Michael Lowe Wright at one year old Michael lowe Wright Michael lowe Wright recently
~~~~~ Dowsing is a real thing and you can do it too ~~~~~~
Sometime in the early 1980s...
Medieval guy dowsing I'm dreaming. It's the only explanation. The two pieces of bent wire I'm holding in my hands are moving - on their own. I'm a skeptical guy; this isn't possible. But I'm going to have to choose between believing in dowsing or believing in ghosts. I don't like either choice. Medieval guy dowsing
My dad drove down from Alabama yesterday. My mother died not too long ago, making this his first solo foray into Florida, and I'm recently separated from my first wife. A couple of newly single guys hanging out! Anybody else probably would have gone out to a bar but we just sat and talked awkwardly about not much of anything until bedtime.
This morning, though! The Sun rose on a whole new world, and I didn't even know it yet. He announced he was going to teach me to dowse. Yes, dowse, as in looking-for-water-with-a-green-stick-witching kind of dowse. Only instead of a green stick he employs a pair of stiff wires a couple of feet long and bent into an 'L' shape. I'm conflicted: he always taught me to be skeptical, not to accept extraordinary claims at face value. Yet here is my logical engineer dad making just such an extraordinary claim.
I needn't have worried. He'd made his career as an outside plant engineer for Southern Bell. When new poles had to be placed or old ones moved, when new cables either above or below ground were needed, his job was to survey the site and draw up a plan for the work crews to follow. One thing you really really don't want in that job is for a crew to arrive and start drilling for a new pole - and immediately drill right into a water main. No problem, right? Wrong: he found maps of existing infrastructure to be notoriously unreliable.
About now you may be thinking, "Yes, and?" I don't really know what made the light dawn, but it occurred to him that if dowsing can detect water flowing naturally underground, it should sure as heck be able to locate it flowing in a pipe - and he found that it does. As a bonus, he discovered it works with current flowing in wires as well. But how does it work?
Well, I can't give you a full explanation, but I do have an outline of one. Traditional "witching" or "divining" is concerned with finding water flowing undergound. Groundwater has dissolved minerals in it, so it's an electrical conductor. A conductor (the water) moving through a magnetic field (the Earth's) will have an electrical current induced in it. That electrical current will, in turn, produce a magnetic field aligned with the direction of flow. An electrical conductor (the dowsing rod) nearby will, in turn have a small current induced in it, which will then produce a force on that conductor (the rod) which will try to align it with the magnetic field created by the current in the flowing water. Traditionally the rod is a green branch, but it works quite well with a rod or pair of rods made from stiff wire.
You may find yourself, like me at the time, saying "But..." - and you're right to do so. That's a long chain of causation involving forces and currents that seem to be too small to have any effect. And yet - it works. He told me that to prove it's a real effect and not some unconscious manipulation, he had built a little device out of wood that could hold the rods properly, and then dragged it across a known buried water pipe; the rods moved the same as if he had been holding them.
Soon the dowsing rods became regular part of his 'kit' that he took out into the field, and they quickly proved their worth. Those location maps became suggestions, not directions. There was one catch, however, and you've probably guessed what it is: the water in the pipe has to be flowing, and the cable has to have a current. Oh, and it does nothing for gas pipelines. Or buried treasure, for that matter.
So that's how I come to be here, pacing the patio outside my basement apartment, rods in hand, still wondering if I'm being pranked, when suddenly these darn rods are twisting in my grip like they have a life of their own. Apparently there's a large underground stream nobody knew about running directly under the house. My dad's grinning; I don't think he expected it to happen so quickly and unequivocally.
That afternoon we took my lessons out into the real world. I learned an easy way to test if you're doing it right is overhead power lines. If you don't get an indication then either they're not active, or you need to work on your technique. We drove through a beautiful Spring day to some former pasture land in nearby Gadsden County. When I walked out into the long grass carrying the rods, I felt I had plugged into an ancient tradition, existing for the moment outside of time - an archtype: the sun on my shoulders, the wind in my hair, measuring out the earth, divining tool in hand, intent on finding life-giving water. Then, as though moving in concert with my internal vision, the rods revealed the little springs that arise on that land before they become visible on the surface.
Down in the bordering forest, though, chaos seemed to set in. The rods started behaving like unruly children, turning this way and that in no apparent pattern. "It's Springtime and the sap is rising from the roots," my dad explained, "and you'll never get an accurate reading. You have to wait until the trees settle down, but in a wooded area you'll get your best results in Winter".
There was one mmore complication, and it was the very thing that first triggered the rods for me. In a geological karst area like this, there is water flowing underground everywhere, and some of it is big and quite deep. There's clearly an art to sorting all this out; anybody can swing some rods around like a pair of six-guns, but only a master of the craft can fully understand what they're revealing.
That evening as I was drifting off to sleep, there was still an air of unreality about the day. One thing I knew for sure, though: my perception of the world would never again be quite the same. And I was fine with that.
These days you can buy dowsing rods online, at stores like Amazon and Etsy. Some of them are journeyman tools, well-made and easy to use. Some even have handles the rods fit into so they can turn freely without interference from friction with the user's hands. Or you can make a pair from a couple of wire clotheshangers - they'll work, too.
Mine are of stiff steel wire, bent into the shape of an 'L'; copper or aluminum are both good, too. The long part is 22" (can be longer or shorter) and the short part 5". I form a circle with my thumb and forefinger and rest the front of the short part on the inside of my finger with the length of the short part down past my palm, and the back of the lower end resting against the fleshy part of my thumb. The bend in the wire is above and not touching my hand, and I tilt my hands slightly forward so that the weight of the rods pulls them out straight in front of me. It's necessary to have a very loose 'hold' on the rod; it has to be able to swing freely. As I approach a source, the rods turn, usually toward the middle, so I slightly tilt my hands to the outside - just enough to keep the rods almost straight. This helps ensure to me that it's real and not my wishful thinking causing the response. Then, as I move away from it, the rods will suddenly collapse to the outside, fully confirming that they were actually responding to something. All this is kind of subtle and best taught in person, but if you're game to try it, experiment around to find what works for you. It's really not very hard. The best place to learn is, of course, under some overhead power lines - preferably not the tall high-tension variety, though, as the field they create can be wide and diffuse. Once you get the hang of it, try finding the water pipe going into your home. It's another easy target.
Have fun, and Happy Dowsing!