divining rod

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divining rod



stick used in searching for underground water or minerals. This form of divination is still in common use in many parts of the world. The instrument is typically a forked twig. The operator holds the forked ends of the twig close to his body, with the stem pointing forward. When he walks over a spot under which water or the desired mineral lies, the stem of the divining rod is supposedly pulled down. Impartial research, however, has indicated that successes in this method result mostly from chance and possibly also from a heightened sensitivity to visual cues of which the diviner is unaware.
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Water diviner John Caleb Wade, shown in 1939 at age nine, locating water under ground using a forked hazel twig. Harry Shepherd/Fox Photos/Getty Images.

Divining Rod

(religion, spiritualism, and occult)

Divining rods were used by the ancient Greeks, Romans, Persians, and Scythians to discover the location of water or of various minerals. Basically a forked or Y-shaped stick, the hazel twig seems to have been the favorite, especially for finding water. For finding metals, popular woods were: hazel for silver, iron and steel for gold, ash for copper, and pitch pine for lead and tin. Other popular general purpose sticks are of ash, rowan, or willow.

The method is for the operator to hold the two ends of the stick in his or her hands and to walk over the area thought to be the probable source for the water or mineral. As the operator crosses the underground source, the twig will twist in the hands, often with such force that any bark may be stripped from the wood. In the Bible, Moses dowsed for water in the desert, using his staff as a divining rod (Exodus 17; Numbers 20). Marco Polo found rods in use throughout the orient in the late thirteenth century. Georg Agricola gave the first printed description of a dowsing or divining rod in his book De re metallica (Basel, 1556). Agricola’s interest was primarily with mining and locating minerals, but the techniques he describes are the same as those used for water divining or water witching. A well known illustration from his book shows a variety of men both digging and walking about with Y-shaped rods in their hands. One man is in the act of cutting a forked branch from a tree.

In Sebastian Münster’s Cosmographia universalis (Basel, 1544), there is an illustration of a man divining with a forked stick and showing a cross-section of the ground beneath him, where miners are at work. There is a bas relief in the Shantung Province of China showing Yu, a “master of the science of the earth and in those matters concerning water veins and springs.” He is shown holding a forked instrument.

Modern dowsers have developed such sensitivity and skill that they are able to measure the actual depth at which the substance will be found and, in the case of water, the rate of flow. According to the British Society of Dowsers, although no thorough scientific explanations for dowsing have yet been found, it is generally acknowledged that there is some correlation between the dowsing reaction and changes in the magnetic flux of the site being dowsed. In 1910, German scientist Baron Karl von Reichenbach said that the movement of the rod was due to earth force fields sending out radiations and vibrations which are picked up by the dowser.

As well as branches, many dowsers today use tools as varied as bent wire coat hangers, pendulums (with cavities for a “witness”—samples of what is being sought), and commercially produced, swinging rods especially designed for the purpose. Many modern well-drilling companies employ a diviner, or dowser, on their force. Some even guarantee that if they can’t find water, there will be no charge.

Dowsers have been widely employed around the world. The Government of India had an official Water Diviner who, between 1925 and 1930, traveled thousands of miles and located numerous wells and bore holes. In more recent years, the British Society of Dowsers had one of their experts go to southern India, where he sited boreholes for more than 1,800 previously dry villages.

As with any form of psychic or mediumistic skill, everyone has within them the inherent ability. But as with any other psychic skill, it is by practice and constant use that that skill is developed. As with so much in the field of psychic and mediumistic development, young children seem to be able to draw upon the skill much more easily and naturally than do adults.


Buckland, Raymond: The Fortune–Telling Book: The Encyclopedia of Divination and Soothsaying. Detroit: Visible Ink Press, 2004
de Givry, Grillot: A Pictorial Anthology of Witchcraft, Magic & Alchemy. London: Spottiswoode, Ballantyne, 1931
Guiley, Rosemary Ellen: Harper’s Encyclopedia of Mystical & Paranormal Experience. HarperSanFrancisco, 1991
Maury, Marguerite: How to Dowse: Experimental and Practical Radiesthesia. London: Bell, 1953
Mermet, Abbé: Principles and Practice of Radiesthesia. London: Watkins, 1975
Pike, S.N.: Water-Divining. London: Research Publications, 1945
The Spirit Book © 2006 Visible Ink Press®. All rights reserved.

divining rod

[də′vīn·iŋ ‚räd]
(mining engineering)
An unscientific device in the form of a forked rod or tree branch that is supposed to dip when held over water or minerals, depending on the specialty of the operator, or dowser. Also known as dowsing rod; wiggle stick.
McGraw-Hill Dictionary of Scientific & Technical Terms, 6E, Copyright © 2003 by The McGraw-Hill Companies, Inc.
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