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Arrival Apparitions ("Vardøgr")

September 1, 2015

Typically in popular culture, apparitions are depicted as representing the spirits of deceased individuals. But there are also a number of reports in the psychical research literature in which people have reportedly encountered apparitions of living people, as well. Among these reports are instances in which a person's apparition has been seen (or heard) at a certain place just before the person actually arrives there. The illustration above (which is a slide that comes from George R. Tweedie's public lecture entitled "Gossip About Ghosts" from the 1890s) depicts one such instance that was reported in the classic 1886 anthology Phantasms of the Living by Edmund Gurney, Frederic Myers, and Frank Podmore (Case # 30). The original account of the experience, given by a woman named Frances Reddell in December of 1882, went as follows:


"Helen Alexander (maid to Lady Waldegrave) was lying here very ill with typhoid fever, and was attended by me. I was standing at the table by her bedside, pouring out her medicine, at about 4 o'clock in the morning of the 4th October, 1880. I heard the call-bell ring (this had been heard twice before during the night in that same week), and was attracted by the door of the room opening, and by seeing a person entering the room whom I instantly felt to be the mother of the sick woman. She had a brass candlestick in her hand, a red shawl over her shoulders, and a flannel petticoat on which had a hole in the front. I looked at her as much as to say, 'I am glad you have come,' but the woman looked at me sternly, as much as to say, 'Why wasn't I sent for before?' I gave the medicine to Helen Alexander, and then turned round to speak to the vision, but no one was there. She had gone. She was a short, dark person, and very stout. At about 6 o'clock that morning Helen Alexander died. Two days after her parents and a sister came to Antony, and arrived between 1 and 2 o'clock in the morning; I and another maid let them in, and it gave me a great turn when I saw the living likeness of the vision I had seen two nights before. I told the sister about the vision, and she said that the description of the dress exactly answered to her mother's, and that they had brass candlesticks at home exactly like the one described" (Gurney, Myers, & Podmore, Phantasms of the Living, Vol. I, p. 214; emphasis added).


It seems that these apparent "arrival apparitions" have been so commonly reported in the Scandinavian country of Norway that the regional term vardøgr was coined as a convenient way to refer to them. What could possibly be involved in these experiences? An article which describes additional cases, and which briefly considers this question, can be found here. (NOTE: the article is in Adobe PDF format)

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