Doppelgänger

29Aug07

Another wiki-adventure. Today’s is on doppelgänger. This has been an important inspiration for literature.

Wikipedia says:

“They are generally regarded as harbingers of bad luck. In some traditions, a doppelgänger seen by a person’s friends or relatives portends illness or danger, while seeing one’s own doppelgänger is an omen of death. In Norse mythology, a vardøgr is a ghostly double who precedes a living person and is seen performing their actions in advance.”

I didn’t know that most cultures considered this a bad omen, but apparently so. It is also recommended to avoid talking to one’s double as they are malicious. It is said that once you are haunted by images of your doppelganger, they never go away.

The entry relates the story of Abraham Lincoln who Carl Sandburg, his biographer writes, haunted Lincoln. On the night of his election to the presidency, he saw an image of himself in the mirror with two faces. One face was paler than the other. It reoccurred several times and he told his wife about it who predicted that he would be reelected to a second term, but would not survive it.

Of the several famous accounts, including the poet Shelley, there was this written which I’ll pull out and quote at length about “The Case of Emilie Sagée”:

Robert Dale Owen was responsible for writing down the singular case of Emilie Sagée. He was told this anecdote by Julie von Güldenstubbe, a Latvian aristocrat. Von Güldenstubbe reported that in the year 1845–46, at the age of 13, she witnessed, along with audiences of between 13 and 42 children, her 32-year-old French teacher Sagée bilocate, in broad daylight, inside her school, Pensionat von Neuwelcke. The actions of Sagée’s doppelgänger included:

  • Mimicking writing and eating, but with nothing in its hands.
  • Moving independently of Sagée, and remaining motionless while she moved.
  • Appearing to be in full health at a time when Sagée was badly ill.

Apparently, the doppelgänger also exerted resistance to the touch, but was non-physical (one girl passed through the doppelgänger’s body).”

Unexplained Mysteries had a juicier blurb about this, saying:

“A double, an identical replica of a person. The idea behind this is that everyone has a Doppleganger, an identical copy of themselves somewhere in the world. If the person is good, then the Doppleganger will be evil and vice versa. It is even said that if the two should meet, then they will both perish.”

For a scientific explanation you can read this blog which writes about scientific studies on epileptic patients, but the writer admits the induced phenomenon did not produce the same malignant or alter ego feeling that many report when meeting their double.

The idea of the doppelganger may be related to older ideas stemming from pagan beliefs, for instance the notion of a fetch or Fæcce in Theodism. It was one’s guardian spirit or animal familiar, and appeared as a creature resembling one’s disposition. Theodism seems an interesting entry, but is too long to discuss here. I will save it for another entry.

Speaking of death and one’s double, I recommend seeing A Zed & Two Noughts, about two twin brothers and their investigation into decomposition.

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