Witching For Water

No matter what the origin, divining or dowsing or witching for water is practiced all over the world and despite scientific ridicule, water witches still flourish today.


| November/December 1970



006-075-01

William C. Barham uses a forked stick to check for water.


PHOTO: DURWARD MATHENY

Some say it started with Moses (Numbers 20:9-11). Some swear by the ancient Greeks. But the first written record of finding water with a forked twig is in Georgius Agricola's work, De re metallica, written in 1556.

No matter what the origin, divining or dowsing or witching for water is practiced all over the world and despite scientific ridicule, water witches still flourish today. Almost every area has a diviner or two; Wake County, North Carolina boasts more than a dozen. A few of the Wake County dowsers refer to their skill as witching (from the witch hazel, a popular divining rod of the early American settlers), but it's usually called finding a well, spotting a well, or—simply—finding water.

Witching for Water

Until his death a few months ago, Arthur Lee Brown was the best known dowser in Northern Wake County. He'd been witching for twenty-five years and found more than a hundred good wells. Arthur Lee claimed it came in spurts: You found a well for one person, and two or three other prospects cropped up.

Brown started divining by accident. A man came through who could witch, and Arthur Lee found out that he could, too. "Not everybody can do it, you know," he declared with conviction. "It just works for some folks." A freshly cut peach tree twig or a length of grapevine were Brown's favorite tools. He held them both palms down, with his thumbs turned in. The grape vine spun in his hands as he walked over the vein, and the forked stick pointed toward the ground.

Like most diviners, Brown wouldn't even guess why the switch worked. He just knew that it did. "There's a streak of water down under the ground," he explained, "and if you take even one step off to the side, the stick won't move. You have to be right on top of the water."

He told about a man who claimed he could figure the depth of the water, but Arthur Lee wasn't so sure. He could find water, but wouldn't go any further than that.





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