Know Your Ghosts: The Fetch

It’s been a while, but as we start to approach All Hallows Eve, I believe it’s time to dust off the KYG section of my blog, and today I have a special ghost, the ghost of the living or recently (as in VERY recently) departed, the Fetch.

Originating in Ireland, a Fetch is a doppelganger spirit; it takes on the appearance of someone who has just died or is just about to die.  A Fetch will usually appear to the loved ones of the individual and will appear to be perfectly normal, if somewhat distant or distracted.  Additionally, the Fetch will sometimes appear ghostly or shadowy, and may vanish down alleys or halls if followed.

A Fetch is not actually the ghost of the person it appears to be; indeed, often the person imitated is still alive.  Instead it seems to be a phantom that simply takes the same form, though for what reason is unknown.  It may be related to the German doppelganger, but a Fetch rarely is malevolent.  They seem to only be portents, almost like projected versions of precognition.

In most cases, seeing a Fetch is a sign that the person it portrays is about to die.  The Fetch may even bear the signs of how the person will die.  The movie series Final Destination could be considered to be about an elaborate Fetch scenario, and much like in the films, the victim will usually die as predicted by the Fetch, if not in exactly the same manner.

While the appearance of a Fetch is usually quite dire, in some circumstances they are considered beneficial.  A Fetch seen in the early morning as the sun is rising is said to be a sign of a long and happy life for the person it imitates.  A Fetch may only be visible to the person it is imitating or may be visible to everyone except the person who it’s imitating.

The Fetch originally comes from Ireland, but migrated to England in the 18th century, where they became more commonly known simply as “Doubles”.  Stories of Doubles and Fetches abounded in 18th and 19th century folklore, with authors often employing the double as a means of showing the main character the error of his ways.

Interestingly, there are older Norse legends of a similar type of ghost, known as the Fylgja. The Fylgia does not necessarily imitate an individual, but rather accompanies them and is a portent of death.  However, female Fylgia are considered beneficial, and their appearance is said to bring good luck to a clan or family.

The Fetch is the central antagonist of The Stray Sod Country by Patrick McCabe.  In McCabe’s version, the spirit inhabits individuals instead of mimicking them and causes them to harm others around them.

10 thoughts on “Know Your Ghosts: The Fetch

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  1. This why I love mythology. Every piece can stand as its own narrative. I’m fairly well-versed in Norse Mythology, but I have to admit this is a new one for me. Very interesting.

  2. I believe I may have just seen something like this. My husband has stage iv prostrate cancer and is receiving treatment. And doing well. Around 4:30 on the morning of April 2 , I woke to my husband coughing and saw a man standing by husband’s night table. His face appeared to be filled with concern and love. I was startled and called out “who are you?”. Then he looked somewhat startled and our eyes locked. It seemed in my head I heard him ask “can you see me?” Then my husband started coughing again and my concern was for him. I woke him to make sure he was all right and when I glanced up, the man was gone. I thought he was a guardian angel. Someone just told me about a fetch. Just thought this maight be interesting to you.

  3. I realize that you posted this some time ago but I wanted to know if there might be any connection between Fetch folklore and the Slender Man night terror/urban legend? Like the witch on the bureau, I have been told that the silhouette of a man with mussed hair can be seen just on waking in either the doorway or near the bed as a night terror. A friend of mine told me that this night terror is called slender man. When talk started about men showing up in peoples’ bedrooms…I wanted to ask.

  4. Slender man is made up and comes from the creepy pasta fictional writing website, however it may have derived from the spirit Death. The similarity in appearance to the spirit Death is uncanny. Death is seen as he comes to the person about to die, and I’ve never heard of him seen by others. Night terrors have been referred to as “the old Hag” or “succubi”, as terrors are known for sitting on chests choking people or trying to have intercourse with them.They do not predict death. Back to Fetch, it reminds of Banshees, in that those female spirits are seen before somebody in the clan dies, but not by the person who dies. She is seen in certain clans, not all of them and goes by lineage as her sightings run in families. What I find fascinating is that strange sightings seen by the sick or dying may be dismissed as stemming from the illness or injury. Even night terrors are from an altered state. However, Fetch and Banshes will appear to healthy people in a very stable state of mind.

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