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Mankind must believe in the mysterious. From the 
earliest childhood, when the reasoning powers are but 
budding forth, to that period of life when the full enjoy- 
ment of these same powers gives him a wide command 
over the forces and products of nature, he has always a 
secret love of the mysterious — the hidden. Faith, either in 
the holy mysteries of a pure religion, or in the foul and 
obscene secrets of that which is false, will be found more 
or less present in his soul. And outside of religious faith, 
there will be a belief in the existence of beings gifted with 
supernatural powers who are either benefactors or tormen- 
tors of the human race : bright little fairies singing, 

" Over hill, over dale, 

Thorough bush, thorough briar, 
Over park, over pale, 

Thorough flood, thorough fire, 
I do wander every where, 
Swifter than the moones sphere 
And I serve the fairy queen, 
To dew her orbs upon the green," 

or shrewd and knavish sprites like him " called Eobin 

" That fright the maidens of the villa gery ; 
Skim milk ; and sometimes labour in the quern, 
And bootless make the breathless housewife churn; 
And sometime make the drink to bear no barm ; 
Mislead night- wanderers, laughing at their harm ;" 

rewarders of good children, like the St. Nicholas of Christ- 
mas eve who comes with his cornucopia of happiness for the 
little ones, bestowing brightness and joy on their expectant 
countenances, or punishers of the bad, like the Pelznickel 

* Histoire du Merveilleux dans les Temps modernes par Louis Figuier 
Tome Deuxieme. La Baguette Divinatoire. Paris, 1860. 

of that same eve who carries a rod and all kinds of un- 
pleasant instruments of punishment for those who have 
neglected duties, been unmindful of the claims of parental 
authority, and have not been " good children. " 

Connected, naturally, with such a belief, is the idea that 
the hidden forces of nature maybe placed at the command 
of man, through some supernatural power, or through 
some means not explained by ordinary philosophical laws. 
This idea may develop itself in the form of magic incan- 
tations supposed to possess wonderful powers over the 
spirits of the earth and air, peculiar rites or processes which 
invest those performing them with special privileges not 
allowed to their brethren, or in the recognition of peculiar 
influences belonging to certain signs and symbols. Pop- 
ular superstitions, as to lucky or unlucky days, also owe 
their origin to this love of the mysterious. These ideas 
and popular notions cannot, as a general thing, be traced 
back to their true ground. They have grown, from small 
beginnings, until their present form has been reached, part- 
ly through a natural development of the primitive idea, and 
partly through additions made from without. Some of 
them, however, are of such a character that we can trace 
them back to the starting point and study them through 
all the phases of their development. To this class belongs 
the divining rod, to which we propose to direct our attention 
at present. Although this has been employed by the im- 
postor and knave, with the view of deceiving the credulous 
and unsuspecting, yet it is also found occasionally in the 
hands of the latter class themselves, and at times producing 
results which demand attention from men of science. It 
will not then be uninteresting or profitless, if we attempt 
to give an account of the origin and use of the divining 
rod in ancient times, its employment in the middle ages, 
and the attempted explanations of the phenomena attribu- 
ted to its use in the hands of men asserted to be specially 

The rod has been the symbol and type of authority from 
the earliest antiquity. Holy Writ and ancient mythology 

furnish abundant proofs of this statement. The Psalms 
show that it was also employed, at times, as a symbol of 
protection, — Thy rod and thy staff they comfort me. How- 
ever employed typically, it implied some supernatural pow- 
er. A few examples will be allowed us by way of illustra- 
tion — Christ is called " the rod of thy strength;" His pow- 
er is called a rod of iron — " Thou shalt break them with a 
rod of iron," — "He shall rule them with a rod of iron ;" 
Job speaks of the wrath of God as a rod — ' Let him take 
away his rod from me," — " neither is the rod of God upon 
them ;" Isaiah uses it as a means of showing the miracu- 
lous birth of the Saviour — " And there shall corne forth a 
rod out of the stem of Jesse." It was employed as a means 
of producing miracles, — passing thus from a type into the 
means, wiach the Almighty used for the purpose of im- 
pressing certain truths on the hearts and minds of the fa- 
vorite people. The latter, however, becoming unmindful 
of the fact that the power was not innate in the rod, soon 
began to use it in divination. Hosea says, " My people 
ask counsel at their stocks, and their staff declareth unto 
them ;" — and the reference to divination in Ezekiel may 
justify the supposition that the rod was also referred to by 
that prophet — " For the king of Babylon stood at the part- 
ing of the way, at the head of the two ways, to use divina- 
tion; he made his arrows bright, he consulted with images, 
he looked in the liver." 

With the Eomans the caduceus was the symbol of peace, 
as the spear was that of war. It was usually a rod with a 
representation of two snakes wound around it, the origin 
of which mythology asserts to have been the separation of 
two snakes, while fighting, by the rod of Mercury. The 
augurs, when dividing the heavens, in their divinations, 
always employed a crooked staff called lituus, described as 
incurvum et leviter a summo inflexum bacileum. This 
was first used by Romulus in the location of the imperial 
city, — and being found in the temple, after the destruction 
of Rome, it became a hallowed object in the eyes of the 
people. Livy speaks of its employment in the consecra- 


tion of Numa Porapilius as the second king of Rome, who 
refused to accept the regal position until a consultation of 
the gods, through augury, should reveal their pleasure. 
The augur ascended a high mountain, " there having ta- 
ken in his right hand a curved rod " and examined the 
different regions of the heavens, he besought Jupiter to 
make some signs which would indicate his approval of 
Numa as king, when the rod was placed on his head. 

And from the ancient Hebrews, the Eomans and Greeks, 
the use of the rod passed to other nations until, according 
to Taylor,* "a belief in the existence of divination, or the art 
of foretelling events, however variously manifested, ap- 
pears to be, except among Christians, coextensive with a 
belief in the Divinity, from which it derives its name. On 
this account, the stoics considered the two propositions in- 
separable. Sunt di; ergo est Divinatio" Of course we do not 
claim that divination was always performed by means of 
the rod, but it was one of the most common methods, em- 
ployed by those who wished to foretell events or to dis- 
cover the hidden treasures of nature. 

