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A French dowsing picture from the 18th Century



Dowsing rods with sleeve handles and pendulums


About Dowsing

This page will take you through the following sections:

Definition of dowsing.
Etymology of the word dowsing.
A brief history of dowsing and its various uses.
Answers to the question, Can Anyone Dowse.
Short description of tools & equipment.
A simple method of dowsing.


To dowse is to search, with the aid of simple hand held tools or instruments, for that which is otherwise hidden from view or knowledge. It can be applied to searches for a great number of artefacts and entities. It is most commonly known by most people in association with searching for underground water; not surprising considering the absolute need for water by man and his animals and cultivated plants which sustain him.

What is less readily known is that dowsing can be also used for searching for other underground features such as archaeological remains, cavities and tunnels, oil, veins of mineral ore, underground building services, missing items and occasionally missing persons.

Although no thorough scientific explanations for dowsing has yet been found it is frequently acknowledged that there is some correlation between the dowsing reaction and changes in magnetic flux when dowsing on site.

What is more difficult for the newcomer to accept is that dowsing can be carried out at a distance and, moreover, the distance itself has no bearing on the results; dowsing can be carried out for something in the next room or the next continent. This is of immense practical use for site dowsers who save themselves and their clients valuable time by initially, at least, dowsing at a distance to seek the direction of the nearest source, for example, or actually dowsing over a map of an area to determine more precisely the target of the search.

This particular faculty is frequently used by those practitioners using dowsing in the area of health when they are able to dowse for causative factors and suitable remedies at a distance from the patient, employing a sample or witness of the person, for example, on which to focus their attention.

Dowsing has been defined by Major-General Jim Scott-Eliot, a Past President of the Society, in his book 'Dowsing - One Man's Way as: 'The ability to use a Natural Sensitivity which enables us to know things we cannot know by the use of the day to day brain or by learning, by experience, or by the use of the five physical senses.'


The origin of the verb is uncertain but was mentioned by in the seventeenth century essay by John Locke. Some Considerations of the Consequences of the Lowering of Interest in relation to dowsing for mines of gold or silver. He spelled the word deusing whilst most modern dictionaries spell it dowsing or dousing. Pronunciation varies from the common to rhyme with browse to the rarer to rhyme with house. In either case dowsers will readily recognise the term. Not infrequently water dowsing is referred to as water divining (in North America water witching). As the French for dowser is sourcier and that for witch sourcier, it takes no great stretch of the imagination to understand the confusion in some quarters about the erroneous idea that the art of dowsing is aligned to some devilish activity. To most, though, the activity is a natural activity of mankind.

The word dowsing as spelled today first appeared in 1831 in The Quarterly Mining Review and it is possible that the word was taken from the Cornish as was suggested by Frederick Jago in his 1887 English-Cornish Dictionary. Alternatively it could be borrowed from the German deuten, to indicate or point out, or the Middle English word duschen to strike, echoing the action of a dowsing rod as it strikes downward to indicate the presence of water.


Whilst it must be accepted that the idea that the biblical Moses, in striking the rock to bring forth much needed water, was demonstrating his skill as a dowser cannot be proven, it is surely likely that the faculty is as old as man, as is man s need for potable water to survive.

We have to rely on illustrations and the written word for evidence of dowsing practice. The mosaic floor in the ancient synagogue at Bet Alfa in Israel s Jezreel Valley contains a zodiac with a figure under Aquarius holding what could well be a forked dowsing rod.

A bas relief in the Shantung Province of China shows Yu, a master of the science of the earth and in those matters concerning water veins and springs. The figure is holding a forked instrument rather like a tuning fork.

In 1556 Georgius Agricola published his work De Re Metallica which clearly shows dowsing activity in the woodcut therein. One dowser is shown cutting a branch from a tree, whilst two others are shown in the act of dowsing using forked twigs, whilst surrounded by miners digging.

Just shortly after this publication, during Elizabeth I reign, German miners were employed in England to gain the zinc ore necessary to blend with the Cornish copper to make bronze for the armaments of the realm. J W Gough relates in his The Mines of Mendip how great faith was placed in the virtues of the divining rod.

