• The Witching Hour – Part 1

  • AESAC is pleased to present a series of guest blogs, reprinted with the courtesy of one of our colleagues, exploring the interesting topic of witching and dowsing: 
    The Witching Hour
    Colin Kelly, P. Geo., QPESA

    As a groundwater expert, I occasionally get asked if “witching” (or “dowsing”, “divining”, etc.) is a real thing. So, naturally, I once went down a bit of rabbit hole to be able to give a clear and straight answer, even to those who swear by it. A slog through research to try and sort out the truth (if any) from fiction. So, is witching a real thing? The short answer is no……for the most part. But I was delightfully surprised to learn that, at least in one specific circumstance, there is a least a little bit to it. To get to the reasons why, we need to look at two different witching applications: i) witching for underground lines/utilities, and ii) witching for water wells.

    When it comes to finding buried lines, at least when done by an experienced professional utility locator, witching can work to an extent. But not necessarily for the reasons many might think. There are no special electrical fields or mystical forces at play. At least if you subscribe to the scientific explanation. If you find the more spiritual/arcane explanation more enticing and impactful - by all means, I’m not here to ruin anyone’s fun. But truth is often stranger than fiction. And for me, at least, the more objective explanation is more insightful than its mystical counterpart as it speaks to the power of the human subconscious and intuition. 

    For a little more background, witching for buried lines is a technique that is still used on some increasingly rare occasions as a sort of “double check” for buried utilities. Particularly for utilities (e.g., made of clay or plastic) that might not be easily locatable by conventional metal or signal detecting means. And to be clear, no responsible locator uses witching as a replacement for the more reliable industry instrumentation, it’s just an extra check by some after the appropriate standard of care has been met. To witch for buried lines, the locator normally uses two “L-shaped”, thin metal rods (or “witching sticks”). The rods are pointed outwards and away from their handler. The locator starts slowly walking forward and stops when the rods bend inward, a sign that a buried line might be immediately below.

    Harsh skeptics may accuse a witching locator of trying to sell them snake oil. But, in fact, an honest locator is not intentionally moving the sticks. The locator is, however, manipulating the sticks subconsciously through something called the ideomotor response[1]. For the ideomotor response to work, the witching sticks need to be very thin. When the timing is right, subtle and imperceptible muscle movements cause the sticks to change direction. The ideomotor response is also how people get together and spell out scary words on a Ouija board. It’s a way of suspending conscious intent to let the subconscious take the wheel. A fun thing to mess with, it can sometimes cause a group of people unknowingly agreeing to spelling  a deceased relatives’ name on that Ouija Board. No spirits or ghosts guiding the hands though, unfortunately. 

    [1] No shortage of literature on this topic for further reading. Here’s one from the US National Institutes of Health:

    Colin Kelly, P. Geo., QPESA
    Colin is the founder and President of CXK Environmental Consulting, in Waterloo, ON. You can contact Colin at