Doppelgänger

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Doppelgänger

(religion, spiritualism, and occult)

There is a belief that everyone has an exact double somewhere in the world and that, if ever one should come face to face with that double, it is a sign that he or she will die. John Aubrey (1626-1697), the antiquary, in his Miscellanies (1696), tells of Lady Diana Rich meeting her double while walking in the grounds of Holland House, London. A month later she was dead. Eric Maple, in Man, Myth and Magic, says that when the Empress Catherine the Great saw her double advancing upon her, she ordered her guards to open fire on it.

Such a duplicate of oneself is known as a doppelgänger, or "walking double." The English painter Dante Gabriel Rossetti (1828-1882) depicted a meeting between a man and a woman and their doppelgängers, showing one of the women fainting, in his painting How They Met Themselves.

In the Salem witch trials, one of the major debating points was the admission of "spectral evidence." This was a belief that a witch could be observed by witnesses as being innocently occupied in one location, but a duplicate of the witch could be in another place, working mischief. Spectral evidence was, after some small debate, admitted, and a number of people were put to death on that basis. Such evidence was not restricted to New England. Kitteridge says, "Spectral evidence was admitted, for example, in England, either in examinations or in actual trials, in 1593, 1612, 1616, 1621, 1633, 1645, 1650, 1653, 1654, 1658, 1660, 1661, 1663, 1664, 1665, 1667, 1670, 1672, 1673, 1680, 1682, 1683. Even Justice Holt, whose honorable record in procuring the acquittal of every witch he tried is well known, did not exclude spectral evidence."