In modern times the use of the rod appears to have been 
reintroduced by the Germans, although the French for 
many years were very much excited on the subject and 
seem to have been carried away by an insane frenzy to ex- 
periment with the rod, not only for the purpose of discov- 
ering the treasures of the earth, but also streams of pure 
water, and even the traces of murderers and other gross 
violators of Divine and human laws. We avail ourselves 
freely in this article of the materials, which Dr. Figuier has 
brought together on this subject, believing that we are 
presenting for the first time, in English, much that is in- 
teresting as well as intensely curious. 
The divining rod was employed by the Baroness de Beauso- 
leil in revealing the metallic treasures of France. This no- 
ble lady devoted herself, in conjunction with her husband, 
to the study of metallurgy and mineralogy, expending in 

* Occult Sciences, 281. 

this study an enormous private fortune. With the view, 
however, of making the results of her investigations the 
more wonderful, she pretended that she employed divining 
rods of seven different kinds, which gave indications al- 
ways of metals when concealed under the soil. The result 
of this was the arrest of herself and husband under the 
charge of sorcery, and their death in prison. She had an- 
nounced the discovery of subterranean mineral waters, 
made simply by holding one of the rods in her hand when 
it would be attracted powerfully towards the ground, over 
the places where these were concealed. But errors must 
always grow. After her death JRoyer announced that the 
divining rod was adapted for the detection of all kinds of 
concealed articles, — and he claimed, that it wsis a matter of 
indifference as to the material out of which the rod was 
made. It might be of wood, gold, silver, ivory, the horns 
of beef or any other animal, even of a cabbage stalk. It 
would detect every thing, except such as were connected 
with the immaterial or spiritual world. This was a total 
change of qualities in the instrument. At first it was en- 
tirely used on account of its prophetic power as regards 
events, and " the moral attribute was the only quality of 
the divining rod." A few centuries have passed away, and 
its friends claim for it every thing but this moral attribute. 
Tempora mutantur, nos et mutamur in illis. Every fash- 
ion has its day, and when it disappears the disappearance 
is not final, but only for a little while. It will again show 
itself above the horizon, gradually advance until it reaches 
the zenith and then speedily sink into obscurity. This is 
true, not only of fashion as regards clothing and the man- 
ners of society, but also of -superstitions and popular delu- 
sions. Towards the end of the seventeenth century, the 
rod is once more employed on account of its moral proper- 
ties. The most remarkable pretender of this period was 
Jacques Aymar, whose history, in connection with the di- 
vining rod, is of sufficient interest to claim more than a 
passing notice. 
Jacques Aymar's skill was called into requisition by the 


authorities, who were endeavoring to ascertain the per- 
petrators of a double murder in the city of Lyons. The 
bodies of a wine merchant and his wife were found in the 
cellar of their shop, a bottle wrapped with straw and a 
bloody billhook by their sides. Appearances justified the 
idea, that a robbery of the shop had been committed by 
the party or parties, who had committed the murder. 
The officers of justice, being absolutely at fault as to any 
mode of tracing the criminals, were induced to ask the aid 
of Jacques Aymar, a native of the village of Dauphiny. 
These were the days, when torture was employ ed as a legal 
means of obtaining information in criminal cases, and there 
will hence be no cause of wonder that the divining rod 
was employed by legal authority. The operator offered to 
undertake the investigation provided he was first brought 
to the place where the murder was committed, so that he 
might take the impression {'prendre son impression). Guided 
by the prosecuting attorney, he visited the wine merchant's 
cellar, having placed between his hands a rod of the first 
kind of wood that he could find. " The rod remained im- 
movable until the moment when he passed over the spot, 
where the corpse of the wine merchant had been found. 
Then it became violently agitated ; he himself very much 
affected and his pulse was accelerated as though he were 
in a fever. This excitement increased, when he came to 
the spot where the corpse of the second victim had been 
found. Having thus received his impression, Aymar left 
the cellar, and, guided by his rod, or rather by the inner 
feeling which made it move, he ascended into the shop 
through which the assassins had taken flight. Leaving 
the shop, he followed, street after street, the tracks of the 
murderers ; entered the court of the archbishop, crossed it, 
and only stopped at the gate by the Ehone, which was 
closed, because this fantastic perquisition was executed at 
night." He commences his operations n the next morning. 
Leaving Lyons by the bridge over the Khone, he descends 
the right bank of the river. His rod at times informs him 
there were three, and again only two, associated in the 


atrocious crime. He enters a gardener's house, and there 
declares that there were three assassins, and that they had 
been in that house. Accompanied by proper officers, he 
descended the Rhone, and, after many marvellous revela- 
tions by the rod, detects one of the assassins in a prison at 
Beaucaire. This man admitted that he was present when 
the murder was committed, but denied that he had been 
engaged in it. The prisoner was brought to Lyons, to the 
great satisfaction of the magistrates, and the enthusiastic 
admiration of the people. A new escort was furnished 
Aymar and he was again started off on his curious investi- 
gation. At Toulon, however, he was obliged to give it 
up. The man arrested was duly condemned to be broken 
alive on tjae wheel, and the sentence was carried out August 
30, 1692. 

This whole account seems to belong to some dark period 
of history, or to some nation not yet visited by the light of 
civilization. But unless the most indubitable evidence 
were furnished us, that it had occurred at the time men- 
tioned, human credulity would not admit it a possible oc- 
currence so near our era. " The virtue of the divining rod, 
so long considered a mere popular superstition, had been 
recognized as a juridical verity." Figuier thus deprives 
the whole affair of all supernatural character : " Aymar 
had evidently obtained some important data as to the mur- 
der. * * It is possible that he may have learned from his 
friend, who lived near the victims, that a hunchback had 
been seen among the men prowling around the house on 
the day of the crime." This "was a hint which he followed 
up until the result was attained of seizing a hunchback in a 
prison, who made the confession. " What is extraordinary 
is the confession made by the prisoner, a confession which 
his extreme youth and his strong belief in the power of 
the rod may explain. It is probable, however, that without 
this confession, the judges would have hesitated to pro- 
nounce sentence of death, and that this affair would not 
have had the reputation it received and would not have 
conferred so great honor on the infallibility of the divining 



rod." It was one of those occurrences, where accident, or 
rather Providence, had lead the hands oi justice, by means 
altogether in themselves inadequate, to the detection of 
the perpetrator of a gross crime. 

