Curious Myths of the Middle Ages/The Divining Rod
FROM the remotest period a rod has been regarded as the symbol of power and authority, and Holy Scripture employs it in the popular sense. Thus David speaks of “Thy rod and Thy staff comforting me;” and Moses works his miracles before Pharaoh with the rod as emblem of Divine commission. It was his rod which became a serpent, which turned the water of Egypt into blood, which opened the waves of the Red Sea and restored them to their former level, which “smote the rock of stone so that the water gushed out abundantly.” The rod of Aaron acted an oracular part in the contest with the princes; laid up before the ark, it budded and brought forth almonds. In this instance we have it no longer as a symbol of authority, but as a means of divining the will of God. And as such it became liable to abuse; thus Hosea rebukes the chosen people for practising similar divinations. “My people ask counsel at their stocks, and their staff declareth unto them.”
Long before this, Jacob had made a different use of rods, employing them as a charm to make his father-in-law’s sheep bear pied and spotted lambs. We find rabdomancy a popular form of divination among the Greeks, and also among the Romans. Cicero in his “De Officiis” alludes to it. “If all that is needful for our nourishment and support arrives to us by means of some divine rod, as people say, then each of us, free from all care and trouble, may give himself up to the exclusive pursuit of study and science.”
Probably it is to this rod that Ennius alludes in the passage quoted in the first book of his “De Divinatione,” wherein he laughs at those who for a drachma will teach the art of discovering treasures.
According to Vetranius Maurus, Varro left a satire on the “Virgula divina,” which has not been preserved. Tacitus tells us that the Germans practised some sort of divination by means of rods. “For the purpose their method is simple. They cut a rod off some fruit-tree into bits, and after having distinguished them by various marks, they cast them into a white cloth. . . . Then the priest thrice draws each piece, and explains the oracle according to the marks.” Ammianus Marcellinus says that the Alains employed an osier rod.
The fourteenth law of the Frisons ordered that the discovery of murders should be made by means of divining rods used in Church. These rods should be laid before the altar, and on the sacred relics, after which God was to be supplicated to indicate the culprit. This was called the Lot of Rods, or Tan-teen, the Rod of Rods.
But the middle ages was the date of the full development of the superstition, and the divining rod was believed to have efficacy in discovering hidden treasures, veins of precious metal, springs of water, thefts, and murders. The first notice of its general use among late writers is in the “Testamentum Novum,” lib. i. cap. 25, of Basil Valentine, a Benedictine monk of the fifteenth century. Basil speaks of the general faith in and adoption of this valuable instrument for the discovery of metals, which is carried by workmen in mines, either in their belts or in their caps. He says that there are seven names by which this rod is known, and to its excellencies under each title he devotes a chapter of his book. The names are:—Divine Rod, Shining Rod, Leaping Rod, Transcendent Rod, Trembling Rod, Dipping Rod, Superior Rod. In his admirable treatise on metals, Agricola speaks of the rod in terms of disparagement; he considers its use as a relic of ancient magical forms, and he says that it is only irreligious workmen who employ it in their search after metals. Goclenius, however, in his treatise on the virtue of plants, stoutly does battle for the properties of the hazel rod. Whereupon Roberti, a Flemish Jesuit, falls upon him tooth and nail, disputes his facts, overwhelms him with abuse, and gibbets him for popular ridicule. Andreas Libavius, a writer I have already quoted in my article on the Wandering Jew, undertook a series of experiments upon the hazel divining rod, and concluded that there was truth in the popular belief. The Jesuit Kircher also “experimentalized several times on wooden rods which were declared to be sympathetic with regard to certain metals, by placing them on delicate pivots in equilibrium, but they never turned on the approach of metal.” (De Arte Magnetica.) However, a similar course of experiments over water led him to attribute to the rod the power of indicating subterranean springs and watercourses; “I would not affirm it,” he says, “unless I had established the fact by my own experience.”
Dechales, another Jesuit, author of a treatise on natural springs, and of a huge tome entitled “Mundus Mathematicus,” declared in the latter work, that no means of discovering sources is equal to the divining rod; and he quotes a friend of his who, with a hazel rod in his hand, could discover springs with the utmost precision and facility, and could trace on the surface of the ground the course of a subterranean conduit. Another writer, Saint-Romain, in his “Science dégagée des Chimères de l’École,” exclaims, “Is it not astonishing to see a rod, which is held firmly in the hands, bow itself and turn visibly in the direction of water or metal, with more or less promptitude, according as the metal or the water are near or remote from the surface!”
