In short, the rising of the twig was produced by the man himself, and his findings were guesses, aided by ordinary knowledge as to where water-pipes are to be expected, and more especially aided by the attitude and expression of the bystanders.
Yet by his manner he showed that he plainly believed in his own powers: otherwise his reference to the gift of God was simple blasphemy, and he seemed an earnest man.
How can we explain this belief on the one hand and the trickery on the other? First let us examine the mechanism involved in the upward twisting of the twig. Suppose you take a tough and springy forked twig, each arm of the fork being about nine or ten inches long, hold it with the apex away from you, and, with your palms facing together and your finger-tips pointing upward, place the thumb and little finger of each hand inside the fork at the places marked T and F. Now close each hand, and you have each arm of the fork firmly gripped; next, keeping your elbows well in, bend the arms of the fork outward as in Fig. 2, with your palms now looking upward. You will then find that a sort of trigger action tends to occur, and by a slight pressure of your ring-fingers against the twig you can make it rise. Still gripping firmly and pressing your hands a little together you will find it continues to rise, and by bending your hands downwards at the wrists and pressing your elbows to your side you can easily persuade an observer, and perhaps yourself, that you are trying to hold the twig down. You may even find that it leaves a pressure mark on your little finger, which you can show as evidence of how you tried to restrain it. If one arm of the fork is weaker than the other it may break, and that of course will be conclusive proof of the working of a mysterious power. So we see there is nothing very strange in the man believing that his muscular action was not responsible for the moving of the twig; but his two-sided make-up–piety on one side and trickery on the other–can best be explained by a dissociation, with repression of the knowledge of trickery as far as the main personality is concerned. We might split up his consciousness like this:–
Piety, and belief in Knowledge of the means water-divining employed. Hypersensitive as the gift of God. mechanism for carrying it on.
Perhaps it is unfair to talk of trickery; he may have deceived himself from the start and never known that he was deceiving any one.
At first I pictured him as learning the trick from some one else, trying it on with his friends–maybe across a bridge over a stream–and being taken seriously, and then, when he could not escape from his reputation without owning up to the fraud, being compelled for his peace of mind to repress the deceit complex and carry on as a Dissociate. The man himself would be the last person to gain information from, for his repression, however it began, is now complete.
The discussion that followed the experiment was instructive: most of the bystanders appeared to believe in the existence of some unknown force of nature operating through a specially-gifted person, the mechanism of the twig being unnoticed and the greatest emphasis placed upon the one success. I have no doubt that in a short time the memory of that one success would be the only part of the performance not forgotten. Moreover, if any one of the bystanders had told me the story, describing fully and fairly everything he had observed, I should have been unable to criticise the facts thus presented and denial of the miraculous would have been ineffectual; yet these bystanders were all educated and intelligent men.
With the information gained from this experiment I was able to understand the next example. The subject was mentioned in a provincial newspaper, and incidentally a story was told of how a dowser who also had the power of locating metals was able by means of the twig to indicate the position of two sovereigns concealed under a carpet, showing the relationship of water-divining to some forms of ‘thought reading.’ In the next number of the paper appeared ‘some corroborative testimony’ from a well-known local gentleman, who was also a dowser, and some of his testimony I will quote:–