Fremont County, Iowa

"Witching for Water"
by Sherry Perkins

View from the Attic ~ A Weekly Series
Fremont County Historical Society
Week of Aug 25, 2013

In days past, old timers knew immediately what "witching" meant. It certainly had nothing to do with Halloween witches, ghosts and goblins. Some folks believed in the practice wholeheartedly while others thought it fool hardy ... even superstitious or Satanic. Today we are reading more about "witching" as we are in a drought. Witching is the practice of hunting for underground water, graves, or metal by using two wires (one for each hand). Some use a forked stick of cherry or peach wood. Holding the wires in front of you and walking forward, the wires will cross one another and point downward when water is below them.

Witching is an old, old practice going back to the Middle Ages Cave paintings of 8,000 years ago depict the practice being used in North America. Europe has evidence of it being used in the fifteenth century.

A few years ago, a bus load of people who were on a tour of Iowa Historical places, stopped at the Ferrel House in Randolph, la. It was known by the Ferrel House committee that a "natatorium" or swimming reservoir had been on the property in the late 1890's. Newspaper reports of the time gave general location and size. Upon hearing this story" one gentleman went to the tour bus and came back with his "divining rods" and asked permission to find where it had been. As he walked, the rods crossed numerous times. He was able to determine where the reservoir had been and marked the corners for us. Needless to say, everyone was impressed.

The practice of witching has also been used to locate lost graves in cemeteries, fields, etc. I have personally seen this work in an old 1850's cemetery where stones are gone or wooden crosses rotted away. Some say you can tell, if the grave was for female or a male. I've known of children who could witch. Doubters will claim that when finding a grave or water is a "miss", no one notices, and they forget the many times there is no result. However, I'm sure there are many stories out there by folks who believe this works!

To try this yourself, use two lengths of heavy gauge wire (like for a clothesline) and bend down at right angles for handles you can hold in your hands. Each will look like the letter "L". Hold loosely in each hand, sticking straight out in front of you, and walk over your yard or property. If nothing happens, go to an area where you know there is a water line. See if the wires cross. If not, perhaps you are not a "Witcher". Have someone else give it a try. It seems to only work for certain people. Maybe it has to do with the body's electric content or magnetic fields. Who knows? I've seen skeptics scoff at the practice, but when given a set of divining rods, are astounded when the rods cross and bend.

I suspect in the early days, people who could do this were considered witches therefore the term "witching". For the practice to have been around for centuries, it must have some merit.

Are you a believer or not?

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Page updated on November 1, 2020 by Karyn Techau