The Investigative Divination of F.B.I. Special Agent Dale Cooper: Dowsing

Dowsing is a curious technique with age-old folklore to boast it. John Locke referenced it in 1692’s Some Considerations Lowering Interest: “Not of the nature of the Deusing-rod, or Virgula Divina, able to discover Mines of Gold and Silver.”[1] Traditionally, it refers to the practice of using divining rods to locate underground sources of water. To add a finer point to its origins, one can see this assertion by Rodney Davies: “Dowsing was unknown in the ancient world, and indeed it seems to be a comparatively recently-discovered technique, the first unequivocal reference to it appearing in Sebastian Munster’s Cosmographia Universalis, which was ·published in Germany in 1500. Munster calls the rod used a virgule divina, or divining rod …”[2] It is also known as water-witching, perhaps in reference to its seemingly supernatural methodology and the use of “magic wands,” rather rods or pendulums. Davies offers a broader definition of the practice.

“Dowsing in its traditional guise is the art of finding substances or objects hidden in the ground, like water, minerals, pipes and cables, archaeological relics, and so on, by means of a forked stick or some other type of divining rod, or a pendulum. Yet it can also be used to detect the whereabouts of lost objects and persons, or the site of disease in a living body. Thus it can be defined as the practice of finding things, whether above or below ground, whose location is not known.”[3]

It is hard to imagine many instances of its mention today, outside of more New Age interest texts. Then again, considering trends in worldwide drought, maybe not. I can Dowsing_003think of two off the top of my mind: Rick Moody’s The Diviners: A Novel (2006) and a 2014 film with Russell Crowe called The Water Diviner. [Note: I have not properly read or viewed either, but the titles stuck.] It seems to me that F.B.I. Special Agent Dale Cooper has stumbled upon dowsing methodologies indirectly throughout his narrative journey.

According to Elizabeth Brown, author of Dowsing: The Ultimate Guide for the 21st Century, “Everyone has the innate ability to dowse. It is not the exclusive territory of the gifted few. But, as with any other inherent human potential, the importance of training is paramount.” [4] First evidence then, in what ways have we seen Dale Cooper train his mind, leading to his unique methodologies in the investigations of Teresa Banks and Laura Palmer? Is there anything that suggests the strengthening of dowsing? I believe we see this throughout The Autobiography of F.B.I. Special Agent Dale Cooper: My Life, My Tapes. Under Cooper’s entry for December 15th, 9 p.m. from Part 3, Chapter 2, we hear his first instruction that would guide him to techniques akin to those of dowsing training.  A woman described as poet, scholar, and an archer “… urged me to find a physical equivalent to the exercises I challenge my mind with so that my entire body will work in unison.”[5]

In this same section, under his entry for December 27, 11 p.m., Dale Cooper begins the first in his tasks to train his body and mind to work in unison.

“Have decided that as long as I am home with some free time, I will use the time wisely and undertake to test certain limitations within the human body that I find bothersome. The first is sleep. Roughly half of our life is spent in the quiet solitude of slumber. Outside of the obvious benefits of dreams and physical rest, I find it to be unacceptable that the same benefits cannot be achieved without such a commitment of time. I am therefore going to attempt to establish two things. First, the duration for which my body can function effectively without sleep. And second, the minimum amount of sleep required to sustain a high level of operation.”[6]

Cooper is able to achieve forty four hours of sleep deprivation before he concedes to becoming “a public health threat.” I’ll list a few more of the techniques we discover Cooper developing. We know from his quote in season one that he is a strong “sender.” Still, as Brown points out again “The innate ability may be there, but the mind needs to be trained in the specific techniques.”[7]


Having achieved one mind test in sleep deprivation, according to Cooper’s entry for January 8, 1974, 1 a.m., his next task is one of physical and mental control. “In the continuing effort to better understand the different functions of the mind and body, I have signed up for the school’s winter sports weekend trip to the Poconos. What I seek is a test. A test to probe the working of the mind and its effect on physical activity.”[8] His test is the ten-meter ski jump. His conclusion according to the entry for January 10, 3 p.m.? “Man was not meant to fly. Little in the structure of our bodies should suggest to anyone that flying is even a remote possibility. Believe my mind and body ceased functioning as one soon after my skis crossed at the end of the chute.”[9] All of these tests have their value regardless of some aspects of failure, which we will get to. Entries from January 20th to January 30th, tell us that his next experiment was with a woman named Andy in a small motel room “just outside of town.” As it suggests, the test was one of sex. One is reminded of the experience of Dale Cooper with Diane in some motel just outside of a town in The Return part 18.

The next technique that I suggest as important to his dowsing appears on page 78 of the autobiography from a quote by his professor Margaret Hastings, where it is explained that: “Dale first came to me as a student in a class I teach called Visual Information Processing. It deals with the acquiring, storing, and processing of visual information in dowsing-divining-rodmemory. “Never have I had a student who possessed the raw visualization skills that Dale had. From there he took Thinking 3005, My Mind, Your Mind 4001, and Why We Forget 4002.”[10] There is one last to mention, but let’s look at this particular statement in relation to dowsing. In Bill Cox’s book The Psychology of Treasure Dowsing, he clearly states as a principal that “With ‘Informational Dowsing’, one’s intellectual faculties and so-called five senses first decide on the questions to be asked of the higher mind. The queries are thus mentally posed and then released to the powers of one’s intuition.” Is there any doubt that Scott Frost’s imagination perfectly aligned Cooper’s experiences to reach the culmination of divinatory investigative techniques we later witness in season one? I’m jumping ahead. Let’s add our last technique from the autobiography.