Many references to dowsing occur during the seventeenth century including reportage of the activities of Jacques Aymar who, starting as a successful water dowser, found in the 1690s he could also usefully employ his gift in searching for missing persons.

1693 saw the publication of La Verge de Jacob which gives many instances of the use of dowsing rods.

By the beginning of the eighteenth century it is clear that enquirers into the modus operandi of dowsing were divided into two camps; those who believed that the dowsing reaction was the result of a physical influence against those who lent support to the idea of it arising from a mental cause. This controversy remains with us today and it is possible that both may be correct.

During the nineteenth and twentieth centuries dowsing for water to mark the spot for drilling wells and boreholes was a well established practice with exponents such as Mullins and Tompkins combining their practice as dowsers with the business of well drilling, frequently offering their services on the basis of no water, no fee, so confident were they in their abilities.

During the twentieth century dowsing organisations began to be formed with the French Les Amis de la Radiesthesie founded in 1931 whilst this Society was founded by Colonel A H Bell, OBE, DSO, MRI two years later.

Since then many societies have been formed all over the world, expanding the knowledge and practice of dowsing in all its forms. Whilst a scientific explanations still eludes us the subject attracts those who, working usually from a scientific methodology more appropriate to a Newtonian view of the universe, seek to detract from the credibility otherwise afforded to the art. The true value and worth of dowsing can be verified from the track record of successful dowsers and the experience of those who willingly spend good money in employing them today.


The best results are obtained when the dowser has expert knowledge of the field in which he or she employs their dowsing skills. Apart from the subtle interaction between exoteric and esoteric knowledge which may assist success, a dowser with expert knowledge in the geology of water and its qualities, for example, is all the more able to bring discernment into play to rightly question the dowsing results found so as to avoid error. It scarcely need be said that in many areas, particularly when dowsing the causes of ill health, such a level of knowledge is vital.

The uses of dowsing are many and include the following:-

The search for water is an important and practical exposition of the art. In addition to predicting the position where water may be successfully found a good dowser will also be able to indicate its portability, depth, volume, pressure and the sort of geological strata that will have to be drilled through to reach the source. Whilst most people have some idea of water lying underground as a water table dowsers are also able to pinpoint water lying in underground streams or aquifers when adjacent drilling would only be into dry rock.

Archaeological Searches
Dowsers are able to detect changes in soil formations beneath the surface and to find hidden foundations of earlier buildings.

Soil Testing and Agriculture
Soils can be analysed for acidity, organic content and nutrient status. Plants and animals can be checked for diseases and seeds for germination.

Mineral and Oil Prospecting
As indicated above the use of dowsing in searching for minerals is ages old and in more recent times the art has been successfully used to locate oil fields.

Site surveys
Dowsing has been employed to locate hidden and dangerous mine shafts, underground tunnels and all manner of building services such as electricity, gas, water, telephone lines on building sites.

Healing and Medicine
Dowsing is widely used to detect and seek the causes of imbalance leading to poor health as well as determining the most suitable remedies. Food intolerance and allergies is another area where dowsing has been of help.

Earth Energies and Geopathic Stress
The study of the energy patterns associated with standing stones, circles and other ancient sites can be greatly assisted by the use of dowsing. How these energies interact with more modern buildings and the people who dwell therein can be determined with the use of the dowsing faculty and advice given on how to minimise malign effects.

Missing Objects
Although a difficult and problematic area for many dowsers, success in this area has been clearly demonstrated. Again, expert advice should be sought.

Can Anyone Dowse?

Basically, we think the answer is yes, insofar as the ability appears to be a natural human faculty. After all animals have the instinct to seek water often from many mile distant. It is a skill which can be taught and the Society regularly holds lectures, courses and workshops to this end. However, a few people do appear to have some difficulty, whilst at the other end of the spectrum lie those who have a particular gift.

Young children often demonstrate a natural flair for dowsing but most of us can develop the art by practise and perseverance.

Tools and Equipment

The instruments and tools dowsers use are simple. For the most part they are simply an extension of the human response giving clearer signals than can sometimes be detected without them.

