If you see a dowser in Saratoga Springs this weekend, please be quiet.
Saratoga Spa State Park is where you might see one. Or maybe near a mineral spring in town.
A dowser holds a pair of thin copper rods, one in each hand, pointed away from the middle of the body, like antennae. Or you might see someone with a pendulum, a small hand-held weight on a string. With these tools and their intuition, dowsers believe they can tap into that mysterious treasure trove we call our subconscious mind. The inner knowledge unearthed in this ancient practice can help with an endless list of human endeavors and challenges, from finding underground water and lost objects to healing illness, they say.
But a dowser must be as still as a yogi.
“The brain activity of someone who is dowsing is pretty close to the brain activity of someone meditating,” says Michael Blais, a Vermont dowsing teacher who is visiting Saratoga Springs this weekend.
“You have to move out of your ego mind. Your ego cannot dowse,” says Dave Darrow of Warrensburg, another teacher who uses the practice for organic gardening and landscaping. “It’s only about 8,000 years old.”
Today, and for the next three days, more than 300 dowsers and would-be dowsers are gathered at Skidmore College for the 56th annual convention and expo of the American Society of Dowsers.
The Danville, Vermont-based organization, which has 1,672 members, broke with tradition this year when the scientific nonprofit decided to hold the convention in Saratoga Springs and not on its home turf.
“It’s the very first time it’s been held outside the state in 56 years,” says Sandra Isgro of Maine, vice president of ASD.
While the city’s 22 mineral springs were not the reason why they came here, the local waters, which have been regarded as healthful and healing for hundreds of years, are certainly an attraction, Isgro says.
“We’ve got tours to take them to the waters, to experience the living springs. Your water is special. These springs are special.”
Trent Millet, president of the Mohawk Hudson chapter of the American Society of Dowsers, is leading the tours.
“Saratoga fits right in with the health and wellness of most of the dowsers,” Millet says. “It’s a dowsing paradise.”
On Wednesday, the first day of the convention, a Gazette reporter visited Basic Dowsing, a two-day class taught indoors and outdoors by six veteran dowsers, including three members of the Mohawk Hudson chapter. A two-day Water Dowsing workshop was also scheduled.
On the peaceful campus, an outdoor labyrinth is set up in the grass. In Bolton Hall, there’s an ASD book shop.
More than 40 instructors are on campus, and more than 30 classes on dowsing, which is also called divination, alternative healing and the parapsychological are scheduled today, Saturday and Sunday. On Saturday night, Donna Eden, an energy medicine practitioner, will give a talk and on Monday she’ll do a workshop.
Basic Dowsing is “learning how to use inner knowing, to use answers,” Isgro says.
Water Dowsing is for people who say ‘I’m going to find water for someone.’ ”
A dowser poses a question and gets an answer from the movement of the rods or pendulum. For example, a “yes” might be indicated by movement to the right, and “no” from movement to the left.
Marc Mondavi, heir to the Robert Mondavi wine company in California, is a water dowser, Eden says.
“He’s dowsed all the wells on his vineyard.”
Many men in their group are into water dowsing, “the mechanics of it,” Isgro says, looking for underground pipes and wells.
But the majority of ASD members are women.
“It’s 75 percent women to men. It’s because of feminine healing, that part of it appeals to them,” she says.
Men and women of all ages from nearly a dozen states and Canada were at Skidmore to learn Basic Dowsing.
Seated at tables in a room above the campus dining hall, each received a canvas tote bag that contained four instruments.
As the students introduced themselves, they revealed their interests in divining, with each quest as personal and as different as human beings can be.
“Some are scientific left side of the brain people, and some are right side of the brain people, the artistic ones,” Joan Reid, an artist and art therapist from Queensbury, told the group.
“I’m an energy kinesiologist and massage therapist. This was a natural segue for me. Kinesiology is body dowsing,” said Suzanne Schwartz of New Hampshire, a member who helped set up the convention.
A mother and daughter, a grandma and granddaughter were taking the class.
At least half a dozen students hailed from Texas.
“I’m dowsing for health,” said one woman.
“I have issues with foods and chemicals. I want to dowse my food,” said another woman.
“I want to connect dowsing with my garden and love of nature,” said Judith from Massachusetts.
Healing the earth
Several people said divining was their way of “healing the earth.”
A younger man said it would help him in his job maintaining water and sewer pipes in Massachusetts.
Jim, a retired New England farmer, learned to dowse in the 1970s.
Another man was fascinated by spiritual places.
“I find myself traveling the world and going to ancient sites,” he said.
Debbie, a retired environmental science teacher, is investigating.
“My science mind wants proof,” she said.
A woman from the Thousand Islands plans to use dowsing to look for historical artifacts buried in the area.
“My wife told me that I’m not quite eccentric enough and weird enough, so I should come here,” said a psychotherapist from Kansas.
And everyone in the room laughed.
Curious about dowsing?
It’s not too late to sign up for a day or the weekend. Just follow the signs to the registration desk in Palamountain Hall.
“We’re always looking for new members,” says Schwartz.