Wednesday, February 23, 2011

Double-Selves: Doppelgänger, Vardøger, Ka, Etiäinen, And More


Late last year, while rummaging through a Norwegian-English dictionary (yes, I have curious hobbies), I stumbled over the entry, "vardøger." The dictionary didn't define it—it merely *described* the term, quite circumspectly in fact, as though the word were a dangerous object or a rotten egg. It was! Learning about vardøger opened up yet another strange door for me, straight out of reality and into the spirit world.

A vardøger is something like a double of yourself, a spirit twin to your physical self. More often, of course, our English term is "doppelganger" (we're pretty careless about German umlauts), which covers many kinds of appearances of a spirit self in our material world. Used to be that the ancient Egyptian "ka" was considered to be your living spirit-double. The sound of the Norwegian word is as alien as the concept itself: I can't even spell it with English phonetics, but if you know French, a Franco-phonetic spelling might be "vardœuguère," and with first-syllable stress. The Finns have a closely similar concept they call an "etiäinen."

The vardøger is a double who gets to your destination ahead of you, effectively announcing your imminent arrival. There's a summary article on it in Wikipedia, and one in the Journal of Scientific Exploration from 2002, on the Web. Lots of famous folks seem to have had doubles and acknowledged them: Goethe, Shelley, Lincoln, Donne, even military men.

The kicker is this: I have a vardøger myself! After I read the dictionary entry, I mentioned it to my wife. She surprised me by saying she and the dogs have often heard "me" come home: shutting the car door, coming in the front door, and even putting grocery bags on the counter. The dogs confirm they've heard "me," too, all leaving her side and trotting off to the front door to greet me, the way they do every day when I arrive from work or grocery shopping or whatever. Then she looks out at the driveway—and there's no car at all. A few minutes later I actually arrive: the "actual" me (the guy typing right now). Once she actually went downstairs to talk to me (because I was taking too long to come upstairs and say hi), and was quite startled to see me walk through the door coming into the house. I hadn't been home at all. She never mentioned it until now, when I asked about it, out of hesitation as to what my reaction might be.

About 35 years ago, a closely similar incident with my first wife (yeah, things didn't work out), when we were living with my parents for the summer. She'd been home sick, everyone else was at work, and in the evening she told us about somebody coming into the house, walking around the other rooms and making noise. She sorta had us all freaked, talking about an uninvited stranger there!

I used to think I didn't have psychic experiences. Yet psychic encounters have been happening for other people (plus dogs) all around me! And the same might well be true for lots of us. We just never think to ask friends or family. And being good Western skeptics, they may experience the doppelganger appearances but never bother to bring them up with anyone else. Maybe I need to start circulating questionnaires.

We think of ghosts as spirits of the dead...and mostly as fictitious. But if we are here on earth "for fun"—the One and the Infinite focused on playing a game here—what happens if our true selves interfere a little bit with game going on somewhere else? What if you bump your opponent's pawn in chess or hum a happy tune to yourself back in the percussion section while the orchestra performs Beethoven? While you're totally focused on the chess world, so focused that you've become oblivious to the human world, then if someone jostles your pawn or your rook, it would be a major surprise—an other-worldly event! My physical self is at the office, or in traffic headed home, but my true self, my real heart, is at home with the ones I love. Vaguely neglecting the play of life, I slip a gear, so that my real self touches my real loves, and voilà: the vardøger shows up. Not always; just sometimes. Yes, many cultures say it’s a sign of imminent death when you see your double. Could be; I've never seen my own vardøger. Goethe saw his double, but it was a sort of fold in time: he saw his doppelganger the way he was actually dressed and travelling years later.

Is there a reason, a purpose? It's all play, remember? Does there have to be any reason? We are not here to learn lessons, not really. After all, since we are One with the Infinite, there are no lessons to be learned. Instead, we are playing at being finite, at being separate, at not-knowing. Phenomena like vardøger or doppelgangers remind us of the enormously greater reality all about us. They help us to take seriously what is important—relationships, love, connection—and to be amazed and grateful for the wonders and the Love of the Universe.

Shamans bilocate deliberately. While playing the game, sometimes one will reach across the table and look at the cards in your hand. The doppelganger of a shaman will go places and do things and see truths, because the shaman recognizes the game, walks the boundaries, crosses between life and death.

A millennium ago, Norwegian records noted how a Sami "noaidi" in Bergen helped a German trader of the Hanseatic League, telling him how things were back home in Germany. The report says the traveling businessman came home to find things were just as the shaman had said. Bilocation. Doppelganger. Shamanic travel knows no limits.

Sunday, February 20, 2011



If we are here to learn lessons, then why are the animals here? Or the plants? Or neutron stars?

The religious perspective is viciously anthropocentric: "The rest of the universe is here to help people learn lessons." And there the explanations end. They serve us. People are more important than animals. After 50 years of failing ecology, massive extinctions, and irreversible warming, do our teachers still so pitifully misunderstand "why we're here"?

We are here because the Infinite is playing at being finite. The Indivisible Whole is pretending to be divided, into separate people, into plants and animals and creepy-crawlies and black holes and alternate universes. The One, at play. The Great Game. Music without rules, unless we make them. Children arguing at recess about what's fair and what's not. Lovers quarreling, enemies falling in love, multiple wives and extra husbands. Bipeds that can think, quadrupeds that can think, ocean-going monsters that can think. (Check out all those online videos of octopuses and whales that constantly make plans for their futures, or sing, or grieve.)

Animals are just further expressions of the One at play. So are you and I. Our pets reflect the love of the Universe back to us. Or sometimes Its deep unpredictability. The animals we farm or hunt are not our servants: they are more demonstrations of the Universe trying out every possible role in this drama, working out every possible scenario of predator and prey, the eater and the eaten, the dull beast with scarcely a clear thought for the future and human beings terrified all their lives by their own assured mortality.

Anyone with pets knows that they dream, just like people. More evidence of play and games and drama and music. All beings shift constantly from one state of play to another, from one dream state to another. We abandon dream games in a few minutes; we abandon ordinary-reality games after a few years. Our beloved domestic friends love, just like people. They fear and run, they play all the same games. Dogs and wolves and whales sing. Cats and elephants paint, given half a chance. Parrots do arithmetic. We are all One. The One plays at being, at being all beings.

Shamans merge with mountains and clouds, they dance animals and plants, they shape-shift, they eat meat, they sacrifice themselves. They coach the same game that they themselves play; they play medics to injured players, they cross all lines. Human, volcano, Antarctica, spaniel, squid...shamans read for all roles, play all field positions, sing all the notes. Hey, they help write the music and the playbooks!