Friday, June 13, 2014

My Father Was a Witch

Meet my father, the late Clarence E. Goodrich. Yes, he was the epitome of an old Vermonter, but he was also a witch. No covens, no spells, no black robes. His outfit of choice--dark green work clothes and a matching billed cap, but he performed magic just as surely as any of the broom-riding creatures we’re familiar with. He was a water witch, or as some people refer to them, a dowser. 

Most who practiced this art in our neck of the woods have passed away. My own father would've been 101 years old this year. Maybe being one of my parent’s late-in-life children has finally paid off. I was fortunate enough to go along on more than one of his divining excursions.

The severe drought in California has brought this ancient skill to the forefront. There are now videos on the internet with info on how to make and use dowsing tools. Will the effort save this age-old tradition from oblivion? I have my doubts. Unlike the videos, I never once saw my father talk to his divining tools. He may have communed with them, but if he did, it was in silence.

I learned two things after reading an article about the water search in California. There’s an American Society of Dowsers, and they don’t like being called witches. My father never seemed to mind. Heck, he even had a wand. Nothing fancy, just a Y-shaped apple tree branch, but in his hands, it’d bend toward mother earth as if some supernatural force was tugging it.

One trip stands out in my memory. Our assignment: to find water for a new summer home being built. First, my father used his apple branch to locate the spot for water and marked it. He then produced two pieces of thin metal pipe, about 5 inches long and two pieces of wire, bent at a 90 degree angle about 6 inches from the end like the letter L. As we walked back to the starting spot, he proceeded to drop the bent end of each wire into a pipe and held them out in front of him. I got it then. The pipes were handles to allow the wire to move freely. It seems he’d been talking to someone a while back and they'd told him about this technique to find water, and he wanted to test it out.

As both the out-of-stater and I followed along, my father slowly walked the same route he'd taken with the branch. Sure enough, as he neared the marker, the wires started to move. By the time he reached the marker the wires had crossed in an X-form. I asked him later if he’d be using the wires from now on. My father shook his head and said, "Naw, I like wood better--more natural."

In the California article I read, there was a picture of the dowser locating water, and what was she holding? Two wires. Her L-rods were solid brass with copper handles, a far cry from the cheap metal pipe and coat hanger setup my father fashioned. But he used what he could afford and it worked—because the magic is in the witch, not the wand.

This one’s for you, Dad. Happy Father’s Day…                                                                 

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