the search for water, minerals, and many other things, there is
nothing quite as controversial as the practice of dowsing, whether
it be with a forked willow or peach switch, the 'Spanish rods,'
or any number of other devices. There are two things you can say
for certain about dowsing. First, it works. Second, nobody knows
for sure how or why it works.
Historically, dowsing has been with us a long time. In DE RE METALLICA,
a 16th century treatise on mining and metallurgy, the author, Georgius
Agricola, a German monk, explains that dowsing worksbut no
one knows why. In this, the first known printed description of the
practice, Agricola notes that the practice dates from antiquity.
He apparently does not consider it supernatural. He does not attach
a 'witchcraft' stigma to it.
first experience with dowsing came in the early 1960s. My father
wanted a new well on the home place, up on a ridge in the pasture.
There was and is water under the place. If you drill deep enough
in that part of western Williamson
County you will drill into the Trinity Sands aquifer. Trinity
Sands has excellent water, but with a high sulfur content. The sulfur
content makes it smell and taste slightly of sulfur-it's almost
a 'rotten egg' smell, but faint. If you drink it regularly the sulfur
in your body's fluids wards off things like ticks, fleas, mosquitoes,
and biting flies.
The dowser, an old man who used a forked peach switch, told us there
was water there- something we already knew. He said "'Bout a hundred
foot down you're gonna hit water. Drill on past it. Ain't much water
there an' the well'll go dry on you. The good water's 'bout six,
seven hundred foot down. There's something atween you an' 'at water,
though, an' I'm gonna try an' find out what it is. It pulls mighty
He 'baited the switch' with a silver dime and got no reaction. "'Tain't
silver," he said. "Let's try gold." He 'baited the switch again,
this time with a gold ring. There was no reaction. "'Tain't gold,
neither. I'm gonna try oil." He took out a small bottle of crude
oil, tied it to the end of the switch, and tried that. "It's something
sorta kin to oil, but it ain't oil. You oughta hit it 'bout three
hundred foot down." At approximately 100 feet the bore hit water,
as the dowser said it would, but-knowing the Trinity Sands aquifer
was much deeper, drilling continued. At about 300 feet into the
bore the bit struck a pocket of natural gas under enough pressure
to lift some five feet of drill rod and casing out of the hole.
I remained a skeptic of the "Yeah, sure" variety until I got an
awakening in the spring of 1980 in McCulloch
County. I discovered I can dowse. Since that time I've found
that a lot of people have the 'power' to dowse, and have become
convinced that there is no special 'power' involved. Instead, I
am convinced that there is a physical principle that isn't yet understood,
and that principle is in some way electrical in nature.
I use what are called 'Spanish rods.' You can buy these things for
a small fortune from ads in treasure-hunting magazines, or you can
do what I did. You can go to a hardware store, buy 2 pieces of solid-core
copper wire about a yard long each, strip the insulation, and bend
them in the shape of an L, with about 6" of the L forming the handhold.
For that matter, you can use what the US Marines used in Viet Nam
to locate VC and NVA tunnels-two pieces of coathanger wire.
When I started showing that I could dowse, I got all sorts of 'advice'
about the care and feeding of my rods. "You have to wrap them in
silk," I was told, "and sleep with them under your pillow for nine
nights, or you'll lose the power." When I finish dowsing I roll
the wires up, wrap them in a cotton bandana to keep them from poking
holes in my jeans or my backside, and stick them in a hip pocket.
The wires don't seem to mind, even if I've wiped sweat or blown
my nose on the bandana. I store them, usually, in the glove compartment
of whatever vehicle I'm driving at the time. I've never slept with
them and I've never touched them with anything made of silk.
Apparently what the wires detect, acting as an antenna of some sort,
is differences in density. If I am standing on a concrete sidewalk
the wires will cross over a steel reinforcing rod or an iron pipe
embedded in or under the concrete. If I am standing on dirt, they
will cross when I bring them over something more dense. That can
be buried metal, very dense rock like granite, flint, chert, or
agate, or even a tightly-packed game trail. If I bring them above
an area less dense than what I am standing on, such as an underground
void like a tunnel or natural cave, they will open instead of crossing
and point down the axis of the void. If there is a turn in the void,
the wires will indicate the direction in which the void turns.
It was this the Marines used to great effect in Viet Nam. The Army's
Corps of Engineers brought in a seismic tunnel locator, which involved
boring holes in the ground, setting charges in the holes, and measuring
the ground echoes from the blasts to determine the location of tunnels.
The instrument, which cost about half a million dollars, was about
50% effective in locating tunnels, but could not map them from the
surface. The Marines' coathanger wires were 95% effective in locating
tunnels, and could map them from the surface by indicating subterranean
years ago a good friend, the late Dr. I. Waynne* Cox, an archaeologist
at UTSA, decided to test my dowsing skills. At the time the former
Joske's Department Store parking lot in downtown San
Antonio was to be removed for the construction of a major shopping
mall. Under the asphalt there had been, in the mid to late 19th
and early 20th centuries, a middle-class, mostly German neighborhood.
The German houses were usually built of stone and had basements.
Dr. Cox's task was to locate as many foundations as possible and
do salvage archaeology before the new mall was built. He had Sanborn's
insurance maps of the area. It had also been gone over with a metal
detector and the sites of the strikes marked.
My wires picked up the strikes, of course, just as I knew they would.
The metal detector, however, wouldn't pick up foundation stones.
I was not told where the foundations were, nor did I see the map.
The wires confirmed the locations of a dozen or so houses under
the asphalt, exactly where the map said they should be. There was,
however, a discrepancy in the map. A house of particular interest
wasn't where the map said it was. When the area was opened with
a backhoe, nothing was found. My wires picked up the foundations
about 10 feet from where the map said they should be-and then picked
up a circular feature at the southeast corner of the foundation.
No circular feature appeared on the Sanborn's map.
The circular feature, on excavation, was found to be the limestone
coping of a stone-lined, ground-level cistern. The existence of
the cistern, which turned out to be filled with 19th and early 20th
century trash-a treasure-trove to archaeologists-was previously
unknown and probably would have been missed entirely, since the
primary purpose of the dig was to confirm the house's location and
clear its basement of debris. That could have been done by locating
two corners of the foundation. The basement would have been excavated.
Unless the cistern was discovered by accident it would have gone
My experience with the wires indicates there must be some conductive
contact between the wires themselves and the person holding them.
When I placed the short ends of the wires in pieces of aluminum
tubing they worked as well as if I had them in my hands alone. However,
when I placed the short ends in the necks of glass bottles and held
the bottles, the wires did not react, even at locations that had
previously registered anomalies in density.
Do I know how they work? No. Do I have some special 'power' that
makes them work? No. The wires function, I am convinced, upon a
physical, not a psychic, principlea principle of which we
are not currently aware. Should the principle be investigated scientifically?
Why? It certainly could be, but is there a need for it? The wires
work. That's enough for me.
"Charley Eckhardt's Texas"
15, 2007 column