Stephanie Rothenberg invites you to divine… almost anything

On April 25th, Stephanie Rothenberg ( introduced an audience at the SP Weather Station Base to the basics of divination, also known as dowsing.

The lecture and hands-on workshop gave attendees a point of entry into a a practice which continues to be widely practiced in numerous forms around the world.

The practice of divination, like the operation of a Personal Weather Station, is a way that individuals can take direct action in monitoring their immediate environment.

Despite a lack of scientific evidence for its efficacy, dowsing is likely the more widespread practice; while currently over 8,500 Personal Weather Stations upload data to Weather Underground from within the US and over 3,000 from other countries, one article estimates roughly 10,000 active dowsers in Germany alone.


In preparation for the lecture, Stephanie made a quick appraisal of the environment within the former meat-spicing plant that houses the Weather Station, noting pipes, speculating about the previous uses of rooms and structures. We set up a station for making divination rods, while the more analytically-minded among our group tried to grasp (or inscribe within limits) what might be measurable via divination.

Turns out, almost anything (that can be tuned or programmed to respond to its user) can be used for divination; and divining can be used (“like a Magic 8 Ball,” according to one attendee) to give information about almost any question that can be phrased with a kind of polarity.

Regrettably, photos from the lecture and workshop, which would have helped readers understand some basic divination tools and their application, have been lost to history (at least temporarily).

Stephanie began the lecture with an overview of the practice and its history, with a slide show of images of dowsing gleaned from the internet.

divining1 divining3

A teaching experience with students lacking basic computer literacy prompted Stephanie to become engaged with this ancient method that can be calibrated to find whatever the seeker is seeking. This might be an answer to a concrete question (“Did I lose my car keys somewhere in the house?”; it might be information about something intangible (“Where is the limit of Natalie’s energy field?”); or it might be a directional answer, such as “Where is the bathroom?” “Where are the toxins” or “Where is the running water?”).

As Stephanie explained, the key lies in learning how to program and read one’s instrument, and in formulating the right kinds of questions. To find a very specific answer, it is best to funnel questions from the very general to the very specific to allow the instrument to hone in on the answer.

Curiosity led Stephanie to attend the annual convention for the American Society of Dowsers, souvenirs of which were exhibited during the lecture. A commercially manufactured rubber divining rod (which looks like a oversized, transparent wishbone) was included in the grab bag of every convention attendee.

Divining can be performed with all manner of instruments; Stephanie introduced some of the most popular ones, including the rod mentioned above as well as a pendulum and L-rods, made of metal bent to right angles.

L- rods, which can be made from a bent length of wire coat hanger and a drinking straw, are one of the simplest and most popular divination tools. Stephanie demonstrated how to assemble, program, and use this implement, and attendees were then free to experiment with making and using their own.

Stephanie, who has conducted this workshop previously at 16Beaver Group, New York and the Center for Contemporary Art, North Adams, MA, cannily negotiates hotly contested territory of peoples’ beliefs about science, superstition, and the natural world. The openness and straightforwardness of her presentation allowed participants to consider their own prejudices: Is there something about the idea of an “energy field” that is more palatable than an “aura?” Can a coat hanger really find donuts?

We hid (plastic-wrapped) donuts around the studio to find out. Some of the results were impressive. Maybe divining is a way of attending to intuition? It makes sense that for some of us (whose intuition sometimes wildly misses its mark), the L-rods went haywire.

Some of the participants seemed to have a somewhat extensive knowledge of divination already. At least one attendee confided that he found the serious presentation of something that violates the scientific principles he lives by a little offensive — not, in any case, innocuous.

Yet the kind of openness which Stephanie demonstrated seems to be a quality prized by all kinds of questioners — shamans, mystics, psychoanalysts – a kind of Magic-Eye mental state also invoked by Philip Pullman in The Golden Compass (the book, not the abysmal movie), as he describes the kind of unfocused state of attention Lyra enters in order to read the alethiometer. [Likewise I just heard Lynda Barry talk last week about how a child at play is in a the same state of mind as a person engaged in creative work or even listening to a joke — again, openness.]

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