In 1659 the Jesuit Gaspard Schott writes that the rod is used in every town of Germany, and that he had frequent opportunity of seeing it used in the discovery of hidden treasures. “I searched with the greatest care,” he adds, “into the question whether the hazel rod had any sympathy with gold and silver, and whether any natural property set it in motion. In like manner I tried whether a ring of metal, held suspended by a thread in the midst of a tumbler, and which strikes the hours, is moved by any similar force. I ascertained that these effects could only have rise from the deception of those holding the rod or the pendulum, or, may be, from some diabolic impulsion, or, more likely still, because imagination sets the hand in motion.”
The Sieur le Royer, a lawyer of Rouen, in 1674, published his “Traité du Bâton universel,” in which he gives an account of a trial made with the rod in the presence of Father Jean Franccois, who had ridiculed the operation in his treatise on the science of waters, published at Rennes in 1655, and which succeeded in convincing the blasphemer of the divine Rod. Le Royer denies to it the power of picking out criminals, which had been popularly attributed to it, and as had been unhesitatingly claimed for it by Debrio in his “Disquisitio Magica.”
And now I am brought to the extraordinary story of Jacques Aymar, which attracted the attention of Europe to the marvellous properties of the divining rod. I shall give the history of this man in full, as such an account is rendered necessary by the mutilated versions I have seen current in English magazine articles, which follow the lead of Mrs. Crowe, who narrates the earlier portion of this impostor’s career, but says nothing of his exposé and downfall.
On the 5th July, 1692, at about ten o’clock in the evening, a wine-seller of Lyons and his wife were assassinated in their cellar, and their money carried off. On the morrow, the officers of justice arrived, and examined the premises. Beside the corpses lay a large bottle wrapped in straw, and a bloody hedging bill, which undoubtedly had been the instrument used to accomplish the murder. Not a trace of those who had committed the horrible deed was to be found, and the magistrates were quite at fault as to the direction in which they should turn for a clue to the murderer or murderers.
At this juncture a neighbor reminded the magistrates of an incident which had taken place four years previous. It was this. In 1688 a theft of clothes had been made in Grenoble. In the parish of Crole lived a man named Jacques Aymar, supposed to be endowed with the faculty of using the divining rod. This man was sent for. On reaching the spot where the theft had been committed, his rod moved in his hand. He followed the track indicated by the rod, and it continued to rotate between his fingers as long as he followed a certain direction, but ceased to turn if he diverged from it in the smallest degree. Guided by his rod, Aymar went from street to street, till he was brought to a standstill before the prison gates. These could not be opened without leave of the magistrate, who hastened to witness the experiment. The gates were unlocked, and Aymar, under the same guidance, directed his steps towards four prisoners lately incarcerated. He ordered the four to be stood in a line, and then he placed his foot on that of the first. The rod remained immovable. He passed to the second, and the rod turned at once. Before the third prisoner there were no signs, the fourth trembled, and begged to be heard. He owned himself the thief, along with the second, who also acknowledged the theft, and mentioned the name of the receiver of the stolen goods. This was a farmer in the neighborhood of Grenoble. The magistrate and officers visited him and demanded the articles he had obtained. The farmer denied all knowledge of the theft and all participation in the booty. Aymar, however, by means of his rod, discovered the secreted property, and restored it to the persons from whom it had been stolen.
On another occasion Aymar had been in quest of a spring of water, when he felt his rod turn sharply in his hand. On digging at the spot, expecting to discover an abundant source, the body of a murdered woman was found in a barrel, with a rope twisted round her neck. The poor creature was recognized as a woman of the neighborhood who had vanished four months before. Aymar went to the house which the victim had inhabited, and presented his rod to each member of the household. It turned upon the husband of the deceased, who at once took to flight, The magistrates of Lyons, at their wits’ ends how to discover the perpetrators of the double murder in the wine shop, urged the Procureur du Roi to make experiment of the powers of Jacques Aymar. The fellow was sent for, and he boldly asserted his capacity for detecting criminals, if he were first brought to the spot of the murder, so as to be put en rapport with the murderers.
