The Koornwinder Chronicles 2
Circular tours were all on the right lines
Filming with independent researcher Herma Koornwinder in England, August-September 2010 … dowsing, earth energies, geomancy, ideal cities, crop circles, megaliths, acupuncture, Taoism, quantum science, healing, auras, sacred geometry, ancient civilisations, feng-shui, stock markets and more … Herma meets Tom Graves, Lucy Pringle, Paul Hougham, Charles Mallett, Wilma Davidson, Martin Palmer, Elizabeth Brown and John Moss ... Herma is producing a major series of documentaries as part of her unique and wide-ranging international research into the unseen cosmic forces that have influenced humankind, independent of its intervention, from the earliest times …
Herma’s second visit to England in the summer of 2010 began not among the crop circles and megalithic monuments of Wiltshire but in the thousand-year-old heart of the city of Bristol.
She flew in to Bristol International Airport from Amsterdam on the afternoon of Saturday, August 21. I met her at the airport and we returned home to High Littleton where we enjoyed a delicious Irish stew that evening cooked by Angie, and talked over plans for the second series of documentaries in which dowsing was to remain a central theme, now not only in the realm of natural energies and geomancy, as perceived in both the East and West, but also in applications for health, wellness and everyday guidance, and as an aid to psycho-geography.
The following day, Sunday, before travelling to the Wiltshire farm where she had booked a room for her stay, Herma wanted to visit Bristol’s Old City to dowse its geomantic setting. This was because she had seen a 15th century map of the Old City which shows a cruciform street pattern bounded by a circular city wall, just inside which was a circular arrangement of roadways. The image is the only one known showing the original layout of the Old City, which was founded in the 11th century. Medieval maps of a number of other cities around the world show similar circular layouts, the geometry of which Herma also wants to investigate.
The crossroads at the centre of Bristol Old City - formed today by Wine Street, High Street, Corn Street and Broad Street - was located at the peak of a sandstone hill midway between the rivers Avon, to the east, and its tributary, the Frome, to the west. A stone cross which once stood at the High Cross is now in Stourhead Gardens, Somerset. The circular street pattern can still be followed today along St Nicholas Street, St Leonard's Lane, Bell Lane and Fairfax Street, but sections of it to the north and north-east have been obliterated over the centuries.
Herma’s dowsing rods showed that (despite dicing with traffic dangers as she stood at the centre of the road junction) there was indeed a crossing of energy lines precisely at the centre of the old crossroads. Not only that, wherever Herma crossed the circular route laterally, as we walked it in beautiful summer sunshine, the rods opened up to indicate that this too had been founded on similar energy flows, just like those detected in crop circles
, ancient sites in Egypt and at megalithic monuments in England. It was what one might call, in tribute to the pioneering dowser Guy Underwood, a mytho-geodetic experience. In Leonard Street, now only a narrow alley, someone had stencilled on the wall a quote from Albert Einstein - ‘Reality is merely an illusion’ (albeit a very persistent one, as he added), as if to confirm our esoteric endeavours.
Bristol was founded in Saxon times close to the confluence of the two rivers. A bridge, probably of wood, was built over the Avon and the settlement named Brigstow - ‘brig’ for bridge, and the Anglo-Saxon word ‘stow’ meaning ‘principal place’. Later, local dialect corrupted the name by adding an 'l' - so, Bristol. The only remaining part of the city wall, St John’s Gate, a fortified gateway, stands at the western end of Broad Street. Niches facing Broad Street contain the figures of Brennus and Belinus, the legendary founders of Bristol, symbolising Christianity superseding the pagan past.
There were once several churches within the Old City, at least three of them standing on the circular route around the city wall: St Giles's, St Lawrence's and St Leonard's, long vanished, along with St Werburgh's, which was moved to a site in the suburbs in the 19th century. Christ Church with St Ewen, All Saints and St George, on the corner of Broad Street and Wine Street, is now the only church used for regular services in the Old City.Poet Laureate Robert Southey (1774-1843) was baptized here and brought up in the parish. A church has stood on this site since Norman times. We were to learn much more about the Old City when we met theologian Martin Palmer, an expert on the subject, later.
After the Bristol visit, I drove Herma to Culley’s Farm, not far from the Martinsell hill camp south of Marlborough, which was to be her base for the next couple of weeks. One of the reasons she chose the farm for her stay was that it is next door to the Clench Common Aero Club, and she wanted to take microlight flights over crop circles and ancient monuments to see if her dowsing rods could detect earth energies from the air. Because of bad weather - high winds and heavy rain - she was unable to fly until the Wednesday when a 40-minute flight was possible, and she was jubilant about the results. The same day, our director of photography Sean Martin was travelling south by train from a sunny Edinburgh to encounter ‘monsoon’ conditions when he arrived in Somerset, such can be the extreme weather variations on a single day in our islands.
Overflew a number of crop circles
It was much to the surprise of the microlight pilot that Herma should be flying with dowsing rods, but there was a definite reaction from them as the craft overflew a number of crop circles and the stone circle at Avebury. Later that day, I received a phone call from her that I was happy I could answer personally rather than have an answering service pick up. She told me: "Unbelievably, the rods did exactly what they were supposed to do if they work". Ecstatic about the flight, she added: ‘I feel more comfortable in a microlight than in a car. It’s really fantastic.’
