Back before hydrogeology was a science and there were even such things as Well Records, people who needed a new well had a tried and true way of figuring out where to dig for water. Most rural communities had a "witcher", someone who would come out to a property, cut a forked branch from a supple tree, and walk the land until the branch dipped down, showing the best place to find a water supply. Witchers tended to refer to their ability as a special gift, implying that it couldn't be learned, that one had to be born with it. (By the way, the term "witch" comes from the Old English word "wych" meaning "pliant" which refers to the bendable stick used.)
Over time, as modern technology replaced the old ways, water dowsers (as witchers came to be known) became harder to find, and these days, it is rare to meet one. As a past president of the Canadian Society of Dowsers (CSD), I know that to be true from the look of incredulity on peoples' faces when I tell them what I do for a living. People are even more amazed when I tell them that modern dowsers don't just find the energy of water and minerals, but that we also work with the energy of plants, animals and the human body. Not only that, anyone with desire and patience can be taught to dowse by learning to focus their mind and listening to their body.
How I Became a Dowser
I became a dowser by accident. I was diagnosed with rheumatoid arthritis over twenty-five years ago, and had trouble controlling my symptoms with either western or alternative medicines. I read about dowsing as a way of improving health, and took a course through the CSD. (My health did improve, and today I am virtually symptom-free.) One day I got a call came from someone who needed a well, and I was the only person available to do the location. I was nervous, but went on site, did what I'd been taught, and low and behold, the water came in at the place, depth and volume that I'd said it would. After that experience, I began dowsing wells fairly regularly, and have a good track record. Over the years I've worked with a few drillers, notably Bruce O'Brien of King City Well Drilling, and found them all to be an open-minded group. This spring I joined the Ontario Ground Water Association, and I look forward to learning more about the technical aspects of well drilling.
Why Use A Dowser for Well Location?
Using a dowser at a drill site can increase the likelihood of finding a good well with the first hole. Sometimes dowsers are called in after a driller hasn't met with success. A driller might call in a dowser to give a second opinion if he has a client that unreasonably expects to have a hundred Gallon-Per-Minute gusher at his back door in an area that is known to usually provide less than ten GPM. Sometimes clients call in a dowser for an assessment of the property even before they call the driller.
I've personally worked with people at an undeveloped property while they were considering an offer to purchase. I have worked at other places with the architect before the house is sited to be sure that there is water where the home owner will need it. The worst case scenario I've worked at is where the house was already built, the wiring was in the ground, and they had left a six by six meter patch of dirt to find the water they needed.
How Does Dowsing Work?
Moving water, even when it's underground, causes electricity to flow by raking off electrons. Our bodies have natural electromagnetic receptors, so with practice we can learn to "feel" water below the ground. It is perhaps similar to our ability to sort out different audio frequencies to identify different types of music. Dowsers use tools to amplify these subtle signals in their bodies.
What are Dowsing Tools?
Anything that moves can be a dowsing tool: Y-rods (forked sticks); pendulums (any weighted object on a string); L-rods ( bent wires); even your fingers, but the tools themselves have no magic power, just as a hammer has no power to drive a nail until we pick it up. The tools simply amplify our body's sensory perceptions.
One thing I do, which perhaps makes me look a little odd in the field, is talk to my tools. I'll say, for example, "L-rods, point to the best place to drill on this site." It's not that I think the tools can hear me, but addressing them helps me focus my thoughts, to make sure my mind-body connection is completely centered. The key to all successful dowsing is to make sure your thoughts are focused, and that your questions are clear. It is also important to stay emotionally detached from the outcome, even though you know it is important to find water, and expensive to make a mistake.
Ultimately you may be able to dowse without tools. You will know you have arrived at this point when you know the answer before the tool responds. When I go on a job site now, I often just walk right to the best spot to drill, and then check it with my tools.
Is Dowsing Here to Stay?
Ironically, the internet is one of the reasons that dowsing is coming back as an accepted practice. With the internet, it is easy to find out about anything, dowsing included. A five minute search will give you more links to dowsing-related websites than you have time to read. Dowsing is coming back not only as a tool for well location, but as a way for individuals to develop their intuition. For me, it is exciting to be part of this resurgence.
Old tyme dowsing at Black Creek Pioneer Village, Toronto, 2008.