Dowsing, frequently called «water witching,» is a method of divination for discovering water, metals, and minerals, in or under ground. It is also used to discover leys.

It is distinguishable from a related divinatory method radiesthesia because the latter method not only attempts to discover inanimate but animate objects as well such as missing person, and also is used in the detection of illnesses and prescribing their treatment. Dowsing used for medical diagnosis is permitted in Europe and Great Britain but prohibited in the United States. However, almost everywhere the terms dowsing and radiesthesia have became synonymous.

The origination dates back about 7000 years. It is known to have been practiced among the Egyptians and Chinese. During the Middle Ages it was use extensively in Europe to discover coal and water.

Martin Luther condemned the practice as witchcraft which was equated to Devil-worship. Nevertheless, dowsing continued as a popular form of divination until the 19th century when science cast a dim light on it by proclaiming it invalid, «occult.» In 1897, Sir William Barrett, of the Royal College in Dublin, stated the «few subjects appear to be as unworthy of serious notice and so utterly beneath scientific investigation as that of the divining rod.»

Dowsing as well as radiesthesia operate by the use of a rod, commonly a «Y» shaped stick, formerly a branch of hazel. Frequently before beginning the dowsing practice, the dowser «attunes» himself to the object being sought. Included within this attuning method are techniques of visualization or exposing the rod or pendulum to a location, personal belonging, or type of material which is being sought.

The forked dowsing rod was traditionally made of a hazel branch because the wood is known for its long reputed magical properties. Other woods which are reputed to have magical properties include ash, rowan, and willow. Also these are considered excellent for wands.

However, rods have been made of such metals as aluminum and copper. Some have even been twisted coat hangers. Other dowsers preferred rods of whalebone but the supply was extinguished with the whalebone agreement, then many turned to plastic indicators. For dowsing in medical diagnosis many prefer small pendulums on strings.

After this method of attuning has been completed the dowser holds the rod by its handles, formerly the upper ends of the «Y» shaped hazel branch, and proceeds looking for what is sought. If, for example, the person is seeking water he searches thoroughly in a location pointing the branch or rod downward. Presumably when the person comes across an underground stream or reservoir of water the dowsing rod will turn in his hands, sometimes with force.

For many years speculation was that such turning of the rod was caused by an underground emanation or an occult force. However, now spawn by an increased interest in dowsing during 20th century, some modern theorists believe the turning of the rod may be caused by a response caused by the person’s sensitivity for the object for which he is seeking.

This theory does not, however, preclude the possibility of some sort of electro-magnetic impulse which stimulates the muscles in the individual’s nervous system.

Within this past century dowsing has been applied in archaeological and geological work. Some dowsers are so sensitive that they can predict the depth at which the well or reservoir lies underground and the amount of water or material that it is capable of supplying.

Sometimes the dowser does not even physically go to the location that he is being questioned about. A map of the location is brought to the person. The he sets up small pendulums over the maps which assists him in answering the inquirer’s questions. Such a procedure has became known as teledowsing, with the theory behind it that there is the establishment a telepathic link between the location and the map.

Dowsing is still viewed by some with skepticism, but there seems to be sufficient evidence to show that the practice has some merits. Between October 1925 and February 1930 Major C. A. Pogson served as the Official Water Diviner for the Government of India. He traveled thousands of miles finding wells and bores. All during these years he was consulted on every matter relating to underground water.

Both the American and British societies for dowsers encourage people to learn more about the science and to participate in all of its areas. The addresses of both societies are as follows: American Society of Dowsers, Inc., Danville, Vermont, 05828. British Society of Dowsers, Sycamore College, Tamley Lane, Hastingleigh, Ashford, Kent, TN25 5HW, England. A.G.H.

Related: Tyromancy


Guiley, Rosemary Ellen. The Encyclopedia of Witches and Witchcraft. New York: Facts On File, 1989.
Shepard, Leslie A., ed. Encyclopedia of Occultism and Parapsychology, 3rd ed. Detroit: Gale Research, Inc., 1991.

Joseph M. Allen, Instructor