Attention having been turned towards the divining rod 
by the affair at Lyons, physicians began to experiment and 
physicists to denounce while the people, ever ready to 
grasp at the mysterious, gave their hearty credence to the 
asserted powers of the rod. Some experiments, made in 
the presence of and by Pauthot — Dean of the College of 
Medicine at Lyons, — furnished results that exhibited the 
extraordinary effects of the use of the rod in their true light. 
Whenever Aymar passed over the place, where the dead 
bodies had been found, he was seized with violent convul- 
sions, and the rod was so forcibly bent towards the ground 
that it appeared ready to break. When the same rod was 
placed in the hands of another person, not a physician and 
not accustomed to cool examination of phenomena, effects 
very similar, to those shown in Aymar's person, made 
their appearance. But when Pauthot took the rod in his 
hands, all these effects were not apparent. It remained 
immovable although he passed frequently over the place 
where the bodies had been found, and no agitation was 
experienced in his system. We begin to see how the 
imagination or " the involuntary connivance of the spirit 
might act in the production of such phenomena." 

In the year 1698 the fame of Jacques Aymar, who was 
actively employed in the interim in bemystifyinghis neigh- 
bors and living on the reputation obtained from the case 
we have related, was summoned to Paris by the Prince of 
Conde to exhibit some of his marvellous powers in his 
presence. Apartments were assigned him with the Con- 
cierge of the hotel, in order that he might be under the 
eye of the Prince himself. But here began Aymar's down- 
fall. He was taken one day to the garden. Five holes 
had previously been made and in them gold and silver, 
copper and stones were respectively placed. The diviner, 
with his rod, pretended not only that he could detect 


metals, but that he could distinguish them from one 
another. " When he was put to the test, he failed to de- 
tect anything, once declaring the existence of precious 
metals in the hole containing stones and at another time 
in one that was absolutely empty." 

Test after test was now applied by the Prince of Conde. 
No results were obtained of the character promised by 
Aymar, and the Prince, being satisfied of the true character 
of the ignorant pretender, informed the public that Aymar's 
rod " was nothing but a pure illusion and a chimerical in- 
vention." There was no longer any chance for the em- 
ployment of the divining rod in Paris, and Aymar retired to 
Lyons where a willing people still received his revelations as 
truths, and fabricated all kinds of excuses for his mistakes. 

He next makes his appearance, on the page of history, 
in the capacity of detector of Protestants, in the war waged 
against them by the Marshal Montrevel. The rod was 
employed to indicate such persons as had attended protes- 
tant meetings. Being directed towards an individual sus- 
pected, if the suspicion was founded on fact it would im- 
mediately turn, and such an individual was consigned to 
the gibbet or the wheel. How many lives were sacrificed 
in this way through the rage of sectarian zeal, aided by an 
ignorant pretender, we are not able to state. The mind 
grows weary of dwelling upon such scenes, and history 
gives us nothing more of Aymar. He proved to be as use- 
ful to the murderous bigotry of his co-religionists, as he 
had been to the wonder-lovers and prodigy- seekers in the 
city of Lyons. 

The fame acquired by Aymar in Dauphiny proved to be 
very attractive to the good people of that province. Many 
followers were raised up, who rivalled Aymar in their pre- 
tensions and were doubtless as reliable in their divinations. 
The rod was the judge of all questions under examination. 
" It revealed metals and springs, robbers and unreliable 
debtors;" furnished indications concerning concealed relics 
of the saints or property purloined from sinners, determin- 
ed the value of horses exposed to sale and the true owner- 


ship of lands ; indeed its applications were as numerous as 
the wants of mankind. Every native of Dauphiny em- 
ployed it, " men and women, children and old people, 
clergy and laity, all practised divination with the rod, des- 
pite pastoral mandates and instructions." All the mar- 
vellous effects were attributed to satanic agency. When 
this belief once took hold of the people, it proved particu- 
larly distressing to those who had been distinguished for 
their skill in the use of the rod, and they devoted them- 
selves to prayers to the Almighty to withdraw the diaboli- 
cal gift, and these always had the effect of freeing them 
immediately. The true connection between the will or the 
intention of the operator and the movement of the rod is 
clearly shown in the fact, that whenever a great desire was 
experienced to get rid of the power of moving the rod, it 
was always followed by a loss of this power. 

Prominent among the employers of the divining rod, 
after Aymar, was Barthelemy Bleton who employed it as 
a hydroscope, or a means of detecting wells or springs of 
water. His mode of operating was by holding the rod 
between the first fingers of his two hands; when he passed 
over a subterranean collection of water, he was seized with 
a febrile agitation, and there was a downward movement 
of the rod. Dr. Thouvenel made a series of experiments 
with Bleton about the year 1780. It was pretended that 
he could detect subterranean springs, even when his eyes 
were bandaged and his arms held by one or more persons. 
Thouvenel, believing the revelations of Bleton, attempted 
their explanation by an electrical theory, which explains 
nothing at all. Bleton was invited to Paris in 1782. La- 
lande, the great astronomer, showed that the movements 
of the rod were the result of practice, which enabled Bleton 
to move the rod without showing any movement of his 
body. The accounts of his experiments are very contra- 
dictory. The journals were divided on this subject into 
Bletonians and Anti-bletonians, and partizan feeling ran so 
high that one finds it difficult to select that which is re- 
liable from their statements. His friends asserted that he 


could always find water, although he might mistake its 
depth and volume. This was an excellent subterfuge, as 
it enabled the hydroscopist to say, in case water was not 
found, on digging to a moderate depth, that it would be 
found if the well was only made deeper. His friends, and 
the credulous Thouvenel, alleged that he had made no mis- 
take in eight hundred experiments. Yet a number of 
chemists report, that he had passed frequently through an 
alley, under which a pipe, two inches in width, containing 
water was laid, without any alteration in the direction of 
the rod, while he declared that canals and springs were 
concealed under the church of St. Genevieve. The latter 
blunder was readily explained by the statement that a cur- 
rent of moist air had produced the same effect as a current 
of subterranean water. But explanations and excuses are 
never very difficult to an ingenious, crafty man. 

