Friday, 12 November 2010

The Other One

Bilocation is a phenomenon that has always fascinated me.
How can a person be seen at two (or, heavens forbid, more!) locations at the same time?

Some explain it with "astral travel".
But this explanation does not make sense when the "original" is fully awake and conscious and engaged in perfectly mundane activities at the time.

Is it a matter of perception?
But clearly there is something for the others to perceive.
There have been numerous cases where there were plenty of witnesses attesting the vision of a person who was known - and also witnessed by others - to be at a different location at the time.

Padre Pio of Pietrelcina, the famous and controversial Capuchin monk, is just one such example.
And of course, there are many stories regarding the weird phenomenon of the Doppelgänger.

One of the most famous such cases is the story of Em
élie (often spelled Emilie) Sagée, the French-born school teacher from Livonia (an ancient land, today divided between Latvia and Estonia), whose strange case was described by Robert Dale Owen in the first edition of his book Footfalls on the Boundary of Another World (1860).

The events supposedly took place in 1845 - 1846, at a boarding school called Neuwelcke (or perhaps situated in a place of that name), around "a mile and a half from Wolmar" (Valmiera, in Latvian).

Here's a short version of the account, copied verbatim (and gratefully) from here:

Most of her students in 1846 and 1846 often witnessed Sagee’s doppelganger. The double would often mimic the young woman’s movements, be very active while Sagee remained motionless, and appear healthy during times that Sagee was known to be ill.

One time, all the students in the school saw Emilie Sagee working in the school’s gardens at the same time that they could see her sitting in a chair in the room with them! When two of the more courageous students attempted to interact with the image in the chair, they discovered an “odd resistance in the air surrounding it.”
Ms. Sagee never did see her own double.

She didn't, but she did feel increasingly faint - or so the story goes.
And it is an interesting story.
Dale Owen heard it from Julie von
Guldenstubbé, the second daughter of the then famous Baron von Guldenstubbé (more about him below), who was one of Sagée's pupils and purportedly had witnessed the phenomenon herself.

The ruins of a castle in Valmiera (Wolmar, in German)*
Borrowed from this lovely website.

If you're interested in this topic, you were probably familiar with this story. But you may not have read the original account of it.

Well, now you can.
Here it is, free of charge, thanks to the Internet Archive.

(yes, she was kicked out, on top of everything)

I find this book particularly valuable because it includes the author's tentative explanations and thoughts about such spacetime - or perception? - anomalies.

So, make sure you read the entire book, when you can, not just this story.
(And notice the quality of the language, of sheer literacy, compared to today's books on the subject - not to mention internet postings on various forums.)

However, after perusing the various editions of the book (there were eight of them, I believe, from 1860 to 1891), there is an interesting question lingering in my mind: why is this story to be found in the first edition only?

There is no answer implicit in this question.
I have no idea.

I have no doubts about Mr. Dale Owen's personal integrity - judging by his writing, he strikes me as an intellectually honest man - yet I cannot help but think, was perhaps his witness found to be less than reliable?

The Guldenstubb
és were an interesting lot. The Baron himself was an eminent "spiritist", a passionate adherent of spirit-summoning and "direct writing", which was quite in vogue at the time. (You can read about his vision of a "ghost in the tower" here.)

Surely Dale Owen was not only aware of this - it is probably why he got in contact with him and his daughter in the first place - but clearly thought there was good reason to consider the Baron's daughter a reliable witness.
(A thought occurred to me while reading about the
Guldenstubbés: is it possible that it was Miss Julie only who saw the teacher's "double" and the other girls thought they did, too?
This sort of contagion is by no means as extraordinary as it may sound.
However, it was just a thought. If you read the story carefully, it seems clear that there was more to it than mere "contagion".)

Or was something else amiss?

We may never know.
But it doesn't really matter, because the question here is:
can such things be?
And there have been simply too many well documented cases to dismiss their existence.

For a tentative explanation I'll refer you to a section in the same Dale Owen's book, with a highly telling title,
"The Counterpart Appears Where the Thoughts or the Affections Are?" (p. 857/858, immediately following the account of Emélie Sagée's double).

As for Padre Pio, according to the website above, "the closest he ever came to an explanation of bilocation was to say that it occurred 'by an extension of his personality'."

You'll find many other similar accounts in the book.

If you like literary fiction of the sort, read Dostoyevsky's The Double (you can do it right now and free of charge).
But if you prefer visual information, then skip the various video sites, overflowing with spurious material, and aim straight for art: rent Krzystof Kieslowski's unforgettable film The Double Life of Veronique - and enjoy.

* This structure has nothing whatsoever to do with the story itself, but it is such a wonderfully evocative photo (oh, those clouds!) that I just had to include it.  
I tried to locate the erstwhile "Pensionat Neuwelcke", but all to no avail. All I found out was that "Neuwelcke" would be Melbarži, in Latvian. There are at least two of those, and neither is "a mile and a half from Wolmar".


If you want to report a perceived dimensional anomaly, please do, but read this first.


M. R. said...

Intriguing story.

Your stories remind me of quarries. Yes that's right, quarries.
I get all this great material and precious titbits lying here and there, but then I look around and I see even more interesting material still waiting to be excavated.

Your writing style would not be out of place in the early 19. century. Thatis a compliment.
You know that. :)

Myosotis said...

Thank you very much for stopping by and even more for commenting, M. R.

We have been called many names, but "quarries" is a first. ;)

I totally get what you're saying, and I can say it is definitely how I feel while writing. Writing should entice and whet the appetite for more research - not quell the wish to know.

It IS a great compliment.
Thank you very much for it.

Dace Abolina said...

Dear, Myosotis!
Wanted to comment about this place, you tried to find! That fact that this place Neuwelcke is near Wolmar (Valmiera, Latvia) "a mile and a half from Wolmar"is right. Neuwelcke translation "Jaunveļķi"(in Latvian language).
Nowadays address of "Jaunveļķi" location is Koceni region, Vaidava (Welkenhof). Latvija (Latvia, Letland, Lettonie) , post code LV-4228.
And original book "El Pensionado de Neuwelke"/José C. Vales written in Spanish , can find here (
This boarding school for girls was built at 1814 year. (
Thank you about blog and that you found information about this story.
( I verey lately and unexpectedly I came upon with your work, but so glad about it! )
Wish you lack!
Dace Abolina ( Letland)

Myosotis said...

Dear Dace - thank you so much for all this precious information!

I hope you come back. ;)
The best of luck to you too.