Divining Rod
A forked rod, or branch of tree, that in the hands of certain
people is said to indicate, by means of spasmodic movements
of varying intensity, the presence of water and minerals underground.
Traditionally the rod is of hazel wood and V-shaped.
The ends are held by the operator. Other materials such as
right-angle wire rods are claimed to be equally effective. Diviners
claim that under the effect of ‘‘rhabdic force,’’ the rod twists
or revolves when the operator passes over underground water
or minerals. The term rhabdic derives from the Greek for rod.
Mention of the rod used for purposes of divination are to be
found in the records of ancient Egypt. Cicero and Tacitus both
wrote of the rod ‘‘virgula divina.’’ This ancient divining rod was
a form of rhabdomancy or divination by means of little pieces
of stick.
In Germany it was known as the wünschelrute or ‘‘wishingrod’’
and was used just as fortune-tellers use cards, coffee, or
tea grounds today. Agricola’s De Re Metallica, published at
Basle at the beginning of the sixteenth century, makes reference
to another rod, that he calls the ‘‘virgula furcata,’’ the
forked rod, to distinguish it from the ‘‘virgula divina.’’ This
rod, he says, was used by miners to discover mineral lodes.
Sixteenth-century Lutheran theologian Phillip Melancthon
mentioned this use of the rod and ascribed the behavior of the
‘‘instrument’’ in the discovery of metallic ores to the law of symThe
Divine Name Encyclopedia of Occultism & Parapsychology • 5th Ed.
pathy—the belief that metals, trees, and other natural objects
had certain subtle relationships with each other. Believers in
this theory pointed to the fact that trees that grew above mineral
lodes drooped as though attracted downwards; the scientific
explanation attributes this natural phenomenon to the poverty
of the soil.
In Sebastian Münster’s Cosmography, also written during the
sixteenth century, may be found engravings of ‘‘mineral diviners’’
at work. The priests of that time persecuted them as demons
in disguise; they were also included in the witchcraft persecutions,
suffering tortures and being burned to death.
Among miners on the continent the use of the ‘‘virgula furcata’’
became universal, especially in the Harz Mountains and
throughout Saxony. In Germany it was called the Schlagruthe,
‘‘striking-rod,’’ because it appeared to strike when held over
mineral ores.
Robert Boyle (1627–91), called the ‘‘father of chemistry,’’
was one of the first to mention the divining rod in England, in
an essay published in 1663. He writes
‘‘A forked hazel twig is held by its horns, one in each hand,
the holder walking with it over places where mineral lodes may
be suspected, and it is said that the fork by dipping down will
discover the place where the ore is to be found. Many eminent
authors, amongst others our distinguished countryman Gabriel
Plat, ascribe much to this detecting wand, and others, far from
credulous or ignorant, have as eye-witnesses spoken of its value.
When visiting the lead-mines of Somersetshire I saw its use, and
one gentleman who employed it declared that it moved without
his will, and I saw it bend so strongly as to break in his hand.
It will only succeed in some men’s hands, and those who have
seen it may much more readily believe than those who have
Some authorities on the subject state that it was first brought
to England during the time of Queen Elizabeth. Commissioners
were sent to Germany to study the best methods of mining
and brought back with them German miners from the Harz
Mountains; these foreigners probably introduced the divining
rod into England. It was first used to find water in Southern
France, but not until a century later was it used in England for
that purpose.
It became the ‘‘dowsing rod’’ in England, and Somersetshire
might be called the home of the ‘‘dowser.’’ The philosopher
John Locke, a Somersetshire native, referred in 1691 to the
dowsing rod and De Quincey, also from Somersetshire, told of
singular cases of ‘‘jousers’’ as he called them. Today this means
of finding water is used by farmers and owners of large estates.
Dowsers are not geologists who might have a scientific knowledge
of the locality—they may be from all walks of life. Among
amateur dowsers were Lord Farrer and Andrew Lang.