He was at once conducted to the scene of the out rage, with the rod in his hand. This remained stationary as he traversed the cellar, till he reached the spot where the body of the wine seller had lain; then the stick became violently agitated, and the man’s pulse rose as though he were in an access of fever. The same motions and symptoms manifested themselves when he reached the place where the second victim had lain.
Having thus received his impression, Aymar left the cellar, and, guided by his rod, or rather by an internal instinct, he ascended into the shop, and then stepping into the street, he followed from one to another, like a hound upon the scent, the track of the murderers. It conducted him into the court of the archiepiscopal palace, across it, and down to the gate of the Rhone. It was now evening, and the city gates being all closed, the quest of blood was relinquished for the night.
Next morning Aymar returned to the scent. Accompanied by three officers, he left the gate, and descended the right bank of the Rhone. The rod gave indications of there having been three involved in the murder, and he pursued the traces till two of them led to a gardener’s cottage. Into this he entered, and there he asserted with warmth, against the asseverations of the proprietor to the contrary, that the fugitives had entered his room, had seated themselves at his table, and had drunk wine out of one of the bottles which he indicated. Aymar tested each of the household with his rod, to see if they had been in contact with the murderers. The rod moved over the two children only, aged respectively ten and nine years. These little things, on being questioned, answered, with reluctance, that during their father’s absence on Sunday morning, against his express commands, they had left the door open, and that two men, whom they described, had come in suddenly upon them, and had seated themselves and made free with the wine in the bottle pointed out by the man with the rod. This first verification of the talents of Jacques Aymar convinced some of the sceptical, but the Procurator Général forbade the prosecution of the experiment till the man had been further tested.
As already stated, a hedging bill had been discovered, on the scene of the murder, smeared with blood, and unquestionably the weapon with which the crime had been committed. Three bills from the same maker, and of precisely the same description, were obtained, and the four were taken into a garden, and secretly buried at intervals. Aymar was then brought, staff in hand, into the garden, and conducted over the spots where lay the bills. The rod began to vibrate as his feet stood upon the place where was concealed the bill which had been used by the assassins, but was motionless elsewhere. Still unsatisfied, the four bills were exhumed and concealed anew. The comptroller of the province himself bandaged the sorcerer’s eyes, and led him by the hand from place to place. The divining rod showed no signs of movement till it approached the blood-stained weapon, when it began to oscillate.
The magistrates were now so far satisfied as to agree that Jacques Aymar should be authorized to follow the trail of the murderers, and have a company of archers to follow him.
Guided by his rod, Aymar now recommenced his pursuit. He continued tracing down the right bank of the Rhone till he came to half a league from the bridge of Lyons. Here the footprints of three men were observed in the sand, as though engaged in entering a boat. A rowing boat was obtained, and Aymar, with his escort, descended the river; he found some difficulty in following the trail upon water, still he was able, with a little care, to detect it. It brought him under an arch of the bridge of Vienne, which boats rarely passed beneath. This proved that the fugitives were without a guide. The way in which this curious journey was made was singular. At intervals Aymar was put ashore to test the banks with his rod, and ascertain whether the murderers had landed. He discovered the places where they had slept, and indicated the chairs or benches on which they had sat. In this manner, by slow degrees, he arrived at the military camp of Sablon, between Vienne and Saint-Valier. There Aymar felt violent agitation, his cheeks flushed, and his pulse beat with rapidity. He penetrated the crowds of soldiers, but did not venture to use his rod, lest the men should take it ill, and fall upon him. He could not do more without special authority, and was constrained to return to Lyons. The magistrates then provided him with the requisite powers, and he went back to the camp. Now he declared that the murderers were not there. He recommenced his pursuit, and descended the Rhone again as far as Beaucaire.
On entering the town he ascertained by means of his rod that those whom he was pursuing had parted company. He traversed several streets, then crowded on account of the annual fair, and was brought to a standstill before the prison doors. One of the murderers was within, he declared; he would track the others afterwards. Having obtained permission to enter, he was brought into the presence of fourteen or fifteen prisoners. Amongst these was a hunchback who had only an hour previously been incarcerated on account of a theft he had committed at the fair. Aymar applied his rod to each of the prisoners in succession: it turned upon the hunchback. The sorcerer ascertained that the other two had left the town by a little path leading into the Nismes road. Instead of following this track, he returned to Lyons with the hunchback and the guard. At Lyons a triumph awaited him. The hunchback had hitherto protested his innocence, and declared that he had never set foot in Lyons. But as he was brought to that town by the way along which Aymar had ascertained that he had left it, the fellow was recognized at the different houses where he had lodged the night, or stopped for food. At the little town of Bagnols, he was confronted with the host and hostess of a tavern where he and his comrades had slept, and they swore to his identity, and accurately described his companions: their description tallied with that given by the children of the gardener. The wretched man was so confounded by this recognition, that lie avowed having staid there, a few days before, along with two Provençals. These men, he said, were the criminals; he had been their servant, and had only kept guard in the upper room whilst they committed the murders in the cellar.