In 1790, Thouvenel having emigrated to Italy, found 
another Dauphinese, Pennet, who pretended to the same 
hydroscopic powers asBleton. Spallanzani, the great phy- 
siologist, had been astonished at first by Pennet's apparent 
powers, but more deliberate examinations satisfied him 
that they were but apparent and not real. The savans of 
Italy were however very much divided in their opinions on 
the subject of the powers of the divining rod. Some at- 
tempted to explain, what they believed to be facts, by the 
supposed action of electric currents. This was at the time 
when the discoveries of Galvani and Yolta, on the subject 
of the physiological effects of electricity, had attracted the 
attention of students of medical and physical science. But 
the use of the word electricity was then, as too frequently 
now, merely the resort of ignorance. Whenever a phe- 
nomenon was dark or mysterious, it was referred to the 
agency of electricity, without the slightest effort being made 
to show how there could be the relation of cause and effect 
between it and the phenomenon. Ignorance or limited 
knowledge always thus jumps to conclusions, without em- 
ploying any intermediate reasoning. The appearance of a 
comet in the heavens is to him, who is innocent of any 


knowledge of astronomy, the direct or remote cause ol all 
present disasters, failure of crops, destructive wars, epi- 
demic diseases among men and beasts, commercial troubles, 
and all posssible evils that may afflict humanity. There 
is nothing on which our reasoning is so very loose and 
faulty, as on the relation of cause to effect. A sequence is 
accepted as a consequence, and a high-sounding term at 
once becomes sufficient, to explain any marvellous occur- 
rence, to those whose minds have not been carefully trained 
in a strict school or' logic. 

The result of the general excitement in Italy, on the sub- 
ject of the divining rod as a hydroscope, was precisely the 
same as in France and Germany. " Savants could not 
agree as to the value of experiments, even when they were 
most successful. There were enthusiastic affirmations and 
obstinate negations, sudden conversions and audacious 
denials, — and afterwards a dense melee of written state- 
ments, reports, journal articles, panegyrics and diatribes." 

In England and America no general interest has ever 
been excited on this subject, although some very singular 
results have been apparently obtained by a few individuals, 
whose honesty and integrity could not for a moment be 
suspected. In this investigation, as in investigations of all 
mysterious and inexplicable phenomena, which seem to set 
at defiance the special laws of nature, we must distinguish 
between the honest experimenter who may be self-deceived, 
and the mere charlatan who employs his own ingenuity 
and skill for the deception of others. The two cannot be 
classed together, although the results obtained may be 
precisely alike. The second has availed himself of the 
credulity of mankind, with the view of gaining notoriety, 
or, which is more frequently the case, of filling his coffers. 
The first honestly tries to free himself from prejudice, — la- 
bors to benefit his fellow-men by what he supposes to be a 
real power in his possession, and is fully entitled to our 
respect for his motives and his sincerity, however erroneous 
we may find his conclusions. The second deserves no 


mercy at our hands, and when the deception is detected, 
is fully entitled to all the scorn that is an imposter's due. 

Let us now, having thus described in a brief and con- 
densed way some of the most striking instances of the 
employment of the divining rod, direct our attention to 
an examination of its nature, the manner of its employ- 
ment, the various theories that have been advanced as to 
the cause of its action by different classes of experimenters, 
and the explanations which modern science furnish us at 
the present time. In this way we shall best be enabled to 
derive important information on the subject, and to strip 
it of all marvellous character. We are probably in pos- 
session of such knowledge as to justify the belief, that the 
time has arrived for such clear and deliberate examina- 
tion, as the excited prejudices of the past would not allow 
our predecessors. 

As to the material of which the divining rod was com- 
posed, there was much difference of opinion among those 
who employed it. Agricola — a writer on metallurgy in the 
seventeenth century — mentions the use of hazel as specially 
adapted for the detection of silver, ash for copper, pine for 
lead, iron for gold.* The willow, elm and ash were em- 
ployed at times in default of the hazel. Some insisted 
upon the almond tree, because the rod of Aaron which had 
been placed in the temple, " had brought forth buds, and 
bloomed blossoms, and yielded almonds," although they 
did not deign to show how there could be a connection 
between the manifestation of the Almighty's selection of 
the tribe of Levi to conduct " the priest's office for every- 
thing of the altar," and the search after precious metals. 
But, whatever wood was selected, it was necessary that it 
should be light and very porous, as it was presumed that 
its movement over the substances sought for was in con- 
sequence of the liquids it contained. The nature of the 
wood was, however, considered of very little importance by 

* Etenim coryli virgulas adhibent ad venas argent! : fraxini, ad aeris : 
piceastri, ad plumbi, maxime candidi: ex ferro vel acie ferri factas, ad auri. 

Agricola, De Re Metallica, 26. 


the Dauphinese diviners, in the seventeenth and eigh- 
teenth centuries. As we have already remarked, a cab- 
bage stalk proved quite as effective as a rod of any of those 
woods, which were at first considered only available for 
divining purposes. As the rod could be of any material 
whatever, all questions concerning the relation between 
nature and properties were then settled, or at least consid- 
ered as of no importance. 

