THE MYSTIQUE OF GRAVE DOWSING
November 21, 2010
The mystique of grave dowsing is a subject giving seemingly unnatural powers to only a few who practice this mystical art. Argue the benefits if you will, but for those wanting to locate the remains of unfortunate victims buried in the way of highway construction, or whatever situation, its benefits are acclaimed, especially if the results are positive. Dowsing is cheaper than hiring ground-penetrating radar (GPR) to find lost souls, but the results are speculative.
Few people remain today who have this magical power. Nevertheless, they do exist. I understand a couple live in Collin County. A couple of months ago, a man in the county offered to identify and mark the unknown gravesites in our church cemetery using his skill as a dowser, diviner or witcher. Call it what you will, but I will use the term dowsing here.
Not all dowsers search for ancient bodies or lost graves to recover or relocate for burial in a modern cemetery. Some search for water with forked willow branches. They are called ‘water dowsers.’ The water dowser uses a green forked willow branch as the chosen tool. That tool is referred to as a divining rod. Others search with various objects. The dowser holds it the same as the steel rod user. When water is underfoot, the willow branch turns straight down and points towards the underground water source. Some even say the willow branch will quiver so fiercely the diviner will begin to shake violently. If we have another drought as we did a few years ago, we may all begin looking for someone to dowse for water on our properties.
Familiar dowsing tools with supposedly equally positive results are a pair of steel welding rods, coat-hangers, or willow branches, each about 36 inches in length. The user holds the steel rod straight out in front by the wide L-shaped 90 degree handle. The rods cross when the dowser finds a target. A skilled dowser may be able to determine the length and width of a body, which he or she sometimes marks with pebbles or some other marking object. The dowser who volunteered to dowse the church cemetery said he would mark the graves with a cross. There are those who claim to determine the sex of the body simply by watching the circling rod—clockwise motions indicate females while counterclockwise movement indicates males.
Tommy Markham of Okeechobee, Florida swears his grave dowsing was 100 percent accurate when he and his relatives cleaned the 200-year-old John Marshall Markham Cemetery in Virginia. He dowsed over 50 unmarked graves declaring he was able to tell the sex of the deceased. My question is this: Without disinterring the bodies, how could it be certain the circling rod properly identified the sex of the corpse? On the other hand, did anyone determine there was indeed a corpse underneath the compacted soils of two centuries?
Is it science or is it supernatural? Scientific German and Swedish test result studies show the success from divining could hardly be distinguished from pure chance. So, is it some kind of magic? Alternatively, is it a paranormal technique? Therefore, the mystery continues …
Few topics are more fascinating than magic ones are. Regardless, finding and relocating remains in pastures and along roadsides for placement in an active cemetery is a good thing. By so doing, someone cared enough to find them and care for their bones properly.
To me, this is a fascinating subject. Thankfully, I am not the only one who is interested in this method for identifying graves in our little church cemetery. Several church members are curious, but none as much as I am. If I have the church cemetery dowsed for unmarked graves of deceased church members from the 19th and 20th centuries, I will certainly report it to my readers.
Brenda Kellow has a bachelor's degree in history, teaches, and lectures on genealogy. Before retiring to publish her family’s histories in 2007, Brenda held certification as a Certified Genealogist and as a Certified Genealogical Instructor. Send reunion announcements, books to review, and genealogy queries to: TracingOurRoots@gmail.com.