Water Witching, Science, and Voodoo in Bib Overalls

Update News Article Link–December 2015:

During a California drought 100 years ago, the city of San Diego hired a rainmaker—and the rains fell hard. Coincidence, science, or complete flimflam?  

July 2015:  Amid epic drought, California farmers turn to water witches. Rejected by scientists, dowsing is an ancient tradition that’s dying hard in the Central Valley’s parched fields.

Witching in Bib Overalls: 

So—water witching (dowsing) is in the news, and my knee-jerk reaction was to notice that the buzz is centered in California, a land known for fads and fringe. Or maybe the drought has them desperate. 

But then I read that wine company executives and respected farmers are hiring witchers (diviners), and some are paying $500 a session. I’d want the witcher to find a reservoir of Guinness Stout for that price, but I understand what the Big Dry has been doing to the Golden State. The lack of water is no joke—but does that mean we need to grab our divining rods? 

And just when I’m getting smug about “voodoo followers,” I’m reminded that a fair few in my home area of central Iowa have the water divining faith. “They might be using copper or wooden divining rods nowadays,” Dad tells me, “but I’ve seen locals use willow branches or even wire coat hangers. Many rural folks think of it as a proven practice.”

Most scientists scoff at the method—they’re just lucky, they say, or they often witch where water is bound to be present. Dad has no time for palm readers or Ouija boards, but he’s not quick to discount water divining. “Experts in the old days held a forked willow branch in both hands, and the single part of the stick would turn as they crossed over water. One old timer told me the force of the pull could be enough to rip the bark off the branch.”
A family friend from days past apparently had the knack. Wearing bib overalls and clenching a short cigar in his teeth, Milo could find tile lines, water pipes, or promising locations for farm wells. He’d concentrate on the task like a man on a mission. “Well now,” he’d mutter, “let’s see. It’s leading me this way.”
Years ago, Dad and some of the other editors at John Deere’s Furrow Magazine had Milo do a test run. They knew of a buried water tank in a field, and Milo “witched” his way until he found it. Not necessarily hard scientific proof, but it gets you wondering.

When it comes to modern-day water witching, I suppose digital imaging and water sniffing drones will win out. But for my money, I’d take guys like Milo. The drones might find water, but at the end of the day, they couldn’t tell a good story or share a cold beer with you. 

by dan gogerty (photo from motherearthnews.com)

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