Dowsing, scientifically known as radioesthesia, is the interaction of the mind of the dowser and the energy of the object of interest. Most dowsing is used to find water and minerals. It has been used to find lost objects, even people. The ability to find people, artifacts, or substances by use of maps, pictures, or physically being in a place are currently the most popular applications of dowsing.
The method of dowsers seldom varies. They grasp the ends of a forked twig (peach, apple, maple traditionally work best, though some modernists say a bent metal coat hanger works just as well) with palms upward. As they begin their search for water, they carry the butt of the stick pointed upward. When they near water, they can feel the pull as the butt end begins to dip downward. When the dowsers are over the water, the twig has been bent straight down, having turned through an arc of 180 degrees. A stick of brittle wood will break under the grip of a dowser as the butt moves downward. Pliable twigs will twist themselves downward despite an effort to hold them straight.
Few manifestations of so-called psychic ability have been more hotly debated than that of dowsing. On the one hand is the pronouncement of the scientific community which declares that locating water by means of a forked stick is utter nonsense, and on the other side of the argument are those men and women who go ahead and locate water with their forked maple twigs, completely impervious to the ridicule visited upon them by the skeptics. They could not care less whether or not a laboratory technician believes that water cannot be found in such a manner. All they know is that it works and that they have been finding water in just that way for years.
Novelist Kenneth Roberts stated in his book, Henry Gross and His Dowsing Rod (1951): "Not all the derision of all the geologists in the world can in any way alter the unfailing accuracy of the dowsing rod in Henry Gross's hands. Not all the cries of 'hokum,' 'fanciful delusion,' 'hoax,' 'pseudoscience' can destroy or even lessen the value of Henry's dowsing.…"
In 1953, UNESCO sponsored a committee of prominent European scientists in their study of radioesthiesa. Their carefully considered consensus was that "there can be no doubt that it is a fact." The Academie des Sciences of Paris has commented that "it is impossible to deny the existence of the power, although its nature cannot be determined." Five Nobel Prize winners have endorsed dowsing, and so has the Institute of Technical Physics of the Dutch National Research Council.
In Germany in 1987 and 1988, more than 500 dowsers participated in more than 10,000 double-blind tests conducted by physicists in a barn near Munich. The researchers who held the so-called "Barn" experiments claimed that they had empirically proved that dowsing was a real phenomenon. However, subsequent analysis of the data by other scientists raise the argument that the results could reasonably be attributed to chance, rather than any kind of unknown psychic ability to find water or hidden objects.
Baum, Joseph. Beginners Handbook of Dowsing. New York: Random House, 1974.
Bird, Christopher. Divining Hand: The 500-Year-Old Mystery of Dowsing. Atglen, Pa.: Whitford Press, 1993.
Carroll, Robert Todd. "Dowsing (a.k.a. water witching)." The Skeptic's Dictionary.[Online] http://skepdic.com/dowsing.html. 8 March 2002.
Graves, Tom. Diviner's Handbook: A Guide to the Timeless Art of Dowsing. Rochester, Vt.: Inner Traditions, 1990.
Roberts, Kenneth. Henry Gross and His Dowsing Rod. Garden City, N.Y.: Doubleday & Co., 1951.
Webster, Richard. Dowsing for Beginners: The Art of Discovering Water, Treasure, Gold, Oil, Artifacts. St. Paul, Minn.: Llewellyn Publications, 1996.