alt: Fetch, Double

origin: German

The silent hero approached the doorway standing between two damp, stone pillars. As soon as he passed through, the door slammed shut behind him, steel bars blocking his return. He looked around the vast, empty chamber. The floor was covered with still water and he could barely make out a door at the far end. Standing in the midpoint between the two doors was a small island with a single, leafless tree. He slowly headed towards the tree with fear rising in his stomach. A mysterious, hazy light filled the entire chamber so he could clearly see his own reflection on the surface of the water as he walked. He passed the leafless tree, speeding up as he went. The door was getting close. He was almost there… Suddenly, he felt a chill rise up his spine. He noticed he could no longer see his reflection standing beneath him. The fear was biting now. The light seemed dimmer, and he felt disoriented, as if he stood at the edge of a cliff. He turned around and saw himself standing underneath the leafless tree. He drew his sword and approached. The doppelgänger stood and waited.

"Doppelgänger" is German for "double walker". It is a creature that looks exactly like you. It can share your strengths or present a completely inverted personality, and it can even sometimes foreshadow your exact movements – as if playing the part of you in the future. They are harbingers of bad luck. It is almost always an ill omen to meet your doppelgänger. In Ireland they are called a "fetch" because they come to fetch men to their deaths. In 1617, in Paris, the poet John Donne saw his wife's doppelgänger. Later that night, their daughter was stillborn. In another story, a man's doppelgänger exploits his character failings in order to eventually take over his life. And in an even darker tale, an entire family meets their doppelgängers and are viciously attacked.

The precise details on how these creatures are created is unclear, but we have some idea. A mirror, or still water, can provide a conduit. But for the creature to manifest physically in this world requires a tremendous amount of energy. That energy is drawn directly from your own soul. What is needed is a powerful, psychic fracture to occur so that that piece of you can be separated. A traumatic event or episode can cause this, but what is far more common, and far more dangerous, is a slow, insidious build up of tension over time as you consistently fail to face your own shadow. That tension can grow to the point where the psyche fractures. It is this willful ignorance of yourself, that will most likely manifest a doppelgänger.

In spite of all the horrible tales surrounding the doppelgänger, there is one story which offers a curious solution. In the Talmud, there is a story of a man who went searching for God and found himself. For the Jewish people, meeting your doppelgänger meant that you had achieved the rank of prophet. So we might take the story of the creature's creation to the opposite extreme: what if we explored and understood ourselves instead of avoiding and ignoring? How far might that take us? Could some other type of creature be born? At worst, this is good advice for avoiding trouble. At best, this story means something much more. As Plato said: "Know Thyself".

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