Some Sorcerers do boast they have a Rod,
Gather’d with Vowes and Sacrifice,
And borne about will strangely nod
Mankind is sure that Rod divine,
For to the Wealthiest ever they incline.
- Samuel Sheppard, 1651
Miss Divine also had a rod.
Of course, if you are old enough to remember Divine, you already knew that. And if you’re not? …More than that you don’t want to know. Otherwise, for dog shits and grins, the coprophiliac drag queen star of Pink Flamingos was one of John Waters’ earliest accomplices—a shining bug-lamp in the filmmaker’s twisted mondo trasho of left field eccentrics.*
* An odd and interesting footnote to the story is that Waters did not discover Divine; Divine (a rich kid with doting, overly-generous parents) discovered Waters (then, an unknown filmmaker on the fringe of Baltimore’s most bizarre bedlamites).
In any case, after thirteen movies, the Confederacy of Nances came to an end with the single worst film in the John Waters portfolio: Hairspray, following which, Divine had the good sense to die.
Groused After Being Soused with the Dowse
By virtue of being called Kassel, I am allowed to laugh at anything that happens anywhere called Kassel. So, if they decide to hold a divining rod test In Kassel, Germany, run by something called the Gesellschaft zur Wissenschaftlichen Untersuchung von Parawissenschaften, I can, by the most basic of natural law, laugh my kass off.
In fact, the 2004 test, during which 30 divine rodders attempted to find water flowing through plastic PVC pipe buried a couple feet underground—for which the dowsers predicted 100% success—wound up disproving the whole notion that people can use non-scientific equipment to locate ground water, gems or gravesites.
Turns out, these hot rods may not be so hot after all.
Tell It To Marc Mondavi…
Mondavi, a third generation winemaker and son of Peter Mondavi Jr., is considered to be among California’s top dowsers. And although (for reasons unknown) Mondavi prefers the feminine-sounding term ‘water witch’, I have it on good authority that he is not a drag queen.
(For the record, I need not worry about offending Mr. Mondavi with the above remark, because I have already done so by maligning his moonlighting job as a dowser).
Obviously, along with that portion of California who is occult-obsessed, Mondavi is fascinated with such subjects, and is firm believer in his own divine abilities. He rests upon his laurels, saying, “I have been water witching since I was just a teenager. It usually catches people a bit off guard the first time they see it, but my track record speaks for itself.”
For the uninitiated, water witching is a technique primarily used to locate ground water, but is also used to find gemstones and oil. Naturally, I am curious as to Mondavi’s track record on these other items, because I am assuming that if it was as good as his water finding, he’d long since be retired.
Dowsing relies on an apparatus known as a divining rod. Said rod can be a Y-shaped stick, or alternately, a pair of L-shaped dowels; the usual methodology of a dowser is to hold the rods extended outward and to walk slowly across the terrain. When a subterranean water source (or a petroleum deposit or a cache of plutonium—in Vietnam, dowsing was used to locate enemy tunnels and in Norway, it has been used to locate avalanche victims) is discovered, the divining rod supposedly dips down sharply.
True believers suggest that it has to do with some cockamamie ‘emanations’ from the subject of interest—emanations which, as far as I know, have basis only in the well-respected pseudo-pscience of alchemy.
So, My Initial Question for Dowsing Devotees Is:
With so many potential materials emanating divinable energies, how does the rod know specifically that you are looking for water? Imagine your disappointment if you went in search of an underground well, spent the time and effort to dig for it, and found instead, a diamond mine.
Now, I have no doubt whatsoever that Marc Mondavi is convinced that he is a first magnitude water witch, and that he believes that the several controlled studies—including the one undertaken in Kassel, Germany—which have concluded that dowser success-rate is no more than chance, are somehow flawed. However, I don’t know how Mondavi explains by what principal the phenomenon itself works—although some clue may be found in his statement: “Some may think that my talent is more supernatural than normal.”
I’m not among them:
I think it his dowsing skills are perfectly explainable in natural terms. Mondavi, a third generation Californian, grew up in the vineyards and has a keen understanding of viticulture. Knowing where precisely to plant grapes is not a supernatural talent; it requires years of learning about topography and soil structures, all the while developing practical geological knowledge. Especially in areas where water is scarce—most of California—an experienced agriculturist has a pretty good instinct of where it can be found simply by scanning the terrain. Different species of flowers, grasses, shrubs and trees—even different types of rocks—are found in areas directly above a water source.
And the Divining Rod Dip?
Even easier to explain. Anyone who’s ever worked a Ouija board understands the curious psychological effect known as ‘ideomotor action’ wherein a person moves muscles unconsciously. For example, if the question is asked, ‘What is dowsing?’ and Ouija spells out ‘A crock of shite’ and everyone around the board swears they didn’t move the planchette? In fact, everyone did. As a reformed coke-head who hasn’t touched a line in more than twenty years, my body still does an inadvertent shudder every time I smell a specific chemically odor.
The sense is that very slight muscle tensions in Mondavi’s hands during dowsing more than likely are the cause of the rod’s downward lurch. He’s already sussed out the spot—even subconsciously—based on his knowledge of telltale surface signs.
I am ultimately not sure what Mondavi’s ‘success’ percentage is, but I imagine that if divining were a genuine phenomenon, it would have to be 100%.
The Divining Rod Wines: Bewitching Bevvie in a Bottle
That said, a fifth of Mondavi chardonnay from the Santa Lucia Highlands or an Alexander Valley cab is the kind of magic I can wrap my psyche around. Both the family pedigree and the sensational quality of the grapes make Marc Mondavi’s new label—The Divining Rod—a steal at $17; one worth seeking out with or without the use of a Y-shaped stick.
The Divining Rod Chardonnay, 2010, shows the multi-layered tropical characteristics of a cool-weather chard, including mango, pineapple and bright citrus shored up by rich and lovely notes of spiced vanilla and butterscotch. According to Mondavi, “This is a wine not only for food, but on its own, with great company.”
That may be, Marc, although I must say, I equally enjoy drinking wine with people I can’t stand—it makes them so much easier to deal with.
The Divining Rod Cabernet Sauvignon, 2010 displays the full-on ripeness of Alexander Valley with a focus on smooth black fruits with light notes of tobacco, cedar and silky, lightly applied tannins. For this one, Marc Mondavi’s comment is: “This cab is, I dare to say, divine.”
Cute, Marc; tres cute. You should consider a career in stand-up if the witchcraft thing doesn’t work out. It may not be as occult or mystical, but I guarantee that there is less chance of getting burned at the stake.