DOWSING is a type of divination employed in attempts to locate ground water, buried metals or ores, gemstones, oil, gravesites and many other objects and materials. Dowsing is also known as divining (especially in reference to interpretation of results), doodlebugging (in the US), or when searching specifically for water) water finding or water witching. A Y- or L-shaped twig or rod, called a dowsing rod, divining rod (Latin: virgula divina or baculus divinatorius) or witching rod is sometimes used during dowsing, although some dowsers use other equipment or no equipment at all.
I learned to divine (water witch or dowse) from Margarete “Marge” Kowalski, the eccentric, maiden daughter of the widow Kowalski, our backyard neighbors when I was five years old growing up in 1955 at the house on Racine Street in Racine, Wisconsin. My parents’ rental home shared a backyard with the Kowalski women. Their home abutted the alley; ours faced Racine Street, the backyard a vernal playground between the houses. A sidewalk bisected the yard and led from the front of our house and street to the entrance of their home. Often when I played in the yard, Marge would join me. She was twenty-five and I was five.
One day Marge asked if I’d like to learn how to divine. Of course, her invitation piqued my curiosity. As a young girl whose world centered on the blank canvas of our shared backyard, I was game. Marge showed me how to find the perfect tool for the dowser, a “y-shaped” branch of a tree. We searched the brush and bramble of our backyard until we found the perfect tool of the water witches trade. First she carefully stripped the bark and remaining leaves of the branch with her ivory-handled jack knife, revealing the soft, pliable wood. She snipped the ends of the branches with her pruning shears, fashioning the correct shape and proportions of the diving rod.
Holding the two branches of the “y,” palms facing upward, where the point they joined together created a singular rod, she held the branches firmly yet did not exert any force upon them other than to point forward and parallel to the ground. She said, “Let me demonstrate. Now, all you need to do is walk around the yard and let the diving rod do its job.” We walked, canvassing the yard, along the perimeter of the chicken wire fence, traversing the concrete sidewalk and surveyed the grassy earth. “When you discover water, you’ll feel the branches you are holding begin to vibrate, tugging gently at first, then begin to point downward. Do nothing but hold the handles of the diving rod. Let it work its magic. As you get closer to the underground well of water, it will point down to its source.”
Marge looked at me with a smile on her face and winked. “Now it’s your turn.” She helped me hold the diving rod correctly in my hands and coached me as we walked around the yard again, making sure we covered every square foot, especially the areas we missed during her demonstration. As we approached the thorny bush with the red berries near the fence, the diving rod quivered. I could feel its magical powers coursing in my hands and the rod began pointing downward without any force on my part, it was working, I found water. I squealed like a little girl, joyfully and full of wonder.
A vignette from the memoir, Perfectly Flawed, by Linda Lenzke