Friday, October 19, 2007


My father is a man of many talents. He can make beautiful furniture in his workshop, he’s built .50 cal black powder rifles and designed and built miniature black powder cannons. He’s a deft hand in the kitchen and was the person who taught me an easy way to knot thread and sew on buttons. When I was a toddler he was a lumberjack and, for extra money, he gave flying lessons. He can fix just about anything that is broken, can read people like a book, and is the person whom the farmers for miles around call on when they need a helping hand. He is the person who used to tell me “Think!! Use your head for something other than a hat rack!” He has had two wives, seven children, twelve grandchildren, and his fourth great grandchild arrived earlier this year.

My father is a deeply religious man. This was not always the case, but as the years have grown on him, so has his faith. Fortunately my stepmother, to whom he has been married for 49 years, shares his devotion, so the two of them do just fine. There is one little thing, though…one little bone of contention. The Catholic Church frowns pretty strongly on anything supernatural that doesn’t directly involve the Holy Trinity or the Saints, and my father is a dowser...a "water witch."

Now, before you click on that “comment” button and read me the riot act about superstition and such, bear in mind that I am a natural-born sceptic. That, coupled with my father’s regular admonition to exercise my brain, led me long ago to dismiss the idea of dowsing as being little more than illogical nonsense. My maternal grandfather owned a tractor and farm equipment store and sold submersible pumps and irrigation systems. He had close friends who owned a drilling truck and probably sank half the wells in the county. I was regularly around people who made rural water happen…it just never occurred to me to ask how they knew where to drill.

We moved into town when I was a kid, but I spent considerable time with my grandparents. When my grandfather died, the family moved back to the farm and Dad built his own house about a quarter mile up the road from Grandma Violet. On the ridge behind the house was an artesian spring which gave the loveliest, silkiest water you would ever want to taste, but, unfortunately, it ran dry in the summer so they had to sink a well. I was an adult by this time, living on my own, and it wasn’t until I came up to visit, several years after the house was finished, that I found out about my father’s avocation.

In addition to being taught how to use my brain, my father ensured that I, along with my six siblings, learned manners and respect for our elders. Far be it from me to scoff at his claim to having dowsed the well…and the wells of several of his neighbours. I smiled and nodded and made polite noises, but remained sceptical. He could tell.

“This sorta thing runs in families, ya know,” he said to me, rubbing the knuckle of his right forefinger against his chin in a familiar thinking gesture. “Mebbe you should try it,” he said.

“No, Dad, that’s ok,” I told him. “One dowser in the family is enough.”

“No, no,” he said thoughtfully and turned towards his truck. Shaking his head, feet crunching in the gravel, made his way over to the big Chevy 4x4, pulled open the driver’s door, and reached behind the front seat. Instead of the hokey old forked stick of peeled willow that I expected, he withdrew two long, slender metal rods…they looked like welding rod…and held them out for me to see. The last six inches or so of the rods were bent at a 90 degree angle, giving them an “L” shape, with the ascender of the “L” disproportionately long.

“Interesting…” I said, trying to think of a way to change the subject. This was making me strangely uncomfortable.

“Come stand over here,” he said and when I did, he stepped up behind me. “Put your hands up like this,” he said, demonstrating a pair of fists with the hands positioned like he was carrying a couple of bouquets of flowers. I put my hands up.

He stepped in front of me and placed the short end of his “dowsing rods” in each hand, inserting them into the top of my closed fists. “Don’t clutch them,” he instructed. “Apply just enough pressure to keep them from falling out of your hands, no more.” I complied.

He straightened the rods so they were parallel and pointing straight out in front of me. “Now, start walking straight ahead,” he said. “Slowly and steadily.”

“Dad,’ I started to protest. “This is silly…”

“Just keep walking straight ahead,” he said encouragingly. I walked. Slowly. Straight ahead.

And then it happened. Before my own very sceptical eyes, the two rods began to move toward each other. I am sure my eyes were as big as saucers, and I could feel the gooseflesh rise on my arms as my stomach began a sickly quiver. “Stop right there!” my father called as the rods crossed over each other in an unmistakeable “X” shape. I stopped.

When he reached my side I tried to give the rods back to him, but he just said “We ain’t done yet.” Four times he pointed me in a direction and told me to start walking. Four times the rods inexplicably moved towards each other and crossed. And four times, my father called out “Stop right there,” as they did.

When he finally let me give back those rods, I nearly collapsed with relief. They were giving me the creeps! Then Dad walked me back to each of the spots where I stopped and told me what he was up to. It seems that there are a couple of underground streams in the back garden and two water pipes that run from the well to the house. He said that when he located water the rods crossed and the place to drill was right below his fists…for me it was under my heels. I had found all four of the water sources in the back garden!

My skin crawled. I felt queasy and light-headed. This was creepy and it flew in the face of everything I believed…and still believe…to be possible. But the truth is, Dad dowsed the property before they built the house, and called out my grandfather's well-drilling friends. They drilled at the spot Dad gave them and when their rig hit water they dropped a submersible pump and Dad had water. Apparently none of them thought it was the least bit strange.

So now I am of two minds. The sceptic in me says it was just a wild coincidence that I found the water sources and my tension caused minute changes in how I held the rods, causing them to move. On the other hand, Dad’s got a pretty good well…


  1. Hey, I find it really interesting. I did a walk at one time where I walked past an area, in a nature reserve, where farmers had tried for water. They didn't get any there, and the explanation, I believe, is that these guys were finding these sites using devining rods - and so they flopped. In Kenya, as a child, I also know of places where nobody could find any water, despite the divining rod guys saying there was water.

    The whole subject has interested me for the same reason it does you. But I have never tried it, and never as an adult have I talked to someone who said they had success with it.

  2. I've actually used dowsing many times, it seems to be a lost art like so many others thanks for sharing!


  3. That was a really great story! I had never even heard of a "water witch" before. Also, props to your dad for keeping strength in his faith even if some of his beliefs contradict the church. I really respect that.

  4. I'm a total believer and have dabbled with it myself. I know an older woman who does it on her property. Thanks for the story.


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