Dowsing is controversial and has many ardent adherents. There are people that will swear on a stack of Bibles that they have used water witching and dowsing or have witnessed finding water or underground pipes or wires. But controlled tests and studies over many decades yielded results no better than chance.
Dowsing is the art of finding hidden things with aid of dowsing sticks, rods, or a pendulum. A forked stick, a small Y-shaped willow branch, is most often used. The dowser holds the branch by the ends of the Y-shaped branch with the stem end pointed straight ahead and parallel to the ground. The dowser begins to walk over the specified area. When the end is the branch is suddenly and violently drawn downward, the dowser says, “Dig here for water”.
Other dowsers will use two L-shaped metal rods, one in each hand. The short arms are held upright and free to swivel, and the long arm points forward. When something is discovered, the rods cross over one another making an X over the found object. Some dowsers specify brass rods, others use metal coat hangers.
Water can be found anywhere you drill. There is no way to confirm that the spot chosen by the dowser is the best possible spot.
The first bona-fide study of dowsing was done in 1948 and not a single one produced results any better than random luck. A huge German study in 1987 tested 500 dowsers and selected the best 43 for further testing. The vast number showed no results in excess of arbitrary or hit and miss guesses.
A controlled experiment in Maine in 1949 was run by the American Society for Psychical Research. A group of 27 dowsers “failed completely to estimate the depth or amount of water to be found in a field free of surface clues to water, whereas a geologist and engineer successfully predicted the depth at which water would be found in 16 sites in the same field”.
Some dowsers make claims of a psychic connection. They will speak of an energy force. They’re able to tune in to the vibration of an object. The dowsing twig or tool acts as an amplifier or antenna for tuning into this secret energy source.
Dowsing belongs in the same category as psychics, the Loch Ness monster, Yeti, the Abominable Snowman, Bigfoot, the Bermuda Triangle, visits by UFOs and aliens, ghosts, haunted houses, ESP, astrology, predictions by Jeane Dixon, John Edwards and Sylvia Brown, and the Grassy Knoll theory. All possible, but not probable, and no evidence or proof of any of them.
Religion has weighed in on the subject. Martin Luther, in 1518, put dowsing for metals in the same category as occultism. In 1662, the Jesuit, Gaspar Schott, declared dowsing to be “superstitious, or rather satanic.”
Most people, it seems, just enjoy watching a dowser at work and don’t apply any religious connotation or connection. It is fascinating to see that branch dip down or metal rods cross.