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For other uses, see Doppelgänger (disambiguation).
Dante Gabriel Rossetti, How They Met Themselves, watercolor, 1864

In fiction and folklore, a doppelgänger or doppelgaenger (/ˈdɒp(ə)lˌɡɛŋə/ or /-ˌɡæŋə/; German: [ˈdɔpəlˌɡɛŋɐ] ( ), literally "double-goer") is a look-alike or double of a living person who is sometimes portrayed as 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.

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.


The word doppelgänger is a loanword from German Doppelgänger, consisting of the two substantives Doppel (double) Gänger (walker or goer).[1][2] The singular and plural form are the same in German, but English usually prefers the plural "doppelgangers." It was first used by Jean Paul in the novel Siebenkäs (1796), and his newly coined word is explained by a footnote.

As is true for all other common nouns in German, the word is written with an initial capital letter. In English, the word is conventionally uncapitalized (doppelgänger). It is also common to drop the diacritic umlaut, writing "doppelganger."


Although this German word is of relatively recent origin, first appearing in English use in 1851,[3] the concept of alter egos and double spirits appears in the folklore, myths, religious concepts, and traditions of many cultures throughout human history.[4]

In Ancient Egyptian mythology, a ka was a tangible "spirit double" having the same memories and feelings as the person to whom the counterpart belongs. In one Egyptian myth entitled, The Greek Princess, an Egyptian view of the Trojan War, a ka of Helen was used to mislead Paris of Troy, helping to stop the war.[citation needed]

In Norse mythology, a vardøger is a ghostly double who precedes a living person and is seen performing their actions in advance. In Finnish mythology, this is called having an etiäinen, i.e., "a firstcomer".[citation needed]

In Breton mythology as well as in Cornish and Norman French folklore, the doppelgänger is a version of the Ankou, a personification of death.[citation needed]


In Prometheus Unbound by Percy Bysshe Shelley, the concept of a doppelganger double was described as a counterpart to the self. Edgar Allan Poe's story "William Wilson" describes the double with sinister, demonic qualities. George Gordon Byron used doppelganger imagery to explore the duality of human nature.[5] Charles Williams Descent Into Hell (1939), has character Pauline Anstruther seeing her own doppelganger all through her life.[6] Clive Barker's story "Human Remains" in his Books of Blood is a doppelganger tale.

The doppelgänger motif is a staple of Gothic fiction, arguably its central expression of character.


Contemporary English folklore contains the story of Vice-Admiral Sir George Tryon who was supposedly seen walking through the drawing room of his family home in Eaton Square, London at the same time that he had gone down with his ship, the HMS Victoria, after colliding with HMS Camperdown.[7]


Heautoscopy is a term used in psychiatry and neurology for the reduplicative hallucination of "seeing one's own body at a distance".[8] It can occur as a symptom in schizophrenia[9] and epilepsy. Heautoscopy is considered a possible explanation for doppelgänger phenomena.[10]

See also[edit]


  1. ^ New Oxford American Dictionary, 2nd Edition, 2005.
  2. ^ Doppelgänger; Orthography, Meaning Synonyms
  3. ^ Date of first use in English according to Merriam-Webster Dictionary.
  4. ^ Leonard Zusne, Warren H. Jones (1989). Anomalistic Psychology: A Study of Magical Thinking. Lawrence Erlbaum Associates. p. 121. ISBN 978-0-805-80507-9.
  5. ^ Frederick Burwick (8 November 2011). Playing to the Crowd: London Popular Theatre, 1780-1830. Palgrave Macmillan. pp. 83–. ISBN 978-0-230-37065-4. 
  6. ^ Charles Williams. (1939). Descent into Hell. Faber and Faber.
  7. ^ Christina Hole (1950). Haunted England: A Survey of English Ghost-Lore. B. T. Batsford. pp. 21–22. 
  8. ^ Damas Mora JMR, Jenner FA, Eacott SE (1980). "On heautoscopy or the phenomenon of the double: Case presentation and review of the literature". Br J Med Psychol 53 (1): 75–83. doi:10.1111/j.2044-8341.1980.tb02871.x. PMID 6989391. 
  9. ^ Blackmore S (1986). "Out-of-Body Experiences in Schizophrenia: A Questionnaire Survey". Journal of Nervous and Mental Disease 174 (10): 615–619. doi:10.1097/00005053-198610000-00006. PMID 3760852. 
  10. ^ Brugger, P; Agosti, R; Regard, M; Wieser, H. G; Landis, T (1994). "Heautoscopy, epilepsy, and suicide". Journal of Neurology, Neurosurgergy and Psychiatry 57: 838-839.

Further reading[edit]

  • Brugger, P; Regard, M; Landis, T. (1996). Unilaterally Felt ‘‘Presences’’: The Neuropsychiatry of One’s Invisible Doppelgänger. Neuropsychiatry, Neuropsychology, and Behavioral Neurology 9: 114-122.
  • Keppler, C. F. (1972). The Literature of the Second Self. University of Arizona Press.
  • Maack, L. H; Mullen, P. E. (1983). The Doppelgänger, Disintegration and Death: A Case Report. Psychological Medicine 13: 651-654.
  • Miller, K. (1985). Doubles: Studies in Literary History. Oxford University Press.
  • Otto, R. (1971, originally published in 1925). The Double: A Psychoanalytic Study. The University of North Carolina Press.
  • Reed, G. F. (1987). Doppelgänger. In Gregory R. L. The Oxford Companion to the Mind. Oxford University Press. pp. 200-201.
  • Todd, J; Dewhurst, K. (1962). The Significance of the Doppelgänger (Hallucinatory Double) in Folklore and Neuropsychiatry. Practitioner 188: 377-382.
  • Todd, J; Dewhurst, K. (1955). The Double: Its Psycho-Pathology and Psycho-Physiology. Journal of Nervous and Mental Diseases 122: 47-55.

External links[edit]