Herma discussed with the pilot how best to film the airborne dowsing, as the microlight cabin has room for only two people, and it was agreed that it could be done from a second craft flying alongside. As the operators were going to France for several days, flying would not be possible again for Herma until the following week, so the exercise had to be postponed.
In the farmhouse, Herma came across a copy of Ralph Whitlock’s 1976 book, The Folklore of Wiltshire, and while reading it in the evenings she found a reference to how forked hazel twigs were used for dowsing in the Dark Ages, for finding water and also ‘to point out thieves’. Crossed hazel wands would be placed on the breast of the deceased before burial so the soul could find its way in the afterlife. Organic materials rarely survive in graves, but where the burial environment is conducive to organic preservation, many different items are recovered. For example, hazel rods were found in ten burials at St Peter’s, Barton-upon-Humber, and in 11th century burials at the Guildhall site in London. It has been suggested that the deposition of hazel rods may have been linked to ideas about the Resurrection as hazel, if coppiced regularly, becomes, effectively ‘eternal’.
Among the chiefs and rulers of ancient times, a wand of hazel was considered a symbol of authority and wisdom, and hazel wands were used by magicians with links to healing, divination and geomancy. In Britain, the hazel was regarded as a sacred tree, along with the apple and the oak. It has a strong mythic connection with water, as evidenced by the magical hazel trees next to the holy wells of Ireland, and hazel nuts are said to imbue the waters themselves with properties of wisdom and prophecy.
Crossed hazel wands reminded Herma immediately of the burials of Egyptian pharaohs with the sacred emblems of the crook and flail crossed on the chest, and of the use of these symbolic implements by the mythological Osiris to point at the soul about to enter the afterlife to assess its goodness or otherwise before it could be allowed to enter heaven. Herma also knew that, at the funerals of freemasons, one such she had attended, crossed flowers were placed on the breast of the deceased.
She has connected all this to the rituals and symbolism of the Biblical urim and thummin - those mysterious objects connected with the breastplate worn by Israelite high priests, and used as a kind of divine oracle. Nobody knows exactly what they were or how they were used, although there are many theories, but the researcher and author Ralph Ellis claims they correspond to the Ancient Egyptians’ crook and flail as derivatives of rods used as divine symbols through which God could communicate with the tribes of Israel.
Classical texts, however, maintain the urim and thummim were two sacred stones of onyx kept in a pouch by the priest - perhaps used to give an affirmative or negative response to an ‘inquiry of God’ by means of reflected light - and somehow related to a set of 12 coloured stones, representing the 12 tribes of Israel, fixed to the breastpiece. Onyx is a form of quartz which is known for its piezo-electric properties - electric potential develops in the mineral under mechanical stress - which could account for the stones’ perceived ‘charged’ properties.
filming schedule, which was to have plenty of ’charge’ itself, began on August 28 with Tom Graves, the pioneering dowser and author, who drove down from Colchester to meet us in the Polly Tearooms at Marlborough, our usual rendezvous.
I'd suggested Tom as an interviewee because I thought his rigorous, no-nonsense approach to dowsing, and his theory of 'earth acupuncture', put forward in his 1978 book Needles of Stone
, would be of interest to Herma - particularly as traditional acupuncture was among the subjects to be covered in the new series of documentaries.
Tom wrote that if acupuncture was scaled up to landscape dimensions, and combined with feng-shui, there would be a system of geomancy closely resembling the megalithic network in Britain, with standing stones acting as ‘needles’ positioned on the meridians of earth energies, just as acupuncture needles are placed on the meridians of the human body.
Tom, an extremely voluble and energetic personality, turned out to be a veritable prophet of indeterminacy who now seemed to disavow much of what he had put forward as a young man in his 'needles of stone' hypothesis, despite his book having been reissued in a 30th anniversary edition in 2008 with only minor changes, although bracketed by a new preface and ‘Looking Back’ and ‘Looking Forward’ caveats at the end.
After a lively and entertaining demonstration of his dowsing technique along the Avenue at Avebury - a kind of surreal theatre in which he seemed to revel, getting a series of 'electric shocks' through his dowsing rods as he bounced between the stones - we returned to Culley's Farm for our interview which was both exasperating and inspiring. An extreme version of what used to be called a lateral thinker, Tom’s Protean response to our inquiries was a series of non-answers which served mainly to raise questions about the questions!
With his mantra of doing 'what feels like a good idea at the time' and his admitting to ‘occasional forays into the overly implausible’, Tom's is an elusive world-view which subverts western expectations and has more in common with eastern philosophy. He doesn’t doubt that earth energies exist, but sees them as both real and imaginary, as they can get confused with ordinary physical energies and ‘the rest of the mystical menagerie’. Our understanding of earth energies is about the same as that of electricity 250 years ago, he says, and when one looks at what electricity does for us now, we can see we’ve a long way to go!
Tom’s description of dowsing as 'talking to the spirit of place' seemed to be an apt one in the light of Herma's experiences. 'Everything connects with everything else,' he said. 'This is where Taoism starts to make sense. Listening carefully to a place, respectfully, slowing down, and doing things that feel good at the time.' This, he implied, was how the ancients selected the sites for their temples.
