For some years it was hypothesized that some underground
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
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
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:
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 organoélectrique.
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.
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,
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,
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
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
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
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
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
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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