Classes on ancient practice to be held at Veterans Building
Tri-Valley Herald, Mar. 25, 2003
By Matt Carter, STAFF WRITER
PLEASANTON — As war with Iraq heightens fears of terrorist attacks, Pleasanton veterans groups think they’ve found a way to address the threat: the ancient practice of dowsing.
Skeptics scoff at dowsers’ claims that they can locate water, tunnels, pipes — even missing people and pets — guided by nothing but a stick or rod and their intuition.
Nonetheless, local vets have invited a Virginia man to teach an introductory course in dowsing next month at the Veterans Memorial Building in Pleasanton.
“Discover how dowsing techniques could be used to support homeland security … by military, law enforcement, fire prevention, National Guard, mil- Frank said. “My attitude is that in the world of homeland security, you have to be more open-minded in looking for solutions. You can’t wait for the FBI and police to come up with solutions when you have the bad guys living among us.”
Some dowsers claim to be able to find water, oil or treasure under the earth by walking with a forked dowsing rod or stick.
When the dowser is over the “target,” the rod supposedly points down. So-called map dowsers use a pendulum over maps, books or other media, and claim they can locate people or glean other information this way.
“One thing someone suggested is that if this works, could you identify a potential terrorist while he’s in the airport?” Frank said. “Maybe the same technique could be used to find a dangerous bag among thousands in an airport. Who knows? Don’t shoot the messenger, if you’re not comfortable with the message.”
Matacia’s visit is sponsored by the Air Force Association Chapter 120, American Legion Posts 237 and 333, and Veterans of Foreign Wars Post 6298.
“I think it’s got its merits,” said Rene LaVigne, commander of American Legion Post 237, of the practice of dowsing. “In fact, our government is using it. It’s been using it for years. They just don’t make a big deal out of it, because it’s not scientifically provable.”
Although one German study in the late 1980s claimed to have found proof that some field dowsers achieved measurable results, critics said the test couldn’t be independently reproduced.
Other tests, skeptics say, have shown that those who claim to have dowsing skills are no better at ferreting out hidden objects than if sites were selected at random.
One outspoken skeptic of dowsing and other paranormal claims is James Randi, the founder of a Florida-based educational foundation that promises to award $1 million to anyone who can prove they possess such powers in an independent test.
About 85 percent of those who try and fail to claim the money are self-professed dowsers, Randi said. He said “hundreds” of would-be dowsers have taken the tests because they have convinced themselves of their abilities.
“You are actually moving the stick yourself, and are not conscious of it,” Randi said of dowsing.
Once best-known as a magician and escape artist, “The Amazing Randi” founded the James Randi Education Foundation in 1996 to promote critical thinking about paranormal claims.
Randi said those attending Matacia’s course in Pleasanton “might have more entertainment by shredding their money into confetti and throwing it at the next wedding they attend. They will learn nothing from it.”
Matacia, who claims to have trained U.S. Marines to find enemy tunnels during the Vietnam War, did not return calls Monday from the Herald. But he does seem to have a following among those who believe dowsing is real.
The author of two books on dowsing including “Finding Treasure Auras,” Matacia is scheduled to teach a class at the annual convention of the American Society of Dowsers Inc. in June.
Those attending the Lyndonville, Vt., dowsing convention will pay $95 to study with Matacia. In Pleasanton, a more modest $10 donation is requested.
“This man can’t lecture on anything else — tap dancing, poetry, manufacturing umbrellas — there’s nothing else he can claim to be an expert on,” Randi said.
“It gives them an importance they normally wouldn’t have. The problem is people will spend their time and money for nothing.”
To Randi, a potentially more serious problem is that some people will become obsessed with mastering a skill that’s a construct of the imagination.
“This can destroy people emotionally, because they take the lessons, they see (the instructor) do it, and when they are not able to do it, they think, ‘I must be a fool,’” Randi said. “In some cases they devote the rest of their lives to it. It’s a delusion.”
Veterans groups have wide discretion over who they invite to speak at the city-owned building, said Pleasanton Parks and Community Services Director Jim Wolfe.
“Unless there is going to be damage to the building, there are free speech issues,” Wolfe said. “If they are not doing anything unsafe, immoral or illegal, we try not to be too possessive about what they can and cannot do.”
Many people believe in dowsing because they have seen or heard of it being used to find underground water or pipes. Frank said he has relatives in Colorado who found water with the help of a dowser.
“I know for a fact that oil companies use dowsers to find oil,” Frank said. “A lot of people don’t realize that. And mining companies use them to find minerals like gold and silver.”
Randi said dowsers find water because it’s present just about everywhere on Earth, if wells are drilled deeply enough. But anecdotal instances of dowsers finding water don’t prove the validity of the method, he said. In double-blind tests, dowsers don’t turn up water, oil or minerals more often than expected if sites were selected at random, Randi said.
Dowsing isn’t the only unconventional technique Frank has offered to veterans in the fight against terrorism.
Two months after the attacks on the World Trade Center and Pentagon, Frank brought a retired Army officer, David A. Morehouse, to Pleasanton for a seminar on “remote viewing.”
In his 1996 book “Psychic Warrior,” Morehouse said he was forced out of the Army and harassed by the CIA after he decided to go public with details about remote viewing — a secret military program, he said, that employed psychics to spy on faraway people, places and events.
Frank said that as a result of the November, 2001 seminar in Pleasanton, a half-dozen local veterans have gone through five levels of training with Morehouse. Frank said Morehouse did not charge the veterans for the instruction, and that some of those veterans are now helping families gather information on loved ones missing in action in other wars.
Two or three people are particularly good at it, Frank said.