A doppelganger also known as bilocation is an exact duplicate of a living person in whose company it appears. “Doppelganger” is a German term for “double-goer.” The doppelganger’s movements are a mirror of its companion’s; it is seemingly oblivious to eyewitnesses and does not utter a word.
One theory is that a doppelgänger is the product of some kind of psychic phenomenon, such as telepathy or hallucination, existing in the mind of the person it is duplicating.
The ability to be seen in two different places at the same time, was a talent shared by many saints in 17th century. In some cases, the doppelganger appears to be several years older than the person viewing it.
To believers, this suggests that a doppelganger might be an image from the future. In Celtic folklore this phenomenon is known as the Fetch and there is belief that should you see your double, your death is imminent.
On the rare occasion, a person who is about to die sees his own wraith. The poet Percy Bysshe Shelley was said to have seen his own double in Italy shortly before he drowned a few days later during a storm in the Bay of Spezia.
John Aubrey, the 17th century antiquary and author, recorded a number of cases. An undated case from England tells of a Sir William Napier who while on a journey to Berkshire, stopped at an inn for the night and he was shocked to see a corpse on the bed in his room, and even more shocked to see that the corpse was himself! The vision vanished, but Napier died soon thereafter. Queen Elizabeth I was also believed to have viewed her own corpse just before her death.
In 1860, Abraham Lincoln was elected as the President of the United States and entered the White House. One night, shortly after his election, he looked into his bedroom mirror and saw a most alarming sight.
He recalled: ‘My face had two separate and distinct images one of which was a little paler than the other one.’ After a while both images vanished without a trace and reappeared later the same night. And then he share his experience with his wife. After hearing about her husband’s experience, her wife, Mary Todd Lincoln told him she believed the paleness one was a bad omen and that Lincoln would serve his first presidential term but would not live to complete his second.
The prediction proved to be true, on April 14th 1865, during his second term election as President, he was shot by John Wilkes Booth during a performance at Ford’s Theatre in Washington and died shortly afterwards.
However, not all appearances of doubles are death omens, many also believed that should you encounter such a spectre in the early morning you are assured of a long life. They may also be out-of-body projections.
One of the most prominent exponents was St. Martin de Porres, a 17th century priest who spent all his religious life in a monastery of the Holy Rosary in Lima. Although he never left Peru his figure was seen in Mexico, China, Japan, the Philippine Islands and France.
A merchant, who had business to conclude in Mexico, visited the priest and asked for his blessing before he set off on his journey. But when the merchant reached Mexico City he fell ill. Lying in his bed he prayed for help and that night St. Martin appeared at his bedside and prescribed a medicine, after which he disappeared. On being restored to full health, the merchant returned to Lima and discovered that St. Martin had never left his monastery.
In May 1905 Sir Frederic Carne Rasch, the member of Parliament for the Chelmsford division of Mid-Essex, was suffering from an attack of influenza and unable to attend an important debate in the House of Commons.
His colleague Sir Gilbert Parker, who knew his illness, was surprised when on looking around the chamber he saw Sir Frederic. He described his face as being ‘remarkably pallid’ and his expression as ‘steely’.
Three other politicians, including the future Prime Minister Sir Henry Campbell-Bannerman, claimed to have also seen their colleague, who vanished before the vote was taken. When Sir Frederic finally returned to full health and resumed his parliamentary duties, he apologized to his fellow members for his ghostly appearance and said that he had been totally unaware of the incident.
The author John Cowper Powys also seems to have acquired the ability to bilocate. When he was living in America during the early part of the last century he would occasionally travel some 30 miles away from his home to visit his fellow writer Theodore Dreiser in New York.
One night as he was leaving to catch his train to return home, he told Dreiser that he would appear to him later in the evening. A couple hours later Dreiser looked up from a book he was reading to see the form of Powys surrounded by a pale white glow standing in front of him.
As Dreiser rose to greet him, the apparition vanished. Astonished by what he had seen, Dreiser immediately phoned Powys to discover that his friend was indeed back at his home in the Hudson valley.
The poet and author Johann Wolfgang von Goethe was returning from Strasbourg when he saw coming towards him his own figure dressed in a grey suit. The apparition vanished before reaching him. Although Goethe was worried that this could be an omen of his imminent death, he went on to enjoy a long and eventful life.
A few years later he was riding down the same road but this time in the direction of Strasbourg when he suddenly realized that he was attired in exactly the same suit of clothes that he had seen his ghostly double wearing. Is it possible that he have witnessed a vision from the future?
In Latvia, Emilie Sagee, a teacher who working at a finishing school for young ladies often seen by her pupils in two places in the school at the same time. On one occasion, while she was writing on the blackboard her class was astonished to see her double looking over her shoulder.
At first neither the staff nor the headmistress believed any of these stories but when the sightings increased, they began to worry. One day the girls in Miss Sagee’s class were waiting for another teacher.
Some of them looked outside the window and saw Miss Sagee picking flowers in the garden, then turned around to see her double standing in front of the class. Three of the girls approached the phantom and one of them even walked through the ghostly image which after a few minutes began to fade away.
There are number of theories which attempt to explain for the appearance of this phenomena. Many believe telepathy provide the answer, while other expert believe that astral projection could be another explanation. However none of the theories could provide satisfied explanation.
Sources: Mysteries, Legends, and Unexplained Phenomena: “Ghosts and Haunted Places” by Rosemary Ellen Guiley; The Greenhaven Encyclopedia of Paranormal Phenomena by Patricia D. Netzley; Paranormal Magazine Issue 54 December 2010: “Double Trouble” by John Stoker