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
The traditional form of dowsing is with a Y-shaped hazel
branch. The operator holds the two ends in his hands and walks
over an area thought to contain underground water. When
crossing water, the branch turns over, often with considerable
force, and the dowser is able to map the course of the underground
For some years it was hypothesized that some underground
emanation or occult force moved the branch, but modern researchers
tend to favor 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 electromagnetic
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 coathangers, 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 whalebone.
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 traveled 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.
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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: Methuen, 1938.
Bird, Christopher. The Diving 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.
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Rod. London, 1939.
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Radiasthesia. London: G. Bell and Sons, 1953.
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sources, les limites, les métaux, les mines, les minéraux et autres
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as Jacob’s Rod. London: Thomas Welton, 1875.
Nielsen, Greg, and J. Polansky. Pendulum Power. New York:
Warner, 1977.
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City, N.Y.: Doubleday, 1952.
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Radiesthesia & Kindred Divining Phenomena. New York: Elsevier,
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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.
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Publications, 1976.
Wyman, Walker D. Witching for Water, Oil, Pipes, and Precious
Minerals. River Falls: University of Wisconsin Press, 1977.