For Tom, the science of dowsing had been done; it had been shown to be a neuro-physiological reflex. Nowadays, his work concerns how people learn skills and work with them, for which dowsing was an ideal test case. His professional field of ‘enterprise architecture’ has an emphasis on ‘strategy and futures, on complexity and sense-making, and on integrating IT with the rest of the business’.
After giving so generously of his time for a whole day, Tom was treated to a hearty dinner by Herma at a village pub before his return to Essex that evening.
Next day, it was the turn of Lucy Pringle, the renowned crop circle photographer and researcher, to meet us at the Polly Tearooms. Lucy, from Hampshire, also a dowser, was a founder member of the Centre for Crop Circle Studies, and has been studying the phenomenon for 20 years, compiling the world's most extensive crop circle photographic library.
She is regarded as an international authority on the subject and a pioneer investigator of the physical anomalies of crop circles and their effects on living systems. Having worked with scientists worldwide, she has the world's largest database in this field of research. It was the results of Lucy's ongoing scientific studies that Herma particularly wanted to hear about on this occasion.
First though, some location filming at a crop circle was necessary. As it was now late in the season, with harvesting almost complete, there were very few formations still standing. But at Whitefield Hill, near Ogbourne St George, probably the most intriguing formation of the year, dating from August 3, was still there after the farmer had harvested around it - a rare occurrence indeed - leaving it intact in the middle of the field.
Lucy led the way to the hilltop down long muddy tracks but, when we arrived at the field, she wasn't sure about the location of the crop circle. Herma took up her rods and pointed the way straight to it. Green grass was already growing in the avenues of downed crop. This was the so-called 'egg slicer' formation with its remarkable 3D concavity effect and mind-bending geometry - together with the puzzle of how seedheads had been straightened throughout the flattened crop while those in the standing crop remained curled.
A key energy alignment to the Barbury Castle hill camp to the west, across tumuli in the vale, was dowsed by Lucy, but a fierce wind brought rain sweeping in and we decamped to Folletts B&B at Easton Royal, near Pewsey, for the interview - but disaster struck. Half an hour or so into the interview, the camera inexplicably jammed, making it impossible to load a new film cassette into it. Sean was baffled, but said the camera had never really been right since the incident with Adrian Incledon-Webber at Avebury early in July when the puzzling 'unknown error' message kept flashing up in the viewfinder.
The interview with Lucy had to be abandoned, as well as our next one, planned to take place in Cornwall over the following two days with dowsers David and Denise Lockwood. Before letting her go, Herma stocked up with a supply of Lucy’s crop circle books and calendars to take home to Holland. Lucy was re-scheduled for the following Sunday, but the Lockwoods were off to Canada that week and had to drop out.
So the August Bank Holiday Monday turned out to be a day off for Sean and me while Herma caught up on her reading and prepared for upcoming interviews. Tuesday saw us in Bristol to take Sean’s camera for repair and hire a replacement. Later, the defect was put down to 'wear and tear', although the camera was only four years old - but, of course, it had been exposed to crop circles where cameras and items of other electronic equipment are frequently reported to go haywire!
Filming with the hired camera then took place in the Old City at the spots Herma and I had visited ten days before - again under a hot summer sun - as well as in the churches of St John the Baptist and Christ Church with St Ewen. After that, it was back to High Littleton for tea, and to find that the Joey Korn miniature dowsing rods Herma had ordered from the British Society of Dowsers had arrived in the post. She found they took a bit of getting used to after her full-sized set.
Wednesday was another day off for Sean and me (but another busy day for Herma with her background studies and planning work), before heading to Warwickshire on Thursday and the College of Traditional Acupuncture, where we were to interview the principal Paul Hougham, author of The Atlas of Mind, Body and Spirit, partly to complement Tom Graves’s ideas about ‘earth acupuncture’. It took less than two hours to drive from north Wiltshire to Haseley Manor, a few miles from Warwick, where the college is situated. Herma was astonished to meet the youthful Paul when, from reading his book, she had expected an elderly man with a beard!
I first met Paul in 2006 when I invited him to be interviewed about his Atlas, then just published, on the weekly podcast I produced for the Western Daily Press newspaper. He is an inspirational and profound exponent of energetic medicine and Taoist eco-philosophy and the Atlas, now translated into nine languages,gives a wide-angle perspective of the various ways in which global spiritual and scientific traditions have mapped the ‘landscape’ of the body and recognized the human energy field. He teaches in the college’s BA and MA programmes, as well as running his own traditional acupuncture practice. Previously vice-principal of the School of Five Element Acupuncture in London, a member of the British Acupuncture Accreditation Board and past president of the British Acupuncture Council, Paul continues to work towards an authentic and professional development of acupuncture within healthcare in the UK.
For Paul, Taoism affords many insights into the human condition. ‘The wisdom of living is learning how to change rather than remaining rigid,’ he said. Whether it be chakras, meridians or the Kabbalah, it was all to do with the same thing: the human body, spirit and experience. His hope was that modern science would mature into exploration of the human energy field.
