I was researching a completely unrelated topic the other day when I came across a reference to water witching. Intrigued, I decided to follow the enticing rabbit trail and learn more.
Water witching is a specialized form of dowsing, which is the ancient practice of locating items using a rod or stick. This implement is referred to as a dowsing rod, divining rod or witching stick. When dowsing is employed to locate a source of water it is sometimes called water witching, and its practitioners are referred to as witchers.
Witchers as a group are rarely in accord as to the ‘proper’ method for performing the task or on how and why it works.
The forked stick seems to be the instrument of preference for most practitioners. The witcher grasps each of the forked ends, palms up, holding the stick with the stem pointed outward. Willow, peach and witch hazel (which is one explanation for where the term ‘water witch’ came from. The other is that it is an occult reference.) seem to be the most widely preferred as they produce sticks and twigs that are very are flexible. The witcher walks across the terrain, the idea being that when he reaches a spot directly above a buried source of water, the stick will point downward.
But there are many other methods and divining rod materials as well. Some dowsers who use the forked branch insist that the stem will point upward, not downward, or begin to vibrate and twitch when they reach the proper spot. Others eschew the forked stick altogether, preferring to use two metal rods. Materials for these rods include brass, copper, steel or other metals. They hold these rods perpendicular to each other and when they arrive at a spot that hides and underground source of water, the rods will either cross or fly backward, depending on the witcher. Other items favored by various dowsers include coat hangers, pendulums, keys, scissors and whale bones.
Dowsing has a very long and colorful history, dating back, some say, to biblical times. There are cave paintings in Africa dating back 6000-8000 years that seem to depict a dowser at work. When and how it migrated to Europe is not known, but it was present in England during the reign of Elizabeth I (1558-1603). During the fifteenth and sixteenth centuries dowsing was denounced as heresy. Even being suspected of dowsing was cause for being arrested and placed on trial as a heretic. Martin Luther himself declared dowsing to be “the work of the devil”. During the Victorian era, however, dowsing became fashionable. The Victorians had a fascination with spirituality and mysticism and dowsing seemed to fit right in with this attitude. The practice showed up in both frivolous pursuits such as parlor games, to the more serious endeavors such as being employed by mining companies to aid in their search for excavation sites.
How, exactly, does dowsing work? Though a number of studies have been performed, there is no scientific explanation to support the authenticity of dowsing as a reliable method of locating water or other items. But countless numbers of eye witnesses and practitioners stand by its results. Some scoff that it is all a sham. Others say that it is an innate skill many of us possess if we would only learn how to tap into it. Still others believe that it comes from the practitioner’s heightened sensitivity to magnetic fields given off by various objects.
Dowsing is still widely practiced today as evidenced by the number of professional dowsing societies in America and Europe. The oldest of these is the British Society of Dowsers founded in 1933.
So what about you – do you have any experience – either direct or indirect – with the practice of dowsing?