On his arrival in Lyons he was committed to prison, and his trial was decided on. At his first interrogation he told his tale precisely as he had related it before, with these additions,—the murderers spoke patois, and had purchased two bills. At ten o’clock in the evening all three had entered the wine shop. The Provençals had a large bottle wrapped in straw, and they persuaded the publican and his wife to descend with them into the cellar to fill it, whilst he, the hunchback, acted as watch in the shop. The two men murdered the wine-seller and his wife with their bills, and then mounted to the shop, where they opened the coffer, and stole from it one hundred and thirty crowns, eight Louis d’ors, and a silver belt. The crime accomplished, they took refuge in the court of a large house,—this was the archbishop’s palace, indicated by Aymar,—and passed the night in it. Next day, early, they left Lyons, and only stopped for a moment at a gardener’s cottage. Some way down the river, they found a boat moored to the bank. This they loosed from its mooring and entered. They came ashore at the spot pointed out by the man with the stick. They staid some days in the camp at Sablon, and then went on to Beaucaire.
Aymar was now sent in quest of the other murderers. He resumed their trail at the gate of Beaucaire, and that of one of them, after considerable détours, led him to the prison doors of Beaucaire, and he asked to be allowed to search among the prisoners for his man. This time he was mistaken. The second fugitive was not within; but the jailer affirmed that a man whom he described,—and his description tallied with the known appearance of one of the Provençals,—had called at the gate shortly after the removal of the hunchback to inquire after him, and on learning of his removal to Lyons, had hurried off precipitately. Aymar now followed his track from the prison, and this brought him to that of the third criminal. He pursued the double scent for some days. But it became evident that the two culprits had been alarmed at what had transpired in Beaucaire, and were flying from France. Aymar traced them to the frontier, and then returned to Lyons.
On the 30th of August, 1692, the poor hunchback was, according to sentence, broken on the wheel, in the Place des Terreaux. On his way to execution he had to pass the wine shop. There the recorder publicly read his sentence, which had been delivered by thirty judges. The criminal knelt and asked pardon of the poor wretches in whose murder he was involved, after which he continued his course to the place fixed for his execution.
It may be well here to give an account of the authorities for this extraordinary story. There are three circumstantial accounts, and numerous letters written by the magistrate who sat during the trial, and by an eye-witness of the whole transaction, men honorable and disinterested, upon whose veracity not a shadow of doubt was supposed to rest by their contemporaries.
M. Chauvin, Doctor of Medicine, published a Lettre à Mme. la Marquise de Senozan, sur les lnoyens dont on s’est servi pour découvrir les complices d’un assassinat commis à Lyon, le 5 Juillet, 1692, Lyons, 1692. The procès-verbal of the Procureur du Roi, M. de Vanini, is also extant, and published in the Physique occulte of the Abbé de Vallemont.
Pierre Garnier, Doctor of Medicine of the University of Montpelier, wrote a Dissertation physique en forme de tepee, à M. de Sève, seigneur de Fléchères, on Jacques Aymar, printed the same year at Lyons, and republished in the Histoire critique des pratiques superstitieuses, du Père Lebrun.
Doctor Chauvin was witness of nearly all the circumstances related, as was also the Abbé Lagarde, who has written a careful account of the whole transaction as far as to the execution of the hunchback.