Acupuncture, which had been developed in China 2,000 years ago with the body seen as a reflection of the universe, was in its infancy in the West where there was still a credibility issue. Although medical practice resisted it, and there were also philosophical and cultural barriers to overcome, the general public broadly had accepted it. Acupuncture could be used to improve people’s well-being and alleviate specific complaints, and people‘s satisfaction with outcomes was well documented. Although research studies showed acupuncture was safe, they struggled to say how it worked.
For Paul, acupuncture and feng-shui was an extremely sophisticated ‘technology of consciousness’ embracing the wider metabolism of the planet and the solar system. He preferred the idea of natural harmony, of a ‘coming into balance’, to an ‘order’ in the universe. He said: ‘We are a whirling mass of contradictions that somehow comes into balance. That is order, but it’s order in motion, in relationship.’
Next day, we returned to the college from our B&B nearby for a detailed explanation of acupuncture from Paul: how the 14 meridian lines in the body and their points of influence can be used to regulate body, mind and spirit, how the meridians can be likened to streams or rivers in the landscape of the body, and how the needles, placed at significant points, can clear blockages in, or encourage flows of, energy. Comparing the body’s meridians to Chinese dragon lines, or lung-mei, which carried energy, or ch’i, through the landscape - in similar fashion to the leys of Britain - could be a useful area of research, Paul thought.
We then filmed Paul’s demonstration of acupuncture with the help of a volunteer from among the students at the college which, we were sorry to learn, was to close in November 2012 due to funding problems and the effects of the world financial crisis..
Back in Wiltshire for Saturday, Sean carried out some location filming in the Vale of Pewsey, including the panorama from the top of Knap Hill, and then it was off to meet Charles Mallet, of the Silent Circle crop circle information centre, at his cottage near Devizes, for a review of the season and a discussion of earth energies. There were 60 crop circles in England in 2010, a dozen fewer than in 2009, but with a greater geographical spread from the south to the north of the country - generously, Charles provided us with aerial film of some of the 2010 formations which would be invaluable for the documentary.
The biggest puzzle of the year, he told us, was presented by the straightened seedheads in the Whitefield Hill formation, an effect which had not been seen before. This was the location we had visited with Lucy Pringle on the previous Sunday. ‘After 15 years of personal research, I’m still baffled,’ said Charles. ‘I spoke to three farmers, and other experts, about what I had found, and no one could tell me how this could happen.’
Herma described how she had experienced identical energies when dowsing in crop circles, in the underwater remains of Cleopatra's palace at Alexandria, in Ancient Egyptian temples and the prehistoric stone circles of Nabta Playa in the southern Egyptian desert, at megalithic monuments in England, and within the 'sacred geometry' of the layout of Washington DC, as well as at old mosques and churches. Charles commented that crop circles were helping us to wake up and recognise the energies that the ancients knew about, and evolve to a higher level, remembering at the same time our relationship with the planet as a living organism.
Next morning, it was the return of Lucy to continue the interview we had had to call off a week before. Lucy had begun by talking about the strange healing effects of crop circles - particularly in the area of pain relief - which she had noted as long ago as 1990, and how her scientific research had begun, despite ridicule, by burying bottles of water inside and (as control samples) outside formations, and seeing what happened to them. Tests showed that the level of nitrates in the water from the crop circles was significantly increased.
‘I have reached the conclusion that it’s a natural force, but there has to be a master switch behind it which is in some way pressing a button to create these very complex formations,’ she said. ‘Who or what presses the master switch is where we still have this mystery. It’s beyond our present knowledge and understanding. This phenomenon covers every aspect of learning - if you want to understand your area of learning, go into crop circles! I do believe we are involved in something very important.
‘They say that people with a passion are the happiest, and my research is my passion. You have to experience crop circles yourself. Even after 20 years, I still bubble up with excitement.’
Other tests supervised by Lucy revealed that crop circles created consistent anomalies in the human endocrinal and hormonal systems, including an increase in leptin which regulates the body’s energy, depleted thyroid levels, increases in melatonin which is found in the pineal gland, and activation of the hypothalamus in the brain which links the nervous system to the endocrine system through the pituitary gland.
New tests in 2010 using special equipment to monitor brain waves showed that crop circles emphasized those at the very high frequency gamma level which were to do with intelligence and heightened perception of reality.
Effects reported by people visiting crop circles included peacefulness, love, some kind of presence, and a feeling of oneness with the universe - but also a metallic taste, tooth and leg pain, weak knees, unusual thirst, hunger pangs, headaches, distorted vision, hallucinations, disembodied voices, music, a ticking sound, nausea, dizziness, short-term memory loss, panic and even terror. As for the crop itself, grain from crop circles showed that its protein was boosted by 40 per cent, increasing the value of the crop.
All such results were frustrating at the present time, said Lucy, because the question was, why these effects? Research could be beneficial to mankind if only the energies causing them could be identified. Studying the phenomenon over the years had been a ‘extraordinary journey’ for Lucy in which she felt privileged to have participated. ‘To get this out to the world is of such importance,’ she said, complimenting Herma warmly on her film documentaries project which would be a big help in spreading the word.