The rods are mostly cut from hazel, but all kinds of nut and
fruit trees have been used; white and black thorn and privet are
also favorites. Pieces of watch spring and copper wire are also
used, and in some cases the forked rod is dispensed with, the
peculiar sensation felt in the arms, hands, and body being
enough to indicate the water.
Dowsers wander over the ground with the ends of the fork
grasped in the palms of the hands and the rod downward, and
when it moves—turning suddenly upward in the hand for water
or downward for minerals—at that spot will be found the desired
Attempts were often made to investigate the phenomenon
scientifically. The electrical or magnetic theory was exploded
by Father Kircher in 1654, who balanced the rod on a frictionless
support like a delicate pair of scales and found that in this
position nothing would induce it to move over hidden water or
metal—it must be held by a human being before the movements
can occur. In 1854 the French savant Michel Chevreul
proposed the theory of involuntary muscular action.
Toward a Theory of Dowsing
Since then there have been many contradictory theories
about the agent behind water divining, and there is still no general
consensus. Many dowsers claim that they respond to earth
‘‘rays’’ or magnetism. Some believe that a kind of clairvoyant
faculty is involved. It is possible that various factors are involved,
varying with the talent and skill of the diviner.
It is widely believed that some force acts on the muscles
through the nervous system, and that it is stopped by certain
materials, such as a silken or woolen glove, rubber shoes, or
tight bandages on the arms or legs. The effect has some resemblance
to the sensations experienced by sitters in Spiritualist séances.
The diviner is warned that the rod is about to move by a sensation
of tingling in the arm and legs, muscular contractions,
giddiness, or profuse perspiration. If a particular spot of
ground is passed these phenomena immediately cease, leaving
a feeling of exhaustion. During the nineteenth century, the
Spiritualist investigator Edward W. Cox pointed to the curious
analogy that trance subjects are sometimes very sensitive to the
touch of steel; they drop it instantly and declare that it feels red
hot. Copper affects them similarly, while silver feels cool and
gold positively cold.
That some kind of psychic perception is primarily involved,
with the movement of the rod only an indicator of that perception,
is suggested by the fact that many dowsers do not need to
use a rod but rely upon an analysis of their sensations. In her
book Essays in Psychical Research (1899), A. Goodrich-Freer reports
that the dowser Leicester Gataker relied solely on the sensations
experienced in his arm ‘‘His hands, hung down, extended
a little outwards, and on observing closely, we could see,
from time to time a vibration in the middle fingers which appeared
to be drawn downwards, just as in the case of the apex
of the twig. His movements throughout were brisk and energetic
and his statements were equally definite and decided.’’ Abbé
Bouly stated in a lecture in 1928, ‘‘I no longer require a rod,
I can see the stream with my eyes; I attune my mind; I am looking
for lead, I fix my eyes; I feel a wavy sensation like hot air
over a radiator; I see it.’’
There have also been dowsers who react to the presence of
underground oil, sometimes reporting sensations of fainting,
and their operations have not required the use of a rod.
In the case of John Timms, studied by Oxford scientists in
1924, the demonstration was further complicated by a foreknowledge
of where the hidden streams would be found. The
attraction of hidden metals on his rod varied in this order
nickel, gold, silver, copper, bronze. Researchers Henri Mager
and Lemoine found, independently of each other, that to produce
as much action on the divining rod as one gram of gold
does, one had to bury 1.2 grams of silver, 6 grams of nickel, 15
of aluminum, 40 of zinc, 75 of lead, and 125 grams of copper.
Depending on what the dowser desires to find he may hold
a bottle of water, a piece of metal, an empty tube (in searching
for caverns), or a personal object (for a corpse in water) in his
hand. Once a stream has been found it is possible, by varying
the mineral substances or by holding tubes of bacterial cultures,
to determine its alkaline content or infectious state. From the
latter discovery the idea was developed in France (by Mlle.
