It's an ancient art used for finding water, buried treasure and even missing people. Here's what it is, how it works, the methods and tools - and how you can learn to dowse
A man walking through an empty field holding a Y-shaped stick before him in both hands can be a peculiar sight. What is he doing? Either he's leading some bizarre, solitary parade... or he's dowsing.
WHAT IS DOWSING?
Dowsing, in general terms, is the art of finding hidden things. Usually, this is accomplished with the aid of a dowsing stick, rods or a pendulum. Also known as divining, water witching, doodlebugging and other names, dowsing is an ancient practice whose origins are lost in long-forgotten history. However, it is thought to date back at least 8,000 years. Wall murals, estimated to be about 8,000 years old, discovered in the Tassili Caves of North Africa depict tribesmen surrounding a man with a forked stick, possibly dowsing for water.
Artwork from ancient China and Egypt seem to show people using forked tools in what might have been dowsing activities. Dowsing may have been mentioned in the Bible, although not by name, when Moses and Aaron used a "rod" to locate water. The first unambiguous written accounts of dowsing come from the Middle Ages when dowsers in Europe used it to help find coal deposits. During the 15th and 16th centuries, dowsers were often denounced as practitioners of evil. Martin Luther said dowsing was "the work of devil" (and hence the term "water witching").
In more modern times, dowsing has been used to find water for wells, mineral deposits, oil, buried treasure, archaeological artifacts - even missing people. How the dowsing technique was first discovered is unknown, yet those who practice it are unwavering in their affirmations that it does work. (For more information on the history of dowsing, see Dowsing: Ancient History.)
HOW DOES DOWSING WORK?
The quick answer is that no one really knows - not even experienced dowsers. Some theorize there is a psychic connection established between the dowser and the sought object. All things, living and inanimate, the theory suggests, possess an energy force. The dowser, by concentrating on the hidden object, is somehow able to tune in to the energy force or "vibration" of the object which, in turn, forces the dowsing rod or stick to move. The dowsing tool may act as a kind of amplifier or antenna for tuning into the energy.
Skeptics, of course, say that dowsing doesn't work at all. Dowsers who seem to have a track record for success, they contend, are either lucky or they have good instincts or trained knowledge for where water, minerals and the like can be found. For believer or skeptic, there's no definitive proof either way.
Albert Einstein, however, was convinced of the authenticity of dowsing. He said, "I know very well that many scientists consider dowsing as they do astrology, as a type of ancient superstition. According to my conviction this is, however, unjustified. The dowsing rod is a simple instrument which shows the reaction of the human nervous system to certain factors which are unknown to us at this time."
Next page: Types of dowsing; Who can dowse