Herma and Lucy agreed to collaborate on international crop circle research in 2011, with Herma ready to film the latest developments as part of her own wide-ranging investigations into the origins of the elusive energies behind the formations.
Just before she left for home, Lucy said she wanted to make Herma the gift of a gem-stone dowsing pendulum, and asked Herma to select from a display box of 18 different ones. Herma first showed me, away from Lucy in another room, the one she was going to choose. Using her own pendulum, Lucy dowsed for the stone that would most suit Herma - and alighted on the very one Herma had selected. It was pale green nephrite, said to encourage growth and progress in the material and magical worlds.
After lunch at the White Hart in Burbage, we returned to Savernake Forest, where we had last been when filming Tom Brooks in July, entering the Grand Avenue from the south-eastern end, and driving to the Eight Walks junction, which Herma noticed had similarities to the Dupont, Washington and Logan circles in Washington DC, which also have eight roads radiating (although the Logan Circle does not have the symmetry).
The forest avenues were laid out by Lancelot ‘Capability’ Brown, the famous 18th-century landscape architect, and the Grand Avenue, the longest tree-lined avenue in Britain, is said to be aligned to the midwinter solstice sunrise.
Monday entailed a two-hour drive, due south this time, to Highcliffe-on-Sea in Dorset for an interview with the dowser and metaphysician Wilma Davidson, a member of the National Federation of Spiritual Healers’ Healing Trust, and an authority on the harmful effects on health of geopathic stress
(the impact of negative earth energies on people in their own homes). She has been clearing these unpleasant energies from homes and workplaces for 20 years.
My first meeting with Wilma was in 2007 when I interviewed her about her then latest book, Dowsing for Answers
- we shared the same publisher, Green Magic - which was about how dowsing could deal with the everyday questions of modern life that preyed on people’s minds. In 2008, Wilma followed up with a companion volume, Dowsing for Cures
, and this was why I felt she would be the ideal person to tell Herma all about dowsing for health and well-being, as well as natural remedies without side-effects, in which Herma was also interested.
The secret of successful dowsing, revealed Wilma, who took up the art after it was explained to her at a psychic development class, was ‘asking the right question to get the right answer’. Significantly, and in tune with other dowsers we had encountered, Wilma added: ‘If you expect it to work it usually does.’
She says she has been 100 per cent successful in relieving people of geopathic stress, an environmental cause of illness manifesting itself in a range of maladies and even domestic strife. She is able to dowse for these negative energies in people’s homes, and counteract them - such energies arising from underground streams, ‘black leys’ or electromagnetic radiation, and to which the human metabolism is sensitive.
In medical dowsing, Wilma has worked to alleviate the symptoms of infertility, impotence, chemicals in the blood, depression, heart problems, schizophrenia, sleep problems and even cancer. She is able to assess the levels of minerals and vitamins in the body, and find out which ones need to be topped up, and is even able to identify ailments unknown to the patient. ‘This is where the pendulum is absolutely invaluable,’ she said. ‘It can help with so many problems. For example, it can tell if a bone has been broken, or if it’s just a sprain, and which plant energy can help, and if you get a rash it will tell you what’s caused it.’
Wilma says she can send medical energy by pendulum over distance. ‘It sends the energy of the plant or medicine to the person,’ she said. ‘It’s a free post! We are all energy - it’s literally a transfer of energy.’ However, she does not offer treatment as a substitute for conventional medical opinion, but as a complement to it, always advising people to consult their doctor, too.
Herma was soon to find out for herself the importance of asking the right question to get the right answer in dowsing. It will be remembered that she wanted to do some aerial filming from microlights over Wiltshire, but just lately the weather had been too uncertain for this, with periods of rain and strong winds. She had asked her pendulum ‘will we fly?’ and had received a positive response, but had neglected to ask when - for example, ‘will we fly today?’ or ‘will we fly tomorrow?’ It had been hoped to get airborne upon returning to Wiltshire from Dorset that evening, but it was not to be. By the following morning, however, the weather had improved, making flights possible.
The idea was not only for Sean to film Avebury and Silbury Hill from the air, but also to film Herma flying in another aircraft with her dowsing rods. As we entered the control cabin at the airfield, I noticed a microlight door propped up in a side-room, but thought nothing of it at the time. A few minutes later, when we walked out to the aircraft, we saw that the door had been removed from the passenger side of Sean’s microlight to allow him an unobstructed view for filming - causing him more than a little consternation. He rose valiantly to the challenge, however, and it was definitely a case of ‘mission accomplished’. During the 40-minute flight, as well as the ancient landmarks and Herma in the other plane, he had also been able to film the Grand Avenue and Eight Walks junction in Savernake Forest, although this had involved his pilot making some hair-raising manoeuvres over the area.
At midday we were back at the Eight Walks crossroads to film Herma dowsing the energy lines of each trackway - as ever, the rods spun furiously at the centre of the location - just before the rain came down again, proving how lucky we had been in getting the aerial filming done earlier. Then it was lunch at the Polly Tearooms before some more landscape filming across the Vale of Pewsey in the afternoon, although weather conditions were not ideal.
