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Dowsing is a controversial method of divination which dowsers say empowers them to find water, metals and hidden objects by carrying some form of stick and watching its motion.

Dowsers, sometimes known as diviners, also use a forked branch of a tree, bent pieces of metal or plastic wire, or a small pendulum. Some people use no pointing device at all.

History of Dowsing

Dowsing has existed in various forms for thousands of years. The form used today probably originates in Germany during the 15th century. Then it was used to find metals. The technique spread to England with German miners who came to England to work in the coal mines. An extensive book on the history of dowsing was published by Christopher Bird in 1979 under the title of The Divining Hand.

Theories of Dowsing

Dowsing is often explained as being due to the human body having a sensitivity to electric or magnetic fields (the senses of electroception and magnetoception), though these effects are so far still unverified.

A skeptical theory of dowsing is that the seemingly involuntary movements of the piece of metal or wood are due to the idiomotor reaction. In other words, the dowser inadvertently creates such movements him/herself. James Randi is one proponent of this theory. Dowsing is the most common claim to Randi's offer of one million dollars for the demonstration of something paranormal, but as of 2003, all attempts to demonstrate dowsing to Randi's exacting scientific standards have failed.

Dowsing is in the borderland between pseudoscience and protoscience.

Dowsing Equipment

Most dowsers use a simple brass rod bent in an "L" shape. The choice of brass apparently allows the rod to attune to the magnetic fields emenated by the target without the earth's EM field interfering, as would be the case with a metal such as steel. The end of the rod to be held by the dowser is often encased in a material that provides a constant electrical impedance, to prevent the dowser's own conductivity from interfering with the dowsing process.

Some such rods also utilize a "witness chamber", especially those claimed to be able to find minerals. The user places a sample of what he or she wishes to find in the witness chamber, usually located at the end of the rod, and the rod is supposed to only respond to the material placed in the chamber.

In recent years, electronic dowsing rods, also known as Long-Range Locators have sprung up on the market, often costing hundreds or even thousands of dollars. The makers claim that these devices have specially tuned electronics that allow one to find anything from water to gold. In every known case, however, it has been found that the locator electronics are either totally nonfunctional or do not perform as claimed when tested under rigorous scientific conditions, such as a double-blind study

Map Dowsing

Some proponents claim to be able to find water or minerals by dowsing a map. Unlike dowsing by walking, this method is unsupported by any scientific hypothesis, proven or unproven, which lead most to classify it as pseudoscience. Unlike ordinary dowsing it can only be explained as some kind of extra-sensory perception.

When done using a pendulum, this is called radiesthesia.


"Now there are so many scientists who believe in dowsing, that the suspicion comes to me that it may be only a myth after all." - Charles Fort

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