Searching for water: the gifts of the water witcher

Ancient skills lead indigenous people to water beneath the earth

Whether it is an inherited gift or a trick used to decide chance, the quest of witching for water is one that has crossed millennia.

Dowsing, witching, divining; although the name of water witching may have changed in different cultures and eras, the techniques have not.

Some claim that this practice originated in the 1500’s in Germany because the art was widely used by miners in Germany for hundreds of years to locate water and ore deposits.

However, French explorers, upon stumbling across the Tassili Caves, found many of the walls were covered with marvellous pre-historic paintings. Among the many fascinating murals, not only did they locate an art gallery devoted exclusively to the depictions of spacecraft and supernatural beings, they also found a remarkable huge wall painting of a dowser. The dowser was holding a forked branch in his hands searching for water, surrounded by a group of admiring tribesmen. These wall murals were carbon dated and found to be a least 8000 years old, predating the belief of the practice having Germanic origins. The act of dowsing is also mentioned in biblical passages, as well as in scriptures in ancient Greece making the practice ancient.

A wooden dowsing rod or “forked twig” itself looks very much like a wish bone, with two rods naturally coming to a point and connecting at a stem. But there are other forms, whereby the user may use two rods of metal to divine other metals in the earth.

Particularly, the wooden rod is something common place for many farmers as you can find them on the walls of barns, inconspicuously hung among other tools such as axes and shovels.

On a chilly winter afternoon; Alouise Hill, the wife of an inter-generational farmer, sat down to talk about her experience as an experienced “water witcher.”

Not even touching a dousing rod until after her children were born, Hill later divined the well that rests at the corner of her home. Her introduction to the craft came from Emerson Hill, her father-in-law and a Mohawk inter-generational farmer and agriculturalist, who wanted to see if she could do it.

“He got me to try back where we live now and we didn’t need to dig that deep to find water. That well is only 32 feet deep,” she said, mentioning that the well was dug in 1974. “But there towards the end, when I got close to quitting, good grief it seemed like the older I got the more the stick would move. It was kind of scaring me,” she said with a laugh.

She showed how to hold a divining rod with a spare turkey wish bone from a previous meal, showing that her hands spread the “v” of the bone apart. But when holding a real rod; while keeping the stem facing away from the holder and once water is found, the nose of the rod she said, will turn towards the holder and point down ward.

“You really gotta hold tight and that’s what Emerson said, you really got to hold on to it because when the stick starts moving that’s when you know you’ve found it. But that’s what the scary part is, is when the stick starts moving and people kind of look at you like you’re the one moving it, but you’re not.”

Using this method, the number of wells that Hill has divined is in the dozens as visitors would come to ask her to “witch for water,” because they heard “she’s the best.”

Although she is unsure of how she became known for her witching besides word of mouth, she recalled a time when she witched water for a relative and her rod suspiciously pointed downward to a rock. But once the rock was removed water was found just below.

As she found a lot of success in witching water, when asked about the type of compensation she would receive for it, Hill explained that she was told that if a person has a gift like this that they shouldn’t charge for it.

“It’s never been a money issue for me, they’re the ones that have to pay to get the well dug, I’m just helping them find what they’re looking for,” she said. “But I will say one thing, and that’s that it drains you. It’s like it takes all of your energy to do it and I would go home after and go right to sleep.”

She imagines that her tiredness is not unlike the tiredness felt after a full day of swimming as being exposed to the elements is a draining activity.

But the question as to how the mechanics of water witching work can only be summed up by speculation. Perhaps it is the water content of the human body that affects the movement of the rod, or perhaps earthly magnetism that is amplified by the rod ends being held apart; it hasn’t been explained or broken down for hundreds of years.

Just as Thomas Edison was once asked, “what is electricity?” And he replied with “I don’t know – but its there – so lets use it”, the same mentality can be said for water witchers as the practice has been proved to work. That is, if the witcher is capable.

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1 Comment

  1. My dad used to do it this way: he would pop the guts out of two ink pens and use only the barrels, then put a length of bent coat hanger in each one. He would go for a walk with his hands held in front of him, and when the wires formed an X that is where the water was. Every time.

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