The study and detection of human response to water, minerals, and other underground materials. Dowsing, or "water witching," is usually distinguished from the related subject of radiesthesia by its focus on nonliving materials such as water, metals, minerals, or buried objects. Both dowsing and radiesthesia operators employ a divining-rod, pendulum, or similar device as an indicator of unconscious human sensitivity to hidden materials. Radiesthesia extends such detection to medical diagnosis and treatment, discovery of missing persons, telepathy, clairvoyance, and related paranormal phenomena. In Europe (particularly in France), however, the two terms are used synonymously.
The traditional form of dowsing is with a Y-shaped hazel branch. The operator holds the two ends in his hands and walks over an area thought to contain underground water. When crossing water, the branch turns over, often with considerable force, and the dowser is able to map the course of the under-ground water.
For some years it was hypothesized that some underground emanation or occult force moved the branch, but modern researchers tend to favor the idea that the operator responds to the hidden water in such a way that his own nervous energy moves the branch. Some theorists have compared this effect with table-turning or the raps often reported within Spiritualism. This does not preclude the possibility that some electro-magnetic impulse stimulates the dowser's muscles through the nervous system, although there is no evidence of such an impulse.
Modern dowsers have developed considerable sensitivity and skill and will venture to estimate both the depth and possible yield of underground water. In addition to branches, dowsers employ many other forms of indicators—rods made of whalebone or wire, twisted coathangers, rods with cavities for a "sample" of the material sought for, and especially small pendulums. Since international agreements now outlaw whale hunting, plastic indicators are being substituted for whalebone.
Some dowsers even search for hidden materials over a scale map of a district, using a small suspended pendulum instead of a rod, and "map dowsing" has become synonymous with teleradiesthesia; (i.e., the tracing of materials or persons using a representation of an area instead of visiting the actual area). Some kind of psychic or other paranormal link is suggested between a district and its representation on a map.
Although dowsing and radiesthesia remain controversial, there seems to be considerable successes in water witching and the discovery of buried minerals. Water diviners have been widely employed by governments and businesses. One skilled dowser, Major C. A. Pogson, was official water diviner to the government of India between October 1925 and February 1930. During this period Pogson traveled thousands of miles locating sites for wells and bores and was a consultant on all matters relating to underground water.
The oldest organization in the field is the British Society of Dowsers, founded in the 1930s. There is also an American Society of Dowsers, which can be contacted at P.O. Box 24, Brained St., Danville, Vermont.
Barrett, William, and Theodore Besterman. The Divining Rod: An Experimental and Psychological Investigation. London, 1926. Reprint, New Hyde Park, N.Y.: University Books, 1968.
Besterman, Theodore. Water Divining: New Facts & Theories. London: Methuen, 1938.
Bird, Christopher. The Diving Hand. New York: E. P. Dutton, 1979.
Cameron, Verne L. Aquavideo; Locating Underground Water. Santa Barbara, Calif.: El Cariso, 1970.
——. Map Dowsing. Santa Barbara, Calif.: El Cariso, 1971.
——. Oil Locating. Santa Barbara, Calif.: El Cariso, 1971.
Carrié, Abbé. L'hydroscopographie et métalloscopographie, ou l'art de découvrir les sources et les gisement metallifers au moyen de l'électro-magnétisme. Saintes, France, 1863.
Chambers, Howard V. Dowsing, Water Witches & Divining Rods for the Millions. Los Angeles: Sherbourne Press, 1969.
Chevreul, M. E. De la Baguette divinatoire, du pendule dit explorateur, et des tables tournantes. Paris, 1854.
De France, Henry. The Elements of Dowsing. London, 1948.
De Morogues, Baron. Observations sur le fluide organoélectrique. Paris, 1854.
De Vallemont, Abbe. La physique occulte, ou Traité de la baguette divinatoire. Paris, 1693.
Ellis, Arthur J. The Divining Rod: A History of Water Witching, with a Bibliography. Washington, 1917.
Klinckowstroem, Graf von. Virgula divina. Ein Beitrag zur Geschichte der Wünschelrute. Berlin, 1910.