The rod was forked at one end. It was prepared by the 
German miners, by being exposed to certain cabalistic 
rites ; or prayers were offered up, invoking a blessing on 
the rod. It was to be cut off at one stroke of the knife, at 
the rising of the sun on a Wednesday morning. Some 
claimed that it should be cut in the wet months, and others 
during dry seasons. That it should be forked, was not ab- 
solutely necessary, according to Agricola, for he says, " al- 
though the forked form may be employed, yet that is not 
of importance, for it may be straight or of any other shape, 
— the figure is of no importance, but the incantations, which 
he is not allowed, and does not wish, to narrate.* Most 
operators, according to Figuier, " selected a forked rod, or 
one at least having a crook at one of its ends ; some, in 
accordance with the German method, took a small straight 
rod, a single shoot, without knots, divided into two, and 
making a hole in the end of one of the pieces, trimmed the 
other to a point and stuck it in this hole, making a jointed 
rod— -fuseau magique. The great diviners, however, espe- 
cially those of later times, used a straight rod, without bend 
or crook, a little curved about the middle, or perfectly 

The mode of holding the rod also differed. "When a 
forked rod was used, it was seized by both hands, so that 

* Virgula divina, qua incantatores scrutantur venas, aut annulis etiam, 
speculis, cristallis, quamvis forma furcae figurari possit, nihil tamen ad rem 
interest, recta sit, an in aliam figuram formata : non enim valet virgulae fi- 
gura, sed incantamenta carminum, quae mihi commemorare non licet neque 

De Re Metallica 27. 


the back part of the latter was towards the ground. Of 
course with the jointed and straight rods, different meth- 
ods of holding these would be adopted. Agricola suggests 
that they should be held gently, not too gently, however, 
since in that case they would fall toward the earth, even 
before the power of the hidden metallic veins would act 
upon them ; and if they were held too tightly, the strength 
of the hands would overcome the attractive force of the ob- 
jects sought. He gives a wood cut representing two di- 
viners with forked rods in their hands, looking as grave and 
dignified, as became their occupation. The character of 
the operator seems to have been of some account, and to 
have influenced very much the motions of the rod — Virgu- 
la igitur, Vr auriinveniendis venis, viro bono gravique usu iesse 
potest. Cicero wondered if soothsayers could look each 
other in the face without indulging in smiles at the tricks 
and deceptions they had been engaged in playing on their 
fellow citizens. But the soothsayers had even more ex- 
cuse for their mode of procedure than some of the charla- 
tans, who have figured with the divining rod. It is diffi- 
cult so to transplant ourselves from the incredulous pres- 
ent into the credulous past, as to picture to our minds the 
astonished expressions of the people, when watching the 
movements of the employer of the divining rod, they would 
suddenly see it dipping towards the ground, and hear the 
oracle declare, with all the appearance of authority, the 
nature of the substance concealed at that spot. Gold- 
smith's description, of the effect of the old schoolmaster's 
learning on the villagers, may possibly give us a picture of 
the effect produced by such a sight ; 

" Words of learned length and thundering sound 
Amaz'd the gazing rustics rang'd around, 
And still they gaz'd and still the wonder grew, 
That one small head could carry all he knew." 

It is natural to suppose that all the theories, propounded 
with the view of explaining the action of the divining rod, 
must have been crude and unsatisfactory. It is always so, 
when a new subject is presented to the attention of man. 


A superficial glance, instead of a careful examination, in- 
clines him to the reception of the whole as truth. This is 
the first mistake, one not only constantly made by partic- 
ular individuals, but by mankind in general. Either the 
whole of a novelty is swallowed as an absolute verity, or it 
is rejected as unworthy of notice. We are either intensely 
credulous or incredulous. The mind deduces conclusions 
before it has had the proper data furnished it for the pur- 
pose. Indeed time is alwa}'s demanded for ascertaining 
what are data, and what mere specious forms. The histo- 
ry of every science shows the great trials it has had to un- 
dergo, from prejudiced enemies and rash friends, one con- 
demning wholesalely and the other adopting all appear- 
ances as truths. This is true with regard to the divining 
rod. Indeed it would be easier to believe all the powers 
asserted to belong to the rod, than to adopt the theories 
that either the clergy or the laity propounded as to the 
cause of its action. They only show the ignorance of their 
authors and give us no aid in our attempt to get a true 
theory on the subject. 

First among these theories was that propounded by the 
clergy, attributing the movements to diabolical agen- 
cy. The idea, that the powers of heaven could have any 
thing to do with the rod, was peremptorily disposed 
of in this way, — heaven could not be interested in the 
subject, therefore the lower regions must. The only duty 
of good men in this view of the matter was, to aid in de- 
livering devout persons from this unfortunate gift, which 
could only be possessed in consequence of some voluntary 
or involuntary facte with the Devil. 

Malebranche at first admitted that it might be pos- 
sible, that the rod was deflected over metallic veins and 
springs, but when he learned that, in Dauphiny, it was de- 
flected towards robbers and thieves, he refused to admit 
the apparent phenomena, " and not being able by the force 
of reason alone to explain the effects that had been duly 
attested, he also attributed these to the agency of the dev- 
il." He says, "one should have a general horror of any 


thing that proceeds from him, upon whom God has pro- 
nounced an eternal anathema." 

The supposition of diabolical agency prevented that kind 
of investigation, which w T ould have collected facts of a 
character to show the true nature of the supposed wonders 
of the divining rod. Besides the latter, in its legitimate 
province, as a means of discovering metals and hidden 
springs, did not show any greater power than the magnetic 
needle, — did not even possess as much of the marvellous, 
and yet no one felt like attributing the polar direction of 
the needle to such agency. The moral revelations of the 
divining rod were so evidently mere pretensions that it 
w r as necessary to claim Satanic influences as their exciting 
cause. But when the clergy had once promulgated this 
idea, of course it gained ground and closed up all examina- 
tion of the subject. 