Another eye-witness writes to the Abbé Bignon a letter printed by Lebrun in his Histoire critique cited above. “The following circumstance happened to me yesterday evening,” he says; “M. le Procureur du Roi here, who, by the way, is one of the wisest and cleverest men in the country, sent for me at six o’clock, and had me conducted to the scene of the murder. We found there M. Grimaut, director of the customs, whom I knew to be a very upright man, and a young attorney named Besson, with whom I am not acquainted, but who M. le Procureur du Roi told me had the power of using the rod as well as M. Grimaut. We descended into the cellar where the murder had been committed, and where there were still traces of blood. Each time that M. Grimaut and the attorney passed the spot where the murder had been perpetrated, the rods they held in their hands began to turn, but ceased when they stepped beyond the spot. We tried experiments for more than an hour, as also with the bill, which M. le Procureur had brought along with him, and they were satisfactory. I observed several curious facts in the attorney. The rod in his hands was more violently moved than in those of M. Grimaut, and when I placed one of my fingers in each of his hands, whilst the rod turned, I felt the most extraordinary throbbings of the arteries in his palms. His pulse was at fever heat. He sweated profusely, and at intervals he was compelled to go into the court to obtain fresh air.”
The Sieur Pauthot, Dean of the College of Medicine at Lyons, gave his observations to the public as well. Some of them are as follows: “We began at the cellar in which the murder had been committed; into this the man with the rod (Aymar) shrank from entering, because he felt violent agitations which overcame him when he used the stick over the place where the corpses of those who had been assassinated had lain. On entering the cellar, the rod was put in my hands, and arranged by the master as most suitable for operation; I passed and repassed over the spot where the bodies had been found, but it remained immovable, and I felt no agitation. A lady of rank and merit, who was with us, took the rod after me; she felt it begin to move, and was internally agitated. Then the owner of the rod resumed it, and, passing over the same places, the stick rotated with such violence that it seemed easier to break than to stop it. The peasant then quitted our company to faint away, as was his wont after similar experiments. I followed him. He turned very pale and broke into a profuse perspiration, whilst for a quarter of an hour his pulse was violently troubled; indeed, the faintness was so considerable, that they were obliged to dash water in his face and give him water to drink in order to bring him round.” He then describes experiments made over the bloody bill and others similar, which succeeded in the hands of Aymar and the lady, but failed when he attempted them himself. Pierre Garnier, physician of the medical college of Montpelier, appointed to that of Lyons, has also written an account of what he saw, as mentioned above. He gives a curious proof of Aymar’s powers.
“M. le Lieutenant-Général having been robbed by one of his lackeys, seven or eight months ago, and having lost by him twenty-five crowns which had been taken out of one of the cabinets behind his library, sent for Aymar, and asked him to discover the circumstances. Aymar went several times round the chamber, rod in hand, placing one foot on the chairs, on the various articles of furniture, and on two bureaux which are in the apartment, each of which contains several drawers. He fixed on the very bureau and the identical drawer out of which the money had been stolen. M. le Lieutenant-Général bade him follow the track of the robber. He did so. With his rod he went out on a new terrace, upon which the cabinet opens, thence back into the cabinet and up to the fire, then into the library, and from thence he went direct up stairs to the lackeys’ sleeping apartment, when the rod guided him to one of the beds, and turned over one side of the bed, remaining motionless over the other. The lackeys then present cried out that the thief had slept on the side indicated by the rod, the bed having been shared with another footman, who occupied the further side.” Garnier gives a lengthy account of various experiments he made along with the Lieutenant-Général, the uncle of the same, the Abbé de S. Remain, and M. de Puget, to detect whether there was imposture in the man. But all their attempts failed to discover a trace of deception. He gives a report of a verbal examination of Aymar which is interesting. The man always replied with candor.
The report of the extraordinary discovery of murder made by the divining rod at Lyons attracted the attention of Paris, and Aymar was ordered up to the capital. There, however, his powers left him. The Prince de Conde submitted him to various tests, and he broke down under every one. Five holes were dug in the garden. In one was secreted gold, in another silver, in a third silver and gold, in the fourth copper, and in the fifth stones. The rod made no signs in presence of the metals, and at last actually began to move over the buried pebbles. He was sent to Chantilly to discover the perpetrators of a theft of trout made in the ponds of the park. He went round the water, rod in hand, and it turned at spots where he said the fish had been drawn out. Then, following the track of the thief, it led him to the cottage of one of the keepers, but did not move over any of the individuals then in the house. The keeper himself was absent, but arrived late at night, and, on hearing what was said, he roused Aymar from his bed, insisting on having his innocence vindicated. The divining rod, however, pronounced him guilty, and the poor fellow took to his heels, much upon the principle recommended by Montesquieu a while after. Said he, “If you are accused of having stolen the towers of Notre-Dame, bolt at once.”
