Monday, May 20, 2013

Dowsing: The Pseudoscience of Water Witching

Divining rod, dowsing rod  

Dowsing is an unexplained process in which people use a forked twig or wire to find missing and hidden objects. Dowsing, also known as divining and doodlebugging, is often used to search for water or missing jewelry, but it is also often employed in other applications including ghost hunting, crop circles and fortunetelling.

The dowsing that most people are familiar with is water dowsing, or water witching or rhabdomancy, in which a person holds a Y-shaped branch (or two L-shaped wire rods) and walks around until they feel a pull on the branch, or the wire rods cross, at which point water is allegedly below. Sometimes a pendulum is used held over a map until it swings (or stops swinging) over a spot where the desired object may be found. Dowsing is said to find anything and everything, including missing persons, buried pipes, oil deposits and even archaeological ruins.

They got it wrong

Part of the reason for dowsing's longevity is its versatility in the New Age and paranormal worlds. According to many books and dowsing experts, the practice has a robust history and its success has been known for centuries. For example in the book "Divining the Future: Prognostication From Astrology to Zoomancy," Eva Shaw writes, "In 1556, 'De Re Metallica,' a book on metallurgy and mining written by George [sic] Agricola, discussed dowsing as an acceptable method of locating rich mineral sources." This reference to 'De Re Metallica' is widely cited among dowsers as proof of its validity, though there are two problems.

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