* Originally From: email@example.com (John DeLaughter)
* Originally Posted: sci.skeptic
* Original Subject: Re: Water dowsing
* Originally Dated: 5 Oct 1994 01:53:46 GMT
In response to several requests, I am posting the USGS pamphlet on water
dowsing. I have broken it into three parts, due to length.
While I will do my best to transcribe the pamphlet as written, I am only
human, and prone to making mistakes - especially when typing. Please
do not blame my errors on the U.S. Department of the Interior or
the U.S. Geological Survey, who prepared this wonderful booklet. And,
if you want a paper copy of this booklet, write the them at:
U.S. Geological Survey
Branch of Distribution
P.O. Box 25286
Denver CO 80225
I'd really suggest getting your own copy of this puppy; not only is it
but it includes a map of ground-water areas in the US and plenty of nifty
illustrations which can help clarify things. But, until you get you copy,
here's the transcription... Enjoy!
One of the major responsibilities of the U.S. Geological Survey is
to asses the quantity and quality of the Nation's surface-and
ground-water supplies. The Survey's Water Resources Division, in
cooperation with other Federal, State, and local agencies, maintains a
nationwide hydrologic data network and carries out water-resource and
Numerous general inquiries concerning water resources and hydrology
are directed to the Survey, which has prepared a number of "popular
publications" to help answer such requests. As part of that group of
publications, this leaflet was prepared to answer some of the most
frequently asked questions about the subject of water dowsing and is not
intended to make editorial comment on dowsing or its practitioners.
WHAT IS WATER DOWSING?
"Water dowsing" refers in general to the practice of using a forked
stick, rod, pendulum, or similar device to locate underground water,
minerals, or other hidden or lost substances, and has been a subject of
discussion and controversy for hundreds, if not thousands, of years.
Although tools and methods vary widely, most dowsers (also called
diviners or water witches) probably still use the traditional forked
stick, which may come from a variety of trees, including the willow,
peach, and witch hazel. Other dowsers may use keys, wire coathangers,
pliers, wire rods, pendulums, or various kinds of elaborate boxes and
electrical instruments. Some claim powers that enable them to "see"
through soil and rock, and some are mediums who go into trances when
conditions are favorable.
In the classic method of using a forked stick, one fork is held in
each hand with the palms upward. The bottom or butt end of the "Y" is
pointed skyward at an angle of about 45 deg. The dowser then walks back
and forth over the area to be tested. When he passes over a source of
water, the butt end of the stick is supposed to rotate or be attracted
According to dowsers, the attraction of the water may be so great
that the bark peels off as the rod twists in the hands. Some dowsers are
said to have suffered blistered or bloody hands from the twisting.
Although most dowsing for water is done at the actual site where
water is needed, some dowsers claim to be able to locate water simply by
passing the stick over a map.
Water dowsers practice mainly in rural or suburban communities where
residents are uncertain as to how to locate the best and cheapest supply
of ground water. Because the drilling and development of a well often
costs more than a thousand dollars, homeowners are understandably
reluctant to gamble on a dry hole and turn to the water dowser for
advice. The dowser, in turn, undoubtably believes that he is endowed
with a natural ability or has found a workable if unexplained method of
locating underground water.
Water is only one of many substances that different dowsers claim
they can find. Divining rods have been used in attempts to locate gold,
silver, lead, uranium, oil, coal, and other valuable minerals; to
discover buried or hidden treasure; top find lost landmarks and
reestablish property boundaries; to detect criminals or hidden soldiers;
as well as to analyze personal character, and to trace lost animals. A
few dowsers even claim the ability to diagnose and cure disease or to
determine the sex of an unborn child.
HOW DID WATER DOWSING BEGIN?
Cave paintings in northwestern Africa that are 6,000-8,000 years old
are believed to show a water dowser at work. Divining rods were also
used by the Scythians, Persians, and Medes. Most accounts, however, by
Greek and Roman naturalists and scientists do not mention the use of a
magic rod, although they do give hints and directions for finding water.
The exact origin of the divining rod in Europe is not known. The
first detailed description of it is in Johannes Agricola's "DE Re
Metallica" (1556), a description of German mines and mining methods. The
device was introduced to England during the reign of Elizabeth I
(1558-1603) to locate mineral deposits, and soon afterward it was adopted
as a water finder throughout Europe.
