Wild Talents

A Hypertext Edition of Charles Hoy Fort's Book

Edited and Annotated by Mr. X

Chapter Twenty-Nine



STUNTS OF sideshows, and the miracles of pietists, and the phenomena of spiritualistic medium --

Or that the knack that tips a table may tilt an epoch.

Or much of the "parlor magic" of times gone by, and now it is industrial chemistry. And Taboo, by which earlier experimenters in the trained forces of today were under suspicion as traffickers with demons.

I take for a pseudo-principle, by which I mean a standard of judgment that sometimes works out, and sometimes doesn't work out -- which is as near to wisdom as I can arrive, in an existence or truth-nonsense -- that, someday to be considered right, is first to be unholy. It is out of blasphemy that new religions arise. It is by thinking things that schoolboys know better than to think that discoveries are made. It is because our visions are not delirious enough, or degraded, or nonsensical enough, that all of us are not prophets. Let any thoughtful, properly trained man, who has had all the benefits of an academic education, predict -- at least, then, we know what won't [317/318] be. We have, then, at our command, a kind of negative clairvoyance -- if we know just where to go for an insight into what won't be.

The trail of a working witchcraft -- but, if we are traffickers with demons, the traffic isn't much congested, at present. Someday almost every particular in this book may look quaint, but it may be that the principle of putting the witches to work will seem as sound as now seems the employment of steam and electric demons. Our instances of practical witchcraft have been practical enough, so long as they were paying attractions at exhibitions, but the exhibition implies the marvel, or what people regard as the marvel, and the spirit of this book is of commonplaceness, or of coming commonplaceness -- or that there isn't anything in it, except of course its vagaries of theories and minor interpretations, that won't someday be considered as unsensational as the subject-matters of text books upon chemistry and mechanics. My interest is in magic, as the daily grind -- the miracle as a job -- sorceries as public utilities.

There is one manifestation of witchcraft that has been put to work. It is a miracle with a job.


It is commonly known as water-divining. It is witchcraft. One can not say that, because of some unknown chemical, or bio-chemical, affinity, a wand bends in a hand, in the presence of underground water. The wand bends only in the hand of a magician.

It is witchcraft. So, though there are scientists who are giving in to its existence, there are others, or hosts of [318/319] others, who never will give in. Something about both kinds of scientists was published in Time, Feb. 9, 1931.(1) It was said that Oscar E. Meinzer, of the U.S. Geological Survey, having investigated dowsers, had published his findings which were that "further tests...of so-called `witching' for water, oil, or other minerals, would be a misuse of public funds." Also it was shown that conclusions by Dr. Charles Albert Browne, of the U.S. Department of Agriculture, disagreed with Mr. Meinzer's findings. "On a large sugar-beet estate, near Magdeburg, Dr. Browne saw one of Germany's most famed dowsers at work. Covering his chest with a padded leather jacket, the dowser took in his hands a looped steel divining rod, began to pace the ground. Suddenly the loop shot upward, hit him a hard blow on the chest. Continuing, he charted the outlines of the underground stream. Then using an aluminum rod, which he said was much more sensitive, he estimated the depth of the stream. A rod of still another metal indicated that the water was good for drinking. When Dr. Browne tried to use the rod, himself, he could get no chest blows unless the dowser was holding one end." "Dr. Browne then questioned German scientists. The majority answered that, with all humbuggery discounted, a large number of successes remained which could not be accounted for by luck or chance." For queer places -- or for places in which scientists of not so far back would have predicted that such yokelry as dowsing would never be admitted -- see Science, Jan. 23, 1931, or the Annual Report of the Smithsonian Institution, 1928, p. [319/320] 325.(2) Here full particulars of Dr. Browne's investigations are published.

The Department of Public Works, of Brisbane, Queensland, Australia, has employed a dowser, since the year 1916 (Notes and Queries, 150-235).(3) New York Times, July 26, 1931 -- two Australian states were employing dowsers.(4)

I don't know that I mean much by that. The freaks and faddists who get themselves employed by governments make me think that I am not very convincing here. But I have no record of a dowser with a political job before the year 1916; and, whenever I got all this respectfulness of mine for the job, it is the entrance of magic into the job that I am bent upon showing.

In the London Observer, May 2, 1926, it is said that the Government of Bombay was employing an official water diviner, who, in one district of scarcity of water, had indicated about fifty sources of supply, at forty-seven of which water had been found.(5) The writer of this account says that members of one of the biggest firms of well-boring engineers had informed him that they had successfully employed dowsers in Wales, Oxfordshire, and Surrey.

In Nature, Sept. 8, 1928, there is an account, by Dr. A.E.M. Geddes, of experiments with dowsers. Geddes' conclusion is that the faculty of water-divining is possessed by some persons, who respond to at present unknown, external stimuli.(6)

It is not that I am maintaining that out of the mouths of babes, and from the vaporings of yokels, we shall receive wisdom -- but that sometimes we may. Peasants have believed in dowsing, and scientists used to believe that [320/321] dowsing was only a belief of peasants. Now there are so many scientists who believe in dowsing that the suspicion comes to me that it may only be a myth, after all.

In the matter of dowsing, the opposition that Mr. Meinzer represents is as understandable as is the opposition that once was waged by priestcraft against the system that he now represents. Let in, against the former dominant, data of raised beaches, or of deposits of fossils, and each intruder would make a way for other iniquities. Now, relatively to the Taboo of today, let in any of the occurrences told of in this book, and by its suggestions and affiliations, or linkages, it would make an opening for an irruption.

Very largely, dowsing, or witchcraft put to work, has been let in. [321]

1. "Dowsers." Time (New York), 17 (n.6; February 9, 1931): 23.

2. C.A. Browne. "Observations upon the use of the divining rod in Germany." Science, n.s., 73 (January 23, 1931): 84-6. J.W. Gregory. "Water divining." Annual Report of the Smithsonian Institute, 1928, 325-48. This latter article does not report upon Browne's investigations.

3. "Memorabilia." Notes and Queries, 150 (April 3, 1926): 235. Thomas Rayson. "Water divining." Cornhill Magazine, 60 (March 1926; n.357): 346-353.

4. "Vibration records help to find mines." New York Times, July 26, 1931, s.2 p.2 c.5.

5. "A score for the dowser." London Observer, May 2, 1926, p.13 c.2.

6. A.E.M. Geddes. "Some experiments on water-divining." Nature, 122 (September 8, 1928): 348.

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