To many, the practice of dowsing might sound like hocus-pocus. In fact, one of the nicknames for dowsing, also known as divining, is “water witching”. But what exactly is it?

Dowsing is based on an ancient practice of holding twigs or metals rods that (are supposed to) move in response to hidden or concealed objects, like hidden metal, buried treasure, metals, oils and groundwater. In today’s highly technical and technological world, however, dowsing might seem like an archaic practice that has about as much legitimacy as the Easter Bunny. Indeed, one website notes that dowsing “should be considered a type of divination and an example of magical thinking” because it is not based on known scientific laws, and lacks empirical evidence. Yet some farmers still rely on dowsers for advice on how to irrigate their land. Can dowsing actually find water? Does dowsing work, or is it all just magic and superstition?

The Science Behind the Magic

According to an article in The New Scientist, dowsing has never been proven to work – that is, scientifically. Despite many anecdotal reports and eyewitness testimonies claiming dowsing’s success, dowsing has failed to pass controlled scientific tests. In fact, no scientific experiment has ever shown dowsing to work. However, as The New Scientist points out, “that’s not to say the dowsing rods don’t move. They do.” But how can that be? How can dowsing work and not work at the same time?


Anyone who has ever played a Ouija board knows that the board moves by itself, a phenomenon that people still attribute to the existence of spirits, demons and ghosts. However, the scientific explanation for what happens when people play Ouija is the same one that applies for dowsing. Science refers to the movement of these inanimate objects as ideomotor movements, which are muscle movements caused by individual or collective subconscious mental activity. In other words, playing the Ouija board wouldn’t be fun or interesting if the board didn’t move on its own; the desire to believe that the Ouija board is moving on its own thus produces movement that looks and feels involuntary. In the same way, dowsing or divining rods move to find the presence of water. Does dowsing work? Not according to scientists.

Time Won’t Tell

Science cannot account, however, for many of the world’s mysteries and strange happenings. Indeed, while attributing the movements of a dowsing stick to “ideomotor movements” seems plausible, it doesn’t explain why people continue to practice the art of dowsing, even after it’s been debunked. Some people swear by it, while others laugh it off as a joke. Time won’t tell.

What Really Works

When you need to find water, don’t rely on outdated “magical” thinking and practices that science has long since debunked. Rely on real science and real results. At American Water Surveyors we find water by using the GF3500 seismoelectric survey instrument. Drilling water wells are expensive and you pay by the foot whether or not the driller produces nothing but a dry well. No wonder people relied on dowsing! It gave them hope! Times have changed. When you need to know where the water is, contact us.