At night, the veil is thin. The spirits are marching. Cold air blankets their arrival. Through the mists, a figure emerges. He is a stranger, cloaked in dark spun wool, his face obscured. He stands next to your bed and you strain for recognition.
The light shifts, shadows warble, and then you see his face.
No it can’t be.
It is your face.
The encounter with the spirit double, or the doppelgänger, has been recorded for thousands of years.
Today, with our spiritual literacy reduced to memories of fairytales and Disney films, the doppelgänger encounter is often fearful and terrifying. It’s usually mistaken for a ghost or malevolent spirit. But because we are shamed for seeing spirits in the 21st century, most do not share their stories, furthering their cognitive dissonance and isolation.
Most doppelgänger encounters occur at the bookends of sleep.
Facing off with a willful entity when you are alert and awake is not necessarily a ghost encounter. These visions have biological origins. Most doppelgänger encounters occur at the bookends of sleep, either just after falling asleep or when waking up out of a dose.
The vision occurs in stage 1 sleep, and is known as a hypnagogic hallucination. Making matters even creepier, some people have hypnagogic hallucinations for minutes after waking up, even after getting out of bed and walking around the house.
This stuff happens.
But I like the term hypnagogic vision better, because “hallucination” carries some heavy baggage that what you’re seeing is random, unreal and unimportant.
Nothing can be further from the truth.
The doppelgänger encounter occurs in times of stress, at life’s crossroads, and especially during times of emotional upheaval. They often carry messages and portents that the conscious mind does not want to hear. They can be insistent, angry, or stone cold in demeanor.
Sometimes they know information that we simply did not have access to. This unsettling truth is unexplainable by the current paradigm of science.
Do they have access to the other side, to our Higher Self, or is some other “psi” phenomenon at work, such as telepathy or clairvoyance?
It’s really a matter of personal belief and I don’t have an agenda to press on the matter.
Seeing spirits is part of our genetic make up.
In any case, we are hard-wired to interact with these entities. Seeing spirits is part of our genetic make up, an aspect of neurotheology, which accounts for the human universal experience of seeing spirits as well as other cross-culturally documented extraordinary experiences.
This doubling of self is also the core of interpersonal psychology: a social trait shared by all the upper primates in which we recognize that other people have consciousness and free will. We invoke group dynamics namely by projecting our personal self onto the others around us and interacting in a dialogue of give and take.
The doppelgänger —and in fact many dream figure relationships—is an artifact of the same process, in which the self splits itself into two or more ego mirrors.
As the recently passed James Hillman said, “The gods are real.”
The Celtic tradition of the Double
It’s autumn in the Northern hemisphere, the season of the final harvest. In Celtic traditions, we just passed through Samhain, from which our Halloween myths are largely based. For these people, the doppelganger was well known in all its forms.
In Medieval Europe, where Germanic and Celtic traditions blended together, three souls were recognized for each person.
The hamr is the animal soul, which dies with the body, and can also be sent out as a physical double. This is the province of sorcerers and shaman.
Second, they recognized the Hugr, or spirit, roughly corresponding to our Latin based tradition of the animus and spiritus.
Lastly, the fylgja is the spirit double, often seen as a female protector.
The fylgja leaves the body at will, and was associated with sleep and trance states. Today’s accounts of autoscopy and out-of-body experience parallel these early accounts of facing one’s own double.
However, in the Celtic tradition, the fylgja can fly great distances, and be employed to gather information, paralleling what is now called remote viewing by contemporary consciousness researchers.
French medieval literature professor Claude Leconuteux suggests that the spirit double has many disguises. These real life experiences can be found in many fairytales and epic tales that feature encounters with werewolves, fairies, witches and little people.
The Doppleganger Today
Modern encounters of the double can also involve aliens, zombies, and vampires. Without a tradition to ground us, many are terrorized by their own doubles as they project fear and loathing onto the hallowed encounter.
Modern encounters of the double can involve aliens, zombies, and vampires.
But something interesting happens when you realize that in order to communicate with you, the creature must contain some part of yourself.
Granted, a part of your self that may see farther and into realms the conscious mind does not understand well in the waking rational world.
The following doppelgänger encounter is drawn from my upcoming mastermind guide Lucid Immersion. As dreamer Lee Adams explains, his doppelgänger occurred from a sleep paralysis-initiated lucid dream.
“I had been having a high occurrence of sleep paralysis along with hypnagogic experiences. I had a discussion with my Buddhist teacher about the experiences and how I often overcome the sometimes-terrifying visions with a fear tactic (running at them, scaring them off). He suggested that I just be with what ever it is, and learn from it rather than scare it off.
So the next night I tried what he said. I experienced sleep paralysis and soon had a type of OBE:
I walked outside my room and walked into the hallway. I felt the sense that something was coming, that horrible feeling of the bad what ever it is (energy) is on its way. Sure enough, down the hall I saw what looked to be a zombie, stumbling his way in my direction.
I had a rush of fear sweep over me but soon calmed myself down as I remembered what my teacher had told me. I walked up to the zombie and told him to stop. I said, sit with me. He sat down.
As he and I sat down I noticed that he looked a lot like me, but just had a sad face on him. I asked him what was wrong. He said he was disappointed. I asked what he was disappointed about, and he said he didn’t know, he was just disappointed.
I thought to myself, “this must be myself, and my disappointment in life that created this type of being.” I looked down the hall as I started to feel that normal terror feeling once again. Sure enough another zombie was walked in our direction. I told the new zombie to sit with us. He sat down.
As he sat down I noticed that there were cables that came out of the zombies. I took the cables and swapped them between each other. They seemed to morph into each other as though something was fixed. As they did this I woke up.
Adams has this to say about his experience: “With a little guts and a little understanding we can learn a lot about our fears. Accepting them often is better than always trying to change them.”
To clarify, I’m not suggesting that all encounters with ghosts, ancestors and snaggily-toothed demons are “merely” fearful projections of the ego. It’s more slippery than that, and less certain.
All I can say for sure is that a piece of us is always present during encounters with the mysterious “Other,” be it doppelgänger sighting, hag attack, angel visitation, or exchanging pleasantries at the bus stop with a neighbor.
Understanding this interpersonal reality can level the playing field, and make communication with the Other more fruitful.
Which is why respect, gratitude, and compassion is the soulful way to be with one another, in dreams, visions and in waking life. Especially when the face turned towards you is gnashing its teeth.
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First image credits: Doppelganger by AbbyLadyBug