The practice of water dowsing has always aroused widespread
controversy. Its 17th century champions attempted to explain it by the
principle of "empathy" or "attraction and repulsion". Its adversaries
condemned it as a superstitious and vain practice. Some held that the
stick was moved by a satanic influence, and others believed that the
dowser recieved his power from God.
Despite opposition from church and lay leaders, use of the rod spread
throughout Europe. Water dowsing seems to be a mainly European cultural
phenomenon, completely unknown to New World Indians and Eskimos. It was
carried across the Atlantic to America by some of the earliest settlers
from England and Germany. Although the published record was very slight
at first, water dowsing or witching began to be mentioned after 1675 in
connection with witches and witchcraft. Two articles condemming it
appeared in the 1821 and 1826 issues of the American Journal of Science
and were among the first in a long line of treatises on water witching.
Despite almost unanimous condemnation by geologists and technicians,
the practice of water dowsing has spread throughout America. It has been
speculated that thousands of dowsers are active in the United States;
many are members of the American Society of Dowsers, Inc.
WHAT DO DOWSERS BELIEVE ABOUT GROUND WATER?
Some dowsers believe that water occurs in veins resembling the veins
of one's body. According to Henry Gross, one of the best kknown modern
practitioners, underground water flows upward from great depths, forming
"domes". He believes such domes to be the source of water for
underground veins of water that flow in various directions. Three domes
supposedly on top of Mount Washington, N.H., were said to be coming from
a depth of 57,000 feet.
Most dowsers attempt only to locate the positions of the so-called
water veins. But many of their clients ask: How deep will I have to
drill, and how much water will I get? Some dowsers, therefore, do
attempt to estimate the quantity of and the depth to water.
If the well driller does not find water at the indicated spot, the
failure may be blamed on interference of hills with the dowsing, a short
circuit of "current", incorrect drilling, or the crushing or deflection
of the delicate water veins by the driller.
WHAT DOES SCIENCE SAY ABOUT DOWSING?
Case histories and demonstrations of dowsers may seem convincing, but
when dowsing is exposed to scientific examination, it presents a very
different picture. For instance, what does it mean to say that a dowser
is sucessful in 8 out of 10 cases? The dowser may find water, but how
much? And of what quality? At what rate can it be withdrawn? For how
long and with what impact on other wells and nearby streams?
The natural explanation of "sucessful" water dowsing is that in many
areas, water would be hard to miss. The dowser commonly implies that the
spot indicated by the rod is the ONLY one where water could be found, but
this is not necessarily true. In a region of adequate rainfall and
favorable geology, it is difficult NOT to drill and find water!
Some water exists under the Earth's surface almost everywhere. This
explains why many dowsers appear to be sucessful. To locate ground water
accurately, however, as to depth, quantity, and quality, a number of
techniques must be used. Hydrologic, geologic, and geophysical knowledge
is needed to determine the depths and extent of the different
water-bearing strata and the quantity and quality of water found in each.
The area must be thoroughly tested and studied to determine these facts.
The U.S. Geological Survey, the Federal agency with major responsibility
for assesing the quantity and quality of the Nation's surface and ground
waters, believes that no single technique suffices to locate favorable
Numerous books and pamphlets have been written on the subject of
water dowsing. Some of these publications report on scientifically
controlled experiments and investigations. From these findings, the U.S.
Geological Survey has concluded that the expense of further tests of
water dowsing is not justified.
HOW DOES GROUND WATER OCCUR?
Contrary to the belief of dowsers, ground water does not commonly
flow in veins, domes, or underground rivers. Ground water is the water
which fills pores or cracks in underground rocks. It is replenished by
nature according to the local climate and geology and is variable in both
amount and quality.
When rain falls, the plants and soils take up water. Some of the
excess water runs off to streams, and some percolates down into the pores
or cracks in the subsurface rocks. A well that extends into the
saturated zone will fill with water to the level of the water table - the
top of the zone in whihc all the openings of the rocks are filled with
It is important to know whether water will flow into the well fast
enough to make it useful for man's purposes. A "tight" rock such as clay
or solid granite, with tiny pores or only a few narrow cracks, may give
up water so slowly that it is not useful. If the openings in the rock
are large enough to let water flow freely, however, water in useful
amounts can be taken out.
