These days we have high tech tools for just about everything. From $5 voltage detectors to $2500 thermal imaging cameras, if you have enough money, theres a tool to help you find just about anything your looking for. This article is not about such tools.
If you've ever lived in the country, you know that locating ground water for a well isn't really an exact science. You can hire a hydrologist, have a seismoelectric survey, or just drill until you hit water, but all these things take time and cost money. Fortunately, you may have another option. Some people claim to be able to use the practice to find gold and all sorts of other stuff, but this article is strictly about finding water.
What Is Water Witching?
“Water Witching”, also called “Water Dowsing” or “Divining”, is a method of locating groundwater using a number of different types of tree branches or rods. The origins of the process is subject to much debate and it is not widely regarded as effective by the scientific community. Some claim the process dates back to biblical times when Moses located water using “rods” in the Old Testament (Numbers 20:9-11). Others attribute the birth of the process to ancient Greece, others to 16th century Gemany, and so on and so forth. What everyone does agree on is that it's been going on for a very long time. Wherever and whenever it started, the process has remained relatively unchanged over time. The Dowser, Witcher, Diviner, or whatever you prefer to call him/her, basically holds the branch or rods lightly in hand and walks around until the branch tilts or rods cross. When this happens, he/she should be directly over water. The species of wood or type of metal rod used all depends on personal preference, but is often done with willow, peach, hazel twigs, or in modern times, metal rods.
Does It Work?
As I stated earlier, water witching is not widely regarded as effective by the scientific community. Numerous studies have wrote the practice off as nothing more than folklore and no more accurate than a 50/50 shot in the dark. That being said, most older country folk will tell you the know someone who can do it and cite several instances of them doing it effectively. Albert Einstein believed in it and was once quoted saying as much:
“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.”
My dad can do it. He's located septic tanks, drains, wells, you name it. I've seen him do it lots of times so I suppose I can't deny that I very much believe in the merits of the process. I've done it myself a few times, though I'm not as good at it.
How It's Done
He uses metal rods cut from clothes hangers. He makes a straight piece about 18″ long, then bend the handle about 5″ like so:
Some people prefer to place the handle in a small piece of pipe during use, but it isn't really necessary. The key to success is holding the rod very loosely so your hand doesn't restrict the movement at all. At this point you just hold your hands 6″-8″ apart, and walk very slow and steady. Once you locate water, the rods will cross each other on their own. Here is a video clip of my dad doing it. His water main runs under his sidewalk straight from the meter.
Whether you believe in the effectiveness of the process or not, it's hard to imagine something going on for this length of time without there being at least something to it. It's pretty simple to try for yourself though. Try finding some known stuff then move on to unknown veins. It's kinda fun really. For more information check out these articles:
Heres and article written in 1970 on the subject
From Wikipedia: Dowsing
From Livescience.com (Deals mostly with mineral location)
There's even an American Society of Dowsers