Maby, J. Cecil, and T. B. Franklin. The Physics of the Divining Rod. London, 1939.
Mager, Henri. Water Diviners and Their Methods. London, 1931.
Maury, Marguerite. How to Dowse: Experimental and Practical Radiasthesia. London: G. Bell and Sons, 1953.
Mermet, Abbe. Principles & Practice of Radiesthesie. London, 1967.
Nicolas, Jean. La verge de Jacob, ou l'art de trouver les trésors les sources, les limites, les métaux, les mines, les minéraux et autres cachées, par l'usage du baton fourché. Lyons, France, 1693. Translated as Jacob's Rod. London: Thomas Welton, 1875.
Nielsen, Greg, and J. Polansky. Pendulum Power. New York: Warner, 1977.
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Tromp, S. W. Psychical Physics: A Scientific Analysis of Dowsing, Radiesthesia & Kindred Divining Phenomena. New York: Elsevier, 1949.
Underwood, Peter. The Complete Book of Dowsing & Divining. London, 1980.
Wayland, Bruce and Shirley Wayland. Steps to Dowsing Power. Life Force Press, 1976.
Weaver, Herbert. Diving, the Primary Sense: Unfamiliar Radiation in Nature, Art and Science. London: Routledge & Kegan Paul, 1978.
Willey, Raymond C. Modern Dowsing. Cottonwood, AZ: Esoteric Publications, 1976.
Wyman, Walker D. Witching for Water, Oil, Pipes, and Precious Minerals. River Falls: University of Wisconsin Press, 1977.
Dowsing is a centuries-old type of divination that involves finding water, minerals, and lost objects, and even diagnosing illnesses. Dowsing (also called "water witching," "doodlebugging," and other names) is practiced with the aid of a forked branch, an L-shaped piece of metal held out in front of the dowser, a pendulum, or occasionally the dowser's bare hands.
Contemporary dowsing has its origins in sixteenth-century German mining communities and probably came to New England during the colonial period. Dowsers were commonly used in the nineteenth century to find minerals, before the rise of geology as a science. Even when geologists were available, some companies continued to employ dowsers because they believed dowsing was more effective. In the twentieth century, dowsing was widely practiced throughout the United States, especially in rural areas and in the West. For most of its history dowsing has been local and loosely organized, but in 1961 the American Society of Dowsers was founded in Vermont.
Before this time dowsing was an uninstitutionalized, rurally based oral tradition. Men and women usually learned to dowse from neighbors and relatives and practiced their art in local communities. In the twentieth century, books, how-to guides, and Internet sites have made the practice more accessible to those who want to learn, though some argue that dowsers are born, not made. In Water Witches, Chris Bohjalian's 1995 novel about Vermont dowsers, dowsing runs in the family. These dowsers find water for their neighbor's farm as well as for a ski resort, and one of them locates a pilot who was lost in an airplane crash. Contemporary dowsers have located water for orchards and golf courses, found archaeological artifacts, and pinpointed underground tunnels and mines during the Vietnam War. Dowsers are also hired to locate objects from a distance using maps and pendulums.
Dowsing does not require belief in any particular doctrine or deity. Believers in dowsing find meaning in a range of explanations, both natural and supernatural. Some dowsers are Christian, while others might be called New Agers, whose interest in dowsing overlaps with other beliefs in phenomena such as ley lines (lines of magnetic force believed to run through the Earth at specific sites) and psychic healing. Some dowsing advocates say that dowsers intuitively know where water flows, while others suggest that they are influenced by electromagnetic or spiritual forces, both positive and negative. Dowsing, according to another explanation, is possible because the world around us is permeated with an undefined "energy," which humans can make use of if they focus their mind on some particular goal, such as finding water.
Twentieth-century critics of dowsing tended to be scientists, but its earliest opposition came from Christianity, beginning with Martin Luther's proclamation against the "divining rod" in 1518. Branded as Witchcraft from Luther's time on, dowsing has often been associated with alternative and marginal religions—most recently the New Age movement—and folk practices. Skeptics of dowsing abound, such as James Randi (the "Amazing Randi"), a stage magician who offers money to anyone who can pass his dowsing tests. Geologists point out that in areas where water is geologically possible, it will appear anywhere a well is drilled. But contemporary dowsers remain unmoved by attacks on their craft. Their evidence for the success of dowsing is based on different criteria—personal experience and their faith that, for whatever reason, dowsing works.