V Rod: Traditionally made from a forked twig, this instrument can be made up from any springy material such as wood, cane, plastic or metal.

Angle Rods: These are L shaped rods, usually used in pairs. The sorter arm of the L is held in the closed palm with the long section parallel to the ground and to each other. Typically, when the target is reached the rods will cross indicating the spot.

Wand: This is a single long rod held in the hand and will react with circular or oscillating movements.

Pendulum: A bob on a twine reacts with a number of different movements and is often used in conjunction with charts or over a map for distant dowsing.

There are a large variety of such tools and they come in all shapes and sizes but they are almost all variations of the above.

A Simple Dowsing Method

This example uses two angle rods which can be simply and quickly made from a pair of metal coat hangers cut appropriately and bent into a right angle. The short arm of the L is placed in the closed hand with just enough pressure to allow the long arm to swivel but not to wave about uncontrollably. Some people prefer to place the short arm inside a tube such as that obtained from an old ball point pen and this is a matter of personal preference.

The long arms of the rods are held parallel to the ground and parallel to each other as the dowser walks forward over the search area. It is sometimes helpful, in order to bring some degree of stability to the search mode to allow the long arms of the rods to dip down just a little to prevent wild swings of the rods giving false indications.

It is important for the dowser to have a clear mental focus of that which is being sought. Additionally it can be helpful to hold a small sample of the substance sought in the palm of one hand.

When the site of the target is reached, typically the rods will swing together and cross. The spot can be marked. This can be checked by walking towards this point from the opposite direction. If the target lies along a line, such as an underground water pipe or stream, the action can be repeated to the right and left of the original search with markers being laid down on the ground to indicate the run of the line. Alternatively the run can be followed, holding the rods as before, when it is likely that the rods will move to the left if you walk to the right of the line or right if you walk to the left.

Occasionally other dowsing signals will be given and in this case it is necessary for the dowsers to categorise and interpret their own signals in the light of experience.

The depth of the target can be determined by use of what is known as The Bishop s Rule. Having established the site of the target, the search mode is again adopted and the dowser walks away from the target until the rods again cross. This can be checked by walking away in the opposite direction. The distance from the target to where the rods cross is equal to the depth underground. Obviously there are limits to this technique depending on the nature of the terrain.

More sophisticated dowsing techniques can be learnt and a good place to start is to attend a British Society of Dowsers Foundation Course.


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For some years it was hypothesized that some underground emanation or occult force moved the branch, but modern researchers tend to favour the idea that the operator responds to the hidden water in such a way that his own nervous energy moves the branch. Some theorists have compared this effect with table-turning or the raps often reported within Spiritualism. This does not preclude the possibility that some electro-magnetic impulse stimulates the dowser's muscles through the nervous system, although there is no evidence of such an impulse.

Modern dowsers have developed considerable sensitivity and skill and will venture to estimate both the depth and possible yield of underground water. In addition to branches, dowsers employ many other forms of indicators—rods made of whalebone or wire, twisted coat-hangers, rods with cavities for a sample of the material sought for, and especially small pendulums. Since international agreements now outlaw whale hunting, plastic indicators are being substituted for whalebone.

The study and detection of human response to water, minerals, and other underground materials. Dowsing, or "water witching," is usually distinguished from the related subject of radiesthesia by its focus on nonliving materials such as water, metals, minerals, or buried objects. Both dowsing and radiesthesia operators employ a divining-rod, pendulum, or similar device as an indicator of unconscious human sensitivity to hidden materials. Radiesthesia extends such detection to medical diagnosis and treatment, discovery of missing persons, telepathy, clairvoyance, and related paranormal phenomena. In Europe (particularly in France), however, the two terms are used synonymously.

Radiesthesia is the paranormal or parapsychological ability to detect radiation within the human body. According to the theory, all human bodies give off unique or characteristic radiations as do all other physical bodies or objects. Such radiations are often termed an aura.

