Really, just following Wikipedia links could consume a whole day, even when I’m researching something that doesn’t exist! In my Work-in-Process, a walking stick suddenly became a dowsing rod. Don’t ask—my Muse is unpredictable, and I don’t question what she flings on the page. But I do need a hint of credibility, so I looked up dowsing rods, as one does.
Dowsing rods are generally pronged sticks used to detect elements under the ground and have been around since at least the 1500s. I haven’t found a name for the person who wields the stick, but using one has all sorts of tags: dowsing, divining, doodle-bugging, and water witching among the more recent and popular. What I didn’t know is that it isn’t limited to looking for water. They’ve been claimed to find metals, gems, gravesites—oh frabjous day, I can use that—as well as water. And as recently as 1986, they were used to find soldiers buried in an avalanche—rather grasping at straws because there is no proof whatsoever that the rods work.
Enough studies have been done to assume dowsing—even with high tech rods developed for the military— isn’t any more reliable than chance. But what fascinated me was a conclusion that the movement of the rod may be caused by ideomotor effect. This is a psychological phenomenon where a thought or mental image causes unconscious or subconscious movement—which leads me to Victorian table turning and Ouija boards. What was in the heads of those people that caused them to unconsciously move entire tables or write ghostly messages on Ouija boards?
And you can see where my Muse is leading me—what if spirits or spiritual energy cause that movement? My Malcolm ladies are open to other-worldly possibilities. Of course, spoilsports like my scientific Ives claim that it’s more likely a form of auto-hypnosis, but they can’t PROVE that, can they?
This is the fun part of writing for me. Of course my fictional ladies can believe in spirits and psychics and even magic, if they like—because no one can prove that they’re not experiencing what’s inside their heads. And since this is fiction, it’s a lovely trip into “what-if-ville.”
But in real life, that kind of faith and trust is hard to come by. Would you spend money to drill for water, or even gold, if a dowser pointed a stick in your back yard and said it was down there? Personally, I’m so cynical that if a politician promised he’d drill for water in my back yard and I wouldn't have to pay a cent, I wouldn’t believe him. But I still believe there’s a potential for a spirit world, psychics, and space aliens. What about you? How willing are you to trust or open your mind to possibilities? Do you have a line which you will not cross?