The next theory claiming attention was that of the ab- 
beede Vallemont. This is a most amusing attempt at an 
explanation of the movements of the rod; " By a species 
of insensible transpiration there is continually given off 
from bodies, material particles, which rise in the air follow- 
ing a vertical direction. In their course they come into 
contact with the divining rod, saturating it and causing it 
to rise or to fall in order to assume a direction parallel with 
that of the corpuscles.. * * The operator, himself re- 
ceiving these corpuscular emanation's, communicates them, 
through the pores of his skin, to the rod, which then begins 
to turn in his hands." In consequence of the difference in 
the pores of the skin, some men are skillful with the divin- 
ing rod, and others entirely devoid of skill. In order to 
make the theory meet all possible cases, it is only necessa- 
ry to suppose that the corpuscular emanations, given off' 
from subterranean springs, metallic veins and other treas- 
ures of nature, differ in character, as well as those which 
are given off from the bodies of robbers, assassins, and all 
other perpetrators of crimes. Those from the bodies of 
murderers are particularly powerful on the nervous sensi- 
bility of men, like Aymar, able to use the divining rod for 


their detection. They produce the terrible uneasiness 
which he experienced — the horrible agitation of his body, 
the painful sensations which manifested themselves through- 
out his whole system. While ordinary emanations only 
affected the rod, — these would produce what might be call- 
ed "the very torrent, tempest and whirlwind" of suffer- 
ing. ^ 

It is difficult to keep one's gravity at this most ludicrous 
attempt at an explanation. "We are bewildered amid the 
multitude of special emanations, w T ith which we must be 
surrounded, without our knowledge, at all times. Every 
substance in nature contributes to this collection. The 
particles must have the power of passing through each 
other, unaffected by winds and heat, unperceived by ordi- 
nary mortals. The earth is a grand manufactory of annoy- 
ances to the nervous system of the sensitive employer of 
the divining rod; every animal that sports in the air con- 
tributes to his uneasiness, and the perpetrators of crimes 
furnish the most painful of all corpuscular emanations to 
his sensibility. If all this had been presented to us in the 
region of fiction, we would consider it somewhat ingenious, 
but when it challenges our credence on the score of scien- 
tific explanation it is simply ridiculous. It is true, 

There are more things in heaven and earth, 
Than are dreamt of in our philosophy, 

but this theory ac- 
cumulates them in such quantities, that the human mind 
can not tolerate the conception. We have read somewhere 
of the man who had learned, from the teachings of the 
microscope, the wonders of the animalculae that live out 
their brief existence in the water and the air, — that infest 
in millions articles of food and drink, who was so appalled 
by the dangers surrounding him from these sources, that 
he refused food and drink and died from starvation — in or- 
der to escape the liabilities to injury arising from these 
sources. Only imagine the case of a man, who had sud- 
denly become cognizant of the wonderful potency of these 
iafinitesimally small material emanations on his nervous 


system. What tortures his life would abound in, — what a 
release death would be to such a constant sufferer ! 

The best plan of examining the pretended power of the 
explorers is to look more carefully into their mode of pro- 
cedure. How could the explorers know what was the par- 
ticular body which attracted the rod so powerfully ? How 
distinguish between the metals and water, and how distin- 
guish one metal from another ? Three rules were adopted 
for this purpose. First; the rod only bent when it was 
held over the particular substance, which the explorer was 
seeking. Hence his will must be active, — his intention 
fixed on the certain object. The same rod would answer 
for all possible investigations, in the hands of a skillful 
man. When he wished to seek for concealed springs, then 
it would turn over water and not over metals, and vice 
versa. If employed with the view of detecting murderers 
— nothing but the object in view — the perpetrator of the 
crime could affect it ; passing over water, or mines of in- 
exhaustible wealth, would not cause it to deviate from the 
direct path of its duty. It will be perceived, that a won- 
derful amount of intelligence, as well as resolution, was 
attributed to the rod by its partizans. Either the rod or 
the corpuscles might be considered as very obedient ser- 
vants to the will of the explorer. A second method was by 
physical experiment. " Whenever the rod began to bend 
over any place, to know whether water or a metal was con- 
cealed, it was only necessary to place a piece of moist pa- 
per or linen on the rod. If the movement continued, the 
concealed article was water. If the contrary, a metal or 
at least something else than water. To ascertain then 
what metal it was, different metals would be successively 
brought near the rod. Its motion would be checked when 
metals different from that concealed were brought near it; 
and, on the contrary, the same kind of metal would cause 
it to turn. The third rule prescribes the very opposite of 
the last: the rod should not turn on bringing near it a piece 
of metal of the same kind as that concealed in the earth, 
but should turn for all other kinds. These two last pre- 


oepta re establish belief iu the sympathies and antipathies 
of metals and non-metallic substances, an idea of the mid- 
dle ages which has been for a long time the object of ridi- 

The art of Rhabdomancy thus exhibits its errors and the 
fallacious reports of its cultivators, as soon as it attempts 
to explain the results alledged to be obtained by its process- 
es. Neither the theological explanation, nor the corpus- 
cular theory, nor the scientific statement of its rules, pre- 
sent it, in any way, so as to command our respect. Deci- 
ded and firm opposition to it, however, increased the num- 
ber of its believers. We are always prone to side with the 
weaker party. Our interests may be furthered by arraying 
ourselves under victorious banners, but the lowest passions 
of our nature are nurtured and strengthened when we find 
an opportunity to denounce the successful .and triumphant. 
This is seen in the change of sentiment in the people to- 
wards the perpretator of a foul murder. So long as he is 
at large, all voices unite in condemning the act and decla- 
ring that condign punishment must be his reward. When, 
however, after a fair trial the sentence of law has been 
pronounced, then our sympathies are arrayed on the side 
of the criminal, and we pray the executive authority to re- 
member mercy and release him from the penalty. Then 
we can find excuses of various kinds to explain away the 
heinousness of the offence, and to justify the commission 
of the murderous deed. A quack may trifle with the 
health or morals of the public by erroneous medical or 
theological teachings, and he will neither receive sympa- 
thy or countenance from the public ; but only let those, 
whose life-study has been the proper elucidation of such 
subjects, attempt to have the proper measure of condem- 
nation or punishment meted out to him, and crowds rally 
under his banner ready to do battle in his cause. All this 
looks very much like real, hearfelt sympathy, true philan- 
thropic feeling for those who are persecuted. It is noth- 
ing but the rebellion of humanity against law and authori- 
ty y — the exhibition of the spirit of disregard for law and 