A practitioner of radiesthesia believes in his or her ability to detect the interplay of these radiations. Thus radiesthesia is cited as the explanation of such phenomena as dowsing by rods and pendulums in order to locate buried substances, diagnose illnesses, and the like. Some radiesthesia practitioners like Israeli mentalist Uri Geller or German astrologer Alexander Rostamí claim that they can help oil companies to find crude petroleum reserves and other natural resources by using paranormal abilities, but this claim has not yet been proven.

Some dowsers even search for hidden materials over a scale map of a district, using a small suspended pendulum instead of a rod, and map dowsing has become synonymous with teleradiesthesia; (i.e., the tracing of materials or persons using a representation of an area instead of visiting the actual area). Some kind of psychic or other paranormal link is suggested between a district and its representation on a map.

Although dowsing and radiesthesia remain controversial, there seems to be considerable successes in water witching and the discovery of buried minerals. Water diviners have been widely employed by governments and businesses. One skilled dowser, Major C. A. Pogson, was official water diviner to the government of India between October 1925 and February 1930. During this period Pogson travelled thousands of miles locating sites for wells and bores and was a consultant on all matters relating to underground water.

The oldest organization in the field is the British Society of Dowsers, founded in the 1930s. There is also an American Society of Dowsers, which can be contacted at P.O. Box 24, Brained St., Danville, Vermont.

Meaning: searching for underground water or minerals by using a dowsing rod

Sources of information:
Barrett, William, and Theodore Besterman. The Divining Rod: An Experimental and Psychological Investigation. London, 1926. Reprint, New Hyde Park, N.Y.: University Books, 1968.
Benedikt, M. Ruten-und Pendel-lehre. Vienna; Leipzig, 1917.
Besterman, Theodore. Water Divining: New Facts & Theories. London: Methuen, 1938.
Bird, Christopher. The Diving Hand. New York: E. P. Dutton, 1979.
Cameron, Verne L. Aquavideo; Locating Underground Water. Santa Barbara, Calif.: El Cariso, 1970.
——. Map Dowsing. Santa Barbara, Calif.: El Cariso, 1971.
——. Oil Locating. Santa Barbara, Calif.: El Cariso, 1971.
Carrié, Abbé. L'hydroscopographie et métalloscopographie, ou l'art de découvrir les sources et les gisement metallifers au moyen de l'électro-magnétisme. Saintes, France, 1863.
Chambers, Howard V. Dowsing, Water Witches & Divining Rods for the Millions. Los Angeles: Sherbourne Press, 1969.
Chevreul, M. E. De la Baguette divinatoire, du pendule dit explorateur, et des tables tournantes. Paris, 1854.
De France, Henry. The Elements of Dowsing. London, 1948.
De Morogues, Baron. Observations sur le fluide organoelectrique. Paris, 1854.
De Vallemont, Abbe. La physique occulte, ou Traité de la baguette divinatoire. Paris, 1693.
Ellis, Arthur J. The Divining Rod: A History of Water Witching, with a Bibliography. Washington, 1917.
Klinckowstroem, Graf von. Virgula divina. Ein Beitrag zur Geschichte der Wünschelrute. Berlin, 1910.
Maby, J. Cecil, and T. B. Franklin. The Physics of the Divining Rod. London, 1939.
Mager, Henri. Water Diviners and Their Methods. London, 1931.
Maury, Marguerite. How to Dowse: Experimental and Practical Radiasthesia. London: G. Bell and Sons, 1953.
Mermet, Abbe. Principles & Practice of Radiesthesie. London, 1967.
Nicolas, Jean. La verge de Jacob, ou l'art de trouver les trésors les sources, les limites, les métaux, les mines, les minéraux et autres cachées, par l'usage du baton fourché. Lyons, France, 1693. Translated as Jacob's Rod. London: Thomas Welton, 1875.
Nielsen, Greg, and J. Polansky. Pendulum Power. New York: Warner, 1977.
Roberts, Kenneth. Henry Gross and His Dowsing Rod. Garden City, N.Y.: Doubleday, 1952.
Stark, Erwin E. A History of Dowsing and Energy Relationships. North Hollywood, Calif.: BAC, 1978.
Tromp, S. W. Psychical Physics: A Scientific Analysis of Dowsing, Radiesthesia & Kindred Divining Phenomena. New York: Elsevier, 1949.
Underwood, Peter. The Complete Book of Dowsing & Divining. London, 1980.
Vogt, Evon Z., and Ray Hyman. Water Witching, U.S.A. 2nd ed. Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 1979.
Wayland, Bruce and Shirley Wayland. Steps to Dowsing Power. Life Force Press, 1976.
Weaver, Herbert. Diving, the Primary Sense: Unfamiliar Radiation in Nature, Art and Science. London: Routledge & Kegan Paul, 1978.
Willey, Raymond C. Modern Dowsing. Cottonwood, AZ: Esoteric Publications, 1976.
Wyman, Walker D. Witching for Water, Oil, Pipes, and Precious Minerals. River Falls: University of Wisconsin Press, 1977.