Next day, it was back to Bristol to meet Martin Palmer at St Stephen's Church where a project to celebrate the Old City, with an exhibition and floor mosaic, was being launched. As Bristol’s parish church, St Stephen’s was built on the ancient riverside boundary of the Old City, just outside the city walls.
Martin, director of the Alliance of Religions and Conservation (founded in 1995 by HRH Prince Philip), arrived hotfoot from Beijing. One of the ARC projects in which Martin is involved is the conservation of Taoist sacred mountains in China, where he had been for the past week. The author of The Sacred History of Britain, published in 1997, about the recovery of the lost traditions, including the sacred layouts, of British cities, Martin is also director of the International Consultancy on Religion, Education and Culture, an Anglican lay preacher, an ordained Taoist priest, a Sikh elder, and the holder of several other honorary religious positions. He is the author of many books on religious subjects, and one of the foremost translators of ancient Chinese texts, including the I Ching, Tao Te Ching, Chuang Tzu, and Kuan Yin.
As it happened, serendipitously, much of what Martin had to say chimed with Tom Graves's approach to the spirit of place, and to Paul Hougham’s espousal of Taoism, deepening that new strand of psycho-geographical inquiry which the filming was now following. Psycho-geography was defined as long ago as 1955 by Guy Debord as the study of the laws and effects of the geographical environment, consciously organized or not, on people's emotions and behaviour. More recently, Joseph Hart described it as 'a whole toy-box full of playful, inventive strategies for exploring cities ... just about anything that takes pedestrians off their predictable paths and jolts them into a new awareness of the urban landscape'.
The Anglo-Saxons who designed the Old City of Bristol, said Martin, used ideas drawn from the Bible and Christian theology and teaching, viewing the site as a place where the divine, the human and the natural could be harmonised, where a cosmology of the individual and the universe could be constructed. 'They listened to, and felt, what the earth was telling them,' he said. 'They had much greater insight into and idea of what they were creating. It was a laboratory for experimenting with the divine, the human and the natural. It wasn't seen as irrational. We have let that go.' Place was certainly important in itself, but once a place came to be regarded as holy, it created power and energy, and a building set there became a 'powerhouse'. So not only did we detect the special energy of a place, but we added to it.
Martin believes that the Old City was planned using 'a kind of Christian feng shui', and was once a sacred place, a theological city of churches, deliberately created in a circle as a symbol of the unity of God. It was a spiritual as well as a temporal landscape, a concept we find difficult to grasp today, but which our distant forbears would have immediately understood.
It was arrogant of humans to think they were in control of nature, said Martin, when we were part of something infinitely greater than ourselves, and subject to miraculous forces which we didn't understand; this was the view of all the major religions. 'We have lost touch with the grand stories,' said Martin, 'In the sense that what we were building was beautiful and partaking in the divine. We are scared by that. Why is it so difficult for us to see things that we used to be able to see, and rediscover them?' In becoming 'storyless', we had lost our identity, but Martin recognised that there was a hunger today among many to reconnect with the earth and the universe.
After the interview, it was time for another 'circular tour' of the Old City, this time with Martin, and guided by Herma who dowsed along the way, demonstrating how she was able to find the energy streams underlying the ancient street pattern, and even the site of the long-demolished St Leonard's Church without having known previously where it was - Martin was particularly impressed by this. He'd said it would be 'ultimate proof' if Herma could find the site, and not only did she do this, but pinpointed the centre of it.
Martin told Herma afterwards that witnessing her dowsing in the Old City had been 'absolutely fascinating'. He said: 'You've shown me things about my own city which I didn't know. I have seen it with different eyes today. It has been a revelation.' Martin invited Herma to return to Bristol and contribute her dowsing skills to the Old City project at St Stephen's Church, scheduled to be ongoing up to 2015.
Now that would have been the end of the filming schedule had not Herma arranged earlier to go to the annual conference of the British Society of Dowsers in Gloucestershire on the following weekend, where she was very keen to film an interview with Elizabeth Brown, the new doyenne of dowsing, whose book Dowsing: the Ultimate Guide for the 21st Century, had been published a few months previously, to widespread acclaim. Elizabeth had written a good deal about dowsing and health and, of course, the whole panoply of the three-day conference offered much that was relevant to Herma's wider research.
Sean's commitments required him to return to Edinburgh straight after filming Martin Palmer on the Wednesday, but such was his dedication that he agreed to return south on Saturday, ready to film again on Sunday and fly home again that evening. I drove Herma to Cirencester on Friday in time for conference registration at noon. I introduced her to the BSD director John Moss, whom I have known for several years, and then dropped her off in the town centre so she could take in the sights of Roman Corinium for a couple of hours.
The conference, which has been running ever since the BSD was founded in 1933, was held at the Royal Agricultural College, the favourite venue for the event among the 200 dowsers who attend. As far as Herma's researches were concerned, it had the perfect title: 'On the Right Lines.' She phoned me at home on Saturday to say how much she was enjoying the event, especially the workshops given by Sig Lonegren, the spiritual dowser from Glastonbury, which included astro-archaeology and a night-time 'stargazing' session.
I made the 90-minute drive back to Cirencester from North-East Somerset on Sunday to rendezvous with Herma and Sean for the filming, which was now also to include interviews with John Moss and Herma herself on the latest developments in her project.
