L-shaped rods or a forked twig called a dowsing rod is used by holding the rods or forked stick firmly in front and walking slowly over the places where the “witcher” suspects the target may be. The rods cross or the forked willow dips downward when the discovery is made.
In the 1600’s dowsing was declared to be superstitious or even satanic by a Jesuit, Gaspar Schott, though he later noted that he wasn’t sure that the devil was responsible for the movement of the rod. Thence, the name of “witching” because of it’s supposed connection to accused witches who were labeled as devil worshipers. Many folks still feel this way and avoid the practice, even though it is commonly used prior to drilling many wells without that prejudice.
Some well drillers that I have talked to scoff at the idea of witching a well because they understand geology and hydrology enough to know that there is water under there somewhere, almost no matter where you drill.
Supporters of the practice insist that the chances of drilling a well more inexpensively are improved because witching seems to more accurately pinpoint a viable location.
I have seen “witchers “quickly locate buried culverts as well as septic tanks with pinpoint accuracy, so it is obvious to me that there is something to it. Once, while watching this unexplainable phenomenon, the forked stick dipped so dramatically that I immediately expressed my skepticism to the “witcher.”
After I tried it myself with absolutely no reaction, he invited me to hold one end of the stick while he held the other and asked me to hold his hand with my unoccupied hand. When we crossed the hidden source of subterranean water, the stick dipped towards the ground. When I felt the stick move, I tightened my grasp in an attempt to prove him wrong. The stick dipped downward with such force that it literally peeled the bark off the stick. Even though studies have been done that show results no better than chance, there are also studies that suggest that these abilities may be explained by human sensitivity to small magnetic field gradient changes. Maybe this is a good topic for Mythbusters!