authority which tends to make a nation a byword and re- 

So long as the wise and discreet opposed rhabdomancy 
with any fierceness, although proofs of the deceptions prac- 
ticed by Aymar and his followers were collected in formi- 
dable array, although religious scruples were aroused by 
the theory of Satanic agency, although archbishops, bish- 
ops and divines without number discountenanced the di- 
vining rod, although Cardinal Le Camus denounced those 
who employed it within his diocese, and the inquisition in 
1701 condemned the works written in its defence, — still, 
despite all these, the very opposition excited u a crowd of 
distinguished and worthy people, and among thern even 
ecclesiastics of all degrees, who would declare the fact that 
the divining rod did move and, notwithstanding all state- 
ments to the contrary, in the words of Galileo, E pur si 
muove" "The phenomena presented by Bleton in France 
and Pennet and others in Italy, could not be contested. To 
explain these Doctor Thouvenel conceived the theory 
which attributes all these phenomena to electrical action." 
Science w r as called in to aid in explaining that which science 
had been forced to condemn. 

Thouvenelis theory was considered applicable both to 
the metal-seekers and the hydroscopists or water- seekers. 
Metallic veins and subterranean streams of water were sup- 
posed to eliminate electrical currents, which acted direct- 
ly on the bodies of the employers of the divining rod, im- 
parting to them peculiar influences which caused the mo- 
tions of the rod. They penetrated the body, traversed the 
lungs, and, acting through the nervous system, produced 
the wonderful impressions, which manifested themselves 
in the case of Bleton and others of his class. Thouvenel 
justified his theory by directing attention to the fact, that 
occasionally wonderful exaltations of the senses were man- 
ifested in certain individuals, so that sight or hearing was 
wonderfully acute, or touch was so delicate that astonish- 
ing results were manifested in this way. But notwith- 
standing this reference, we must judge of scientific theories 


by scientific laws, and in this way we shall find that his 
imposing scientific fortifications and warlike array (I'echa- 
faudage scientifique) in defence of rhabdomancy will fall at the 
first fire from the unerring batteries of science. We could 
not argue with the corpuscular emanations of the abbe de 
Vallemont. They were too refined and delicate for the 
cognizance of our reasoning faculties, — too ethereal to be 
adjudged by laws of matter. But electric currents can be 
made subjects for argument, — are open to experiment and 
susceptible of positive demonstration. They always need 
conducting bodies to form the paths along which they 
should travel, and it is a fair subject of inquiry — what is the 
conducting body between the hidden water and the exper- 
imenter. But there is nothing, between the experimenter 
and the metallic treasure or the water, except the soil and 
the atmosphere. The former is an excellent conductor of 
electricity, and would speedily distribute it, if given off 
from the objects in question, throughout its immense mass, 
while the air, being a bad conductor of electricity unless 
in a moist condition, could not be employed at all in this 
particular business. And besides all these considerations, 
why should concealed streams of water produce such won- 
derful effects on the nervous system, when large bodies of 
water, directly exposed to the atmosphere, failed to produce 
any effect at all. In truth, directly the touchstone of 
science is applied to the so called scientific explanation of 
the matter, we find all its glitter disappears and it presents 
a mass of base tinsel instead of the pure gold promised us. 
In 1826 the divining rod made its appearance again in 
France. No longer known by its old name, which had be- 
come unfashionable, but as the forked baton or furcelle, 
claiming notice under the patronage of Count J. de Tristan, 
The employer of the instrument was called bacillogire or 
bacillogyrator, and the term rhabdomancy exchanged for 
that of bacillogyration. A rose by any other name will smell as 
sweet. Tristan's theory is full of Thouvenel's idea of the 
existence of electrical currents, and yet we find the same 
objection to both, — no proof of the existence of such cur- 

rents is furnished us. The electroscope, by which the 
most delicate waves of electrical excitement are made man- 
ifest, is not employed by Tristan, and we find ourselves, 
while studying his demonstrations, somewhat in the same 
condition as though we attempted to study the Arabian 
Nights by the aid of modern science, — to ascertain, for in- 
stance, how, in one moment after Aladdin had given the 
order, to the slave of the lamp, to bring him something to 
eat, " the genius returned with a large silver basin, which 
he carried on his head, and twelve covered dishes of the 
same material filled with the nicest meats, properly arrang- 
ed, and six loaves as white as snow upon as many plates ; 
two bottles of the most excellent wine, and two silver cups 
in his hand." — All discussions of this kind might have 
pleased the schoolmen of the middle ages, but we must 
know whether the thing to be examined be real, before we 
commence an examination of its nature, or attempt to ex- 
plain the laws of its existence. Until we find a chimera 
ruminans in vacuo, it is a matter of no moment to us to know 
whether devoret secundas intentiones. 

Before we give our own opinion on the movements of 
the divining rod, when found in the hands of the trustful 
and honest, in order to complete the general survey of the 
subject, contemplated in this article, it will be necessary to 
notice the pendicle explorateur, which attracted some atten- 
tion in Munich and Paris, and which involves the same 
principles as the divining rod. The instrument consists of 
a cube of iron pyrites, or a crystal of sulphur or of one of 
the metals. This was attached to slightly moistened thread, 
half an ell in length. When held between the fingers, 
over water, or any of the metals, " it would insensibly be- 
gin to form eliptical oscillations, which would become cir- 
cular, and more and more regular. The movement around 
the north pole of the magnet, would be from left to right 
and from right to left, around the south pole." This 
subject was investigated carefully by many scientific gen- 
tlemen. Complicated theories were offered by way of solv- 
ing it. It was considered that the movements were pro- 


duced by a combination ef electricity and organic force, 
which united force was styled organ-clectrlc. The theory 
was more imposing than Thouvenel's, only because more 
high-sounding words were employed. It was no more en- 
titled to respect, and science soon stripped it of its bright 

