“Hey Heather,” my sorority sister Stephanie began, “were you in Jacksonville last month?”
“Um, no.” I replied. “Does it count if I wish I had been? Because, beach. Why do you ask?”
“Well,” she continued, “Leon and I were at the airport and I could swear that I saw you there. I even walked up to this person and was about to give her a hug because I was so sure it was you. But, when she turned to me, I realized I was wrong. But, no lie, you have a twin living in Florida.”
“Huh,” I stated, “let’s hope she only inherited just my stunning good looks and not my propensity for being a hot mess!”
As humanity interacts on modern social media and takes advantage of intercontinental travel, we have greater opportunities to meet up with our living twins. Considering that after the last supervolcano eruption 70,000 years ago killed off half the Earth’s population, it’s no wonder that humanity’s genetics can randomly create two or more people who look nearly alike with no common parentage. The Polynesian culture got it right in stating that everyone is your “cousin” and we are all ‘ohana–family.
But, what about the doppelgängers of paranormal lore? Those are less about genetic happenstance and have more of a sinister “evil twin” vibe.
Doppelgänger is a German word that literally translates to “double-goer.” It is essentially the ghostly apparition of a living person. Probably the most famous doppelgänger in American history was that of President Abraham Lincoln. After the 1860 election, Lincoln reported to his wife, Mary, that upon looking in the mirror he saw two reflections–one of his own, living face and a second of his face, but with a ghostly, dead pallor. He is said to have seen this double reflection a total of three times during his tenure as President. Could this reflective ghostly double been a harbinger of the Civil War and his own assassination? We’ll never know. The traditional German doppelgänger is a paranormal entity that when seen is taken as a portent of bad luck and that if you see your own double, you will soon die.
But, German folklore isn’t the only place you can find evidence of paranormal twins. My favorite is the Norwegian vardøger and the Finnish etiäinen. Vardøger literally means “premonitory sound or sight of a person before he arrives” while etiäinen translates from Finnish as “firstcomer.” A vardøger is a spirit double that precedes a living person in location and activity. It’s kind of like a reverse of déjà vu. The vardøger will show up and perform the action the living person is intending to do. I don’t know about you, but I wouldn’t mind having a vardøger that wakes up before me in the morning to do the dishes and make beds. The Finnish etiäinen and the vardøger are both considered to be good guardian spirits and not at all a bad omen of things to come.
Of course, spirit doubles are perfect literary foils with the living person representing the light while the doppelgänger stands for the dark. The idea of a paranormal twin perfectly represents the duality of human nature; we all have good and bad sides and having a doppelgänger allows an author to give her main character the ability to act out on her evil nature while still staying separate from it.
Believe it or not, there is a scientific explanation for doppelgängers. It’s called heautoscopy and in the field of psychiatry it’s a term used to describe the hallucination of seeing one’s own body at a distance. Heautoscopy can be symptom of schizophrenia or epilepsy and can be a biological explanation of seeing one’s own double. But, what if someone else sees your doppelgänger?
As for me, I believe that doppelgängers can be explained in the same way that some residual haunting phenomena can be described. If we subscribe to the idea of multiple quantum universes–that every decision and action leads to infinite universes with an infinite number of Earths and an infinite number of each person, all a different iteration of each other–maybe a doppelgänger sighting is a crack between quantum universes and you or a friend actually glimpsed you in a neighboring mirror universe.
Whatever the explanation, doppelgängers are a fascinating subject, one that even modern filmmakers are fascinated by. The recent release of Jordan Peele’s film Us proves that evil twins make for amazingly good, and creepy, stories.
In the end, I just hope that my Jacksonville airport twin isn’t evil or an omen of bad things to come in my life. I hope she is, instead, a wonderful young lady who enjoyed her travels, rescues puppies and kittens, and spreads joy wherever she goes. Maybe someday we’ll run into one another. I just hope our eventual meeting doesn’t cause a rip in spacetime. Instead, I hope we close down the local Starbucks after catching up late into the night.