Tuesday, May 1, 2007

Doppelganger (bilocation)

Doppelganger: a ghostly double of a living person, especially one that haunts its fleshly counterpart.

Do you have an exact double somewhere in the world? Can a person be in two places at once? There are many intriguing accounts throughout history of people who claim to have either encountered apparitions of themselves - their doppelgangers - or have experienced the phenomenon of bilocation, being in two separate locations at the very same time.

"Doppelganger" is German for "double walker" - a shadow self that is thought to accompany every person. Traditionally, it is said that only the owner of the doppelganger can see this phantom self, and that it can be a harbinger of death. Occasionally, however, a doppelganger can be seen by a person's friends or family, resulting in quite a bit of confusion.

In instances of bilocation, a person can either spontaneously or willingly project his or her double, known as a "wraith," to a remote location. This double is indistinguishable from the real person and can interact with others just as the real person would.

Famous Deaths Attributed to the Doppelganger

Percy Bysshe Shelley
On 8 July 1822, Percy Bysshe Shelley, poet, drowned in the Bay of Spezia near Lerici. On 15 August, while staying at Pisa, Mary Shelley wrote a letter to Maria Gisborne in which she relayed Percy's claims to her that he had met his own doppelgänger. A week after Mary's nearly fatal miscarriage, in the early hours of 23 June, Percy had had a nightmare about the house collapsing in a flood, and
... talking it over the next morning he told me that he had had many visions lately — he had seen the figure of himself which met him as he walked on the terrace & said to him — "How long do you mean to be content" — No very terrific words & certainly not prophetic of what has occurred. But Shelley had often seen these figures when ill; but the strangest thing is that Mrs W[illiams] saw him. Now Jane though a woman of sensibility, has not much imagination & is not in the slightest degree nervous — neither in dreams or otherwise. She was standing one day, the day before I was taken ill, [15 June] at a window that looked on the Terrace with Trelawny — it was day — she saw as she thought Shelley pass by the window, as he often was then, without a coat or jacket — he passed again — now as he passed both times the same way — and as from the side towards which he went each time there was no way to get back except past the window again (except over a wall twenty feet from the ground) she was struck at seeing him pass twice thus & looked out & seeing him no more she cried — "Good God can Shelley have leapt from the wall? Where can he be gone?" Shelley, said Trelawny — "No Shelley has past — What do you mean?" Trelawny says that she trembled exceedingly when she heard this & it proved indeed that Shelley had never been on the terrace & was far off at the time she saw him.
Percy Shelley's drama Prometheus Unbound (1820) contains the following passage in Act I: "Ere Babylon was dust, / The Magus Zoroaster, my dear child, / Met his own image walking in the garden. / That apparition, sole of men, he saw. / For know there are two worlds of life and death: / One that which thou beholdest; but the other / Is underneath the grave, where do inhabit / The shadows of all forms that think and live / Till death unite them and they part no more...."
John Donne
Izaak Walton claimed that John Donne, the English metaphysical poet, saw his wife's doppelgänger in 1612 in Paris, on the same night as the stillbirth of his daughter.
Two days after their arrival there, Mr. Donne was left alone, in that room in which Sir Robert, and he, and some other friends had dined together. To this place Sir Robert return'd within half an hour; and, as he left, so he found Mr. Donne alone; but, in such Extasie, and so alter'd as to his looks, as amaz'd Sir Robert to behold him: insomuch that he earnestly desired Mr. Donne to declare what had befaln him in the short time of his absence? to which, Mr. Donne was not able to make a present answer: but, after a long and perplext pause, did at last say, I have seen a dreadful Vision since I saw you: I have seen my dear wife pass twice by me through this room, with her hair hanging about her shoulders, and a dead child in her arms: this, I have seen since I saw you. To which, Sir Robert reply'd; Sure Sir, you have slept since I saw you; and, this is the result of some melancholy dream, which I desire you to forget, for you are now awake. To which Mr. Donnes reply was: I cannot be surer that I now live, then that I have not slept since I saw you: and am, as sure, that at her second appearing, she stopt, and look'd me in the face, and vanisht.