Chevreul proved by experiment that " the movement of 
the pendulum was not determined by the action of any 
body placed either below or in the vicinage of the oscilla- 
ting pendulum. The motion proceeds from the hand, and 
only from the hand of him who holds the thread of the 
pendulum. The experimenter exercises this action in a 
manner involuntary and perfectly without his knowledge. 
The action results from very small movements or simple 
'muscular tensions, determined by the will or thought or any 
other moral agency. From this arises a slight motion, 
producing a feeble muscular impulse. A number of the 
latter added together produce a mechanical effect, which 
manifests itself in the oscillations of the pendulum." — 
These conclusions were arrived at by Chevreul in experi- 
ments carefully made by himself. He observed that the 
same motions were produced in his own case as in the 
case of others. It occurred to him that they might be pro- 
duced by the mind, intensely anxious as to the experiment, 
unconsciously acting on the hand. To satisfy himself on 
this point, his eyes were blindfolded, — the pendulum then 
remained at rest. In every case, when an experimenter 
was blindfolded, the movements of the pendulum ceased. 
Deprived of the sight of the pendulum, the mind could 
obtain no idea as to its condition, and the same amount 
of determination to keep the hands at rest was effectual 
in preventing motion, although it seemed to be of no 
account when the pendulum was full in sight. We are 
indebted then to Chevreul for directing attention to the 
fact that motions may be made by portions of the body, 
even without the aid of the will, and that other men- 
tal faculties may act on the voluntary muscles, bringing 
them into full play even when the individual is perfectly 


unconscious of this action. This principle may be useful- 
ly employed in investigating the singular phenomena, con- 
nected with the movements of tables and other articles of 
furniture, which have been, by some, attributed to super- 
natural powers. We shall find that most of these phenom- 
ena, which are not voluntary frauds are involuntarily such 
from the muscles of both hands and feet being put into ac- 
tion, by other mental faculties than the will. The invol- 
untary complicity of thought, thus referred to, can now be 
applied to the examination of the movements of the divin- 
ing rod. In order to be as brief as possible we shall use 
the explanation, or rather application of Chevreul's expla- 
nation as furnished by M. Figuier. 

"Among the numerous adept practitioners with the di- 
vining rod, a small number only are impostors, — the larg- 
er number act with sincerity. The divining rod does turn 
in their hands, independent of all artifice, and the phenom- 
ena, be they what they may, are real ; this movement of 
the rod, however, by virtue of an act of thought and with- 
out any consciousness, on their part, of this secret action 
of their will. Natural indications, such as the presence of 
very rich green grass, the slope of the soil, the moisture of 
neighboring places, &c, but more frequently still the un- 
wished for desire, the idea that the phenomena will take 
place, these provoke, all unknown to the experimenter, the 
rotation of the rod, — that is, they cause very small muscu- 
lar movements which suffice to prod ace, by accumulation, 
a slight mechanical effect, which, disturbing the equili- 
brium of the rod, causes it to execute the motion that fol- 
lows these involuntary acts." 

With this explanation we can understand how prayer 
would be all powerful in removing the faculty of using the 
divining rod in hydroscopy. The very determination, asso- 
ciated with a belief in the efficacy of a higher power to 
deprive them of what they had learned to consider as of 
Satanic origin, — these would make the mind so on the 
alert that all involuntary complicity would be prevented, 
and the divining rod would cease to move in their hands. 


The wish that the movement would take place, the desire 
to witness the phenomena, the intention, if we may so call 
it, being absent no movement was produced. 

There has alway been a difficulty in examining this sub- 
ject, in consequence of the want of some mode of explain- 
ing the movements of the divining rod when in the hands 
of those, whom we know to be above all suspicion of dis- 
honesty. This want is now supplied, and we feel that it 
relieves us of the necessity of keeping quiet on the subject. 
There are some pretenders, whose very manner will create 
suspicion, and although we may not be able to detect them 
in their fraud, yet we feel more than half assured that 
fraud there is. Such were the astrologers and wonder- 
workers of the past, who would 

* " question Mars, and, by his book, 
Detect who 'twas that nimm'd a cloak 
Make Mercury confess, and 'peach 

Those thieves which he himself did teach. 
They'll find i' th' physiognomies 
0' th' planets, all men's destinies* 
Like him that took the doctor's bill ; 
And swallow'd it instead o' th' pill ; 

* * * 

They'll feel the pulses of the stars, 
To find out agues, coughs, catarrhs, 
And tell what crisis does divine 
The rot in sheep, or mange in swine ; 

* * * 

What makes man great, what fools or knaves, 

But not what wise, for only of those 

The stars (they say) cannot dispose. 

No more than can the astrologians ; 

There they say right, and like true Trojans.'' 

The coincidences between the movements of the rod and 
the presence of water are few in comparison with the cases 
where movements without the presence of water have ta- 
ken place. The former are recollected and are quoted as 
of far more importance than the failures. " The successful 
ticket in a lottery always produces more excitement than 
the numberless tickets which have proved blanks at the 
drawing. It constitutes the shallow basis on which men 


calculate their probabilities of success. The successful 
treatment of one case by the quack gives him more repu- 
tation than is sufficient to cover up the bad effects of his 
failures, and makes him a reputation for shrewdness and 
ability which quiet practitioners of medicine fail to attain. 
When we prove that a thing is improbable, or a pretended 
science false, it is not incumbent on us to show why cer- 
tain results of a different character have been obtained ; for, 
even despite improbabilities, sequences may occur not ne- 
cessarily consequences of the previous course pursued. In- 
stances illustrating this position are by no means few or 
rare. Hence while we are not obliged to pronounce a man 
a charlatan who employs the divining rod in searches after 
metals or water, it is not necessary for us to explain how it 
is that the rod has been deflected from its position over 
places where these have been afterwards found, since the 
number of such cases is very small and, when examined 
with scientific care, they may all be included in the cate- 
gory of accidental coincidences. The day has passed when 
we could admit any thing as a cause which reason will not 
allow us to connect directly and necessarily with the pre- 
tended effect. 


022 194 381 8