Water Witching


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?

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Winnie Griggs is the author of Historical (and occasionally Contemporary) romances that focus on Small Towns, Big Hearts, Amazing Grace. She is also a list maker, a lover of dragonflies and holds an advanced degree in the art of procrastination.
Three of Winnie’s books have been nominated for the Romantic Times Reviewers Choice Award, and one of those nominations resulted in a win.
Winnie loves to hear from readers. You can connect with her on facebook at www.facebook.com/WinnieGriggs.Author or email her at winnie@winniegriggs.com.

28 thoughts on “Water Witching”

  1. I grew up in rural Montana and used to go with my grandma when she would “witch for wells”. I remember several times, walking around with her on different stretches of land, holding a witching rod, looking for water. I know there’s no scientific evidence that it works, but we found several wells using those witching rods. It was very cool to read this, because it reminded me of spending time with my grandma. 🙂

    Great post.

  2. Great post! I remember when I was a kid my father had someone come to our small farm and do this. Of course we all followed him around and watched. We thought it was so cool and for days we would run around with a forked stick in our hands trying to find water. He said he found water but my father never did drill to find if it was there because in the area we lived in there was under ground springs every where. Near our farm is where the High Bridge Spring water is bottled today.

  3. Growing up in Wisconsin, my best friend, Paula’s father was a dowser. I only saw him in action one time. He used the stick method that you mentioned. It did work. He found water for a well.

  4. Quilt Lady – sounds like a fun experience to feed a child’s sense of wonder

    Laurie G. – how fascinating. Did your friend follow in his/her father’s footsteps and learn to dowse as well?

  5. My uncle does this. He really believes in it.

    I myself have doubts.

    But he does find water.

    Which has led me to believe there is water pretty much everywhere under ground if you dig deep enough.

    But here’s a question, why is there water under the ground? Why can you dig down in dirt and find clean water that will come up to your house?

    It makes no sense.

  6. Elizabeth – glad you enjoyed the post, though I’m afraid I didn’t answer your question as to what the ‘secret’ is

    Mary – yes folks are definitely divided in to two different camps when it comes to believing that this really works

  7. very interesting indeed…though i am of a similar mind as the previous poster
    isn’t there water many places and if you dig far enough you’ll find it?
    what do official well digging companies do?
    don’t they just dig willy nilly and hit water?
    we also have spring water and a spring house on our little farmette
    it’s GREAT water and we still have occassional old men stop by while out hunting who just stop in our spring house, grab the old cup hanging there and get a drink 🙂

  8. Hi Winnie, what a fascinating post. I remember seeing diving rods in old Western shows whenever there was a drought.

    It’s not exactly a diving rod, but it kind of reminds me…when we were in Vermont, we got hand-carved sticks you nail to an outside wall. when the weather is rainy or full of moisture (as it is today; we have had rain), the stick points upward. When the weather is try, it points down.

    Isn’t it amazing how you find other cool things when you’re researching something else? Good job, Winnie. oxoxoxoxxoxo

    And way cool, Tabitha, a farmett and your own springhouse. Yay!

  9. Tabitha – Hi. The springhouse sounds fascinating, I’ve heard of them but never seen one.

    Tanya – yes, research, and all the lagnaippe that comes with it, is one of my favorite parts of being a writer

  10. Winnie, I found this practice interesting as well. I have a scene in my second book, The Cowboy Who Came Calling. But growing up, I heard about these people who could find water using a tree branch. My dad even tried it once. He didn’t find water. Maybe he just didn’t have the gift.

    As for me, I’ve never tried it. In fact, if I had and the branch had started rising or pointing to the ground or quivering in my hands I’d have thrown it down and taken off running. 🙂

    And I’m sure for every legitimate witcher, there were hundreds of scam artists who took the people’s money and fled before they got the hole actually dug.

    A wonderful blog as always. You do come up with fascinating information.

  11. I had a boyfriend once who’s father was able to do this. It was a little amazing. He also was able to put his hand on my stomach and stop a stomach ache — I remember this very well.

    Wonderful post.

  12. Linda- LOL on getting spooked if it happened to you. I’d probably be the same way

    Karen – cool about your boyfriend’s dad. Must have been something to experience. Sounds like something that could make its way into a book someday….

  13. I have done this with a couple of copper rods. When I found the underground water stream the rods vibrated and crossed.
    One end of the rods were bent down to make a handle to hold on to.

  14. I recall reading about dowsing at some time in the
    past. Also the first folks in the area where our family home was built had water wells. I’m told
    that they used water witchers to locate the sites
    for their wells.

    Pat Cochran

  15. Interesting post. Many years ago we neededd to put down a new well on a pasture where the well had gone dry. A water witcher was brought in and wondering around the pasture he found the spot where the well now stands. I guess I would say I am a believer but here in Nebraska, I do believe there is loads of underground water so perhaps we would have found water anywhere we would have dug away from the dry well.

  16. Did have a lady come to my Teen Summer Reading program to talk about local legends. She did dowsing with coat hangers. Who knows what energy fields are involved in these sort of things.
    Related, sort of, but when I was in college ( a long time ago) there was a way of divining what children you were going to have/had had making the rounds. Thread a needle and stick the needle in the eraser of a sharpened eraser. Holding onto the thread, hold the pencil over the underside of the wrist. Whether it swings in a circle or back and forth indicates the sex of the child. Weird, but it does work. I never did check with my classmates, but my prediction was correct. I did it on my Mom and aunts. I came up with an extra child for one of my aunts. As it turns out, she had a still birth between two of my cousins that I knew nothing about.

  17. Connie – Interesting – I’m amazed at the number of you who have personal contacts or anecdotes with water witchers!

    Patricia – yes, coat hangers were one of the implements mentioned in the articles I read on the subject. And how intriguing that you have some experience with dowsing yourself

  18. Hi,
    I grew up with a water witcher. My Dad. He witched over a thousand wells and even gave he dpth. He was wrong once. On his own well. He dug later in the season and the water was three feet deeper than he orignally said.
    Daddy was born in 1897. when he was in his seventies, some men came to his home from 100 miles away and asked him to divine thier well. They were putting in a housing tract and wanted to make sure of the water before proceding. they held their hands together to form a seat and carried him to the truck. when they got to the site, they carried him around until he found their well. As far as I know it is still good. they were so excited about it they called the Tacoma New Ribune and they ran a story about him in that paper.
    He nailed our well right on the money. 90 feet and there it was.
    I cannot remember how to tell the depth, but I witched one today myself.
    What fun!!!

  19. I am from Wisconsin and my father had this done when he was building his home over 40+ years ago. They were very successfull but the man he had used has since passed away. I’m in the process of building a home now and am in dire need of someone in Wisconsin that would do this for me. Anyone??



  20. I am from Wisconsin and have to drill a new well – am looking for someone that can do this technique. Can anyone give me a lead?


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