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How would you feel if you met another you from a parallel universe? One may well exist, as a ghostly double or evil twin, ready to crush your sanity or even replace you altogether!

What Is a Doppelgänger?

A doppelgänger, often anglicized as doppelganger, is a spirit double or evil twin that looks exactly like you. The German word translates literally as a double goer. According to legend or folklore, if you spot your double, it is an omen of dreadful disease or even possibly death. In modern society, a doppelganger also refers to a person who is very similar to you in the way they look and act.

Doppelganger Origin

Stories of doppelgangers date back to ancient myth and legend. The theme of an evil twin or haunting ghost replica have featured numerous times in literature and art, depicting an innate fascination with the concept, whether real or imaginary. The concept of a good and evil twin is noted as far back as the 5th century BC, in an ancient Iranian religion called Zoroastrianism. The two primal spirits were the sons of time and represented darkness and light.

The ancient Egyptians believed in the existence of a ka or spirit double. The spirit twin allegedly had the same memories as the original individual. In an Egyptian version of the Trojan War story, a spirit double was sent, instead of the actual Helen. The ka was such a perfect replication of Helen that it fooled everybody and a war was averted. Native American myth also incorporates twins, the Hopi twins. In their cosmology, they believed the afterlife mirrored the land of the living. The duality extended to the twins called the Child of Water and the Child of Sun.

Norse mythology tells of a similar ghostly double which is said to perform the actions of a person just before they do. The spirit will often smell or sound like, or have the same voice as, the original person.

Scottish tales from the Orkney Islands describe mystical baby snatchers who replace real human babies with replicas. Trows, or mythical fairy creatures, allegedly swapped their sickly babies with healthy human babies. The replacement babies would immediately change to look exactly like the human baby and fool the poor parents, until the fairy baby became ill and died. The Bretons version, called the Ankou, was said to be the harvester of souls. Sighting him, much like sighting a twin spirit, would be an omen of certain death. Dressed in a dark cloak, with hat and scythe in hand, he would then get the newly dead souls to help him harvest more souls!

Real Doppelgangers

Abraham Lincoln was supposedly an open-minded statesman, who recognized the existence of the paranormal world. He reported seeing his doppelganger in the mirror, on more than one occasion. In 1860, shortly after Lincoln was elected, he claimed to see a double reflection of himself in the mirror. He asserted that the second reflection looked remarkably weaker and paler. His wife believed it was a bad omen, suggesting he would finish his first term, but not make it to the end of his second!

Writer, poet and statesman Johann Wolfgang von Goethe claimed to encounter a doppelganger during his life, from 1749 – 1832. He alleged he was headed by horse to Drusenheim, after ending a relationship with a girl called Frederika. Von Goethe came across an exact double of himself, also on a horse, heading in the opposite direction. The only difference was that the doppelganger had on a gold-trimmed gray suit. Von Goethe was on the same road eight years later, heading in the same direction his doppelganger had been and suddenly noticed he was wearing the exact same gold-trimmed gray suit he had seen his ghostly double in! The writer claimed to see a doppelganger of his friend too, dressed in von Goethe’s own robe. On returning home, he found his friend – wearing the same robe he had seen on the man’s wraithlike double.

The servants of Catherine the Great reported seeing her in her throne room one night, when she was actually in her bed. She ordered them to shoot her evil spirt double and, strangely, she perished shortly after her double was shot at. Guy de Maupassant was a French writer who died in 1893. He was well known for his mastery of short stories. One of his short stories, La Horla, was indeed ghost-written as, sources cite, it was dictated to him by his doppelganger! Allegedly, de Maupassant’s health began to worsen shortly after he had written the story, which recounted a tale of a man who went mad due to a sinister ghost taking him over!

Another doppelganger encounter, commonly cited, is that of Emilie Sagée. Emilie was a school teacher in the 1840s in a private school, in what is now known as Latvia. She had been quite a job hopper up until then, having had 19 jobs in 16 years. Her students first spotted her spirt double when she was teaching class. The specter appeared next to her as she wrote on the board, imitating her movements. It was spotted again when the teacher was busy working in the school garden and also seen concurrently, in her ghostly form, in a classroom! Adventurous students decided to try and pass through the wraithlike figure and succeeded! They allegedly reported a feeling of thick material when passing through it. The teacher was said to feel drained and helpless at the time of the sightings.

In Art

The artist Dante Gabriel Rossetti produced a watercolor painting entitled How They Met Themselves, in 1860. The painting depicts a couple out walking in the woods, who encounter their exact doubles. The lady collapses at the sight and the man draws his sword in defense of their evil spirit replicas. Rossetti purportedly painted the work of art on his honeymoon!

Edgar Allan Poe, the American writer and fan of dark tales of mystery and horror, wrote a short story called William Wilson, which was published in 1839. The story portrayed the struggle of man to avoid submitting to his vices. He had a doppelganger who continually tried to keep him away from his evil ways.

Modern Explanation

Modern day medicine and science claim the phenomenon is experienced because of head injury or mere hallucinations. It is also considered to be the result of a psychiatric phenomenon known as heautoscopy. Sources describe the phenomenon as viewing your own body from a distance, and it is said to be due to schizophrenia or epilepsy. Another explanation may exist for the eerie spirit double, if one is open to the supernatural. Could it be another you, an exact copy, but from an alternate reality or alternate dimension perhaps?

Whether real or fictional, seeing your doppelganger is likely to drain the color out of anyone. In the style of Edgar Allan Poe, it may haunt you for a very long time and perhaps even drive you mad!