A peasant, taken at haphazard from the street, was brought to the sorcerer as one suspected. The rod turned slightly, and Aymar declared that the man did not steal the fish, but ate of them. A boy was then introduced, who was said to be the keeper’s son. The rod rotated violently at once. This was the finishing stroke, and Aymar was sent away by the Prince in disgrace. It now transpired that the theft of fish had taken place seven years before, and the lad was no relation of the keeper, but a country boy who had only been in Chantilly eight or ten months. M. Goyonnot, Recorder of the King’s Council, broke a window in his house, and sent for the diviner, to whom he related a story of his having been robbed of valuables during the night. Aymar indicated the broken window as the means whereby the thief had entered the house, and pointed out the window by which he had left it with the booty. As no such robbery had been committed, Aymar was turned out of the house as an impostor. A few similar cases brought him into such disrepute that he was obliged to leave Paris, and return to Grenoble.
Some years after, he was made use of by the Maréchal Montrevel, in his cruel pursuit of the Camisards.
Was Aymar an impostor from first to last, or did his powers fail him in Paris? and was it only then that he had recourse to fraud?
Much may be said in favor of either supposition. His exposé at Paris tells heavily against him, but need not be regarded as conclusive evidence of imposture throughout his career. If he really did possess the powers he claimed, it is not to be supposed that these existed in full vigor under all conditions; and Paris is a place most unsuitable for testing them, built on artificial soil, and full of disturbing influences of every description. It has been remarked with others who used the rod, that their powers languished under excitement, and that the faculties had to be in repose, the attention to be concentrated on the subject of inquiry, or the action—nervous, magnetic, or electrical, or what you will—was impeded.
Now Paris, visited for the first time by a poor peasant, its salons open to him, dazzling him with their splendor, and the novelty of finding himself in the midst of princes, dukes, marquises, and their families, not only may have agitated the country-man to such an extent as to deprive him of his peculiar faculty, but may have led him into simulating what he felt had departed from him, at the moment when he was under the eyes of the grandees of the Court. We have analogous cases in Bleton and Angelique Cottin. The former was a hydroscope, who fell into convulsions whenever he passed over running water. This peculiarity was noticed in him when a child of seven years old. When brought to Paris, he failed signally to detect the presence of water conveyed underground by pipes and conduits, but he pretended to feel the influence of water where there certainly was none. Angelique Cottin was a poor girl, highly charged with electricity. Any one touching her received a violent shock; one medical gentleman, having seated her on his knee, was knocked clean out of his chair by the electric fluid, which thus exhibited its sense of propriety. But the electric condition of Angelique became feebler as she approached Paris, and failed her altogether in the capital.
I believe that the imagination is the principal motive force in those who use the divining rod; but whether it is so solely, I am unable to decide. The powers of nature are so mysterious and inscrutable that we must be cautious in limiting them, under abnormal conditions, to the ordinary laws of experience.
The manner in which the rod was used by certain persons renders self-deception possible. The rod is generally of hazel, and is forked like a Y; the forefingers are placed against the diverging arms of the rod, and the elbows are brought back against the side; thus the implement is held in front of the operator, delicately balanced before the pit of the stomach at a distance of about eight inches. Now, if the pressure of the balls of the digits be in the least relaxed, the stalk of the rod will naturally fall. It has been assumed by some, that a restoration of the pressure will bring the stem up again, pointing towards the operator, and a little further pressure will elevate it into a perpendicular position. A relaxation of force will again lower it, and thus the rotation observed in the rod be maintained. I confess myself unable to accomplish this. The lowering of the leg of the rod is easy enough, but no efforts of mine to produce a revolution on its axis have as yet succeeded. The muscles which would contract the fingers upon the arms of the stick, pass the shoulder; and it is worthy of remark that one of the medical men who witnessed the experiments made on Bleton the hydroscope, expressly alludes to a slight rising of the shoulders during the rotation of the divining rod.
But the manner of using the rod was by no means identical in all cases. If, in all cases, it had simply been balanced between the fingers, some probability might be given to the suggestion above made, that the rotation was always effected by the involuntary action of the muscles.