Chantereine, a follower of Mager) of using the divining rod for
medical diagnosis. Promising results have been recorded in
noting human reactions to disease germs, to remedies and
foods, and also in noting the difference between radiation produced
by a healthy organ as compared with that of an unsound
The following physiological explanation was advanced by
Dudley Wright
‘‘All living beings have in their nervous systems cells with retractile
branching processes which correspond to the movable
condensers in wireless sets and, in addition, the cells of the
body are capable of self-induction (on the same principle as
wireless) through coiled structures in the nucleus. It is through
Encyclopedia of Occultism & Parapsychology • 5th Ed. Divining Rod
these that the bodies of men and animals are capable of tuning
into the various wavelengths emitted by other people, by other
living things, and even by water, minerals and oil. The muscles
are supplied by two sets of nerves, viz., (1.) from the cerebro
spinal system which controls the voluntary movement of the
muscles; (2.) the sympathetic nervous system which controls
tension of the muscles both voluntary and involuntary. The rod
moves because a change in the tension of our muscles of the
hand holding the rod is brought about reflexly through the
nervous system by the radiations received.’’
Mager claimed to have demonstrated two currents traversing
the rod, opposite in direction, repelling one another a discharge
current passing from the body of the dowser into the
earth on one side, and a return current passing from the earth
to the other side of the dowser’s body, to his other arm and to
the other branch of the rod. He formed the conclusion that the
movements of the rod are governed by the laws of electro dynamics
as formulated by Ampère in 1820.
Dowsing in France
There has been active interest in dowsing in France for several
centuries. In 1635 the Baron and Baroness Beausoleil discovered
150 mineral veins in this manner. They may have been
the first to apply the diving rod to finding water as Chevreul
in Les Baguettes Divinatoires fixes 1630 as ‘‘the most remote date
which may be cited for the application of the rod to the discovery
of springs, at least in France.’’ The Beausoleils published
a book in 1640 (La Restitution de Pluton) and dedicated it to
Richelieu. A few years later both the baron and his wife were
put into prison on charges of sorcery.
One of the strangest stories of dowsing is that of the French
diviner Jacques Aymar, who in 1692 apparently traced murderers
through a divining rod and discovered other criminals in
the same way.
On July 25, 1692 (the story goes), a wine seller and his wife
were murdered. Aymar was asked to help with the investigation.
His divining rod became violently agitated at the scene of
the crime and led him, like the scent leads a hound, for several
days on the track of the murderers. One of them was discovered
in a prison and confessed; two others escaped from France.
The procurator general subjected Aymar to other severe
tests. He secretly buried the blood-stained hedging bill with
which the murder was committed, in different places in the garden.
The divining rod indicated the place of burial every time.
Despite these successes, Aymar’s faculty was a complete failure
when subjected to tests in Paris. However, even in modern
times, psychic faculties have often failed in an atmosphere of
skepticism or hostility.
In 1853 the French Academy of Sciences delegated a commission
of inquiry into the divining rod. The immediate reason
for the inquiry was D’Hyères Riondet’s Memoire sur la Baguette
Divinatoire. The report, prepared by Michel Chevreul and published
in book form under the title Les Baguettes Divinatoires
(1854), is a classical study. It attributes the movement of the rod
to the muscular force of the dowser.
Dowsing Researched
Psychical researchers neglected dowsing for some time. Sir
William Barrett was its first modern investigator. He experimented
with a dowser who successfully found coins placed
under inverted saucers on the table. He published two lengthy
reports in the Proceedings of the Society for Psychical Research.
Published posthumously was Barrett’s book The Divining Rod
An Experimental and Psychological Study (1926). Written in cooperation
with Theodore Besterman, it became a standard work
on the subject. Like Chevreul, Barrett attributed the twisting of
the rod to motor automatism and considered it a phenomenon
allied to automatic writing. Since then considerable progress
has been made in validating the phenomena of dowsing.
