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Thursday, June 2, 2011

Grave Witching

I just read an article about a “grave witcher.” He uses welding rods to divine the locations of unmarked graves. The process is similar to water dowsing. When our boy walks over a grave, the rods suddenly spin in his hands. They go clockwise, he says, if the body is male, counter-clockwise for females. He can further hone the reading (somehow, no details on what precisely happens, visually) to determine whether the deceased is a child, an adolescent, or an adult. This grave witcher has worked extensively with genealogists to locate graveyards previously hidden. The Manitoba Genealogical Society says that his work is “invaluable.” Without his efforts, graveyards might remain forever lost. Quite the hero, this grave witcher.
Here’s the thing, though. Out of all the graves he’s located, out of the hundreds (if not thousands) of bodies and eternal resting places he’s sniffed out, not one has ever been dug up. Let me repeat that. NOT ONE. No real effort has ever been made to confirm there's any corpse present at all. So how do we know he’s doing anything at all?
We don’t. There’s no evidence whatsoever that anything more profound than pivoting welding rods has ever been discovered as a result of this “grave witching.” All of the graves he’d found are unmarked. Theoretically there’s a corpse two meters down, but we don’t know.
I’m not saying “dug ‘em all up.” But people are gathering what they believe to be real genealogical evidence based on the witcher’s premonitions. Families have “found” the burial places of long lost relatives because of magical welding rods. Granted, this date - false or not - isn’t anything that will change the course of the world. Dead people stay dead, no matter who claims to be their descendant, and it doesn’t matter one bit if you think your grandpa is buried over there when he’s actually buried somewhere else.
It is a sad statement about the gullibility of humans, though. Maybe this witching works (but probably not). Before we conclude it does, though, shouldn’t we apply a little basic scientific methodology? Don’t we need to use some critical thinking? If the entire population operated on this kind of logic, we’d still think rat bites give you the Black Death. We’d still believe the Earth was the center of the universe. We’d still embrace the idea that women are always at fault when they don’t produce a “man-child.”
Believing something harmless when it’s unproven or even false shouldn’t really matter. It’s only one thing, right, and who’s it going to hurt? The problem is that this failure becomes a habit and eventually an entire way of life for some people. Blindness like that scares me.
(As a corollary to this whole thing, it does cast additional doubt on the veracity of all those “Genealogy Websites” that have sprung up in the past years. How much of the “factual information” they offer you about your descendants is based on such time-tested research techniques as grave witching?)

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