The usual manner of holding the rod, however, precluded such a possibility. The most ordinary use consisted in taking a forked stick in such a manner that the palms were turned upwards, and the fingers closed upon the branching arms of the rod. Some required the normal position of the rod to be horizontal, others elevated the point, others again depressed it.
If the implement were straight, it was held in a similar manner, but the hands were brought some-what together, so as to produce a slight arc in the rod. Some who practised rabdomancy sustained this species of rod between their thumbs and forefingers, or else the thumb and forefingers were closed, and the rod rested on their points; or again it reposed on the flat of the hand, or on the back, the hand being held vertically and the rod held in equilibrium.
A third species of divining rod consisted in a straight staff cut in two: one extremity of the one half was hollowed out, the other half was sharpened at the end, and this end was inserted in the hollow, and the pointed stick rotated in the cavity.
The way in which Bleton used his rod is thus minutely described: “He does not grasp it, nor warm it in his hands, and he does not regard with preference a hazel branch lately cut and full of sap. He places horizontally between his forefingers a rod of any kind given to him, or picked up in the road, of any sort of wood except elder, fresh or dry, not always forked, but sometimes merely bent. If it is straight, it rises slightly at the extremities by little jerks, but does not turn. If bent, it revolves on its axis with more or less rapidity, in more or
less time, according to the quantity and current of the water. I counted from thirty to thirty-five revolutions in a minute, and afterwards as many as eighty. A curious phenomenon is, that Bleton is able to make the rod turn between another person’s fingers, even without seeing it or touching it, by approaching his body towards it when his feet stand over a subterranean watercourse. It is true, however, that the motion is much less strong and less durable in other fingers than his own. If Bleton stood on his head, and placed the rod between his feet, though he felt strongly the peculiar sensations produced in him by flowing water, yet the rod remained stationary. If he were insulated on glass, silk, or wax, the sensations were less vivid, and the rotation of the stick ceased.”
But this experiment failed in Paris, under circumstances which either proved that Bleton’s imagination produced the movement, or that his integrity was questionable. It is quite possible that in many instances the action of the muscles is purely involuntary, and is attributable to the imagination, so that the operator deceives himself as well as others.
This is probably the explanation of the story of Mdlle. Olivet, a young lady of tender conscience, who was a skilful performer with the divining rod, but shrank from putting her powers in operation, lest she should be indulging in unlawful acts. She consulted the Pere Lebrun, author of a work already referred to in this paper, and he advised her to ask God to withdraw the power from her, if the exercise of it was harmful to her spiritual condition. She entered into retreat for two days, and prayed with fervor. Then she made her communion, asking God what had been recommended to her at the moment when she received the Host. In the afternoon of the same day she made experiment with her rod, and found that it would no longer operate. The girl had strong faith in it before—a faith coupled with fear, and as long as that faith was strong in her, the rod moved: now she believed that the faculty was taken from her; and the power ceased with the loss of her faith.
If the divining rod is put in motion by any other force except the involuntary action of the muscles, we must confine its powers to the property of indicating the presence of flowing water. There are numerous instances of hydroscopes thus detecting the existence of a spring, or of a subterranean watercourse; the most remarkably-endowed individuals of this description are Jean-Jacques Parangue, born near Marseilles, in 1760, who experienced a horror when near water which no one else perceived. He was endowed with the faculty of seeing water through the ground, says l’Abbé Sauri, who gives his history. Jenny Leslie, a Scotch girl, about the same date claimed similar powers. In 1790 Pennet, a native of Dauphiné, attracted attention in Italy, but when carefully tested by scientific men in Padua, his attempts to discover buried metals failed; at Florence he was detected in an endeavor to find out by night what had been secreted to test his powers on the morrow. Vincent Amoretti was an Italian, who underwent peculiar sensations when brought in proximity to water, coal, and salt; he was skilful in the use of the rod, but made no public exhibition of his powers.
The rod is still employed, I have heard it asserted, by Cornish miners; but I have never been able to ascertain that such is really the case. The mining captains whom I have questioned invariably repudiated all knowledge of its use.
