The Myth of Wa­ter Divin­ing

RECOIL OFFGRID - - Contents - By Kevin Estela hu­mo­nia/is­tock­

Wa­ter divin­ing is a prac­tice dat­ing back cen­turies where me­tal rods, a pen­du­lum, forked stick, or other ob­ject held in the hand(s) is moved by un­der­ground wa­ter and points the “di­viner” to its lo­ca­tion. Divin­ing has been con­sid­ered a su­per­nat­u­ral abil­ity de­fy­ing the rules of science. Some old-timers swear by it and cite folk­lore and/or pseu­do­science to ex­plain the way it works. Skep­tics cite hard science and the re­sults of con­trolled test­ing. Divin­ing for wa­ter has even been fea­tured in some old kids’ car­toons only to per­pet­u­ate the myth for fu­ture gen­er­a­tions. Some wa­ter com­pa­nies have re­cently cited us­ing di­vin­ers in their news­let­ters, bring­ing this topic to the fore­front again. Here’s what you should know in case you en­counter some­one try­ing to sell you on the idea to ap­ply this mys­ti­cal tech­nique in a sur­vival sit­u­a­tion.

The Myth

Wa­ter divin­ing, some­times also called dows­ing or witching, is the be­lief a per­son can de­tect un­der­ground wa­ter where a well can be dug. Some di­vin­ers claim to have the abil­ity to lo­cate other un­der­ground ob­jects us­ing the same skillset, but wa­ter is eas­ily the most valu­able. Wa­ter has been es­sen­tial to all of the great civ­i­liza­tions and hav­ing an abil­ity to lo­cate it where oth­ers can’t would give a per­son in­cred­i­ble author­ity. Be­fore science, ev­ery­thing was magic. With­out an un­der­stand­ing of in­vol­un­tary mus­cle move­ments, mag­netism, and how ground­wa­ter trav­els, it’s easy to be lured into the idea a per­son can de­tect ground­wa­ter with their “vin­ing rod” or Mer­lin stick, while walk­ing around tak­ing read­ings from it. The move­ment of the ob­ject holds the at­ten­tion of on­look­ers like a metronome or hyp­no­tist’s dan­gling watch. Wa­ter di­vin­ers can claim their abil­ity is some­thing that can’t be taught, mak­ing the skill even more cov­eted. If their “skill” can’t be passed to you, you should eval­u­ate if it’s worth pur­su­ing or if other proven meth­ods are a bet­ter course of study.

The Re­al­ity

Wa­ter doesn’t move rods, es­pe­cially with earth in be­tween. Ask any rep­utable sci­en­tist if wa­ter has mag­netism, and they should give you this very sim­ple an­swer, “it doesn’t.” Divin­ing has been tested against ran­dom chance in a fa­mous study by Ger­man sci­en­tists in the ’80s with eye-open­ing re­sults. Even the most con­fi­dent and ex­pe­ri­enced di­vin­ers couldn’t lo­cate an un­der­ground pipe any more ef­fec­tively than the av­er­age per­son look­ing for the same pipe. In fact, a look at the data points in the test­ing re­sults looks more like a hole-rid­den tar­get hit with bird­shot than any­thing con­sol­i­dated or clearly point­ing to ver­i­fi­able divin­ing skill. Yet even in the face of test­ing and hard facts, divin­ing still draws some peo­ple’s at­ten­tion like a David Blaine magic trick.


Un­less you want to trust your life to smoke and mir­rors, you should ex­er­cise good wa­ter dis­ci­pline in­stead. Learn to stay hy­drated so you don’t have to play catch up when you have a short­age of wa­ter.

Should you need to truly look for wa­ter, the best way to find it is to study na­ture and in­crease your aware­ness us­ing all of your senses. These skills are all en­vi­ron­ment-de­pen­dent, but highly re­li­able. Point­ing a forked stick at the ground will get you nowhere. In­stead, pay at­ten­tion to an­i­mals and in­sects. They of­ten don’t travel far from wa­ter sources. Look for an­i­mal tracks and game trails, and scout them in both direc­tions. Look for nat­u­ral catch points, re­mem­ber­ing wa­ter runs down from higher el­e­va­tions to lower el­e­va­tions. Crevices on rock faces and hol­lows in logs can hold wa­ter on the mi­cro level and canyons and ravines may hold wa­ter at their low­est points on the macro level.

Keep a length of para­cord on your wa­ter bot­tle to dip it into out of reach cracks. Know what trees in your area are good in­di­ca­tors of wa­ter and de­velop the skill to tap those trees that pro­duce edi­ble sap like maples, birches, and beeches. Carry a ban­dana to hold mois­ture­laden moss you can squeeze wa­ter out of. That same ban­dana can be used to wipe dew from grass in the morn­ing. By the way, dig­ging into riverbeds may prove just as fruit­less as divin­ing. You don’t want to sweat out more wa­ter than you’ll get back. True sur­vival skills in­clude know­ing how to find, col­lect, treat, and carry wa­ter; so leave your vin­ing rods at home.


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