2009 Essays 3rd Place — Family History by Amy Wendholdt

Every family contains idiosyncrasies lurking within its gene pool: a weird aunt who allows her pet deer inside her home, a quirky uncle who perfectly imitates a crying baby or a bleating goat, a peculiar uncle who lives alone with little contact from the outside world, or an unusual grandparent with a paranormal secret. Whatever the case, every family must deal with their eccentricity by either covering it up or reveling in its uniqueness. I recently discovered that my family’s most prevalent idiosyncrasy centers around my maternal grandfather. My Grandpa Tiger is a witch—a water witch. This unusual talent of discovering underground pools of water (Divination 241) remains one of the most cherished secrets in my family.

My grandfather, Frank “Tiger” Becher, learned his special talent after returning home to Ferdinand, Indiana, from his tour of duty with the United States Army. At the age of twenty-two, Frank worked as an apprentice for a local plumbing and heating business. Frank enjoyed learning the tricks of his trade “from old-timers on the job” like Ernie Weyer, Leo Pund, and Edwin “Chicken” Mehling. Of all the tricks his mentors taught him, water witching intrigued Frank the most. (Becher, Frank 1) Frank was a natural. His accuracy astonished many clients. Eventually, Frank ventured out as an entrepreneur and started Tiger Becher Plumbing and Heating. His “special gift” ensured the success of his business. In those days, every good plumbing business used the talents of a water witcher for certain plumbing projects. The most common uses for water witching include the following: finding natural springs, waterlines, seepage fields, and septic tanks (2). Grandpa quickly remembers finding a spring on a rocky hillside owned by Dave Schepers. Frank told the skeptical backhoe operator to dig at the spot where his copper rods crossed while he drove to town to get more pipes and supplies. When he returned, Frank acquired another believer in the backhoe operator who just uncovered a natural spring. (3) Frank also helped find the exact location of some underground utility lines at the home of Donny and Linda Wendholt. Unable to find the buried lines, Donny called Frank who quickly found the exact location of the elusive lines.

Water witching has no restrictions. The mysterious technique may be used during any weather pattern, which also means year round. In Frank’s experience, copper wire remains the most precise tool to witch for water. (Becher, Frank 2) To begin, one must bend two pieces of copper wire in the shape of the letter L (Cosh 2). Frank suggests using about a foot long piece of copper wire. Then, the dowser must find a particular spot in which to dowse. Standing straight with elbows bent in a 90 degree angle and holding his or her arms close to the rib cage, the witcher should check if the short part of the L is grasped loosely in each hand and the longer part points directly parallel to the path that will be walked. Then the witcher may begin walking slowly across the ground, grass, dirt, bricks or concrete. If water lies beneath the surface, the wires will turn inward until they cross. At the point the wires cross or become perpendicular, the water way is directly below. (Becher, Frank 1) Frank points out that many of his predecessors used a forked peach tree limb. This technique is basically the same except that the forked part of the limb is held tightly in the fists turned knuckle up. The witcher should point the base of the limb directly in the path that he or she chooses to walk. While pulling the branch tight, he or she should begin walking. When the limb finds water, it will pull sharply to the ground sometimes dragging the body of the water witcher with it.

As well as searching for springs, water lines, septic tanks, and wells, water witching, also known as water dowsing, can be used to find electric lines, drain lines (2), drainage systems of “buried cities” (Innerfeld 5), energy points, ghosts (4), gold, oil, and bodies of our ancestors (Cosh 2). Aside from these common uses, armies have found other uses for this technique. The Chinese, Czechoslovakian, and Canadian armies use water dowsing for locating enemy camps and sites. Apart from using dowsing against enemies, the Chinese have used their talents to search for optimal camping areas for Chinese troops. “During World War II, the British and Australian navies discovered that with dowsing they could successfully locate German submarine wolf packs”, states Hank Innerfeld of the Denver Spiritual Community. Also, Innerfeld’s evidence shows water witching as a commonly used technique by the United States Marine Corps in both the Korean and Vietnam wars. Not as well known, the use of dowsing reaches as far as health careers. Chiropractors and dentists have reported using the significant technique throughout their careers. To determine subluxations inside patients, chiropractors have received success using dowsing as well as dentists, who use the technique to discover hidden cavities in the mouths of patients. In Connecticut, dowsers successfully tracked criminals and drug users. Firemen of the Springfield Fire Department successfully discovered the lost victims inside a burning edifice using dowsing. (Innerfeld 4) In another rare incident, the Norwegian Red Cross reported using dowsing to locate survivors trapped deep in the snow from an avalanche (5).

