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The apple tree in Jack Bacus' backyard is just right for a divining rod. There is a fresh young limb with lots of spring in it, and Jack takes his little pruner and snips it right off. He uses the edge of his pruner to strip away the minor branches, and before long he has a nice, clean forked branch, the "Y rod." He is ready to look for water. Jack walks slowly around his 1-acre property in Wood River, Ill., elbows at his sides, holding the stick spread out before him, parallel to the earth. Then it happens. The stick dips down abruptly, vigorously, turning in his hands as if something were tugging on it. "This is it," utters Bacus, who, with his wavy white hair and silver beard, looks like a Greek fisherman but is in fact retired from Illinois Power. "There's water down there," he affirms. "I started to feel a slight pull just before I got to it, and once I stood directly over it, the stick went straight down."
True, it may not be the best test of Bacus' divining powers -- it is in his own backyard, after all, and he already knows there is water on the spot. But when he witched a well for Bill Redfern a couple of years back, he went in cold and he found water straightaway. "He used a peach fork," recalls Redfern, chief operator of the Wood River Water Plant, referring to the type of tree Bacus chose for his divining rod. Some dowsers swear by the willow; some prefer a bent-up coat hanger. Bacus likes the wood of fruit trees.
Redfern describes how Bacus traversed his property: Every time the rod dipped, Bacus would mark the spot with a stick. Eventually it became apparent that there were two underground streams. Bacus mapped them out and told Redfern to put his well where they intersected. "Then," Redfern continues, "he did something amazing. He uses a thread and a dime and a water glass to tell how deep the water is. After he witches the spot, he sets the glass on that spot and then hangs the dime, which has a hole drilled in it, down the glass, and it starts tinking the side of the glass. There's a 'tink' per foot, and whenever it stops, you count the tinks, and that's how deep the first water is. He did it three times in a row, and the dime tinked the same number each time. We did a test well on the spot where he had done that, and a little stream popped up beside the drilling hole exactly the number of feet he had told me. So, go figure. I've told this story many times -- and I'm around the water industry -- and I've never heard anybody say, 'Oh yeah, I saw a guy do that.' Jack's the only one I know of."
Bacus says he picked up dowsing, including the dime-and-water-glass trick, from an old-timer at a church camp in the hills outside San Diego. It was 1960, and he was 26. "I was fascinated by it," he recalls. "I said, 'Can you teach me?' He said to just give it a try. Well, I tried, and it took." Since then, he's dowsed maybe 20 wells, never for hire but always for fun, as a favor and because he can do it.
Janet Dunlap would have us cast aside the common image of dowsing, that of a Jack Bacus walking across an open field with a forked stick in his hands, searching for a spot on which to dig a well. Bacus' approach is a legitimate form of dowsing, she admits, but it's become such a cliché.
"You have to realize," says Dunlap, "that dowsing is a tool, a very fine tool to amplify intuitive information. So, being a tool, it is not strictly used to find water. That would be a very narrow interpretation of it. It can be used to gather information to search for anything -- missing persons, car keys, virtually any lost object."
Dunlap, a licensed clinical social worker in private practice, says she got involved with dowsing eight years ago, through a friend. "It helped me resolve some conflicts about a situation I was having," she says. Today she is co-chair of the Gateway Society of Dowsers and teaches classes on the subject. She uses an advanced form of dowsing on a level few old-time practitioners would likely comprehend. She dowses for "balance and well-being," using her craft, among other things, to ascertain proper vitamin dosages, to determine which professional seminars and workshops will be worth her time to take and to check for "noxious energy zones" in various environments -- definitely a far cry from finding water with a forked stick.
To understand Dunlap's form of dowsing, you have to leave the empirical world behind and enter the convoluted realm of Jungian psychology. Using such traditional dowsing instruments as the Y-rod, the L-rods or a pendulum-style bob on the end of a string, Dunlap begins by "asking for information." Of whom or what does she inquire? Here it gets a bit uncanny. "The simplest way I explain it to students," she says, is "you have three levels of consciousness: a conscious mind, a subconscious mind and a superconscious mind, which is your higher self or your spiritual self. When you ask a question with your conscious mind using an L-rod, for example, that question goes to your subconscious mind, which acts as a channel or a pipeline, if you will, to your superconsciousness."