What Is Divining? And Does It Work?

The practice of using a forked stick to locate water underground is age-old. It’s known as “divining,” “dowsing,” “water witching,” and “doodle bugging.” Some consider it a unique ability. But others dismiss it as pseudoscience.

So what is it?

Is it magic? Myth? Or all in our minds?

Divining is a form of divination that involves the use of tools. Tools may include a forked twig, dowsing rods, a pendulum, and more. You can use the tools to locate elements underground. These elements could be anything from water sources and oil deposits. And to find buried minerals and gemstones.


Dowsers, known as diviners, use an array of divination tools. And other techniques in their craft. The traditional method relies on a forked stick. A stick sourced from trees like willow, peach, or witch hazel. Dowsers may wield strange tools like keys or wire coat hangers. Or they may use wire rods or even intricate boxes and electrical instruments.

The classic approach uses a forked stick, and the dowser holds one fork in each hand. And has palms facing up while angling the bottom or “butt” end of the “Y” forward. With measured steps, the dowser walks across an area for hidden water sources. According to believers, the stick’s end will rotate as the dowser passes water. Or your stick will be pulled down.

Another method of divining is through the use of L-shaped rods. These rods are metal and can be iron, steel or copper. The reading of divining rods follows a straight “Yes” or “No” answer. When the rods turn inward, the dowser is above the sought-after object. When the rods extend outward, the thing is not present there.

Does Divining Work?

Before we get carried away, let’s address the elephant in the room. Is divining just a bunch of hocus-pocus, or is there some truth to it?

Looking at a pair of dowsing rods moving on their own can enchant anyone. The act of divining taps into our innate interest. As many of us with to uncover hidden mysteries. The mechanics of a divining rod may seem simple. And their ability to guide us towards the unknown adds an air of wonder.

But whether divining works remains a topic of debate. This debate is between sceptics and believers. Sceptics argue that divining lacks scientific evidence. They attribute its apparent success to pure chance. And the power of suggestion or unconscious cues from the environment.

On the other hand, supporters of this practice point to old traditions. And numerous personal success stories. They argue that divining is rooted in local customs and cultural practices. They claim that divining has led them to water sources. And have done so when more “modern” traditional methods have failed.

Scientific studies

Scientific studies on divining have produced mixed results. Some experiments show no better accuracy than chance. In contrast, others suggest a link between divining and the presence of water. But these studies face limitations, leaving the debate. And room for interpretation – wide open.

Scientists have made many attempts to explain divining. But they often fall short of capturing its true nature. Jacques Aymar-Vernay used his divining rod to locate criminals. This happened in 17th-century France. Some experts believe that the rod could detect unique “murderous matter”. Which the theory suggested was emitted by murderers. More on this interesting titbit in the next section!

Another example is map divining. In which dowsers use their rods or pendulums to pinpoint water sources. Not in proximity but by pointing to a point on a distant map. Some dowsers have even claimed to find lost items. And predict the future, communicate with ghosts, and delve into past lives.

Today, divining is linked with paranormal activities and research.

The History Of Divining

A practice stretching back millennia

Divining has a long and complex history. And can be traced as far back as the Ancient Greeks in the mid-fifth century. Herodotus documented the use of Y-shaped wooden forks. The use of the rods was for finding water during this time.

The practice of water divination has ancient roots. Roots that span across continents, reaching back thousands of years. In the Tassili Caves in Northern Africa, there’s an 8,000-year-old cave painting. The painting portrays a man using a forked stick. And he was using stick the stick to locate water sources. Depictions of divining are etched in ancient Egyptian and Chinese temples. And various other historical artefacts around the world.

Whispers of witchcraft

While divining may well have been around for thousands of years. It was when German physician, Georgius Agricola, documented the practice in 1556. He documented it in his book De Re Metallica. Agricola noted objections to divining. He said the movement of the twigs (dowsing rods) was only possible for those in witchcraft.

The practice of divining spread across Europe. Europeans embraced it as a method of seeking divine guidance. And so did the controversy surrounding it. The Catholic Church went on to prohibit the practice. And Martin Luther, a prominent reformer, reinforced this ban. And he labelled the practice of divining as an act of occultism. And he stated this is a practice that violated the first commandment.

A criminal tracking tool

For many diviners, searching for water and minerals was just the start. They found more uses for the divining rod.

In 17th-century southern France, a stonemason named Jacques Aymar-Vernay started using divining rods. He began to use them to track down criminals. Legend has it that his rods jerked with violence while dowsing for water. This event occurred near the grave of a murdered woman. After this, the rods pointed towards her husband, who hurriedly fled.

In a disturbing twist, Catholic zealots enlisted Aymar. And his dowsing rod to aid them in hunting down Protestants for persecution. This misuse led to an acquisition decree in 1701. And it forbids its usage for justice-related purposes.

Despite religious issues and controversy, divining has persisted. And the practice evolved. It has expanded its applications beyond water detection. The history of divining shows us the beliefs, superstition, and its uses. Making it a fun and debated topic even.


Can anyone practise dowsing as a form of divination?

Dowsing is one of the many types of divination and is accessible to anyone. Anyone who has an interest and wants to learn can do so. Becoming a professional diviner or water dowser may require years of practice. You don’t have to have complex tools or critical thinking skills. Anyone can learn and practise dowsing.

What other forms of divination are there besides dowsing?

When it comes to divination, there is a vast array of methods. Some of the most notable forms of divination include:

  • Tarot readings (a form of cartomancy divination).
  • Pendulum readings.
  • Psychometry (reading the energy or history of an object).
  • Scrying (see the future by looking into a reflective surface).
  • Tasseomancy (see the future from tea leaves).
  • Astrology.


Sam Ashford
Sam Ashford - Author

Hey, I'm Sam Ashford! I'm a ghost-hunting expert, writer and founder of SpiritShack. My mission is to help people like yourself learn about spirituality and how to hunt ghosts!