Truth, fiction or sorcery
Try dowsing and decide for yourself!
BY THE MASKED BIOLOGIST
Special to the Star Journal
Recently one of my kids decided he is a fan of Harry Potter, and decided he needed a wand. To my amazement, he seemed to think he had to pay $30 to order one on the internet. I showed him how to use a pocketknife and an oak branch to make his own wand, which made him happy. Then I had to open my mouth and say “of course, oaks are powerful trees, but depending on what kind of spells you want to do, you really need a willow wand as well.” This eventually culminated in me searching to find the perfect black willow branch for him to make another wand.
Now, let me be clear that I do not practice sorcery or witchcraft, nor do I know anyone who does. I told my son this because as a child, I had a relative who was a water witch, or dowser. If you are unfamiliar with dowsing, it is a simple concept. A dowser uses a forked tree branch to determine where water exists underground. My great aunt used a green branch from a willow tree whenever possible; stating that the live branch best seeks water. She came to visit each of us children when we reached the desired age to test us and see if we inherited “the gift” but none of us turned out to be dowsers.
A quick search on the internet can yield plenty of sites that refute dowsing. According to the U.S. Geological Survey (USGS), dowsers have no special powers of divination, and the reason they appear successful is because they search for water in low-lying areas where water tables are naturally high. This might explain why the willow rod is so important. Willows have a strong association to water, often growing in and along drainages, streams, and on riverbanks and lakeshores. I propose that anyone who seeks a willow branch to start dowsing would already be in an area where some subsurface percolation is already occurring.
As a scientist, I am intrigued by both sides of the discussion on the validity of dowsing. The Scientific Method requires you to develop a hypothesis and test it to see if it is correct. One would need to hypothesize that no one person is more sensitive to subsurface water than anyone else. There have been such studies, and they have proven water witches are not correct any more often than others in predicting water location. Moving water generates a very weak electrical field; wood is not a natural conductor, but maybe a green branch with water content helps complete some kind of circuit detectable by people more sensitive to electrical current. But what about my great aunt?
“I propose that anyone who seeks a willow branch to start dowsing would already be in an area where some subsurface percolation is already occurring.” -The Masked Biologist
Her testing each of us children for dowsing is also an examination of the hypothesis that dowsing is a gift inherited by some, but not all, successors—a sort of recessive genetic trait, if you will, a holdover from before our current era when we needed dowsers to help us determine where to dig wells to keep people and livestock alive. The fact that none of us children, three generations removed, had the gift would also support her hypothesis—she was able to dowse and I was not. Try it for yourself—cut a green forked willow branch, hold it out in front of you, grasping the forks in your hands, palms up, with the loose end pointing upward at a 45-degree angle. Take a walk and see if your dowsing rod reacts; it should rotate or turn sharply downward when you pass over a water source. The result could surprise you.
The Masked Biologist earned a Bachelor of Science degree from a university with a highly regarded wildlife biology program. He has worked for natural resource agencies from the Rocky Mountains, across the Great Plains and into the Midwest. He’s worked with a variety of common and rare fish, plant and wildlife species. Follow The Masked Biologist on Facebook.