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Water Witching: Fact or Fake?

Water Witching: Fact or Fake?

Some call it “the gift.” Others refer to it as “dowsing,” “doodlebugging,” or “water witching”—the practice of locating water underground using a forked stick. Sounds simple, but does it work?

The History of Dowsing

According to the American Society of Dowsers, divining the location of water dates back many millennia. In the Tassili Caves of northern Africa, an 8,000-year-old cave painting depicts a man holding a forked stick, apparently using it to search for water. In fact, historical images that appear to represent dowsing appear all over the world—in the temples of Egyptian pharaohs, in ancient Chinese etchings and more.

Although most would say that dowsing is nothing more than a myth, there are quite a few people today who believe in this practice. In fact, when California was in the middle of their worst drought, they turned to local dowsers to uncover hidden sources of water. And, despite the skepticism, there are even a few scientists who think there’s more here than meets the eye.

What Tool is Used?

While the majority of dowsers search for water, some practitioners use this technique to find all sorts of things: gold, bombs, or even the missing remote control to the TV. Dowsing tools include a variety of things, such as pendulums, car keys, wire rods, coat hangers and pliers.

The most popular dowsing tool, however, is the dowsing rod. It’s a simple tool – nothing more than a forked branch cut from a live tree. You can use virtually any kind of tree, but Y-shaped sticks from willows, witch hazel, and various fruit and nut trees seem to be the most popular.

How to Dowse for Water

If you’d like to try dowsing for yourself, it’s really quite simple. Cut a Y-shaped stick from a tree, making sure that all three sections of the Y are between 12 and 16 inches long. Your dowsing rod should also be relatively flat—no branches sticking out in odd directions.

Grab both ends of the Y in an underhanded grasp (so that the heels of your hands are facing towards the sky, as shown in the photo), and hold the dowsing rod horizontally so that it points in front of you. Keep your grasp somewhat loose and slowly walk around searching for water. Some say that it helps if you concentrate on finding water as you walk. As you approach a water source, you should feel your dowsing rod start to bend towards the ground. This is the tricky part; many experienced dowsers say that as you zero in on the water source, the dowsing rod will bend towards the earth quite sharply, which means you’ll need to tighten your grasp on the rod so that you don’t drop it.

Is Dowsing Real?

Most experts—other than dowsing experts, that is—classify this art to the realm of pseudoscience. Over the last century, several studies have shown that the average dowser is no better at predicting the location of water than anyone else.

However, there is one study, conducted by the German government in the 1990s, that perplexed the scientific community. During this study’s 10-year research period, researchers paired up experienced geologists and dowsers, sending them to dry regions like Sri Lanka, Kenya, and Yemen. Scientists were surprised to find that many of the dowsers were spot-on. In Sri Lanka alone, drill teams drilled 691 wells under the supervision of dowsers and found water 96% of the time.

Now, skeptics would argue that the reason for this is simple: No matter where you drill, as long as you’re willing to drill deep enough, you’re bound to find water eventually. However, in this particular study, the dowsers were also asked to tell their drill teams at what depth they’d find the water and how much water they would find. The study’s findings showed that the dowsers’ predictions concerning depth and volume were accurate to within 10% to 20%.

No one knows why dowsing works—or if, indeed, it does work. Some researchers believe that humans can detect the presence of water by some trace amount of energy that it releases. Others believe that the talent is all in the dowsing rod. Still more say that this art is nothing more than a clever hoax.

Fortunately, no matter where you stand on the dowsing debate, this is one bit of ancient wisdom that you can easily put to the test!

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  • Brian Carver says:

    It works! I had coffee from the well my 100% Cherokee grandmother found in 1962. Although she passed away in 1989..I’ve grown up on this well as I’ve lived here since and its where I grew up…knock on wood, I hope it holds up for the rest of my life! Thanks

  • MuTru says:

    So, the claim here is all the studies that show dowsing DOESN’T work are somehow disproved by one study that implied it may (an implication that has other explanations, such as the ability to interpret the terrain). Enough with the “energies” and superstitions and “but it worked for me” anecdotes. Data from controlled studies is proof this is nothing more than stuff and nonsense.

