Phil Carpenter supervises Grandview Cemetery in Fort Collins. Over the years, he's uncovered his share of unusual problems.
Grandview was built in 1887. Back then, administrators weren't exactly meticulous about their records. In fact, at the turn of the last century and well into the Great Depression, when poverty and flu swept through northern Colorado, people sometimes arrived at the cemetery, dug graves and said farewell to their loved ones -- often without leaving a trace of where the bodies were buried.
"Record-keeping was not a big deal," Carpenter says. "In some cases, there were no records."
When water lines back up, the power goes out or a new phone line has to be installed, Carpenter knows to tread lightly. Very lightly. Before sending a backhoe ripping through the grass, he has to be sure -- absolutely sure -- of what lies beneath.
So he reaches into his closet, grabs a coat hanger and starts to dowse.
"I can't even begin to tell you how or why it works," he says. "But most of the time, it does seem to work."
Carpenter first witnessed the powers of dowsing twenty years ago, when a water witch helped his parents find a lost manhole cover in Idaho Springs. Afterward, he practiced and practiced until he could locate elusive utility lines at Grandview. He even breaks out the coat hanger to find graves.
"It has to do with a state of mind," he says. "If you're looking for graves, you won't find water lines. And if you're looking for water lines, it won't say if someone is buried there. As far as using it to communicate with the dead, I won't even go there."
But some dowsers do.
Marie Yeager, a Fort Collins dowser, talks to angels.
"I have a chart with the alphabet and numbers on it, and I just ask how many angels are working with me," Yeager says. "I ask what their name is. I ask them to spell it out for me. And they do. It's wonderful to find out who your angels are and how they can help. They're all around us all the time. They're our helpmates."
She also seeks guidance to heal people.
"I just listen to the spirit and do what I'm guided to do," she says. "It all works with intention. I intend to release pain, so I hold that intention and allow the pendulum to do its work. I lay my left hand on the pain area and I use the pendulum in the other hand. It will go in a certain direction to remove the pain, and it will go in the opposite direction to let you know it's done."
Slim Spurling is an artist and blacksmith in Roggen. He uses dowsing for health reasons, too, but in a different way. He's been dowsing for almost thirty years and got his start seeking underground pipes for his father. Since then, he's taught dowsing classes around the world and found numerous water wells. But he mostly uses dowsing to identify and alleviate toxic energy fields called "geopathic zones."
"Geopathics are critical because they are the root cause of all illness," he explains. "Take away the geopathic stress, and the illness will abate or the treatment will work."
These toxic fields can be caused by electrical transformers, which may produce intersecting energy patterns and "disharmonic frequencies." Or they can be caused by natural underground fissures, faults and streams, which create emotional, physical and psychological trauma.
"Wherever these lines cross someone's body, it can cause cancer or another degenerative disease," Spurling says. "The intersection is more critical than the line itself."
To Spurling, dowsing for geopathic zones is no different from dowsing for water. "It's all part of an inquiry into the unseen," he explains. "A way to contact one's higher self and the universal consciousness. It's recognizing that the human nervous system is the finest antenna ever devised and that this antenna is reacting to very subtle influences in the environment, subtle stresses in the gridwork or web of life, or the web of information inherent on the planet."
Bill Schneider is an engineer and historian who runs Vestige Press in Fort Collins. Also an archeologist, he uses dowsing to find artifacts. Given his engineering background, he once "looked askance" at anything that couldn't be explained scientifically, he says. But he also prided himself on stepping "outside the box" with his research and exploration.
So he started using a dowser in conjunction with traditional methods, such as ground-penetrating radar, ground-resistance measurements and magnetic resonance. Then he picked up dowsing rods himself. Today he uses dowsing regularly to locate pioneer graves, buried buildings and forgotten objects. But to satisfy his practical side, Schneider verifies all of his dowsing discoveries with science.
"I figure, in my own way, it's worked," Schneider says. "It's kind of spooky, but there's got to be things about our minds and our bodies that can't be explained."
Polly Cady has been a professional dowser for fourteen years. Her father was a plumber and a water witch who used his skills to find leaky pipes. As a girl, she snickered when she saw him handling L-rods, but then she became a handwriting analyst, picked up a dowsing pendulum and turned into a believer. Now she uses her talents not just to find water and relieve pain, but to find missing people, locate crime evidence and even shop.
"A lot of produce is genetically engineered," she says. "So you can never tell what they put into it. But I can pick up a lemon, run a finger across it and see if it's good for my body."
She's dowsed over the phone, too.
"I have bikers and truckers driving down the highway who hurt their backs," she explains. "They'll call me on the cell phone and say, 'Polly, do your thing for me.' "
She writes the name of the caller on a slip of paper, grabs an anatomy chart from her desk, dowses the source of the caller's pain and uses a pencil to release the bad energy.
"Dowsing is not just a tool to find water," says Cady, who's president of a Montrose dowsing association. "It is an amazing tool to find answers. Nothing is hidden on this planet. Nothing."
Not even engine trouble. When a friend wanted to buy a used Subaru, Sue Russo took her pendulum under the hood and found trouble with the ignition, which was subsequently repaired. "Last I heard," she says, "the car was still going."
Dowsing can be applied to anything, according to Bo Hanson, president of the Mile High Dowsers club. She's been dowsing professionally for more than a decade, using the ancient art to select vitamins, rid homes of bad energy and help geophysicists like Jack Zordan find oil.
"There are an infinite number of applications," she says. "All the information you need is out there. Some old-time dowsers like to call it 'the big library in the sky.' You can get there through meditation, through intuition, through your guides speaking to you and through dowsing."
But people can abuse dowsing, too, Hanson adds. They can use it for selfish reasons, like playing the lottery or the stock market. Or they can tap into harmful negative energies.
The key is making sure your intentions are pure. "If you're looking for easy money, then something is wrong in your world anyway," she explains. "What you have to be is a clear channel. You have to make sure you're constantly in an appropriate state to dowse. If you have faith, everything that is in your highest interest will come into your world."
Lisa Merritt has seen that for herself. She's used dowsers to help solve health, water and business problems. When the City of Aurora installed a park behind her home, inadvertently raising the water table and causing neighborhood basements to flood, she invited the Mile High Dowsers club to her house, where the group redirected the flow to an underground water vein.
"My house hasn't flooded, but my neighbors' have," she says.
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Merritt, a realtor, even asked Hanson to help with the sluggish housing market.
"I had a home that was having a hard time selling," she says. "It was on the market for six weeks. It had a panoramic view of the mountains, and it was only $240,000. After I had Bo over, I had an offer within a day."
Today Merritt is a believer -- and a dowsing student.
"I'm real conservative," she says. "I was definitely a skeptic. Now I use Bo a lot. About 95 percent of everything she does is accurate. I've seen the results: It helps more than it hurts."