Dowsing for water has been scientifically investigated in two studies, the Munich study in the late 1980s and the Kassel study in 2004, both referring to the locations in Germany in which these experiments were performed. Both studies failed to conclusively prove that dowsing is more than guesswork. Yet, the authors of the Munich study contended that a few of the 500 dowsers tested:
in particular tasks, showed an extraordinarily high rate of success, which can scarcely if at all be explained as due to chance ... a real core of dowser-phenomena can be regarded as empirically proven ...

Researcher and skeptic Jim T. Enright reviewed the data from the Munich tests and disputed these claims, while in the Kassel study the dowsers fared no better than chance. A 1982 review of the literature concluded that, considerably more experimental work is required to support the case that dowsing is a psi process.

The scientific study of dowsing in Munich, Germany was performed in 1987 to 1988 and involved more than 500 dowsers in more than 10,000 double-blind tests.
Five hundred dowsers were initially tested for their "skill", and the experimenters selected the best 43 among them. These 43 were then tested in the following way. On the ground floor of a two-story barn, water was pumped through a pipe; before each test, this pipe was moved in a direction perpendicular to the water flow. On the upper floor, each dowser was asked to determine the position of the pipe. Over two years, the 43 dowsers performed 843 such tests. Of the 43 pre-selected and extensively tested candidates, at least 37 of them showed no dowsing ability. The results from the remaining 6 were said to be better than chance, resulting in the experimenters conclusion that a real core of dowser-phenomena can be regarded as empirically proven.

Enright responds
Five years after the Munich study was published, scientist and sceptic Jim T. Enright contended that these results are merely consistent with statistical fluctuations and do not demonstrate any real ability. He noted that the best tester was on average 4 millimetres out of 10 meters closer to a mid-line guess, an advantage of 0.0004% advantage. The study s authors responded but Enright remains unconvinced.

More recently, a study was undertaken in Kassel, Germany, under the direction of the Gesellschaft zur wissenschaftlichen Untersuchung von Parawissenschaften (GWUP) [Society for the Scientific Investigation of the Parasciences]. The three-day test of some 30 dowsers involved plastic pipes through which a large flow of water could be controlled and directed. The pipes were buried 50 centimeters under a level field. On the surface, the position of each pipe was marked with a colored stripe, so all the dowsers had to do was tell whether there was water running through the pipe. All the dowsers signed a statement agreeing this was a fair test of their abilities and that they expected a 100 percent success rate. However, the results were no better than what would have been expected by chance.

In 1982 the department for geophysical studies at Lund University tested different methods for karst water channels on Gotland. The test included three geophysical techniques (slingram, VLF and ground radar) and one biophysical (dowsing). About a third of the dowsers had reliable and statistically significant reactions.

Geophysical explanations
Some researchers have investigated possible physical or geophysical explanations for dowsing abilities. For example, Soviet geologists have made claims for the abilities of dowsers, which are difficult to account for in terms of the reception of normal sensory cues. Some authors suggest that these abilities may be explained by postulating human sensitivity to small magnetic field gradient changes.
One study concludes that dowsers respond to a 60 Hz electromagnetic field, but this response does not occur if the kidney area or head are shielded.

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