  • Rastafarian says:

    “Dowsing” for water is 100% BS. I had two local gurus, both claimed they were great dowsers, come out and dowse the same area. They both “found” water in different places. Two attempts to drill, both dry holes. Not a drop. Wasted $14,000 on these dry holes. I told them to throw their dowsing rods away.
    Next time I try for water I am using science, geology, not BS.

  • Jeffrey says:

    There is no “debate”. I can do this with a dogwood stick and never asked for the ability. People who don’t “believe” in it sounds just as ignorant as not believing that the fungal network plays a massive role in natural forest health. They are simply uneducated on the matter. Much like with Christ, many things can’t be explained by the community of so-called scientists. Absence of evidence is not evidence of absence, however in quantum physics we DO know that what we can sense with our 5 basic senses, can only perceive about 5% of reality, while the 95% is “super-natural” or beyond the 5 senses. Water well witching with wood fits into this 95%, just like angels, demons, or the rest of reality that you can’t see.

  • David Wilson says:

    My grandfather taught me in the 1966 that the Y stick needed to come from a fruit tree.

  • Dylan Eaglestone says:

    What materials are best used to make a diving too like the one in the picture above?
    With the copper piece at the end

  • fejneerg says:

    I did it as a child and it absolutely works. I don’t know why this is still discussed. I didn’t know what I was doing and no one told me anything, I just held two bent coat hangers loosely as instructed by my father who was skeptical (and had heard the advice from a friend and thought it was a put-on), I walked across the yard and when I passed the pipe, they crossed. As I walked passed the pipe, they kept crossing. When I backed up, they crossed in reverse. It can and does work. My father took a shovel, and dug straight down at the point where the rods pointed at each other, hit the pipe, busted it open and fixed the issue with our main. There was no way to fake this experiment. He was floored, and I had no idea what was going on. There was no way to fake that. Our back yard was our an acre and our front was probably around a quarter. There’s just not that much luck to be found. It was dead on and worked backwards and forwards. It is not easy for adults to do, apparently, because they tense up. This is widely known.

    • Susan Higgins says:

      Hi fejneerg, thanks for sharing your info!

    • Veronica L March says:

      I had a co-worker who showed me how to dowse, he made me (2)L-shaped copper rods. It took a while to learn how to hold them loosely while balancing them. I had the opportunity to test them at our 40 acre farm when the pipe between the 2 ponds stopped flowing. I went in and grabbed the copper rods and just like mentioned above the rods would cross when I walked across the area where my husband then excavated and found the line.

  • Toby Fortner says:

    My father was really good at finding water for people he used wires i prefer a forked stick dowsing doesn’t have to be proven to me i know without a shadow of a doubt it works i haven’t figured out how to scientifically prove it but i can make anyone feel what i feel as long as im touching the stick you will feel it to there has to be a way you could measure the force being put on my stick its so strong if i try to hold the stick and keep walking the stick will break

  • Jacob says:

    David, my wife’s uncle witched for water at the place where we build our first house soon after we where married. He cut a branch cut Y and when he found a stream we marked it. He kept on looking and found another one that was perpendicular to the first. He found out wher they crossed each other then he put the ends in his one hand and held it over where he said they crossed, the end of the Y started bobbing up and down, each bob was a foot. Long story short is we couldn’t pump our well dry, ever.

  • Richard Parker says:

    my dad did this for years using a fork from a chokecherry tree , nothing else worked for him . i went with him many time when he was witching ,i would mark where with a stone . and the people came in with a drill and drilled another place with no luck . we told them where to drill ,they drill down so far and hit good water .one place we did did the same thing but hit bad water (only lasted a month ) we used a water drill and went done 50 ‘ and water was fine . that was 30 years ago and still pumping good water . my dad is gone now , but every now and then i cut a branch just to show how its done

  • Laura says:

    There is an article in our newspaper re: a man finding an ancient cemetary by dousing. The article is in The News commercial, Wednesday, June21,2017. He says the cemetery located is located on private land near Seminary, Ms. at a place calledPeps Point that dates to the 1800’s. The people buried there are relatives of his. He’s into genealogy.

  • Michael Kluck says:

    By the way… two rods are not necessary. One works fine.