See alsoNew Age Spirituality.
Bohjalian, Chris. WaterWitches. 1995.
Vogt, Evon Z., and Ray Hyman. WaterWitching U.S.A. 1959.
Sarah M. Pike
Dowsing, scientifically known as radioesthesia, is the interaction of the mind of the dowser and the energy of the object of interest. Most dowsing is used to find water and minerals. It has been used to find lost objects, even people. The ability to find people, artifacts, or substances by use of maps, pictures, or physically being in a place are currently the most popular applications of dowsing.
The method of dowsers seldom varies. They grasp the ends of a forked twig (peach, apple, maple traditionally work best, though some modernists say a bent metal coat hanger works just as well) with palms upward. As they begin their search for water, they carry the butt of the stick pointed upward. When they near water, they can feel the pull as the butt end begins to dip downward. When the dowsers are over the water, the twig has been bent straight down, having turned through an arc of 180 degrees. A stick of brittle wood will break under the grip of a dowser as the butt moves downward. Pliable twigs will twist themselves downward despite an effort to hold them straight.
Few manifestations of so-called psychic ability have been more hotly debated than that of dowsing. On the one hand is the pronouncement of the scientific community which declares that locating water by means of a forked stick is utter nonsense, and on the other side of the argument are those men and women who go ahead and locate water with their forked maple twigs, completely impervious to the ridicule visited upon them by the skeptics. They could not care less whether or not a laboratory technician believes that water cannot be found in such a manner. All they know is that it works and that they have been finding water in just that way for years.
Novelist Kenneth Roberts stated in his book, Henry Gross and His Dowsing Rod (1951): "Not all the derision of all the geologists in the world can in any way alter the unfailing accuracy of the dowsing rod in Henry Gross's hands. Not all the cries of 'hokum,' 'fanciful delusion,' 'hoax,' 'pseudoscience' can destroy or even lessen the value of Henry's dowsing.…"
In 1953, UNESCO sponsored a committee of prominent European scientists in their study of radioesthiesa. Their carefully considered consensus was that "there can be no doubt that it is a fact." The Academie des Sciences of Paris has commented that "it is impossible to deny the existence of the power, although its nature cannot be determined." Five Nobel Prize winners have endorsed dowsing, and so has the Institute of Technical Physics of the Dutch National Research Council.
In Germany in 1987 and 1988, more than 500 dowsers participated in more than 10,000 double-blind tests conducted by physicists in a barn near Munich. The researchers who held the so-called "Barn" experiments claimed that they had empirically proved that dowsing was a real phenomenon. However, subsequent analysis of the data by other scientists raise the argument that the results could reasonably be attributed to chance, rather than any kind of unknown psychic ability to find water or hidden objects.
Baum, Joseph. Beginners Handbook of Dowsing. New York: Random House, 1974.
Bird, Christopher. Divining Hand: The 500-Year-Old Mystery of Dowsing. Atglen, Pa.: Whitford Press, 1993.
Carroll, Robert Todd. "Dowsing (a.k.a. water witching)." The Skeptic's Dictionary. [Online] http://skepdic.com/dowsing.html. 8 March 2002.
Graves, Tom. Diviner's Handbook: A Guide to the Timeless Art of Dowsing. Rochester, Vt.: Inner Traditions, 1990.
Roberts, Kenneth. Henry Gross and His Dowsing Rod. Garden City, N.Y.: Doubleday & Co., 1951.
Webster, Richard. Dowsing for Beginners: The Art of Discovering Water, Treasure, Gold, Oil, Artifacts. St. Paul, Minn.: Llewellyn Publications, 1996.
dows·ing / ˈdouzing/ • n. a technique for searching for underground water, minerals, or anything invisible, by observing the motion of a pointer (traditionally a forked stick, now often paired bent wires) or the changes in direction of a pendulum, supposedly in response to unseen influences: [as adj.] a dowsing rod.