I was first introduced to the word “doppelgänger” by The CW’s “The Vampire Diaries” -- it was kind of their thing. The word gets thrown around pop culture simply to mean one who physically resembles another beyond a normal scope, like right now: There’s a young French woman who deeply resembles Rihanna who’s now getting bombarded with demands for a new Ri-Ri album.
But there’s more to doppelgängers than just really looking like someone else. Is it a paranormal phenomenon? I wouldn’t rule it out, but research has said that you probably have a double out there with your same face and mannerisms, mostly just due to the fact that there are seven billion people in the world and only so many combinations of genes.
The word “doppelgänger” was coined in the 18th century by German author Jean Paul to mean “double-goer” or “double-walker.” In his 1796 novel “Siebenkäs,” the protagonist swaps identities with a lookalike friend -- totally innocent. Nowadays, finding your double is just a silly, freak occurrence that probably results in a selfie sent to all your friends and family. But in folklore and throughout history, the existence of a doppelgänger has been downright sinister.
Traditionally, referring to a doppelgänger carried ghostly references -- the doppelgänger was considered the “spirit double” or “spectral self,” a specter of a human while they’re still alive. Legends and beliefs surrounding doppelgängers existed in nearly every part of the world; in ancient Egypt, for example, it was called the “ka,” believed to be the spirit essence of a person (and most likely the reason for such elaborate burials after someone died).
There's a part of legend that says doppelgängers are much more susceptible to show up when we’re asleep or sick -- it was said that our spirits would take advantage of our bodies when they’re weak or vulnerable and start wandering. Folk tales took these stories and ran, coming up with the “evil twin,” as the doppelgänger was said to always exist solely to be the enemy of their human source.
Sounds like Elena Gilbert and Katherine Petrova, that’s for sure.
In both English and German folklore, doppelgängers signaled death, even. Seeing your ghostly double three times was an omen of your impending demise, and if you look for them, enough examples throughout history show just that happening; Abraham Lincoln and Percy Bysshe Shelley are two examples of people who claimed to see their doppelgängers shortly before passing away.
Of course, that aspect of the belief of doppelgängers could be purely coincidental, as plenty of neurological conditions cause hallucinations, like heautoscopy -- so who knows?
All I know is, if I ever find my doppelgänger, I’m definitely pulling some “Parent Trap” business and swapping places for a day.