  • Michael Kluck says:

    I have been dowsing for 50 years with complete success. I don’t care if it is a plastic pipe, a 2×4, a stream of water or whatever… I can find it, even with a dowsing rod made of wooden dowel rods. IT IS NOT MAGNETIC! No “scientist” or anyone else is telling me it’s nonsense! I just recently found a misplaced pair of channel locks with a dowsing rod. It led me right to them! Thank you, Michael

  • John Benscoter says:

    Hi, I am a 3rd Generation Water-Witch. I work for the USDA—NRCS as a ACES Technician. I water-witch with my job 3 to 4 days a week. I use a steel wire as my tool. I find underground water veins. At 20 to 30 feet from where the water comes to or near the ground’s surface, by holding the wire (bent on a 90 degree angle) I get a magnetic attraction to the point of the start of the water vein. The wire is magnetically attracted to that point. I walk to that point and when I get to the exact point my wire will turn in the direction of the underground water vein. It only work for me, this is the theory that I developed and have studied: 1) Water is a good conductor of electricity 2) The Clay in our Northern Pa. has almost equal amounts of + and – charged Clay particles, this is why you can make a ball out of Clay. 3) The combination of the flowing water as a good conductor of electricity, the + and – of the clay particle’s form and develop Clay veins or clay conduit (pipe). I know it works I use it nearly everyday. It works over concrete, frozen ground or even during Dry times. Feel free to contact me if anyone should want to talk about the subject. I am John Benscoter, my phone# is 570/833/4250, my address is 345 Beech Grove Road, Laceyville, Pa. 18623, my email is johnrbenscoter@yahoo.com

  • Ljstrupp says:

    My dad wit he’d for water for over 50 years. He was never wrong and always found water. He said when you first felt the willow stick move you counted from there to when it went straight down. This would give you the number of feet you had to go down to hit water. It he was never wrong and the water was always good. I am the only one of six kids that can do it too. Not a lot of call for it in the big city.

  • Jeanette Robinson says:

    An old well striker gave me the cut coat hangers l shaped said walk around. I did all of a sudden they went down. I hollered. What’s happening. That’s where I’m going to drill
    It wasn’t marked. He said keep walking at a different. Spot they turned. Outward again I hollered. That’s underground. Standing. Water. Scary. Gave me chills. I did Alot of exploring over time. Could find water. Lines. Septic. Systems. Even tried over water bed & wands turned out. He also told me how to measure depth & gal per min. I tried again when my sister had a piece of farm ground. Driller came within 2 in of my spot he dowsed also. Some of my kids can do it some can’t. I think it has to do with magnetics.when I worked in an IBM machine room I hacd to wear an antimagnetic watch to keep time.

  • Ken Sterne says:

    I moved to a rural community from Chicago in the early 70’s. The village maintenance crew (3 of them) were all downers. If they ever failed to find water (or pipes) no one talked about it. I acquired the skill and it works—sometimes.

  • Kristy says:

    My Gramma, who passed earlier this year, witched the well for her and Grampa’s house when it was built. She showed me how at an early age. I’m not near as good as she was. 50+ years later that well is still going and has the cleanest water in the area (tested every 2 years)

  • Bob Sogla says:

    Dowsing is an absolute joke. I hired 3 dowsers to witch my property. Do you think any one of them could agree on a location???? Hell no…

    I went with the pick of the most highly recommended dowser. And the hole was dry at 520 feet. Then I drilled were it was most convenient (my pick) and we hit 20 gallons a minute at 132 feet. None of the dowsers rods or twigs even twitched at this location…

  • Genevieve Pryor says:

    I have no idea as to the reason why, but I seem to be more adept at finding lost graves than water. My grandfather was the water finder and he said use willow for finding water. I used wire for finding the lost graves.
    My cousin showed me how. He was a whiz on that. But I think he was good at finding anything ?
    At a friends’ request, we doubled up to find a lost baby’s grave ( quicker) and what we found was a surprise to us. When my friend double checked her cousins’ info, it was a TWINS grave we found !

  • Marchetia gibson says:

    It works

  • dutch zimmerman says:

    I believe those were well drillers,not well diggers. Unless they used shovels. I drilled wells for 45 years.

  • Andrea says:

    A neighbor was accomplished in this and thought I might be able to do it as well. He handed me his dowsing rod, which was a forked copper wire, and it worked!
    I honestly didn’t believe until that rod practically jumped out of my hand to point downward. He researched the area and it was a water source. I don’t know how it works, but it appears to. It scared my hubby, though, and he asked me not to do it again….apparently didn’t want to be married to someone ‘spooky”. Somewhat superstitious of him, huh?

