Definition: the ghostly or physical counterpart of a living person, also called a "fetch" (circa 1787).
Etymology: (1851) from the German doppel (double) + gänger (goer)

Long before they were called Doppelgänger, the Vikings (1200-1800) recognized these entities as vardøger, ghostly beings that preceded their living counterparts, taking their places at various activities.

In Germany, the word is capitalized and spelled Doppelgäenger although the rest of the world has put the word in lower case and dropped the umlaut from the "a" as well as the second "e". The German definition "double goer" was meant to describe a person who had the apparent ability to be in two places at once.2

Doppelgänger are mostly the product of fiction, holding a prominent place in ancient legends, mythology, and in books by various authors such as, Fyodor Dostoevsky, William Shakespeare, Oscar Wilde, Edgar Allen Poe, and Charles Dickens. Generally considered as omens of bad luck or even signs of impending death, those who try to communicate with their own Doppelgänger are regarded as foolhardy and ill fated.3

In one Danish legend, a blacksmith spots a troll abducting a pregnant woman. Using a hot iron from his forge, the blacksmith scares the troll away and brings the woman into his home. Almost immediately, the woman gives birth to twins and the blacksmith hastens to tell her husband the news about the woman's rescue and the birth of her newborn children. However, on entering her home, the blacksmith finds the woman's husband in bed with her Doppelgänger. The heroic blacksmith kills the imposter and reunites the man with his true family.4

People from the Orkney Islands feared fairies and called them "trows", ugly, impish little creatures whose children were apt to be sickly. Pregnant women were carefully guarded from the trows who would often steal healthy human babies and replace them with "stocks", exact replicas of the children.5

Ancient folklore and mythology portrays the Doppelgänger as an entity that casts no shadow and has no reflection. They are also known as "evil twins" and often have sinister motives and while most Doppelgänger cases are fiction, several real-life cases are noteworthy. Among them, one in which the Doppelgänger did cast a reflection.

Doppelgänger: Beyond the Myth?

Abraham Lincoln: As chronicled by Noah Brooks in his book, Washington in Lincoln's Time (1895), soon after Lincoln was elected in 1860, he arrived home thoroughly fatigued. Upon relaxing on a lounge in his chamber, he looked into the bureau mirror and saw himself reflected. Lincoln said, "...nearly at full length; but my face had two separate and distinct images."

The faces in the reflection were almost nose-to-nose. Startled, Lincoln got up to closer examine the reflection, but upon standing the images disappeared. On lying down again, the double image reappeared. Lincoln noticed that although the images were nearly identical, one was "a little paler—say five shades—than the other".

Lincoln admitted that the experience did "give me a little pang as if something uncomfortable had happened," but put it out of his mind until later in the evening when he told his wife about the incident. Out of curiosity, he tried to elicit the image again. He was successful one last time, but unable to show it to his wife. Mary Todd Lincoln became very worried and told Lincoln she believed that the paleness of half the dual image was a bad omen, which meant that Lincoln would serve his first full term, but would not live to finish his second.6,7

John Dunne was an English poet who claimed that he saw his wife's Doppelgänger in Paris. When he returned home, Dunne found that his wife had delivered a stillborn baby at their London home.

Emilie Sagée was a 32-year old schoolteacher in 19th century France whose bi-location in mid-day was witnessed several times in one of the most interesting Doppelgänger records. One of her students, Julie von Güldenstubbe, reported the several appearances of Sagée's Doppelgänger to writer Robert Dale Owen.8

As Sagée was writing on the chalkboard while teaching her class of thirteen students, her double appeared, standing along side her. It was her exact image except that it wasn't holding a piece of chalk.

On another occasion, all of the school's 42 student girls were in the school hall for sewing and embroidery class. As they worked, they could clearly see Sagée in the school's garden gathering flowers. However, when the girl's teacher left the room for a moment, Sagée's Doppelgänger appeared, sitting motionless in the teacher's chair. Two girls tried to touch the apparition but were met with an odd resistance and were unable to penetrate the air surrounding the entity. Yet, one girl, stepping between the teacher's chair and the table, passed through the apparition, which then slowly vanished.

The girls noticed that on the "arrival" of the Doppelgänger, Sagée looked suddenly very tired as she worked in the garden. Sagée declared that she had never seen the apparition, but admitted that when it was present, she felt drained of energy. The girls noticed that their teacher became pale during the Doppelgänger visits.9

1. doppelganger.” Merriam-Webster Online Dictionary. 29 Jun 2008 <http://www.merriam-webster.com/dictionary/doppelganger>.
2. What is a Doppelganger?.” Wise Geek n.d . 29 Jun 2008 <http://www.wisegeek.com/what-is-a-doppelganger.htm>.
3. Ellie Crystal. “Doppelganger.” Crystalinks n.d . 29 Jun 2008 <http://www.crystalinks.com/doppelganger.html>.
4. Thomas Keightley. "The Fairy Mythology: Illustrative of the Romance and Superstition of Various Countries" p.392 HG Bohn. 1850. 29 Jun 2008
5. Sigurd Townie, ‘Changelings and Trowie Bairns’, on the Orkneyjar – the heritage of the Orkney islands n.d. 29 Jun 2008 <www.orkneyjar.com/folklore/trows/trow3.htm>
6. Colin Wilson, Mysteries, Granada, 1979, pp.380-383.
7. Noah Brooks. Washington in Lincoln's Time. Century, New York, 1895. Reprinted as Washington, D.C., in Lincoln's Time. Edited by Herbert Mitgang. Quadrangle Books, Chicago, 1971. University of Georgia Press, Athens, 1989. First ed., pages 220-221. Mitgang's ed., pages 198-200.
8. “Doppelgänger .” Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia 27 Jun 2008. 29 Jun 2008 <http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Doppelganger>.
9. “Doppelganger!.” About.com n.d. 29 Jun 2008 <http://paranormal.about.com/library/weekly/aa111102a.htm>.