Dowsing

Type of drill used to dig well out of the ground in northern Effingham County.

People from this area who say they have a centuries-old "God-given talent" to locate natural resources are looking to expand the minds of the next generation -- and keep the tradition going.

Doris McKay of Neoga and Emil "Shorty" Beals of Effingham can't fully explain dowsing or how it works. But with their combined lifetime of experience they fully trust and believe that dowsing can locate objects and resources.

As defined by the Merriam-Webster Dictionary, to dowse is "to search for an underground supply of water by using a special stick that leads you to it." McKay and Beals say a person can employ many different tools -- McKay has even known someone to use his own hand -- to search for more than just water.

Is it pseudoscience? McKay and Beals say it has worked for them.

"There are many things you can dowse for," McKay said. "You can dowse for health, water, oil, lost articles, cemeteries and graves ... You can dowse your medications to figure out whether you should take it and whether it's the purest. A couple of old members (of the Central Illiana Chapter of Dowsers) used to dowse their food (when eating out) to make sure it was pure, with no allergens or MSG."

McKay's talent lies in dowsing for oil, which she does with a thin rod and a small bottle of oil on the end. She says she's very accurate at telling where oil is, how deep down it lies. Once she even used her talent to tell a friend the exact rate at which oil was being pumped out of the ground.

"I can't explain why it works," she said. "You have to concentrate on what you're dowsing for and clear your mind ... and you have to be very specific."

McKay starts with a broad question, like "is there oil in this area?" The rod will respond in such a way that she can ascertain an answer, and she narrows down her questions from there to gather the specifics.

"It'll turn down, and you cannot keep (the rod) from (the source). You can't hold it," she said.

Beals uses two rods, bent slightly, one for each hand. He says he can feel a sensation in the palm of his hand when he is detecting a substance or an answer to a question.

"You have to talk in your mind to these rods," he said. "You might take this rod and it wouldn't do anything for you now... Then you practice and learn more."

He also stressed the importance of complete faith in the process.

His wife, Lee Beals, is confident in his ability but cannot dowse herself.

"So many people don't believe in it," she said. "I know he can do it, but I haven't tried it. I'm not sure I believe in it enough to do it."

Through the centuries dowsing has at times been viewed as witchcraft and superstition, but these two dowsers view their pastime as a gift from God. They never charge for their services, and they are happy to help others find answers.

Friends have both utilized their talent and put it to the test. Beals has been asked to determine the sex of an unborn baby numerous time, and says he's been pretty accurate. He's also helped map out cemetery plots lacking headstones and is even able to give information on the body buried below.

Both dowsers have dabbled around their talents, even getting involved in two missing persons cases. In each, their tools led them to bodies of water when they asked where the missing were now. Neither body was ever found, to their knowledge, but they are certain their rods pointed to the unfortunate victims' watery graves.

Beals has been dowsing since the 1970s, when he was working construction for the State of Illinois. Once he learned the skill, he "used it constantly" to locate water vanes, survey stones and other materials buried under the ground.

McKay's stepfather got her on board in the early 1980s, and she's focused on dowsing oil ever since.

"This is something that is useful to us," she said. "People can get answers where they don't get answers otherwise."

"It teaches us a lot about the unknown," Beals added.

Learn more

Local dowsers are eager for the next generation to get involved, before the local talent dries up.

"Young people are going to have to pick this up," McKay said.

The next meeting of the Central Illiana Chapter of Dowsers is Saturday, Aug. 1 at 8:30 a.m. at the Neoga Municipal Building. Anyone hoping to learn more about dowsing is welcome to attend.

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