Dowsing is the purported skill to be able to find water via divination. Dowsing is also sometimes called "water witching" or "divining". A Dowser uses a tree branch (or L-shaped wire hangers) to locate where an underground "stream" is located. There is no plausible physical explanation for dowsing. While proponents cite anecdotal evidence of the efficacy of dowsing, actual scientific study of dowsing reveals it to be a pseudoscience. An article in the January 1999 issue of Skeptical Inquirer examined a pseudoscientific German dowsing study with the conclusion

The Munich dowsing experiments represent the most extensive test ever conducted of the hypothesis that a genuine mysterious ability permits dowsers to detect hidden water sources. The research was conducted in a sympathetic atmosphere, on a highly selected group of candidates, with careful control of many relevant variables. The researchers themselves concluded that the outcome unquestionably demonstrated successful dowsing abilities, but a thoughtful re-examination of the data indicates that such an interpretation can only be regarded as the result of wishful thinking. In fact, it is difficult to imagine a set of experimental results that would represent a more persuasive disproof of the ability of dowsers to do what they claim. The experiments thus can and should be considered a decisive failure by the dowsers.

I attended a Quaker wedding in Austin, Texas with an old friend who now lives down there. Now, I don't want to give anybody the impression that the Religious Society of Friends is nothing but a bunch of flakes. They're not that at all; they just get more than their share. My friend Mary in Austin is a gruesome example, in her own sincere and good-hearted way.

When you go to a wedding, you bring a gift. This is common in any human culture which supports credit cards, and probably others. It's not clear to me whether the bride and groom had registered at Crate & Barrel or whatever, and God knows Mary wouldn't give a damn if they had. She decided to get them a rock, a Rock of Power. A crystal that'd really straighten their spiritual asses out, whether they liked it or not.

Most Quakers (like for example the Happy Couple in this case) aren't into that bullshit any more than you are, but most people who are into that bullshit don't fully understand just how dumb they look to the rest of us. And after all, it's the thought that counts, right? Lots of wedding gifts are idiotic -- hell, gifts in general: Mary gave me a small rock on that trip, and it's a nice little keepsake.

Mary had some particular kind of rock in mind. On the way to the wedding, we stopped at a new age rock store somewhere in Austin. It was a little storefront in a strip mall. They did have some nifty rocks there: Attractively colored, nicely polished, and often carved into little obelisks and whatnot. Okay, I can dig a good rock when I see one. I'm just not counting on it fixing my transmission.

Mary looked over the rocks they had until she found the Right Rock. I don't recall what it was; it was something-or-other with inclusions of something else. The inclusions might have been garnets. The matrix was greenish and sickly-looking.

Honestly, it wasn't a ravishing rock. I would not ask this rock to dance.

But Mary liked it, and it gave off the correct vibrations, so she went to the nice rock lady who ran the store and asked what it cost.

This is when everything turned seriously weird.

The nice rock lady said, "I'll dowse it." She picked up a gold chain with a little obeliskular rock stuck on as a pendant. She held up Mary's rock in her left hand and dangled the pendant over it with her right hand. She closed her eyes and concentrated for about half a minute. At the end of that time, she opened her eyes and spoke in a very normal voice, just as if she were sane:

"I'm getting about $29.00. If you come back tomorrow, Rhonda will be in and you can ask her to dowse it too, but she and I usually come within a few dollars of each other."

Mary shook her head sadly and said, "Sorry, that's a bit much." The nice rock lady walked away, and I leaned over to Mary and muttered, "Shit, lemme dangle a rock over it and I bet I'll come up with five bucks plus tax."

No dice. Apparently they don't let customers dowse the rocks. Go figure. We left empty-handed.


A few years ago New Scientist magazine reported a scientific experiment apparently proving the reality of water divining.

"Dowsers were invited to go upstairs"

A hose-pipe, carrying a flow of water, was put through one particular window of an old double decker bus, a window in the lower deck, and out through the opposite window. Dowsers were then invited to go upstairs and use their paranormal ability to discover at which point, along the length of the bus, the hose went across underneath.

"very unlikely"

When the data was analyzed statistically the success of the dowsers was very unlikely to have occurred by chance.

If the assumption was made that the water diviners were detecting "reflections" of the water flow in addition to the water flow itself (a common contention in dowsing circles) the probability of the experimental result having occurred by chance dropped further.

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