Dowsing has moved a long way from the forked hazel twig and its traditional roots of water and minerals divining to tracing earth energies (now its biggest growth area), improving health and well-being, and locating buried archaeological remains. Nowadays, dowsers seem to be able to 'programme' themselves to find almost anything.
It was announced at the conference that there was to be a new study to find out how the ancient art actually works and, hopefully, bring it to the attention of a wider public. Various scientific studies have been made since the 1940s, in New Zealand, the USA and Germany, but all turned out to be inconclusive as to evidence for the efficacy of dowsing. The new study is being organised by Adrian Incledon-Webber, who is chairman of the BSD’s earth energies group, Hugo Jenks, and medical electronics specialist and biophysicist Giovanni Orlando. Hugo received an award at the conference for an invention which links a dowsing rod to a laptop computer and a GPS receiver so that the patterns of energy lines it detects can be shown immediately on-screen.
Existence of an invisible realm of energy
Using brain and body scanning techniques, their study will last for at least a year and possibly two, and will focus on a study group of 12 people (experienced dowsers, healers and non-dowsers) and measure their neuro-physiological responses as they wield rods and pendulums - in other words, examining the 'ideomotive' effect under which a subject makes motions unconsciously. This term was first used in a science paper by William Carpenter in 1852 which set out his theory that muscular movement can be independent of conscious desires or emotions.
In her book, which received the BSD’s Bell Award named after the society’s founder Colonel A H Bell, Elizabeth Brown describes how dowsing demonstrates the existence of an invisible realm of energy beyond our everyday world, and how it can optimise health, well-being and our quality of life. ‘We are hurtling towards 2012 and a raising of consciousness,’ she declared. ‘Dowsing is an enormously empowering tool for people. You are accessing truth.’
Elizabeth has joined forces with biochemist Dr David Hamilton to identify key biological processes disrupted by electromagnetic pollution and geopathic stress. With many testimonials to the efficacy of her practice available on her Gentle Powers website, Elizabeth, who works with doctors, therapists and clinics, described how she dowses a series of health readings to discover the ‘trigger factors’ behind a person’s condition, and arrives at a list of things needed to ‘put the body back into balance’. This was done by asking her dowsing rods to respond to specific questions about the person’s health.
She said: ‘Once I’ve identified the factors, they have to be addressed. I’m simply a dowser of information. I refer the client back to the specialist in the field that they need. Dowsing is very empowering and enlightening for people’s health, in promoting your own health and the individual needs of your own body, such as diet and healthy lifestyle.’
Significantly, Elizabeth looks to the latest ideas in quantum science and information theory to validate the wide-ranging applications of dowsing: 'It’s a very exciting time now for dowsing because we have the science to support it. Latest discoveries in quantum physics support not only the mechanics of dowsing but also the way the information comes through. An information-carrying field permeates everything in the universe, and we are accessing that field in moments of concentration, creativity and inspiration.
‘Quantum physics suggests we live in a holographic universe which means simply that all information is everywhere at one time. It was thought that the holographic universe happened only at the microcosmic level, not the macrocosmic, but the latest suggestion is that it happens there, too.’ Elizabeth was citing Ervin Laszlo, the Hungarian philosopher and systems theorist, who has posited a field of information as the essence of the universe, and which he names the Akashic field, or ‘A-field’, after the Sanskrit and Vedic term for space. He sees the quantum vacuum as the fundamental energy and information-carrying field.
‘That information comes through the brain cells into the nervous and muscular system which then prompts a reaction in the arm, wrist and hand,’ said Elizabeth. ‘It’s not the rods or pendulum but the muscular response in your own body.’
Elizabeth also points to scientific endeavours relating to the mechanics of dowsing, including those of Professor Konstantin Korotkov in Russia, and the UK’s Dr Harry Oldfield with his ‘poly-contrast interference photography’ (PIP).
In recent years, physicist Korotkov, of St Petersburg State Technical University, whose 25-year research career has combined a rigorous scientific method with a deep curiosity about matters of the spirit and the soul, has developed the Gas Discharge Visualization technique (GDV), which has been described as a breakthrough beyond Kirlian photography - this captures patterns of light energy from living things, including humans, animals and plants, as well as from crystals - for direct, real-time viewing of the human aura.
A special camera captures the physical, emotional, mental and spiritual energy emanating to and from an individual, or any animate or inanimate object for that matter, and displays it as a computerized model, allowing imbalances to be seen that may be influencing well-being, and facilitating diagnosis of their causes, indicating the area of the body and organs involved. GDV technique has been accepted by the Russian Ministry of Health as a medical technology.
Biologist Oldfield, an energy-field researcher and inventor, who launched PIP in the 1980s after many years of research into Kirlian photography, has been able to film changes - depicted in bands of different colours - taking place in Elizabeth’s energy environment while she is dowsing. Elizabeth gave Herma a copy of this fascinating film to include in the documentary.
