Dowsing, sometimes called doodlebugging, divining or water witching, is a practice that attempts to locate hidden water wells, buried metals, gemstones, or other objects as well as currents of earth radiation without the use of scientific apparatus. It has been in use since ancient times and is still widely practiced although the scientific evidence for its credibility is disputed.

Traditionally, the most common dowsing rod was a “Y” shaped branch from a tree or bush. Some dowsers prefer branches from particular trees. Many dowsers today use a pair of simple “L” shaped metal rods, and some use bent wire coat hangers. One rod is held in each hand, with the short part of the “L” held upright, and the long part pointing forward. Some dowsers claim best success with rods made of particular metals such as brass.

Pendulums such as a crystal or a metal weight suspended on a chain are sometimes used in divination and dowsing, particularly in remote dowsing. The person holding the pendulum aims to hold it as steadily as possible over the center. An interviewer may pose questions to the person holding the pendulum, and it swings by minute unconscious bodily movement in the direction of the answer. In the practice of radiesthesia, a pendulum is used for medical diagnosis.

Both skeptics of dowsing and many of dowsing’s supporters believe that dowsing apparatus have no special powers, but merely amplify small imperceptible movements of the hands arising from the expectations of the dowser. This psychological phenomenon is known as the idiomotor effect. Some supporters agree with this explanation, but maintain that the dowser has a subliminal sensitivity to the environment, perhaps via electroception, magnetoception, or telluric currents. Other dowsers say their powers are paranormal.

In a scientific study in Munich 500 dowsers were initially tested for their skill, and the experimenters selected the best 43 among them. On the ground floor of a two story barn, water was pumped through a pipe. Before each test, the pipe was moved in a direction perpendicular to the water flow. On the upper floor, each dowser was asked to determine the position of the pipe. Over two years, the 43 dowsers performed 843 tests, and of the 43 selected and extensively tested candidates, at least 37 of them showed no dowsing ability. The results from the remaining 6 were said to be better than chance, resulting in the conclusion that some dowsers showed an extraordinarily high rate of success, which can scarcely be explained as due to chance.

Recently, a study was undertaken in Kassel, Germany, under the direction of the Society for the Scientific Investigation of the Parasciences. The three day test of some 30 dowsers involved plastic pipes through which a large flow of water could be controlled and directed. The pipes were buried 50 centimeters under a level field. On the surface, the position of each pipe was marked with a colored stripe, so all the dowsers had to do was tell whether there was water running through the pipe. All the dowsers signed a statement agreeing this was a fair test of their abilities and that they expected a 100 percent success rate. However, the results were no better than what would have been expected by chance.

Some researchers have investigated possible physical or geophysical explanations for dowsing abilities. For example, Soviet geologists have made claims for the abilities of dowsers which are difficult to account for in terms of the reception of normal sensory cues. Some authors suggest that these abilities may be explained by postulating human sensitivity to small magnetic field gradient changes. One study concludes that dowsers respond to a 60 Hz electromagnetic field, but this response does not occur if the kidney area or head are shielded.


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