As a consequence of old age, Frank admits his abilities have weakened over the years (Becher, Frank 1); however, this does not stop him from passing along his incredible talent. Employee, Mike “Lurch” Meyer attained the ability to water witch, but prefers not to relinquish the title as head witch (3). Many other businesses also keep this ancient art alive. The Town of Ferdinand has its own line of water witchers. Normally, the town will use metal detectors or utility maps to find waterlines (Becher, Steve 1), but maps passed on from home owner to home owner are not always kept accurate, and some water lines are made of clay or plastic (Becher, Frank 2). For these times, Steve Becher, copper wires in hand, methodically paces across a general area searching for the needed waterline. Steve, Frank’s son, acquired his skill from Jackson Meyer, a former town employee. Steve claims that he is not nearly as accurate as his dad or Jackson. “Sometimes I’m dead on, and sometimes I’m way off.” Steve and Frank both believe that this could be from interference of the many underground utilities used today. (Becher, Steve 1)

Seeing the effect water witching has on our society today, many have asked when did the “significant art” arrive? French scientists, located near the Atlas Mountains, reported finding cave paintings using radiocarbon that date back 9,000 years ago. In one particular painting, a man is shown using a water witching tool or dowsing rod. However, research has dated roots of this incredible art even farther back; around the time of 2500 B.C., Confucius mentions water witching in his writings. He refers to a statue, found in 2200 B.C., of a Chinese emperor, which portrays Kwang Yu holding, coincidentally, a forked stick. (Innerfeld 2) This forked stick remains one of the more common tools water dowsers use today, known as a peach tree limb. The Bible, one of the guidelines of Catholics, reveals dowsing tools in its writings. According to The Art of Dowsing written by Richard Webster, “In the Book of Numbers (XX: 8-11), Moses is said to have struck a rock twice with his rod, and the rock produced enough water to satisfy Moses’ people and their cattle.” Once looked upon as the devil’s work, any form of divination has been disapproved the Catholic Church; however, the Old Testament accepted divining tools if properly used for work for the Lord. (Webster xiii)

Determining the scientific method, how a process works, remains a mystery when referring to water witching. Certain witchers have their own thoughts and beliefs about the science of water witching. Ken Tylosky, an employee of an electric company for twenty five years, attempted to discover reasons why the wires would cross or why earth’s gravitational force pulls harder when using peach tree limbs. Ken used common dowsing rods, but this time attached an oscilloscope to them. While walking, Tylosky detected a minuscule electrical potential. He believes this electric potential resulted because of a negative charge in the left limb and a positive charge in the right limb. (Cosh 2) “I was actually a human battery,” says Tylosky. “I tested my wife and son, and they were human batteries, too, although their polarity was the opposite of mine.” (2-3) Ken Tylosky believes his result, the battery effect, causes his tools to become charged, and objects that are charged become deflected through magnetic fields. Ken thinks currents existing through streams of electrically-conductive substances, such as water and wire, cause magnetic fields. (3) Simply, the magnetic fields of the currents in the water and wire cause the wires to cross. Along with Albert Einstein, many water witchers believe the electromagnetic force between their tool and the substance being searched for causes the reaction (Webster 83); however, other dowsers’ beliefs rely more on the human mind rather than science. Innerfeld claims that water witchers rid of their conscious mind to alert their subconscious mind to obtain responses from their super conscious mind (Innerfeld 7). Along with Innerfeld, Docc Hilford’s beliefs go hand-in-hand. “He believes that we see much more than we register in our minds. We look, but do not always see,” states Richard Webster. (Webster 82) This suggests the reason that not all humans are capable of water witching. Not all information transfers to the brain. The fact that dowsers register images not normally seen is referred to as hyperacucia. (Innerfeld 83) However, Cliff Nelson’s opinions differ. In opposition to all water witchers, Nelson believes water dowsing to be a joke. According to Colby Cosh, “Groundwater, say geologists, doesn’t generally lie in narrow veins; it resides in large aquifers of permeable rock. So if there’s water under a property at all, it’s probably everywhere, meaning the dowser’s success is guaranteed.” (3)

Having difficulty believing what I considered a myth, I asked my grandfather to show me the steps to water witching. We ventured out to his front yard. Frank knew the location of a buried water line and suggested that I walk across. Copper wires in hand, I slowly made my way across the yard. Astonishingly, the wires crossed in front of my eyes. With wide eyes and embarrassment showing on my face, I glanced at my grandpa to find him chuckling at my look of amazement. Neither Steve nor Frank can explain how or why dowsing works. Whether it’s a supernatural gift or simply a reaction to changes in electrical or magnetic fields, both Steve and Frank agree that water witching does work.