Pasties, Cream Teas and Dowsing Rods
A History of Dowsing in West Cornwall
John Moss at North Hill Village Hall
The far south-western tip of the UK punches above its weight in many ways – and its dowsing prowess is no exception.
In this presentation, local (to the TDs) Launceston lad, John Moss, former Director of the British Society of Dowsers for the best part of a decade, set out to show some of the timeline of the development of the dowser’s craft, as practised in this quiet corner of the Cornish occident.
While those of us ‘from away’ may call it West Cornwall, the locals refer to it as West Penwith, not to be confused with East Penwith, which no longer exists (on paper, anyway). A conceptual line drawn south from the Hayle Estuary to St Michael’s Mount delineates a subtly different type of place – where the light, the geology, the atmosphere and the earth energies lend themselves to inspiration, meditation and intuition.
John showed that from the earliest of days, this most Atlanticised peninsula has been the home of peoples who knew, or at least sensed, the invisible currents and the telluric flows of their domestic terroir. The pinpoint positioning and dramatic alignments of the remaining 400-odd sacred and archaeological sites in Penwith – a rugged landscape barely ten miles by four, as the chough flies – tell us a great deal about the awareness of those ancient communities of both the gritty physical and the more sophisticated, esoteric aspects of their environment.
JM had researched the archives of old Kernow in search of hard evidence for the much-repeated fact-ion that Queen Elizabeth I had imported, or at least encouraged, German prospectors to dig for tin in Conwall – largely due to their expertise in finding lodes by using dowsing techniques. He found the evidence for QEI making some contact with Germanic miners/diviners for that purpose, but definitive records of their arrival in the Principality are more elusive.
However, it is well-documented that everyone, from the ancient ‘celts’, through Roman traders and well into the mediaeval period and beyond, was buying and exporting Cornish tin – much of it from modern-day West Penwith. The main use of the metal was that it was a key ingredient of the much-prized bronze weaponry of Mediterranean armies.
Similarly, there are sound written sources describing the arrival of several hundred German miners in, for example, Keswick – in the Cumbrian Lake District – at the Queen’s behest, much to the annoyance of some of the locals there. However, clearly, not all of the population was overly displeased, as within a couple of decades the said prospectors had caused 150 hybrid descendants to enter the parish records of the area. It is therefore not too unreasonable to weave these two threads together in a Cornish context, too.
One of the founding fathers of earth energy dowsing, Guy Underwood, spent a good deal of time in Penwith, trying to come to terms with the various types of strange currents and mysterious flows, described in his seminal work The Pattern of the Past.
In a similar vein, the legendary John Michell, later to achieve a form of niche renown for his work on sacred geometry through his epic tome The View Over Atlantis, actually cut his eyeteeth in West Cornwall with the groundbreaking workThe Old Stones of Lands End. In it, he indicated in great detail, and for probably the first time in the public domain, a series of alignments and astronomical confluences linking megalithic sites. Although we would regard this type of approach as pretty standard today, when Michell was writing, it was so far off the spectrum that both the scientific and the dowsing establishments regarded it as complete nonsense. But time has been on the side of John Michell, who is now considered to have been a former national treasure and a true visionary. John Moss showed some of his original diagrams – and the research is regarded as a study of great academic worth and considerable accuracy.
No presentation linking West Cornwall and dowsing would be complete without some mention of the late leviathan Hamish Miller. His work, with Paul Broadhurst, The Sun and The Serpent, is generally regarded as being the very starting point of modern dowsing, and of modern earth energy dowsing in particular. It was a book that drew many of today’s more experienced practitioners, including both JM and myself, into the dowsing arena in the first place.
Following the lead of John Michell, HM and PB traced what became to be known as the Michael and Mary lines, weaving themselves around the St Michael ley. They form a matrix from the south westernmost tip of West Penwith at Carn les Boel, through the enigmatic St Michael’s Mount and across the breadth of southern England to the Norfolk coast and, arguably, way beyond. It was a remarkable rediscovery of an ancient energy ‘corridor’, and one that inspired – and continues to inspire – generation after generation of UK dowsers.
Another member of the far south west’s dowsing royalty was the equally legendary, and endearingly eccentric, water diviner, Donovan Wilkins (aka Donovan the Diviner). Although feted for his unswerving ability to find potable underground water across the country, and especially in Cornwall and the Scillies, the word on the street is that it was in fact his wife, Margaret, who was quietly the really exceptional dowser. The Wilkins’ appeared in the local and national media on numerous occasions and, unlike most of us, seemed quite unphased by the harsh spotlight of attention.
Many thanks to John, and to his wife Jill (aka the proprietor of Penwith Press, formerly owned by Hamish Miller) for making the long trip up from their special enclave. Long may it remain that little bit apart – a bijou dowser’s paradise embraced by the tumultuous ocean.