The practice of dowsing for water is one that is often misunderstood. From the outside looking in, it is easy to see this as little more than a fun activity. We could easily find an appropriate-looking stick and give it a try ourselves. However, the history and purpose of this form of divination are far more complicated. Water divination hasn’t always been about water. Dowsers have used all kinds of tools over centuries to search for minerals, gravesites and even explosive devices. Debate continues over the impact of this divination practice on spirituality. There are also those that argue over its place as a pseudoscience.
To better understand the spiritual and scientific sides of dowsing in the modern world, we need to go back to basics. What function could dowsing potentially have? Why do people use it? What tools do they use? As you will see, the answers are quite diverse. From there, we can discuss the positive and negative connotations of the spiritual and scientific side of this practice.
What is dowsing?
In its broadest form, dowsing is the act of using a type of divining rod to locate something hidden beneath the surface. The rod is said to react independently of the user when they walk over the object. This indicates that the user has struck gold – either figuratively or metaphorically. The basic principle remains the same regardless of the material searched for. Dowsers hold a rod with a forked end – one prong in each hand – and point the long end out before them. Once they get a reaction, it is time to dig.
The progression of the divination rod and the materials sourced.
The process has remained the same for centuries. But the rods and materials located have changed. The divining rods used to be a long-forked stick. Users could pick just the right part of a branch for the job. Over time, this has developed, and you can get metal divining rods. But some traditionalists will still use wood.
We tend to think of dowsing as a way of finding water beneath the ground. This is because this is the practice that has stuck around. Some still teach it as a potential survival skill, even though there is no hard-scientific evidence for the process. Remarkably, a story emerged in the UK in 2017 that stated that most national water companies still used dowsing rods to find water pipes. The rods that they used look quite sophisticated compared to the old-fashioned dowsing sticks. However, the origin of dowsing is quite different. There was a time when it was used to locate minerals rather than water. This then led to the increased use of divination rods around the time of coal mining.
The different forms of spiritual dowsing.
There has been an evolution of sorts regarding the purpose and meaning of dowsing. Centuries ago, it didn’t really matter whether those watching could understand the process or not. They wanted to find water, located it and went on with their business. Any spiritual side or trickery was down to the gift of the user or another force.
Spirituality comes into play within water divination in a couple of ways. In the end, it can all depend on the practitioner and their intentions. For some, the spiritual side of dowsing may come from the basic fact that they feel in tune with the energy and vibrations of the earth. They may still be dowsing for water but have a better appreciation for the connection between themselves, the rods and the water. A sort of elemental connection if you will. This sense of a higher connection can also stem from the fact that some individuals seem to have a gift for finding the water and others don’t. There is no guarantee that if you use the divination rods or dowsing sticks in the right place, you will then locate the water. Some people can walk through an area with no connection at all. They can pass it to a relative and they pick up the signal from the earth. Is this luck, coincidence or the result of a higher power of some kind? Many that carry out this practice would like to believe that it is the latter.
The other side of spiritual dowsing comes down to the object or energy sought.
Dowsing isn’t all about water and minerals anymore. Some will use to tool to locate certain energies in the ground. This could be an unusual energy or force around a lay-line or possibly even a long-lost resting place. These areas could have a different vibrational energy because of the geology and matter within the ground. Whether or not these practitioners can sense that is open for debate. Many would argue that they can – perhaps for their own faith as they seek spiritual guidance or answers over a loved one. The act of following paths of energy makes take them on a personal journey and offer them a sense of direction – although one that you might argue is a little too literal.
There is also the risk that some people will use this form of divination and connections to other realms purely for financial gain. They wouldn’t be the first or the last. Gifted individuals have been presented to the paying public for centuries as a means of offering those answers and that closure. They consult the dead or spirit guides to provide comfort at a good price.
The spiritual side of dowsing brings up questions about its practice and Christianity.
For some, water divination is no more than a fun pastime. Children can go out and play with makeshift rods to see if they can locate water, treasure or anything else. The links to the spirit realm and resting places is a little more unsettling for those with a strong faith. This is understandable for those that focus on the links with witchcraft or modern approaches with the dowsing pendulum. This involves dangling a pendulum or a gemstone from a chain and waiting for it to move. It should gravitate towards an object or answer to the question posed. Critics may see similarities here between this motion and that of the Ouija board. Others may be reminded of the old wife’s tale that you can tell the sex of a baby by dangling a ring on a chain above the baby bump.
To this day, some Christians are still against the practice of “water witching” because it is a form of divination. Therefore, it is something that leads the user astray from God and his wisdom. There is also the fact that it was once associated with the devil and satanic practices. We can’t ignore the fact that an alternative name for the water divining rod in the US is the water witcher. This implies the belief that witchcraft lay behind any successful dowsing attempt. However, most Christians can now see past this and view the modern dowsing practice more rationally. Some even justify its use as a natural ability with no link to unnatural forces.
What does science have to say about all of this?
If we could prove one way or another that dowsing for water, minerals or any other matter is scientifically impossible, this should alter perceptions. However, even with a clear lack of scientific evidence, the practice continues. Does this then strengthen the belief that the energy felt in the rod really is the result of a higher power? Can those that practice dowsing argue that this really is down to an unexplainable paranormal phenomenon? If so, this would also strengthen their argument that they are gifted enough to use the rod and follow that energy source.
However, it doesn’t explain why it is still used in the context of wilderness survival and by water companies? Why are they using an approach that scientists claim is nothing but random chance? If this wasn’t curious enough, even the military once considered the potential of modern dowsing instruments despite the lack of scientific backing. A company called ATSC in the UK created a device designed to detect explosive. It was used by the Iraqi police, rejected by the US government and later banned for export by the British government. The director was jailed for fraud.
The result of all this is that dowsing remains a pseudoscience rather than a form of witchcraft. Some continue to believe in the paranormal effects while others feel it is nonsense. Some would argue that there is some science in the form of probability and sensory cues, but nothing concrete. Devout Christians may continue to see dowsing as divination and an affront to God.
Science, witchcraft, fraud or harmless fun?
Whatever your beliefs, water dowsing will always continue in some form and evolve with the times. Societies and unions exist across the world. It is unlikely that we will see any new scientific evidence. Hopefully, governments and military agencies have also learnt from the mistakes of the Iraqi police. But – unless this goes against your faith – there is little harm in getting a dowsing rod and testing it out. You might find water, minerals or something strange hidden in the woods. A dowsing pendulum is also a simple tool for basic divination. If you do, just remember that any success may be more down to luck than a divine connection.