My interest in this subject started during the Christmas holidays. I received two copies of Stephen King’s Dr Sleep and took one back to exchange. I came away with a book by an author I hadn’t heard of before, Kate Mosse and her book of short stories called The Mistletoe Bride and other Haunting Tales.
The first story impressed me, I enjoyed the tone and the way she captured a time gone past. The second got my creative juices flowing. Duet was a story about a doppelganger. But I was really drawn in when I read the author’s note Kate Mosse puts at the end of each story, which is a mix of history on the subject at hand and how she developed her idea or take on it.
Kate Mosse wrote how a doppelganger “…means ‘double-walker’ in German, a doppelganger is a shadow self – a living ghost…” This ghost can only be seen by the human double, and is a harbinger of death.
My mind was whirling now. How did I not know about this? That’s not strictly correct, I did know about doppelgangers. I knew the basic definition of the word but I was unaware of the history and frankly the spookiness of it all. I had to go look up the subject for myself and the first thing on Goggle was this entry:
A ghostly counterpart of a living person
b. Alter Ego
c. A person who has the same name as another
The ‘ghostly counterpart’ has the cogs in my mind spinning.
Then this from the Oxford Dictionary:
An apparition or double of a living person.
Origin: mid 19th century: from German, literally 'double-goer'
Like Kate said, it’s an apparition, this is getting even better.
Then I went to Wikipedia and found this on the subject:
A doppelgänger is often perceived as a sinister form of bilocation and is regarded by some to be a harbinger of bad luck. In some traditions, a doppelgänger seen by a person's relative or friend portends illness or danger while seeing one's own doppelgänger is said to be an omen of death.
Recent scientific experimentation has duplicated several doppelgänger effects when electrical stimulation was applied to the left temporoparietal junction of a patient's brain.
In contemporary vernacular, the word doppelgänger is often used in a more general sense to identify any person that physically ‒ or perhaps even behaviorally ‒ resembles another person without regard to the word's original paranormal meaning. (This is the definition I was familiar with.)
I’m enjoying this research. There seem to be numerous facets to the subject, so many avenues to explore, so many stories to emerge from one German word.
From the Urban Dictionary (There were sixteen entries, I haven’t included the silly ones.)
1. Someone who looks exactly like another person but is not a twin. A ghost identical to living person: an apparition in the form of a double of a living person
2. Derived from the German language, literally meaning "Ghostly Double".
One who nearly or completely resembles another but with no biological relation.
It is believed to be an omen of death if someone sees their Doppelgänger.
3. A facebook trend where instead of using a real picture, a user uploads a picture of a celebrity with whom they vainly perceive shared physical features but is in reality much more attractive.
4. A vision of one's self out of the corner of the eye.
5. In folklore it's a harbinger of back luck: a) When you see your own doppelgänger, it's an omen of death. b) When you see a relative’s or friend’s doppelgänger it could mean illness or bad luck for him/her.
6. A person who seems to be an exact copy of yourself. Doppelgangers usually cause trouble by acting as yourself and interacting with other people. It is said that if you come into contact with your Doppelganger that you will die instantly, leaving the Doppelganger to play out your own life.
7. An indigenous worm located in South Africa. They hang from trees and when approached they make strange whooping noises and jump at your face. Then they suck the sweet sweet juices from your eyes and make a nest in your intestines. They can grow from 5 inches to 5 feet long. The doppel-ganger is endangered so please do not hunt them for sport.
Okay, I left number seven in because it made me laugh. :)
Percy Shelley had a habit of seeing himself, but then a friend also saw his double. This was around the time his wife, Mary Shelley had her near-fatal miscarriage.
Abraham Lincoln, the American president shot dead at the theatre, repeatedly saw an odd vision of himself in the mirror. The reflection showed him having two faces, one pale, like he was dead. After seeing this double-face a number of times, and his wife decided this foretold that he’d be elected a second time, but would die during the second term.
During the Victorian times, George Tryon, a vice-admiral on the HMS Victoria, was seen walking through his home. A party was underway at the time, and there were many witnesses. His ship went down off the coast of Syria that night.
After doing my research, I simply had to write my own doppelganger story. In fact I am thinking of writing a series of stories each exploring a different definition of the word. I might even write one about those South African worms. But only because they’re endangered.