Several water-bearing rock layers may lie beneath the surface,
seperated by layers of rock less capable of carrying water. This
geologic configuration may give rise to *artesian* conditions, where
water levels in wells that penetrate the deeper layers of water-carrying
rock rise under pressure an in some instances rise so high as to create
HOW DO HYDROLOGISTS LOCATE GROUND WATER?
Compared to the dowser's dramatic display, the hydrologist's
proceedure for locating ground water may seem dull. His patient pursuit
of the unseen is interesting, noetheless.
The landscape offers helpful clues. Shallow ground water is more
likely to ocurr in larger quantities under valleys than under hills,
because ground water obeys the law of gravity and flows downward just as
surface water does. In arid regions the presence of "water-loving"
plants is an indication of ground water at shallow depth. Any area where
water shows up at the surface, in springs, seeps, swamps, or lakes, must
have some ground water, though not necessarily in large quantity or of
Rocks are the most valuable clues of all. Hydrologists use the word
"rock" for hard, consolidated formations such as sandstone, limestone, or
granite, as well as for loose, unconsolidated sediments such as gravel or
sand. An "aquifer" is any body of rock that contains a useable supply of
water. A good aquifer must be both porous enough to hold water and
permeable enough to allow the continuous recharge of water to a well.
Gravel, sand, sandstone, and limestone are among the best aquifers, but
they form only a fraction of the rocks in the Earth's crust. Most rocks
are fine grained or other wise "tight" and store or carry little water.
As a first step in locating ground water, the hydrologist prepares a
geologic map showing where the different kinds of rock come to the land
surface. Some of the rocks may be so cracked and broken that they
provide good openings to carry water underground. The rocks may be so
folded and displaced, however, that it is difficult to trace their
Next, he gathers information on the wells in the area - their
locations, the depth to the water, the amount of water pumped, and the
kinds of rock they penetrate. Because he cannot always afford to drill a
test hole to obtain information, records of wells already drilled are his
If there are no wells in the area, or not enough information is
available on existing ones, the hydrologist may contract with a well
driller to put down some test holes. At these holes he will make pumping
or aquifer tests. These tests indicate the water-bearing properties of
the aquifer tapped by the well. From the tests the hydrologist can
determine the amount of water moving through the aquifer, the volume of
water that can enter the well, and the effect of pumping on the water
level of other wells in the area.
For man's use of water, quality is just as important as quantity.
The hydrologist will take samples of water from different wells and have
them chemically analyzed.
The hydrologist's report and geologic map will show where water can
be found, its chemical composition, and in a general way, how much is
available. This is the scientific approach used by the U.S. Geological
Survey, State resource agencies, and consulting engineers in making hteir
ground-water studies. Information about local ground-water conditions
may be found in the offices that the U.S. Geological Survey's Water
Resources Division maintains in all 50 States.
WHERE CAN I FIND OUT MORE ABOUT WATER DOWSING AND GROUND WATER?
The only comprehensive report on water dowsing published by the U.S.
Geological Survey is _The Divining Rod, A History of Water Witching_, by
A. J. Ellis, published as USGS Water-Supply Paper 416 in 1917 and
reprinted in 1957. This report contains detailed information and
includes references to several hundred papers on the use of the divining
rod and related subjects.
U.S. Geological Survey Water-Supply Paper 1800 _The Role of Ground
Water in the National Water Situation_, by C. L. McGuinness, 1963,
summarizes the occurrence and development of ground water in the
conterminous United States.
These reports are now out of print, but can be consulted at certain
Geological Survey libraries and offices. For a simple and easily
understood discussion of the basic facts, principles and problems of
water, consult _A Primer on Water_, by L. B. Leopold and W. B. Landbein,
1960, and _A Primer on Ground Water_, by H. L. Baldwin and C. L.
Let me add that copies of local ground-water maps are available from your
state Geological Survey and the references mentioned are available
through inter-library loan.