Grave Memories

on May 13, 2010 in Misc

I’ve got a confession to make.  To understand it, you have to read my last blog before you tackle this one.

Finished?  Okay, here’s the confession.


I really want to believe what scientist Duane Kniebes told me and other people about graves.

I love the faint and strange possibility that the final memories of the dead linger at their graves like a mourner.  That a physical imprint of these memories – whether composed of energy or an electrical pattern or something – is as real as the body it once belonged to.  That in some limited way we the living can access it.  I’m not talking about souls or spirituality, but of things physical.

Hey, I’m a writer and romantic, so of course such a notion appeals to me.  That said, I can also be a habitual skeptic.

Which is a good thing.  As Mr. Kniebes pointed out, when dowsing for graves it’s best to remain skeptical.  You shouldn’t want to find something.  Instead, keep the mind blank and wait.  You must also walk and move very slowly, because the older the grave, the slower the rods will respond.  The energy of those bodies and memories fade with time, it seems.

But as long as that energy or electricity or whatever is there, you can ask simple questions and the rods will give yes and no answers:   Is a man or woman buried here?  Adult or child?  And there are other limitations.  He’s found that three years old is pretty much the cut-off age for getting an answer from a child; any younger, and the memories can’t form a reply.  A person who died of Alzheimer’s also leaves behind only incoherence.

Prairie burial

One more rule about asking those questions, whether silently or aloud – you have to ask them in the same language that the dead once spoke.  English doesn’t work with German speaking immigrants, for example.  In one case, Mr. Kniebes asked questions in English at the grave of an Indian and got nothing.  Then a full-blooded member of the nation (he doesn’t remember which one) who lived nearby joined him and spoke in the dead’s native language.  That’s when “the rods moved like crazy.”

Oh, and a person’s ashes are a very small target and you can’t talk to them.  On the other hand, the rods will at least lead you to what’s there in the ground. 

For example, Mr. Kniebes and his wife were once on private land where a single headstone marked the grave of three family members, and documents confirmed that three people were buried in that spot.  But his rods and hers also led them to a spot under a nearby tree and told them a woman was buried there.  Sure enough, after questioning family descendants one relative said that she had been told a fourth family member had long ago been buried under a tree not far from the other three graves.


Finally, to dowse at all you have to keep your nervous system unpolluted.  Once before dowsing Mr. Kniebes took a Percocet and for the next hour didn’t get “diddley-boo” from his rods.  He realized then that the medication temporarily “killed my nervous system.”

Turns out that Albert Einstein had a similar opinion about our nerves playing a role.  “The dowsing rod is a simple instrument that shows the reaction of the human nervous system to certain factors which are unknown to us at this time.”

Hey, people – that’s Einstein talking.

And Mr. Kniebes really did take pains to emphasize the science of what he was doing.  He seemed to dread the possibility that someone in his audience might think he was a flake or New Age nut job.  So he made frequent references to Einstein and chemistry and other sciences, and how in physics energy never ends and everything is connected.

At least I think that’s what he said.  By then it was hard to catch his every word because, like much of the audience, I had left the museum and joined him in a cemetery just up the road.

crowd dowsing

Yes, there we were — a bunch of apparently normal adults, wandering amongst some of the oldest graves in the place, dowsing rods in our hands.  Most of us had borrowed the rods from Mr. Kniebes.  They were simple pieces of wire he had cut and bent himself.

Dowsing/witch sticks/divining rods are just a tool, he said, therefore any kind of material works “perfectly well.”  They can be iron, steel, copper, plastic, the traditional willow branch – doesn’t matter.  But the rods do have to be in your hands, and the hands have to be held a little away from the body.

One elderly rancher in a trucker’s cap had brought his own.  He admitted to me that he still wasn’t completely sold on this grave dowsing stuff.  Oh sure, he had dowsed on his own land and found the water he was looking for.  And when he needed to find a buried electric cable he dowsed, located it, and followed that cable as far as he needed.  Saved him from hiring a guy to come in with a buncha fancy equipment to find the cable for him.

Then there was the woman who told me that her father had taught her to dowse for water on the family land when she was a kid.  Funny thing was, she could dowse even though she was a skeptic, but her husband was a believer and he couldn’t dowse at all.  Go figure.

Hands and willow

And me?  Yes, I too was ambling about, borrowed rods in my hands.  I hated walking on graves because I had been taught as a child  that this was disrespectful.  So I had to make myself walk up to the headstone for “Mexican Joe.”  That was the only inscription.  And my rods didn’t do diddly-boo.  They just plain didn’t move for him.  Next I went up to the neighboring headstone of a young man killed by lightning in the late 1800’s.  The rods not only moved they crossed.  Same thing happened at the next grave and the next.

I swear to you, I didn’t turn the rods.  I swear that as I lightly grasped them and moved over the graves, I could feel the metal turning in my hands and against my skin.

It was so cool.

And Mexican Joe?  Turns out he wasn’t buried there.  Only his headstone had been moved from another spot in town when the area was being developed.  His remains were never found.  So the rods were right.

2 Responses to “Grave Memories”

  1. Hart says:

    Einstein adds a whole nother angle doesn’t he? He didn’t believe time was absolutely in one direction, whcih opens all SORTS of possibilities to how this works.

    Have you ever considered this in murder mystery type stuff? Seems RIPE for it. I really do love this stuff. Thanks for doing all this research, Helena!

  2. Helena says:

    Hart — What a coincidence! Just last night I saw something on the Discovery channel about how physicists theorize that there’s no reason why we can’t travel to the past. We just haven’t figured out the technology.

    I don’t write murder mysteries, but maybe a Stephen King-type thriller is in me waiting to get out. Like that monster in Alien.