Roane State student Clay Isham demonstrates the proper way to hold a dowsing rod to locate a subterranean source of water.
Oct. 10, 2019
By Bob Fowler
Roane State staff writer
It’s a pseudoscience. It’s a type of divining. It’s a hoax, non-believers insist.
Not so, says a Roane State student who recently demonstrated to his classmates the age-old technique of finding ground water using a Y-shaped limb of a peach tree.
“I’ve studied it,” insists Clay Isham, who lives on a 100-acre farm with his mom and dad in the Riggs Chapel Community of Roane County near the Morgan County line. “I’ve talked to different people. Nobody knows how it works or why it works; they just know it does.”
Dowsing has been used for ages in the quest to locate fresh sources of water. The dowser, or diviner, holds the Y-shaped limb or twig on each branch of the Y “with some tension, and starts to walk,” Isham says.
“When you’re standing over a vein of water, the stick will point toward the ground,” he said. “It just points down to the ground on its own.”
Isham said it worked about a year ago when his Dad was trying to locate a buried water line and was at first unsuccessful. “I took the dowsing rod, it pointed down, and we dug straight down and found it,” Isham said of the water line.
“He (Isham’s Dad) thought it was cool.”
Isham said there are some qualifiers in the success of dowsing. “Only certain people can do it. They call it a gift, and only certain people have the gift.”
Also, he said, it’s important to have the right type of divining rod or limb. “It has to be Y-shaped and from either a peach, cherry or dogwood tree. You have to hold it so you’re putting some tension on it.”
Isham said he became acquainted with dowsing through a segment of the former “Heartland Series” on television where host Bill Landry explored fascinating Appalachian traditions.
A May 2019 graduate of Kingston’s Calvary Baptist School, Isham said he picked Roane State because it’s close to home and offers courses helpful in his pursuit of a teaching degree.
“I like it so far,” he said of his studies on Roane State’s flagship campus in Roane County. “It’s different from high school and you have more control of what classes you take.
“There’s also more freedom, and you’re not looking at the same four walls every day.”
After he receives his associate’s degree from Roane State, Isham said he plans to attend Tennessee Tech in Cookeville, get his bachelor’s degree, and become a high school history teacher.
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