Thursday, November 29, 2018

Psychorrhagy, or the Origin of Ghosts and Doppelgangers

I am walking near a neighborhood store. From a block away, I see a friend who works in the store walking a dog, a German shepherd. It would be more accurate to say that she is walking him; he is struggling to keep up as she pulls on the leash. I don’t call out because they are quite some distance away, and cars are moving between us on a busy street. But as I return home from my walk, I stop by the wine shop. My friend is behind the counter, and I notice he has changed his clothes.
    “Where’s your dog?” I ask him.
    “She’s at home. I never bring her into the store.”
    “She’s a German shepherd, right?”
    “Right.” He stares at me. “How did you know?”
    “I thought I saw the two of you outside just now.” I describe the scene – including the checked shirt and brown pants I saw the man in the street wearing, which my friend recognizes – and especially my vision of the dog pulling him as if she wanted to take him somewhere,
    My friend turns pale. “I know where that might be,” he allows.
    He tells me, haltingly, that the woman with whom he lived for many years recently took her own life. He has not seen her since they broke up, did not go to her funeral and has not – yet – visited her gravesite.
    I get the impression that such a visit is now very much on his agenda.
    I find it fascinating that my friend’s doppelganger appeared with the double of his dog, which seemed to be leading him on an important mission – perhaps into the realm of the dead. Cross-culturally, dogs play an important role as conductors of souls in mythology, folklore and shamanic practice: as fierce boundary guardians (like Virgil’s Cerberus), as hellhounds that seize the wicked (like the red-eyed hounds of Annwn, a Celtic underworld), but above all as psychopomps (like Anubis or the dogs of Nehallenia, a Celtic patron of Otherworld voyagers) who can safely escort travelers between realms.
    This incident is quite instructive about the origin and nature of ghosts – ghosts of both the living and the dead, subtle ghosts that are perceptible only to the inner senses and heavy ghosts that are audible and visible to the physical senses.
    In its heyday around 1900, the Society for Psychical Research (SPR) took a keen interest in “phantasms of the living”, ghosts, and dreams of the dead, correctly fining common elements in these phenomena. One of the founders of the SPR, the great Victorian psychic researcher Frederic Myers, coined a word to describe the origin of the kind of doppelganger I saw on the street. He called an episode of this kind a psychorrhagy. The word literally means a bursting or breaking loose of the psyche, as a hemorrhage is a bursting of blood. In Myers’full definition, psychorrhagy is “a special idiosyncrasy which tends to make the phantasm of a person easily perceptible; the breaking loose of a psychical element, definable mainly by its power of producing a phantasm, perceptible by one or more persons, in some portion of space.” [1] This might be caused by strong emotion, such as grief or fear.
    Myers was a classicist and a poet as well as a parapsychologist. He was relentless not only in his quest for evidence of psychic events – and especially of the soul’s survival of physical death – but in his efforts to provide an exact vocabulary to describe such events. Drawing on his command of Greek and Latin, he coined the now familiar term telepathy as well as many other terms that are still in use by researchers in these fields – supernormal and retrocognition among others. Some of Myers’ coinages have caught on; psychorrhagy has not. It is rather hard on the eye of the average nonclassicist reader, especially when couples with diathesis, a medical term used to define a constitutional tendency towards certain ailments or symptoms. Psychorrhagic diathesis, in Myers’ lexicon, is “a habit or capacity of detaching some psychical element, involuntarily and without purpose, in such a way as to produce a phantasm.” [2]
      Translation? Think of my sighting of the double and his dog in front of the wine shop. Some of the psychic energy of my friend seems to have “broken loose” and produced a double – dense enough to be mistaken for his physical self even under the midday sun. For a living person to go on missing so much dense etheric energy for any length of time would be likely to produce fatigue, debility, and illness – and later, possibly physical death. Hence the old popular belief that seeing someone’s fetch (an English and Irish term for this kind of doppelganger could portend death. The uncanny nature of the double is reflected in Dante Gabriel Rossetti's painting "How They Met Themselves" in which a couple in a dark wood are astounded to meet their second selves are react accordingly - the woman by fainting, the man by drawing his sword. [3]
     Ghosts, in our usual parlance, are already dead, in the sense that the physical bodies from which they were projected have died. But a ghost may have originated before the physical death of its unconscious maker, through the unwitting projection or psychorrhagy of dense energy.
      Ghost that remain stuck in one place for years after death are rarely very interesting. Either they have lost their minds or their awareness is smothered by a heavy energy sheath, like something wrapped in used chewing gum. Of ghosts in this sense, Andrew Lang observed correctly, “Since the days of ancient Egypt, ghosts have learned, and have forgotten, nothing”. [4]

      1.F.W.H. Myers, Human Personality and Its Survival of Bodily Death (London: Longmans, Green, 1903) vol.1, xx.
      2. ibid. 
      3. Rossetti was fascinated by the double, and painted and drew several versions of this picture. He drew the first version when he was 23 and called it his Bogie Drawing. He painted his first watercolor version during his honeymoon with his model,Elizabeth Siddal, who died two years later from a laudanum overdose. When I was nineteen, I played Dante Gabriel Rossetti in a repertory performance titled "An Evening with the Pre-Raphaelites".
      4.Andrew Lang, Dreams and Ghosts (Hollywood CA: Newcastle Publishing,1972) 13-15

Text adapted from The Dreamer’s Book of the Dead by Robert Moss. Published by Destiny Books.

Art: Dante Gabriel Rossetti, "How They Met Themseves" (1864 watercolor version)

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