar Sun: The Journey of an Ancient Maya Storyteller





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