A weekly look at SoCal life covering news, arts and culture, and more.
Hosted by John Rabe
Airs
Arts & Entertainment

Can a pendulum decide your career and find your lost car? A history of dowsing, or 'water witching'




Dick Tippett dowses with a pendulum in his kitchen. He'll often use a pendulum to decide what to eat.
Dick Tippett dowses with a pendulum in his kitchen. He'll often use a pendulum to decide what to eat.
Alica Forneret
Dick Tippett dowses with a pendulum in his kitchen. He'll often use a pendulum to decide what to eat.
Karen Ashely Tippett dowses with a metal pendulum.
Alica Forneret
Dick Tippett dowses with a pendulum in his kitchen. He'll often use a pendulum to decide what to eat.
Karen Ashley and Dick Tippett after giving a dowsing demonstration.
Alica Forneret
Dick Tippett dowses with a pendulum in his kitchen. He'll often use a pendulum to decide what to eat.
Karen Ashley Tippett gives a dowsing demonstration in her kitchen.
Alica Forneret


Listen to story

06:18
Download this story 9.0MB

You heard earlier about the practice of dowsing — also known as "water witching." It's the practice of using objects like rods, pendulums and sticks to find water underground. But the practice goes back much further than that — and covers way more ground than just water. 

Most historians trace dowsing back to the 16th century, when some German miners started using tree branches or pendulums to find metal ore. The practice caught on in other countries and soon it got popular enough to be declared “satanic” by the Catholic Church.

Before long people began to wonder: if dowsing is so great at finding things like water and ore, what else can it do?

By the 1700s, dowsers did everything from diagnosing illnesses to tracking down criminals. In southern France, judges would use dowsing to decide if a suspect was guilty or not.

In 1961, the American Society of Dowsers was founded, starting with just 70 members. Chapters sprung up all over the country, and now the Society says they have more than 5,000 members. 

Karen Ashley Tippett is president of her chapter of the Society in San Francisco. Like a lot of the Society’s members, she treats dowsing more like a lifestyle than a hobby. Most of her friends are dowsers and she even met her husband, Dick Tippett, at a conference for dowsing.

According to the American Society of Dowsers, dowsing doesn't just help you find objects — it finds answers. 

Am I on the right career path? Is my girlfriend cheating on me? What will the weather be like today? Are these beets really organic?

The American Society of Dowsers Then and Now

Members of the Society say they use dowsing to make major life decisions. A few years ago, Karen was on a path to become a teacher — she had taken classes and tests — but her pendulum thought better of it, so she quit the program.

Karen and Dick also use dowsing in lower stakes situations — they often dowse in the produce section to find the ripest fruit.

"And we’ve gone one further than that," says Dick. "We’ve gone into organic grocery stores and sat there in front of the vegetable section and gone, 'all right, is this beet really organic?' No. 'Are these beets over here really organic?' Yeah, they are."

Over a lunch of freshly dowsed shrimp salad, Karen and Dick were careful to tell me they know dowsing isn't scientific — that that's not the point. 

"We all have those intuitive thoughts. It’s kind of like when you’re thinking about someone and you’re walking to the phone and the phone rings, and you were going to call them, but they got you first," says Karen. "We all have that innate ability to kind of tune into the unspoken world."

"You can dowse any time to get a yes/no answer," says Dick. "Dowsing takes the uncertainty out of life."

And who wouldn’t want that?