Most towns and villages have one and there might also be a magnétiseur, or faith healer, who specialises in pain relief. They could be the same person.
In the past, the only way to get to know who they were was by word of mouth. Now, with the internet, the search is easier.
Sourcier Laurent Cassé, who lives and works in the Gers, has a website and videos on YouTube. He told Connexion he did not believe in water divining until he saw a sourcier at work, and tried himself.
“I was surprised by the reaction of the baguettes (divining rods), which genuinely seemed to move by themselves,” he said.
“I wanted to learn more and so started years of training to understand the movement of the baguettes and how to interpret what they mean.
“In the old days, the sourcier would be called in to determine where the well should be dug before the house was built – but also to ensure that, when the house was built, it was not over an underground current, which is bad for sleep patterns. Now it is the other way round. Houses are built anywhere, and afterwards people call in a sourcier to find out if there are underground currents.
“Often just moving a bed a couple of metres so it no longer straddles a current is enough to let people sleep.”
There are now training courses to learn how to become an effective sourcier but Mr Cassé said many of them try to explain in scientific terms the inexplicable. “I find the most effective sourciers are those who trained themselves,” he said.
For finding water he says his success rate is 90%, similar to university-trained hydrologists. “Borers and well diggers consult me before starting work,” he said. “I email my findings before they start work so everyone knows if I am right or wrong.
“Even when I am wrong, I get repeat business because people know it is not an exact science.”
He described the sensation of crossing water as an “ill feeling” similar to vertigo, and believes involuntary muscle contractions make the rods move. “Everybody feels the slight illness but sourciers have trained themselves to interpret it. It is why people sleep badly if there is a water current under the bed.”
There is no formal list of sourciers in France. Many are known locally, while a few, like Mr Cassé, have websites.
He said he understands the sceptics who doubt sourciers’ ability to find water, as he thought it was trickery too, until his own experience.
“I think the reason is found in some of the explanations you hear to explain the phenomena. If you try to use science to explain it, there is already a problem because there is nothing scientific about it.
“Science relies on being able to reproduce experiments. But the techniques of a sourcier depend on much more than them and their techniques. The result is the fruit of a conjunction of many parameters which escape most people, including the sourcier.”
He also does some work as a magnétiseur (specialising in easing pain by sensing a person’s vibrations and trying to change them) and as a coupeur de feu (helping the pain of burns to go away, often using old prayers and spells) and says this came about as a result of his sourcier work.
“It comes from the same source, working with the immaterial. I lay my hands on people and sense their vibrations. The difference with water is that working as a sourcier I just have to read the situation. To give people therapy you have to try to change the vibrations they give and you cannot just do anything.
“It helps some people with the pains associated with radiotherapy and to cope with chemotherapy,” he said.
Mr Cassé charges a fee and expenses to find water sources for boreholes. Prices vary between €50 and €200.
He does not charge people disturbed by flowing water under their beds. Coupeurs de feu by rule do not take money – and he follows this tradition.
While magnétiseurs operate outside the health system in France, he said the number of a coupeur de feu is always available in hospital burns units. “Some nurses in the units practise coupeur de feu techniques but do not talk about it. It is no longer part of our culture, but it might come back, as it has in Switzerland.”