Are dowsers witches?

The soils are drier than ever, and farmers despair over their crimson fields. Somewhere in France, a man arrives, gruff and bearded, cape on his head and Y-shaped baguette held in both hands. He takes three steps, turns, concentrates to feel the vibrations of the stick… Eureka! He found water.

This scene illustrates the reports of many television news, since almost all French departments are on drought alert and restrictions on the use of drinking water for irrigation are increasing. Thus, when the rain disappears and our once mighty rivers dry up, a character with a special aura resurfaces: the dowser.

Pendulum or wand in hand, he criss-crosses farms or rushes to the call of mayors, decrees the presence of a water source, announces its flow and depth. Most “baguettizers” claim a success rate of around 80%.

Do dowsers really find water? ” Yes ! », mischievously replies Jérôme Bellayer, professor of physics and researcher at the zetetic research laboratory (the rational study and according to the scientific method of phenomena presented as paranormal) of the University of Nice-Sophia-Antipolis, author of Dowsing versus science (Book-e-book editions).

Fine connoisseurs of the regions

“There is no denying the fact that dowsers find water, sometimes more easily than other people,” admits the physicist. Nevertheless, this success would not come from a divine gift, nor from a refined sensitivity to the energies or the elements, nor from the use of tools like the wand or the pendulum.

Evidenced by the many scientific experiments conducted in recent decades, which consist of testing the ability of dowsers to find water, in pipes buried artificially underground. Each time, the conditions of the experiment were judged ideal by the dowsers themselves. Each time, these tests were conducted under conditions consistent with the scientific method, and the results were statistically consistent with what science already predicted.

In the natural environment, there are many testimonials from individuals or farmers whose appeal to a dowser has proved fruitful. “Most of the time, dowsers are very knowledgeable about their region, explains Jérôme Bellayer. They know the geology, the water flows. They have taken part in numerous boreholes and know how to spot the natural signs of the presence of water. In the end, it is more a know-how than a gift »he concludes.

Science cannot actually prove that dowsers do not have any particular sensitivity, in particular to variations in the magnetic field released by the passage of a watercourse in a basement, as certain followers of the sourcery. “We have never been able to prove that humans are sensitive to these minute variations. This is how science works: the burden of proof is on whoever asserts that a phenomenon exists. explains Jérôme Bellayer.

Uncertain origins

Very present in traditional tales, sourcery is in fact the best known facet of a larger ancestral practice: dowsing, a descendant of rhabdomancy, from the ancient Greek meaning “divination by a wand”. That is to say, the search, using this tool, for water as well as minerals, buried treasures, or even the evil present in the body of a patient…

The legends, relayed by the tales of dowsers and word of mouth, make it a multi-millennial practice. It would have appeared nearly 6,000 years before our era, in the region of Tassili n’Ajjer, in the middle of the current and arid Algerian Sahara…

Others place his birth under the Empire of China, during the reign of the founder of the Xia dynasty, Yu the Great. He is known “for having undertaken major works on the various canals and rivers of China in an attempt to regulate the floods” which ravaged the country for many years, in the third millennium BC, according to our researcher. And this, 2000 years before our era.

The engraving, taken as proof by the followers of this theory, represents the Chinese emperor holding an elongated object in his hand. “But it could symbolize many other things than a dowsing rod,” relativizes Jérôme Bellayer. “Other legends still tell that, according to the writings of Julius Caesar, the Romans used a dowsing rod when setting up their camps in order to settle near a water point”, continues the researcher, who has found no trace of such testimony in the emperor’s texts.

It was in the 16th century, during a great period of mining research in Europe, that “the first sourced references to dowsing tools appear”, he reports. We thus find the first precise and clear description of the use of the metal rod in an engraving and in the texts of the scholar Georg Agricola, dated 1556, on mining techniques.

When Father Bouly inspires Hergé

Long used as divinatory tools to interrogate the gods, the wand and the pendulum, tools par excellence of the dowser, were first rejected by the Church. They are considered a practice close to witchcraft and therefore diabolical, in the same way as many traditional practices such as herbalism, druidism or astrology.

According to French historian Anne Denieul-Cormier (the Murdered Sorcerer. Yesterday’s spellcasters, today’s shamans and seekers, Perrin, 1981), the word “sorcerer” originates from a deformation of the term “dowser”. Pope John XXII already condemned their use in 1326, followed by Luther in 1517.

Four centuries later, the practice was adopted by some Christian religious, particularly in the medical world. “For many country priests (who also cared for people through natural processes such as herbalism), dowsing became a method of diagnosis, to find the origin of certain ailments or certain pains”specifies Jérôme Bellayer.

It was Abbé Alexis Timothée Bouly, a priest from the seaside resort of Hardelot-Plage, in the north of France, who theorized and named “dowsing” at the end of the 1920s, as “the belief in the faculty of exercising sensitivity to discover, thanks to the pendulum or the rod, what is hidden from the normal faculties”. He even became known for his ability to detect the origin of microbes in patients.

The 1950s marked the golden age of sourcery and dowsing. Abbé Bouly and Abbé Mermet, two figures of dowsing at that time, notably inspired Professor Tournesol, the eccentric character of Hergé in Tintin.

Is there a part of lie or charlatanism in the practice of this ancestral art? “Honestly, I don’t think, slice Jérôme Bellayer. All the dowsers I met deeply believed in their expertise. Moreover, for decades, the work of dowsers was voluntary. » In the meantime, gift or no gift, if dowsers come to quench the need for water for farmers, should we look further?

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Are dowsers witches?

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