  • jean spruill says:

    I can witch water and find water lines with forked stick or metal hangers, this begin when I was 9 or 10 years old my grandfather was the one who found where water was for everyone who lived near us or for people who ask him to. I told him I didn’t believe that a stick could find water, he said well come with me he cut a stick and showed me how to hold it and told me to hold tight and start walking , I really didn’t know what to say when that stick turn in my hands and I was holding so tight the bark peeled of in my hands it went down then next step it came back up and it did that in the same place every time, So I believe he passed the ability to witch to me when he handed the stick to me that day.

  • owejack says:

    My Grandfarther was a well digger and I saw him use a forked stick from willow trees to find the best place to dig a well. It worked every time. He seemed to think it worked because the live limb needed the water source.

  • Lori meyer says:

    My mom could do this..we called them water witches…

  • priscilla langford says:

    My Father used to talk about doing it himself.

  • Dawne mezurek says:

    Diana fowler… we also have a farm that was owned by old man jones in ohio. Yes he dosed and found and also claimed underground rivers!

  • DENISE e. aLLEN says:

    My husband and I moved upstate n.y. 14 years ago. We needed a well dug and was told that we should use the old local farmer who could easily locate the water source for us. We contacted him and he came with a hanger wire and took about 20 minutes to locate the water source. Sure enough when the well digger came to dig for the water he only went down 25 feet before he hit a artisian well with water 30 gallons per minute. True Story.

  • s hoff says:

    There was a local man who used an old pair of slip joint pliers to find water. He would open the pliers pointing them straight up and they would get pulled out of his hands over a good well spot. He would then hang the pliers from his finger and they would spin around and tell him the depth of the water. It was a strong well and He was only off by 5 feet….darndest thing I ever saw

    • David says:

      I have witched successfully for water lines with 2 coat hangers spot on every time. The depth is what I need for wells. Please give more detail on that method.

  • leroy says:

    my wife and i had a water witch find water for us to put a well in at our northern pa cabin,he was spot on and the depth also spot on. i belivedit he used a peach branch.

  • Chalie Bray says:

    An excellent article, Amber Kanuckel. You didn’t answer your own question, though. All anyone has to do to find their own answer is to contact their local water welldriller and ask them if dowsing for underground water really works. They ALL use this technique everyday.

  • Jim Hoyt says:

    Love this kind of folklore.
    Not sure if I do agree as a Master Naturalist and geologist helper but Granpa did use Dowsing to dig a well in Jefferson County Illinois to supplement the family cisterns.
    The well water was so hard that most people had trouble with it especially with washing clothes.
    On the spirtual side of this however Grandpa was descended from a Scotsman….

  • Diana Fowler says:

    “Old Man Jones”was THE guy you wanted to drill for water well when I was a kid. He always “witched” or “dowsed” before drilling. When we bought our farm in Ohio, in 1966,it only had a hand dug cistern. He witched and said there was an underground “river” but extremely deep. He was correct. You could turn on all spigots and run all night without running dry.

  • Rosalie says:

    I would not drill a well without the advice of a witcher. Not worth the risk!.

  • Allen & Cindy says:

    We use this same technique to locate graves except we use brass rods. We can determine male or female, how deep the grave is and by determining the length of the grave figure if it’s a child or adult. I don’t know how it works but it does.

  • James Lindley says:

    When we were having some work done, the guy we hired used 2 bent pieces of coat hanger wire to locate the pipe to out septic tank. I already knew exactly where it was,but I still watched to see if he would locate it.

  • Cindy Chapin says:

    My father did this.He dug wells and I never known him to be wrong.And also he seem to be able to tell soft water from hard water.
    I Don’t know how he done it but he could do it.

  • Deanna says:

    My husband uses copper rods to find water line, electrical lines and found our Costa Rican septic tank. My father ‘witched’ wells for a lot of people. I was always told it had to do with the electrical charges of the rods and the water.

  • Deb Richardson says:

    Love the article. I just had a discussion with my husband about the use of a forked stick for locating water. I can remember my grandfather “wishing” a well, as he called it. He and my dad then drove a sand point to find water for the well at their cabin in northern WI. What a great memory from my childhood.

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