In Wiltshire, however, it is still employed for the purpose of detecting water. In the 22nd volume of the Quarterly Review (p. 273, note) will be found a very strongly-attested case, communicated to the writer of an article on “Popular Mythology,” by a friend in Norfolk. A certain Lady N—— is there stated to have convinced Dr. Hutton of her possession of this mysterious gift, and to have by means of it indicated to him the existence of a spring of water in one of his fields adjoining the Woolwich College, which, in consequence of this discovery, he was enabled to sell to the College at a higher price. This power of hers Lady N—— repeatedly exhibited before credible witnesses, and the Quarterly Reviewer of that day (1820) held the fact incontrovertible. De Quincey, in two passages, affirms that he has frequently seen the process applied with success, and declares that, whatever science or scepticism may say, most of the tea-kettles in the Vale of Wrington, North Somersetshire, are filled by rabdomancy. In an ill-watered province this would make its professors an important class, though, as De Quincey allows, the affinity of their local appellation “jowsers,” with the slang verb “to chouse,” would argue some suspicion of the soundness of their pretensions. In the last number of the “Monthly Packet” (March, 1867), a curious story is told how the guests at an old Kentish house beset a fellow-guest, said to possess this power, with questions how they were to hold the two forks of the hazel wand. He proceeded to show them with the double stalk of a couple of twin cherries, the party being at dessert, when, lo! to the astonishment of himself and his questioners, the united portion curled quite over his hand. The master of the house alone knew that under his dining-room floor existed a strong spring of water.
The following extract from a letter I have just received will show that it is still in vogue on the Continent:—
“I believe the use of the divining rod for discovering springs of water has by no means been confined to Mediæval times, for I was personally acquainted with a lady, now deceased, who has successfully practised with it in this way. She was a very clever and accomplished woman; Scotch by birth and education; by no means credulous; possibly a a little imaginative, for she wrote not unsuccessfully; and of a remarkably open and straightforward disposition. Captain C——, her husband, had a large estate in Holstein, near Lubeck, supporting a considerable population, and whether for the wants of the people or for the improvement of the land, it now and then happened that an additional well was needed.
“On one of these occasions a man was sent for who made a regular profession of finding water by the divining rod; there happened to be a large party staying at the house, and the whole company turned out to see the fun. The rod gave indications in the usual way, and water was ultimately found at the spot. Mrs. C——, utterly sceptical, took the rod into her own hands to make experiment, believing that she would prove the man an impostor, and she said afterwards she was never more frightened in her life than when it began to move, on her walking over the spring. Several other gentlemen and ladies tried it, but it was quite inactive in their hands. ‘Well,’ said the host to his wife, ‘we shall have no occasion to send for the man again, as you are such an adept.’
“Some months after this, water was wanted in another part of the estate, and it occurred to Mrs. C—— that she would use the rod again. After some trials, it again gave decided indications, and a well was begun and carried down a very considerable depth. At last she began to shrink from incurring more expense, but the laborers had implicit faith; and begged to be allowed to persevere. Very soon the water burst up with such force that the men escaped with difficulty; and this proved afterwards the most unfailing spring for miles round.
“You will take the above for what it is worth; the facts I have given are undoubtedly true, whatever conclusions may be drawn from them. I do not propose that you should print my narrative, but I think in these cases personal testimony, even indirect, is more useful in forming one’s opinion than a hundred old volumes. I did not hear it from Mrs. C——’s own lips, but I was sufficiently acquainted with her to form a very tolerable estimate of her character, and my wife, who has known her intimately from her own childhood, was in her younger days often staying with her for months together.”
I remember having been much perplexed by reading a series of experiments made with a pendulous ring over metals, by a Mr. Mayo; he ascertained that it oscillated in various directions under peculiar circumstances, when suspended by a thread over the ball of the thumb. I instituted a series of experiments, and was surprised to find the ring vibrate in an unaccountable manner in opposite directions over different metals. On consideration, I closed my eyes whilst the ring was oscillating over gold, and on opening them I found that it had become stationary. I got a friend to change the metals whilst I was blindfolded—the ring no longer vibrated. I was thus enabled to judge of the involuntary action of muscles, quite sufficient to have deceived an eminent medical man like Mr. Mayo, and to have perplexed me till I succeeded in solving the mystery.
Original footnotes 
- Hos. iv. 12.
- De Officiis. lib. i. cap. 44.
- Tacitus, German., cap. x.
- Ammian. Marcel. xxxi. 2.
- De Quincey’s Collected Works, i. p. 84; iii. p. 222.
- Quarterly Review, No. 244, p. 441.
- A similar series of experiments was undertaken, as I learned afterwards, by M. Chevreuil in Paris, with similar results.