Dowsing, divining, or water-witching has been around
Essentially, it is the belief that in the right hands,
a forked-stick, an L-shaped metal rod, a pendulum, or crystals can locate underground
water. Although dowsers have never been able to prove their effectiveness in
controlled, double-blind experiments, many people rely on dowsers to help them
Kim Scharfenberg is a local water witch
who lives in Virginia City Highlands. She took up dowsing about eight years
ago. She says in 400 to 500 attempts she has never missed, always found
water. She cant explain her ability or account for it in any way
consistent with science.
Its freaky and its super-cool,
she says, its just a really neat phenomenon.
Scharfenberg, whose personality can be described as appropriately
bubbly, likes to dowse or witch to help people. She utilizes two
copper rods or sticks in her dowsing work. When the sticks cross, she says,
youve hit water, mister.
One is led to wonder why with a gaudy 100 percent rate
of success she doesnt make dowsing a full-time business.
Witching is really kind of an art, she says.
To make a business-type thing wouldmake it lose some of the magic for
Harry Lawler is a practicing dowser who lives in Carson
City. Hes been dowsing for about 20 years. Hes not angry about the
skepticism of academic science or the doubtful in general. He doesnt feel
the need to defend dowsing as the results, in his mind, speak for themselves.
Lawler believes the ability to dowse is an innate talent most people just need
to awaken. Hes even taught courses in dowsing.
Most people can learn to dowse in about 20 minutes,
Lawler says he cannot only locate water, but also can
tell how far down it is, and whether its hot or cold. Lawler eschews the
traditional witching stick, a forked branch that old-time dowsers
Lawler is a water-only dowser, but according to the
American Society of Dowsers, dowsing can be used to locate lost objects,
lost persons, minerals, electro-magnetic fields, noxious rays, and geopathic
Local drilling companies will refer people to dowsers,
but not one well-drilling outfit in the area touts dowsing among its services.
Carlye Benton of Reno-based Aqua Drilling puts it this way our position
is strictly neutral. We dont get in the middle. We put people in touch
with a dowser if they want to engage one, but were not responsible for
what the dowser finds or doesnt find. Some people just want a dowser to
help give them peace of mind. But we dont make any guarantees.
Dr. Scott Tyler is a scientist and a professor in the
graduate program of hydrogeology at University of Nevada, Reno one of
the most respected and highly ranked programs of its kind in the nation. One
would think he would be completely dismissive of dowsing, and he admits most
of his colleagues regard it as hokum harmless. While dubious about dowsing,
Tyler also is philosophical: I am always open to the possibility that
there are ways the mind works that cant be accounted for or always explained
Tyler can even give credit to dowsers when theyre
able to consciously or unconsciously see the geological formations
on a piece of ground that can indicate where water might be. Tyler believes
most dowsers sincerely believe in their ability, and are not out to con anyone.
They truly believe that they have a gift and they want to put it to use for
a good purpose, he says.
But, he asks, is finding water about
two sticks coming together? Im afraid not.
Ron Cooney, a Sparks resident, is generally considered to be
the best writer in his cul-de-sac.