While the practice of the craft may be in the tools and the interpretation – the core component of the skill of dowsing lies in the awareness and use of intuition. Dowsing is structured intuition; just that sense of knowing something, sensing it, being part of it.
Perhaps one of the very first intimations that anyone coming into the field for the first time will become aware of is a feeling that some places feel more comfortable, more uplifting – or indeed more depressing – than others.
Our initial reaction, like that of sceptics and those who are desperate to explain it away, is often to rationalise our unexpected sensations. Perhaps it is due to our mood, the weather, what we have just heard or hope to hear, our health or our previous knowledge of that particular place. While some of these elements are quite probably part of the process, most people – and certainly just about all experienced dowsers – will appreciate that it’s just not enough, by itself, to gain an understanding of why some places almost always feel pleasant, even energising, while others seem to generate a sense of quite the reverse.
As Terry Faull pointed out so clearly in this presentation, this idea of a sense of place having an existence of its own goes back to the very dawn of the written era of human civilisation – and probably way beyond. As long as there have been people able to sense anything, there has been a sense of place to experience.
The oldest cuneiform script of the Sumerians, who gave us the first textual story – that of Gilgamesh – referred to this sense of place. The catalogue of subsequent writers and commentators describing, or at least mentioning, the subject over the centuries is extensive. Even the arch-sceptic modern philosopher, Roger Scruton, implies that there might well be such a thing!
But this was a discussion not just about places that respond to the etheric interest of humans, but about places which have a quality of their own; places where the veil between this realm and the next is thin; places where the distinction between our reality and another reality is challenged; where the whole concept of the here-and-now merges subtly with another form of being.
With his knowledge of both the Celtic Christian world, and that of the Pagan worldview with which it eventually coalesced, Terry was able to illustrate his presentation with examples of truly thin places of his own acquaintance – particularly holy wells, ancient churches and pre-Christian revered and ceremonial sites.
One of his other, related, passions is his involvement in the Small Pilgrim Places Network (SPPN). It is a low-key organisation, which seeks to acknowledge and keep an eye on sites of meditation and pilgrimage that might otherwise be lost in the maelstrom of modern commercial activity. Most of the SPPN catalogue consists of thin places; places known throughout antiquity, and right up to the present time, for their sense of tranquillity; places where the traveller and the questor can seek solace with their own understanding of the realm beyond, or within.
Thin places are often marked or recorded by physical structures, indicating that their individual ambience has been experienced and enjoyed by many visitors and supplicants over subsequent aeons. Others can be natural features, and particularly those associated with flowing water. Perhaps some of the most tangible and dramatic are those in Asiatic cities, where vast conglomerates teem chaotically with noise and frenetic activity – but within the small walled enclave of a back-street temple, suddenly an overwhelming sense of calm prevails and the fervour of modern life, just a few metres away, fades inexplicably into the background.
In a more domestic setting, the tiny chapel of St Pancras in the middle of the Exeter has been preserved within the modern Guildhall Shopping Precinct, as just such a place of refuge, an atmospherically thin place – and it is duly listed by the SPPN for exactly this important attribute.
As a Cornishman, Terry also points out that the two highest peaks in the duchy, Rough Tor and Brown Willy, have been (are?) regarded as ‘holy mountains’. You don’t have to be a local of anywhere in particular – and you don’t have to venture to the Andes or Tibet – to appreciate the thin-ness of such places. The air may be a little less dense, gravity slightly less strong and time may be measured to pass a smidgeon more slowly, but it’s so much more than that.
We had a discussion about whether the places we could sense were necessarily ‘thin’. The consensus seemed to be that while the input on human activity could remain at a place indefinitely, or at least until someone else chooses to change it, those places which are inherently thin remain at the edge of tangibility for anyone able to tune in to them. The thin-ness is available to human awareness, under certain circumstances, but it is a portal that always remains open, regardless of our involvement or, possibly, even our existence
Without doubt, the geology of a location has an input to our sense that somewhere seems to be somehow different, and the siting of so many megalithic structures precisely above deep invisible fault lines (as Alan Neal has pointed out over the years) is a graphic corroboration of this. Much of this archaeology is concurrent with enduringly thin places, regardless of the farming, mining and stonecutting that has physically degraded it over the years. In spite of the impact of human activity, a sense of place remains just that – a deeply felt, yet indescribable, sensation of the immediate presence of the realm of the divine.
The session ended with various participants adding their own thoughts and suggestions about sites that are special and sacred to them. Everyone, it seems, has his or her own personal place where the otherworld(s) feels perceptibly closer. In times like these through which we are passing, such places and such presences are priceless commodities.
From the number of positive contacts received after the talk, the warmth of Terry’s approach certainly struck a chord with many participants, and I have the feeling that the urge to get back to those special places will be a challenge in the current circumstances. Hopefully, many of you will have one within your ‘exercise zone’.
Many thanks to Terry for such an uplifting zoom. An ideal and timely antidote for this uncertain period.
Terry is an endearingly quiet publicist, but I have it on good authority that several of the books, including Secrets of the Hidden Source – the Holy Wells of Devon (Halsgrove Books) are still available from the usual outlets.
Like myself, Terry takes the view that he learns more from the participants than he puts in and, as such, he never accepts a fee. However, if you enjoyed his talk, you may like to have a look at the website of the Small Pilgrim Places Network: https://www.smallpilgrimplaces.org