This account first appears in the edition of Life of Dr John Donne published in 1675, and is attributed to "a Person of Honour... told with such circumstances, and such asseveration, that... I verily believe he that told it me, did himself believe it to be true." At the time Donne was indeed extremely worried about his pregnant wife, and was going through severe illness himself. However, R. C. Bald points out that Walton's account "is riddled with inaccuracies. He says that Donne crossed from London to Paris with the Drurys in twelve days, and that the vision occurred two days later; the servant sent to London to make inquiries found Mrs Donne still confined to her bed in Drury House. Actually, of course, Donne did not arrive in Paris until more than three months after he left England, and his wife was not in London but in the Isle of Wight. The still-born child was buried on 24 January.... Yet as late as 14 April Donne in Paris was still ignorant of his wife's ordeal." In January, Donne was still at Amiens. His letters do not support the story as given.
Abraham Lincoln
Carl Sandburg's biography contains the following:
A queer dream or illusion had haunted Lincoln at times through the winter. On the evening of his election he had thrown himself on one of the haircloth sofas at home, just after the first telegrams of November 6 had told him he was elected President, and looking into a bureau mirror across the room he saw himself full length, but with two faces.
It bothered him; he got up; the illusion vanished; but when he lay down again there in the glass again were two faces, one paler than the other. He got up again, mixed in the election excitement, forgot about it; but it came back, and haunted him. He told his wife about it; she worried too.
A few days later he tried it once more and the illusion of the two faces again registered to his eyes. But that was the last; the ghost since then wouldn't come back, he told his wife, who said it was a sign he would be elected to a second term, and the death pallor of one face meant he wouldn't live through his second term.
This is adapted from Washington in Lincoln's Time (1895) by Noah Brooks, who claimed that he had heard it from Lincoln himself on 9 November 1864, at the time of his re-election, and that he had printed an account "directly after." He also claimed that the story was confirmed by Mary Todd Lincoln, and partially confirmed by Private Secretary John Hay (who thought it dated from Lincoln's nomination, not his election). Brooks's version is as follows (in Lincoln's own words):
It was just after my election in 1860, when the news had been coming in thick and fast all day and there had been a great "hurrah, boys," so that I was well tired out, and went home to rest, throwing myself down on a lounge in my chamber. Opposite where I lay was a bureau with a swinging glass upon it (and here he got up and placed furniture to illustrate the position), and looking in that glass I saw myself reflected nearly at full length; but my face, I noticed had two separate and distinct images, the tip of the nose of one being about three inches from the tip of the other. I was a little bothered, perhaps startled, and got up and looked in the glass, but the illusion vanished. On lying down again, I saw it a second time, plainer, if possible, than before; and then I noticed that one of the faces was a little paler — say five shades — than the other. I got up, and the thing melted away, and I went off, and in the excitement of the hour forgot all about it — nearly, but not quite, for the thing would once in a while come up, and give me a little pang as if something uncomfortable had happened. When I went home again that night I told my wife about it, and a few days afterward I made the experiment again, when (with a laugh), sure enough! the thing came back again; but I never succeeded in bringing the ghost back after that, though I once tried very industriously to show it to my wife, who was somewhat worried about it. She thought it was a "sign" that I was to be elected to a second term of office, and that the paleness of one of the faces was an omen that I should not see life through the last term.
Lincoln was known to be superstitious, and old mirrors will occasionally produce double images; whether this Janus illusion can be counted as a doppelgänger is perhaps debatable, though probably no more than other such claims of doppelgängers.
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).

Suggested literary texts
  • The Dark Half - Stephen King
  • William Wilson - Edgar Allan Poe
  • Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde - Robert Luis Stevenson
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