John Moss admitted that proving dowsing worked was a ‘very thorny issue’. It just didn’t seem to work under laboratory conditions. ‘The over-riding requirement is that there has to be a real purpose,’ he said. ‘It’s about a genuine need to get the information asked for. Scientists find that very difficult. They like repeatable results.’ Ironically, the BSD numbered many retired scientists among its members who, now free of their academic disciplines, testified to the validity of dowsing. Some dowsers didn’t care how it worked; others were obsessed with how it worked. ‘Many are investigating what we’re dealing with here,’ said John. ‘I think we’re rediscovering a skill innate in human beings.’
For me, and many others, as I wrote on my Mysterious Planet website after the conference, there’s little doubt that dowsing works. I have tried it myself with some interesting results, particularly in tracing a ley running through our Somerset village – and through our cottage!
There was just time to film a short interview with Herma before leaving Cirencester to get Sean to Bristol International Airport in time for his evening flight. Herma said the conference had left her overwhelmed by the possibilities of dowsing, and had validated her own activities in the field which had opened up a whole new world for her. The conference had also proved to her that dowsing's potential was greatly underestimated by the general populace. Yet it was only coincidence that she had attended the event, its dates falling fortuitously during her visit to England.
As her film documentaries show, Herma regards dowsing as a gift largely lost to the human race for millennia. When one loses such intuitive faculties, she says, ‘we are more than blind’. She now told the camera: 'I think everybody should have dowsing rods. It's important that people learn it's a tool not only of nowadays but that people also used it long ago. I don't know of any reason why we shouldn't accept that dowsing is a tool for our well-being, to use our intention in a collectively beneficial way.
'I want to trumpet it to the world. I wanted to make my first film just for my children because they didn't have the time to go to England or to Egypt, but whenever people see me dowsing they are excited by the possibilities and want to try it for themselves. It would be great if everybody was in a position to dowse.'
About her ten years of research since stepping back from stock markets analysis, she said: 'At times, I thought I was finished, but I can't stop. From the moment I got those dowsing rods in my hands, and they moved, I knew I had hit on something very important, and my research got a new impulse. Dowsing is the key to unlocking the ancient wisdom. I think it is close to the key of life. It addresses everything. But we lost the ability - we are too far from nature.'
Dowsing for healing and advisory purposes
Herma pointed out that dowsing was once outlawed by the Catholic Church but, from the 17th century, many priests wrote about the use of dowsing, or radiesthesia as it was often called on the Continent, for healing and advisory purposes. Father Alexis Bouly introduced the word radiesthesia, by combining the Latin radius (rays) and the Greek aisthêsis (feeling), in 1929.
The Vatican endorsed dowsing in a letter written in May 1935 by Mgr Eugene Tisserand, Prefect of the Vatican Library, to M. Delattre, Secretary General of the Society Amis de la Radiesthesie. Mgr Tisserand wrote: 'I was required to attend an audience of the Sovereign Pontiff for the purpose of explaining to him personally the nature of the researches to which the members of your association are dedicated, and to tell his holiness of your wish to have for the officers of your association, and for its activities, the apostolic blessing. The Holy Father was touched by the sentiments expressed in your letter, and has charged me to communicate to you his paternal blessing.'
Since that time, dowsing has been used by governments and the military - for example, in detecting landmines - as well as by the Church, for specific purposes. The Vatican once invited the Austrian dowser and engineer Czepl to help in planning a restoration project at St Peter's in Rome.
After Herma and I had taken Sean to the airport, we joined Angie at High Littleton for an evening meal at our local Indian restaurant, as Herma was to fly home the next day. Fittingly, on Herma's last evening in the UK, as if to round off the portents and puzzlements of her three-week stay, we were treated to a UFO sighting!
Driving to the restaurant, Angie spotted a moving light in the sky, reddish-orange in colour, comet-shaped, and with a truncated vapour trail. I thought immediately that it could be a high-flying military aircraft, yet there was no craft visible and the short trail seemed unusual. Not having seen anything like it before, we pulled over to watch the object moving steadily westward. Herma seized her camera to take photos and, by chance, also triggered a video of the object which recorded our excited remarks. 'If he wants to be seen, why doesn't he come this way?' cried Herma, and at that very moment the object swung sharply to the north-west - the rays of the setting sun turning the curving trail flame-coloured - and vanished behind a bank of dusky cloud.
Later, I put the photos on my UFOs page and sent a report to UK UFO Sightings where some comments suggested that what we had seen was indeed a jet at high altitude, the short contrail apparently being due to particular atmospheric conditions in which dry air reabsorbs water droplets as invisible vapour as soon as it condenses. Nevertheless, the incident was somehow symbolic as Herma's attention, rooted in and on the earth in recent weeks, was suddenly directed to the skies from whose happenings mankind has always drawn omens.
Only that day, Herma had said that, with a team of astro-archaeologists, archaeologists and other specialists, she wanted to lead an expedition to the megalithic 'astronomical observatory' at Nabta Playa in Egypt's southern Sahara to continue in greater depth the explorations she began among the stone circles there in the autumn of 2009. Former NASA physicist Thomas Brophy, who has made an astronomical study of the stone monuments of Nabta Playa, which are believed to be at least 7,000 years old, claims they constitute an astrophysical map of our region of the universe.
From stocks to stones... to the stars... As Herma told me during her visit: 'For me, anything is possible.’ That could be her motto. An open mind embraces all opportunities for new knowledge.