DO YOU HAVE an exact double somewhere in the world? Can a person be in two places at once? There are many intriguing accounts throughout history of people who claim to have either encountered apparitions of themselves - their doppelgangers - or have experienced the phenomenon of bilocation, being in two separate locations at the very same time.
"Doppelganger" is German for "double walker" - a shadow self that is thought to accompany every person. Traditionally, it is said that only the owner of the doppelganger can see this phantom self, and that it can be a harbinger of death. Occasionally, however, a doppelganger can be seen by a person's friends or family, resulting in quite a bit of confusion.
In instances of bilocation, a person can either spontaneously or willingly project his or her double, known as a "wraith," to a remote location. This double is indistinguishable from the real person and can interact with others just as the real person would.
One of the most fascinating reports of a doppelganger comes from American writer Robert Dale Owen who was told the story by Julie von Güldenstubbe, the second daughter of the Baron von Güldenstubbe. In 1845, when von Güldenstubbe was 13, she attended Pensionat von Neuwelcke, an exclusive girl's school near Wolmar in what is now Latvia. One of her teachers was a 32-year-old French woman named Emilie Sagée. And although the school's administration was quite pleased with Sagée's performance, she soon became the object of rumor and odd speculation. Sagée, it seemed, had a double that would appear and disappear in full view of the students.
In the middle of class one day, while Sagée was writing on the blackboard, her exact double appeared beside her. The doppelganger precisely copied the teacher's every move as she wrote, except that it did not hold any chalk. The event was witnessed by 13 students in the classroom. A similar incident was reported at dinner one evening when Sagée's doppelganger was seen standing behind her, mimicking the movements of her eating, although it held no utensils.
The doppelganger did not always echo her movements, however. On several occasions, Sagée would be seen in one part of the school when it was known that she was in another at that time. The most astonishing instance of this took place in full view of the entire student body of 42 students on a summer day in 1846. The girls were all assembled in the school hall for their sewing and embroidery lessons.
As they sat at the long tables working, they could clearly see Sagée in the school's garden gathering flowers. Another teacher was supervising the children. When this teacher left the room to talk to the headmistress, Sagée's doppelganger appeared in her chair - while the real Sagée could still be seen in the garden. The students noted that Sagée's movements in the garden looked tired while the doppelganger sat motionless. Two brave girls approached the phantom and tried to touch it, but felt an odd resistance in the air surrounding it. One girl actually stepped between the teacher's chair and the table, passing right through the apparition, which remained motionless. It then slowly vanished.
Sagée claimed never to have seen the doppelganger herself, but said that whenever it was said to appear, she felt drained and fatigued. Her physical color even seemed to pale at those times.
There have been many cases of doppelgangers appearing to well-known figures:
SISTER MARY OF JESUS
Bilocation seems to be the flip side of the doppelganger coin. One of the most astonishing cases took place in the 1620s. In 1622, Father Alonzo de Benavides was assigned to the Isolita Mission in what is now New Mexico. He was puzzled to encounter Jamano Indians who, although they seemed never before to have met French or Spanish peoples, carried crosses, knew Roman Catholic rituals, had altars and knew Catholic liturgy - all in their native tongue.
Father Benavides wrote to both Pope Urban VII and King Philip of Spain to find out who had been there before him, obviously working to convert the Indians. The response was that no one had been sent previously. The Indians told him that they had been instructed in Christianity by a beautiful young "lady in blue" who came among them for many years and taught them this new religion in their own language. She also told them that white-skinned people would soon arrive in their land. "She came down from the heights to us," the Indians said, "she taught us the new religion, she stayed among us for a time, she told us you would come and to make you welcome, and then she went away. That’s all we know."
Who was this mysterious lady in blue? Father Benavides knew that the nuns of the Poor Clare order wore blue habits and thought there might be a clue there. He found a painting of a Poor Clare nun and showed it to the Jamanos. "Is this the woman?" he asked. The dress was right, the Indians told him, but this was not the woman. The woman in the painting was rather portly, but the lady in blue was young and beautiful.
When he returned to Spain, Father Benavides was determined to solve the mystery. How could the Indians have encountered a Poor Clare nun when they were a cloistered order: from the day they took their vows until their deaths, the nuns never left their convents, much less traveled to distant lands on missions. His investigation led him to Sister Mary of Jesus in Agreda, Spain, who claimed to have converted North American Indians - without leaving her convent. Now 29 and Mother Superior of the convent, Sister Mary said she had visited the Indians "not in body, but in spirit."
Sister Mary said she regularly fell into a cataleptic trance, after which she recalled "dreams" in which she was carried to a strange and wild land, where she taught the gospel. As proof of her claim, she was able to provide highly detailed descriptions of the Jamano Indians, including their appearance, clothing and customs, none of which she could have learned through research since they were fairly recently discovered by the Europeans. How did she learn their language? "I didn’t," she replied. "I simply spoke to them - and God let us understand one another."
Sister Mary is also said to have appeared to Mexican Indians, who said they had been visited by "a very beautiful woman, who used to come down from the heights, dressed in blue garments."
OTHER ACCOUNTS OF BILOCATION
There are many more anecdotes of bilocation, especially of saints, clergy and other religious figures:
- In 1227, St. Anthony of Padua, a Portuguese Franciscan friar, was in Limoges, France on Holy Thursday giving a sermon. During the sermon, he remembered that he was obliged to be chanting prayers with his fellow friars in their chapel across town. Realizing this, he stopped his sermon, knelt on the spot, pulled his hood over his head and became quite still. At that moment, Friar Anthony appeared in the chapel and chanted the prayers as required. When they were done, he simultaneously withdrew from the chapel and raised his head at the church - and continued with his sermon.
- St. Alphonsus Liguori was bishop of St. Agata dei Goti in 1774 when he experienced his bilocation. While in his palace near Naples, the bishop fell into a trance and at once appeared at the Vatican in Rome, in the bed chamber of Pope Clement XIV, who was dying. The bishop assisted those attending the Pontiff and prayed with those present. He remained until the Pope died, then "awoke" back in his palace, able to describe what he had just experienced.
- In 1905, Sir Gilbert Parker, a member of the British Parliament, was attending a debate in the House of Commons. During the debate, he noted that Sir Frederick Carne Rasch was also present, sitting in his usual spot. Yet this was impossible since Sir Frederick was quite ill with with flu and, according to members of his household, remained in bed throughout the day. Apparently, Rasch's double was determined to hear the debate.