Folks in Appalachia often practiced a hybrid form of Christianity which marries traditional Biblical teaching with practices and customs that some would see more closely aligned with mysticism and the occult. The results have led to superstitions and religious practices that are entirely unique to places such as West Virginia, Kentucky, Tennessee and Southwest Virginia.
Water Witching, also known as water divining or dowsing, features an individual holding a dowsing rod – which is a forked (Y-shaped) branch from a tree or bush. Some dowsers prefer branches from particular trees while others prefer the branches to be freshly cut. Witch-hazel, willow or peach trees are commonly chosen.
The “water witch” holds the two ends of the forked side in each hand, grasped palms down, with the third (the stem of the Y) pointing straight ahead. The dowser then walks slowly over the places where he suspects water may be, and the dowsing rod is expected to dip, incline or twitch when a discovery is made. This method is sometimes known as “willow witching”.
Practitioners swear that it works in not only finding water, but unmarked graves, metals and several other buried items.