Water Witching

Even with all our modern technology, the folk method of water witching is often still used to find the ideal well spot.

Out in the country we have a term used to describe the process of finding a place to dig a well. The term is “water witching” and no doubt derives from the fact that to people who don’t understand it, it appears to be magical. Another term often used is dowsing. One does not need to be a witch to find water, however.

Witching for water involves the use of a stick or metal rods. In the stick method, it is often a forked stick that is used. One side of the fork is held in each hand and the “witcher” walks around until the stick points toward the ground indicating an ideal water spot. Non-forked sticks are used as well. To witch with metal rods, any simple rod will do from welding rods to a coat hanger. They are L-shaped and the witcher hold the short end of the rods, one rod in each hand. When the rods cross or spread apart (depending on the witcher), it signals water. Depth can also be determined by stomping the ground until the rods move (the number of stomps corresponds to the number of feet deep the water lies.)

While one does not have to be a witch to find water, it is true than not everyone can witch a well. My father cannot witch water despite the fact that he has seen it done many times and strongly believes in it. In general, I think that most people would probably have a hard time accurately witching water, which is why people who can witch water are often so valuable. Even with the technology we have today, many companies will still rely on a trusted witcher to find water. Many utility companies still use rods to find leaky pipes or underground lines.

There are no positive explanations for how water witching works. One theory is that moving water creates an electromagnetic force that pulls on the metal rods. This theory does little to explain the effect of the wooden stick method, however. Another theory is that water witchers are subconsciously picking up the vibrations of the water underground with ESP and thus, subconsciously move the rods with muscle movements to minor to notice. Nothing has confirmed this theory either, however.

The fact that so little is known about water witching may be due in large part to the fact that the people who test the method are skeptics from the start and people who can truly witch water just take it as fact and don’t feel the need to prove it works any more than they feel the need to prove the sky is blue. As with anything that is not easily understood, many skeptics have tried to make their case against water witching.

One of the biggest arguments against water witching is that a person can find water almost anywhere if they drill deep enough. While this true enough, the entire point of water witching is to find where the water is closest to the surface without having to drill hundreds of feet into the ground. Skeptics also claim that people are suckered into believing they have found water by watching the person before them. They claim if a person sees someone’s stick indicate water, then they will subconsciously move their stick in the same area. A final theory is that water witchers have subconsciously absorbed enough knowledge of local geography that they know where the water is. My question: as long as they can find water, isn’t that the point?

The skeptics are welcome to believe what they want, but in my area, water witching is so common that well drillers are not at all surprised when a client tells them where they should drill due to having consulted a water witcher. My grandfather who was a champion water witcher was called by many of the neighbors to witch their wells.

On my family’s property we have 3 wells, all witched. The initial well for the house my mother witched many years ago walking around the yard with an apple branch lying flat on her palm until it began to spin in circles. They dug about 20 feet and hit water. The other two wells are garden wells, which we tried our own little experiment on. My mother knew which field she wanted the well in, so she used welding rods to witch a spot for it (when the rest of us were not even home). Then over the next few days, she had myself and each of my siblings witch a good spot for the well in the field. We all picked the same place without having known where the previous person found it. My mother also had a visiting friend try witching it, and he ended up at the same spot we had. What was more, all five of us determined the same depth of the water to within a foot or two of each other’s depth guess. And when we finally dug, there was the water exactly where we knew it would be.

As a final observance, most of the people I know who can witch water, can’t wear a watch without having it lose time or stop altogether for no apparent reason. A few years ago, I purchased two of the exact same watch at the exact same time in an experiment. One I wore, one I kept in another room. The one I wore was dead within two months, while the one I had kept in a separate room was still going strong keeping perfect time. I began wearing it as a replacement for the other and within a week, it was dead. Even now, I have a watch that I keep by my bedside. When I purchased it, it was in perfect time, within a week it began losing time, and is now ten minutes slow. The clock on my computer is also fifteen minutes fast for no apparent reason (though when my father had it, it kept perfect time). Maybe this means there is some scientific theory behind water witching; maybe it’s the witchers themselves and not the water that has the electromagnetic force. Copyright © Amber Reifsteck ~ The Woodland Elf

Originally published: Aug 31, 2010

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