The Honorable M. E. G. Finch Hatton gives a remarkable
account in the Proceedings of the Society for Psychical Research
(vols. 2, 13, 15) of his experiments with J. Mullins, in which his
brother, the Hon. Harold Finch Hatton, participated
‘‘1. I took him on the grass in front of the house, across
which the water-supply pipe passed. There was no indication
of its presence on the surface, nor did I previously mention its
existence to Mullins. On crossing it the twig moved in the manner
described and he could trace the water to right and left by
its means along the path actually taken by the pipe.
‘‘2. On our way to the kitchen garden, Mullins discovered a
spring on the open lawn, whose existence was unknown to
me—it had been closed in so long—but was subsequently attested
by an old laborer on the place who remembered it as a well,
and had seen it bricked in many years before.
‘‘3. On reaching the kitchen garden I knew that a lead pipe,
leading water to a tap outside the wall, crossed the gravel path
at a certain spot. On crossing it the twig made no sign. I was
astonished at first, until I remembered what Mullins had said
about stagnant water and that the tap was not running. I sent
to have it turned on, re-conducted Mullins over the ground,
when the twig immediately indicated the spot. When Mullins
had passed on I carefully marked the exact spot indicated by
the twig. When he had left the garden, I said ‘Now, Mullins,
may we blindfold you and let you try’ He said ‘Oh yes, if you
don’t lead me into a pond or anything of that sort.’ We promised.
I then reconducted him blindfolded to the marked spot
by a different route, leaving the tap running, with the result
that the stick indicated with mathematic exactness the same
spot. At first he slightly overran it a foot or so and then felt
round, as it were, and seemed to be led back to the exact centre
of influence by the twig.’’
In 1913, before the International Congress of Experimental
Psychology in Paris, Joseph Mathieu asked to be tested for a
strange ability divining water from maps alone. The claim was
proved later. E. M. Penrose, official water diviner to the government
of British Columbia (Occult Review, March 1933), was
also successful in duplicating the feat. Since then many modern
dowsers use a pendulum instead of a rod, and their practice is
named radiesthesia. French dowsers were pioneers in this
In Gallipoli, during World War I, the British Expeditionary
Force was nearing exhaustion because of the intense heat and
lack of water. Sapper S. Kelley, the former head of Kelley &
Bassett, civil engineers from Melbourne, attempted to find
water by a piece of bent copper band. Within 100 yards of the
divisional headquarters he found a spring that gave 2,000 gallons
of pure, cold water per hour. In a week he discovered 32
wells giving sufficient water to supply 100,000 men with a gallon
of water daily.
The Abbé Bouly restored large areas of war-devastated land
in France to cultivation by localizing buried shells. He was able
to discriminate between German and Allied ammunition. Another
man claimed success in determining the sex of eggs by
the use of the divining rod. Maria Mattaloni, a 24-year-old Italian
peasant girl, located many old Etruscan tombs at Capena,
near Rome.
The Abbé Gabriel Lambert, the well-known French water diviner,
was the subject of some interesting experiments in London.
As narrated by Harry Price in Psychic Research (October
1930) the Abbot used a bobbin (like a fisherman’s cork float,
cone-shaped and painted in stripes of bright colors) suspended
from a thread in his right hand. Over hidden springs in Hyde
Park, the bobbin which Lambert was purposely swinging laterally
‘‘would make a spasmodic movement, change its course,
and commence spinning furiously, describing a larger and
larger circle the longer we stood over the source of activity.
