It is curious to read old authors, quite superstitious in some directions, who suggest the use of a forked hazel twig to find springs of water is "a vulgar notion"; for in modern times there has been not only a revival of the divining rod for this purpose, but dowsers, or water finders, are in regular employment. So recently as 1882 there was a correspondence in The Times on this subject. Mr E. Vaughan Jenkins of Westbury and mendip, Wells, Somerset, wrote as follows:--"You may possibly like to hear of my experiences as to the divining rod. In July, 1876, that very hot summer, the old well under my house became fouled, and the water unfit to drink, so I decided on sinking another well, about one hundred yards from my house, if I were advised that water could be found there. The field is perfectly dry, and there is no appearance of water anywhere near where I wished to sink. I sent for a labouring man in the village who could 'work the twig,' as the divining rod is called here, and he came and cut a blackthorn twig out of my hedge, and proceeded around the field, and at one spot the twig became so violently affected that it flew out of his hands; he could not hold it. I may here observe that the village churchyard adjoins my field, and it was of consequence to me to know whether the spring went through or near the churchyard. So I asked the man to tell me which way the spring ran (of course under the ground), and he proceeded to follow up the spring, and found that it did not go near the churchyard, Having some doubts as to this man, about a month after I heard of another man, living seven miles off, who, I had been told, could 'work the twig.' I sent for him, and he was quite unaware the first man had tried for water; and, to my astonishment, when he came near the spot indicated by the first man, he could not hold the twig, it was so much affected. I then asked him to tell me the course of the underground spring, and he went as near as possible to the first man--from about S.W. to N.E. I thereupon decided to sink a well, the last man assuring me that water was not very far down. At thirty-nine feet the well-sinker came upon a spring of most beautiful water, and there is in the well about thirty feet of water in the summer, and in the winter it is nearly full." Such narratives as this can be duplicated from literature of more recent date, and Mr Beaven, in his Tales of the Divining, Rod, has given the whole subject of rod divination a thorough-going and up-to-date analysis.
But why a rod? Why not divine without one? The answer of history is that from Babylonian times, probably long before that, the rod was known to have some strange and unaccountable power when held in the hands of mesmeric operators; it was used, not very successfully, to discover ore bodies; it figures in all kinds of divination practices, as we can see from the pages of the Old Testament. Here, then, is a so-called superstition which bids fair to become in one specified direction an acknowledged fact. As yet it is purely unscientific; nobody seems to know why the twig held in the hand becomes agitated when near a spring, but of the fact itself doubt diminishes every year that passes.