While we are exploring it, I cannot help but to mention Cooper’s forays into urination deprivation. Reading the novel/autobiography for the first time, it may feel as a simple payoff to one small moment in season one, but we see it paid off again … twenty five years later (approximately). The experiment begins in the entry for June 20, 9 a.m. with the proclamation: “Am attempting to discover how long an individual can function normally without urinating while consuming a normal amount of liquid. Will now drink six ounces of hot coffee.”[11] The entries following cover the ten-hour period of training. And while I hate to be too quote heavy, I think fans appreciate a pay-off. Goodness knows if your access to this out-of-print novel is limited, as prices have soared since the dowsing_004impending Return, you will appreciate my sprinkling of the text. From June, unspecified, at 7:10 p.m.: “Urination lasted a full two minutes. Can safely say that they were the two most satisfying minutes I have ever spent in my short life. If it were not for the pain inflicted on oneself to reach the ten-hour mark, I would highly recommend it as a substitute for sex.”[i] In interviews with Laura Dern and reinforced in Greg Olsen’s David Lynch: Beautiful Dark, Dern was taken aback at her first time meeting Lynch as he hurried into the room but continued walking exclaiming “Hey, I gotta’ go pee. I’ll be right back.”[12] This happily reflected upon memory found its way into the early Twin Peaks script that had Cooper hurriedly laying out the day’s investigation with Harry Truman, hardly taking a breath before lastly excusing himself to pee. That given, David, Frost, and Kyle found a way to add that scene one more time in Showtime’s Limited Series Event with Cooper/Dougie’s first morning out of the Red Room in the Jones’ home for part five of the series.

With all of that evidence collected, let’s look closer at dowsing and Cooper’s usage of or guidance with it. In order to do so, we need to see some techniques from dowsers themselves into how Cooper would have achieved it with these skills. Also, let’s see if their philosophies sound familiar in Cooper’s rhetoric. According to Brown:

“A shift in our frame of reference is needed. So let’s get used to several things: Get used to living in a universe of awe-inspiring magnitude and majesty. Get used to seeing the world in terms of energy, rather than matter. And get used to being an integral part of a cosmos of pure consciousness and potential, where everything is interconnected.”[13]

It is not a far cry to hear agent Cooper explaining these very principals to Truman and company before his map of Tibet in the famous rock-pitching scene from season one, episode three (depending how you number it). This is, of course, the culminated moment, the most definitive example of Dale Cooper using a divination technique to the extent of discovery in his investigation into the murder of Laura Palmer. I take this moment to point out that Dr. Jacoby edged close to the principals himself as we see in Mark Frost’s The Secret History of Twin Peaks. As he states in relation to his optical integration system, 3-D glasses, of course:

“Glasses with one red polarized lens for the right eye, one blue polarized lens for the left. My working theory being that the red spectrum slightly suppresses activity in the left or logical hemisphere, while the blue spectrum does the same in the spatial/intuitive side of the brain and that when worn together—although it does tend to give ‘reality’ a slightly purple tint—the patient tends to experience increased integration between two spheres by increasing activity within the corpus callosum and encouraging the two sides to work together.”[14]     

Again, at first glance the statement has little to do with seeking water, but the principals do work well together when compared against Cox’s following explanation of dowsing under his eighth chapter titled “The Dowsing Mind in Perspective.” “When one Dowses for needed information, the left hemisphere of the brain favors the intellect which responds to sensory input and one’s concept of time. With Dowsing, the left brain functions as one decides on the program and then allows the right brain to intuit the information.”[15] And then, what this does for us is give us a sense of Cooper’s true inner workings, at least at the early stage in his life. Agent Cooper relied quit heavily on his intuition, but he also had a unique ability to arrest those senses and open to “a universe of awe-inspiring magnitude and majesty,” as Brown would have it. It would be easy to continue connecting texts, but for the sake of space and your time, let’s just glace at two more possible moments affected by dowsing energies. Dowsing can be used to detect treasure, illness, water, and information, as in the case of the letter “J.” Could those directed energies have been in the roots of the red room’s enticements to Dougie in the Silver Saddle Casino? When planets align, opening passage to the Black Lodge, is there a sense of dowsing in the persona allowed to find its pool of scorched engine oil and open its gates. Is there more than mere time and coordinates at play when one finds a pool of molten lava 253 yards from Jack Rabbit’s Palace? My take is that it is worth an exploration.


Recommended: Anton Binder’s article “Welcome to Twin Peaks: Disinterment, Voyeurism, Resurrection and Reflections

[1] “dowse, v.”. OED Online. June 2017. Oxford University Press. (accessed November 28, 2017).

[2] Davies, Rodney. Dowsing : Ancient Origins and Modern Uses. Aquarian Press, 1991.

[3] Davies, p. 7.

[4] Brown, Elizabeth. 2010. Dowsing: the ultimate guide for the 21st century.

[5] Frost, Scott. 1991. The Autobiography of F.B.I. Special Agent Dale Cooper: my life, my tapes. New York: Pocket Books.

[6] Frost, p. 65.

[7] Brown, p. 30.

[8] Frost, p. 70.

[9] Frost, p. 71.

[10] Frost, p. 90.

[11] Frost, p. 88.

[12] Olson, Greg. David Lynch : Beautiful Dark. Filmmakers ; #126. Scarecrow Press, 2008, p. 207.

[13] Brown, p. 33.

[14] Frost, Mark. 2016. The secret history of Twin Peaks, p. 213.

[15] Cox, p. 38.

Written by Rob E. King

I am a librarian, writer, and proud member of Twin Peaks and Robert E. Howard fandom. I've also somehow become the go-to writer for MTV's 90s animation series.

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