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Published by: situations on Sep 02, 2010
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A dowser, from an 18th century French book aboutsuperstitions.
is a type of divination employed in attempts tolocate ground water, buried metals or ores, gemstones, oil,gravesites,
and many other objects and materials, as wellas so-called currents of earth radiation, without the use of scientific apparatus. Dowsing is also known as
(especially in reference to interpretation of results),
(in the US), or (when searchingspecifically for water)
water finding
water witching
.A Y- or L-shaped twig or rod, called a
dowsing rod
divining rod
virgula divina
) or
witching rod
is sometimes used duringdowsing, although some dowsers use other equipment orno equipment at all.Dowsing appears to have arisen in the context of Renaissance magic in Germany, and it remains popularamong believers in Forteana or radiesthesia
althoughthere is no accepted scientific rationale behind the conceptand no scientific evidence that it is effective.
Dowsing as practiced today may have originated inGermany during the 15th century, when it was used to findmetals. As early as 1518 Martin Luther listed dowsing formetals as an act that broke the first commandment (i.e., asoccultism). The 1550 edition of Sebastian Münster's
contains a woodcut of a dowser with forked rodin hand walking over a cutaway image of a mining operation. The rod is labelled "Virgula Divina
Glück rüt"(Latin: divine rod; German: fortune rod or stick), but there is no text accompanying the woodcut. By 1556 GeorgiusAgricola's treatment of mining and smelting of ore,
 De Re Metallica
, included a detailed description of dowsing formetal ore.
In 1662 dowsing was declared to be "superstitious, or rather satanic" by a Jesuit, Gaspar Schott, though he laternoted that he wasn't sure that the devil was always responsible for the movement of the rod.
An epigram by Samuel Sheppard, from
 Epigrams theological, philosophical, and romantick 
(1651) runs thus:
Virgula divina
."Some Sorcerers do boast they have a Rod,Gather'd with Vowes and Sacrifice,And (borne about) will strangely nodTo hidden Treasure where it lies;Mankind is (sure) that Rod divine,For to the Wealthiest (ever) they incline."The use of divining rods was a popular branch of folk magic in early 19th century New England. The early leaders inMormonism, a religion that erupted out of that environment, were not exempt. Oliver Cowdery, the Book of 
Dowsing2Mormon scribe and "Second Elder" of the Church, used a divining rod for revelatory purposes.
In a revelationgiven to Joseph Smith through his seer stone, God affirmed Cowdery's use of "working with the rod", and said that itwas a divine gift through which Cowdery could learn the "mysteries of God".
This gift later became known in therevelation as "the gift of Aaron", referencing Moses' brother Aaron's use of a rod in the Old Testament.
In the late 1960s during the Vietnam War, some United States Marines used dowsing to attempt to locate weaponsand tunnels.
An extensive book on the history of dowsing was published by Christopher Bird in 1979 under thetitle of 
The Divining Hand 
. James Randi
s 1982 book 
devotes 19 pages to comprehensive double-blindtests done in Italy which yielded results no better than chance.
Dowsing rods
A forked tree branch
Traditionally, the most common dowsing rod is a forked (Y-shaped)branch from a tree or bush. Some dowsers prefer branches fromparticular trees, and some prefer the branches to be freshly cut. Hazeltwigs in Europe and witch-hazel in the United States are traditionallycommonly chosen, as are branches from willow or peach trees. Thetwo ends on the forked side are held one in each hand with the third(the stem of the "Y") pointing straight ahead. Often the branches aregrasped palms down. The dowser then walks slowly over the placeswhere he suspects the target (for example, minerals or water) may be,and the dowsing rod supposedly dips, inclines or twitches when adiscovery is made. This method is sometimes known as "WillowWitching."
Two L-shaped metal wire rods
Many dowsers today use a pair of simple L-shaped metal rods. One rodis held in each hand, with the short arm of the L held upright, and thelong arm pointing forward. When something is found, the rods crossover one another making an "X" over the found object. If the object islong and straight, such as a water pipe, the rods will point in oppositedirections, showing its orientation. Some dowsers claim best successwith rods made of particular metals, commonly brass, although othersthink that the material is irrelevant if it is the human body itself thatdoes the detecting.
The rods are sometimes fashioned from wire coathangers, and glass or plastic rods have also been accepted. Straightrods are also sometimes used for the same purposes, and were notuncommon in early 19th century New England.In all cases, the device is in a state of unstable equilibrium from which slight movements may be amplified.
Revelatory rods
A man demonstrating dowsing technique using aY-shaped branch
Besides dowsing, divining rods were also used as revelatory devices.Sometimes a rod would be held up in the air, and the rodman wouldask a question. If the rod moved, the answer was "yes". If it did notmove, the answer was "no". The source for this was believed to beeither magical spirits or God; sometimes these types of rods werereferred to as a "Mosaic rod" or "rod of Aaron", referencing the OldTestament prophet Moses and his brother Aaron, who both used rods(presumably straight ones).
Other equipment used for dowsing
A pendulum of crystal, metal or other materials suspended on a chainis sometimes used in divination and dowsing. In one approach the userfirst determines which direction (left-right, up-down) will indicate"yes" and which "no" before proceeding to ask the pendulum specificquestions, or else another person may pose questions to the personholding the pendulum. The pendulum may also be used over a pad orcloth with "yes" and "no" written on it and perhaps other words writtenin a circle. The person holding the pendulum aims to hold it as steadily as possible over the center and its movementsare held to indicate answers to the questions. In the practice of radiesthesia, a pendulum is used for medicaldiagnosis.
Suggested explanations
Early attempts at a scientific explanation of dowsing were based on the notion that the divining rod was physicallyaffected by emanations from substances of interest. The following explanation is from William Pryce's 1778
 Mineralogia Cornubiensis
:The corpuscles ... that risefrom the Minerals, entering the rod, determine it to bow down, in order to render it parallel to the vertical lines which the effluvia describe in their rise. In effect the Mineral particles seem to beemitted from the earth; now the Virgula [rod], being of a light porous wood, gives an easy passage to theseparticles, which are also very fine and subtle; the effluvia then driven forwards by those that follow them, andpressed at the same time by the atmosphere incumbent on them, are forced to enter the little intersticesbetween the fibres of the wood, and by that effort they oblige it to incline, or dip down perpendicularly, tobecome parallel with the little columns which those vapours form in their rise.Such explanations have no modern scientific basis.A 1986 article in
included dowsing in a list of "effects which until recently were claimed to be paranormalbut which can now be explained from within orthodox science."
Specifically, dowsing could be explained interms of sensory cues, expectancy effects and probability.
Skeptics and some supporters believe that dowsing apparatus has no power of its own but merely amplifies slightmovements of the hands caused by a phenomenon known as the ideomotor effect: people's subconscious minds mayinfluence their bodies without their consciously deciding to take action. This would make the dowsing rods a conduitfor the diviner's subconscious knowledge or perception.There is disputed evidence that dowsers have subliminal sensitivity to the environment (through electroception,magnetoception, telluric currents or otherwise) or other paranormal faculties. Soviet geologists have made claims forthe abilities of dowsers,
which are difficult to account for in terms of the reception of normal sensory cues. Some

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