When we reached the bank of the subterranean river the bobbin
would stop dead—just as if it had been hit by a stone. The
cessation of the spinning was even more spectacular than the
commencement. . . . When we came to a nappe (a pool of still
Divining Rod Encyclopedia of Occultism & Parapsychology • 5th Ed.
water) the bobbin would make quite a different movement. The
Abbé could tell the depth of the hidden supplies, their approximate
volume and directional characteristics. . . . The Abbé considers
that his gift is partly physical and partly psychic. For instance,
if he is looking for a nappe, he will pass over a dozen
running springs without becoming aware of the fact. And the
reverse is the case. He will be likewise unconscious of a flowing
river (or water of any description) if he is looking for minerals
of a metallic lode. . . . To provide the other ‘pole’ when using
his bobbin, he carries in his free hand a small bottle of pure
water (if looking for drinking water), a bottle of mineral water
if seeking a chalybeate spring or a piece of ore similar to the
metallic lode he is trying to find.’’
On March 22, 1931, a congress of water diviners was held
in Verona by the National Society of Rhabdomancy of Italy.
Nearly two hundred members assembled. It was stated by one
of them that the king of Italy had water divining powers.
Since then associations of dowsers have been formed in
many countries, using either name—‘‘dowsing’’ or ‘‘radiesthesia.’’
The French society L’Association des Amis de la Radiesthé
was founded in 1930, followed by the British Society of Dowsers
in 1933. Similar associations have been founded in Germany,
Italy and other European countries, and in the United
States the American Society of Dowsers was formed in 1961.
A number of journals have been published, including Journal
of the British Society of Dowsers, The American Dowser, La Chronique
des Souciers, Radiesthesie Magazine, Les Amis de la Radiesthesie,
Zeitschrift für Radiästhesie, and Radiästhesie—Geopathie—
A specialized branch of dowsing is radionics, in which an
apparatus is used to detect or treat illnesses, involving theories
of wavelengths and vibrations, and using coils, condensers, and
other devices associated with electronics but without conventional
electronic construction.
Although many earlier theories about ‘‘earth rays’’ have not
been satisfactorily resolved from a scientific point of view, they
persist in one form or another, and the divining faculty has
been associated with the earth and stone energies claimed in
the study of leys.
The subject is a vast one, and so far the only comprehensive
survey of the scientific factors involved is the monumental
study by Prof. S. W. Tromp entitled Psychical Physics; A Scientific
Analysis of Dowsing, Radiesthesia and Kindred Divining Phenomena
(1949). The book contains a bibliography of nearly fifteen hundred
references. The Barrett and Besterman study, The Divining
Rod (1926), remains a basic reference in the field of water
divining itself, supplemented by Besterman’s later book, Water
Divining New Facts and Theories (1938). A valuable work published
by the U.S. Geological Survey, Department of the Interior,
is The Divining Rod A History of Water Witching (1917; 1938),
which contains a chronological bibliography up to the year
1916. For an uncritical skeptical view of dowsing, see the chapter
‘‘Dowsing Rods and Doodlebugs’’ in Fads and Fallacies in the
Name of Science (1957), by Martin Gardner. For a skeptical survey
of dowsing see Water Witching, U.S.A. (1959), by Evon Z.
Vogt and Ray Hyman.
Benedikt, M. Ruten- und Pendel-lehre. Vienna; Leipzig, 1917.
Besterman, Theodore. Water Divining; New Facts and Theories.
London Metheun, 1938.
Bird, Christopher. The Divining Hand. New York E. P. Dutton,
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 métalloscopogragie, ou l’art
de découvrir les sources et les gisement metallifers au moyen de l’électromagnétisme.
Saintes, France, 1863.
Chambers, Howard V. Dowsing, Water Witches and 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.
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; 1938.
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,
Maury, Marguerite. How to Dowse Experimental and Practical
Radiasthesia. London G. Bell and Sons, 1953.
Mermet, Abbe. Principles and Practice of Radiesthesie. London,
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.
Underwood, Peter. The Complete Book of Dowsing and Divining.
London, 1980.
Wayland, Bruce, and Shirley Wayland. Steps to Dowsing
Power. Howell, MI Life Force Press, 1976.
Weaver, Herbert. Divining, 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.

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