The apparition or double of a living person, generally supposed
to be an omen of death. The wraith closely resembles its
prototype in the flesh, even to details of dress. There are accounts
of people seeing their own wraith, and among those who
were warned of approaching death in this way are said to be
Queen Elizabeth I, the poet Percy Bysshe Shelley, and Catherine
of Russia. The latter, seeing her double seated upon the
throne, ordered her guards to fire upon it.
But wraiths of others may appear to one or more persons.
Lord Balcarres of Scotland saw the wraith of his friend Bonnie
Dundee at the moment when the latter fell at the Battle of Killiecrankie,
and the poet Ben Jonson saw his eldest sons double
when the original was dying of the plague.
The belief in the wraith flourishes in Europe, and in different
parts of Britain it goes under different names, such as
waff, swarth, task, and fye. Variants are the Irish
fetch, and the Welsh lledrith.
In Scotland it was believed that the wraith of one about to
die might be seen wrapped in a shroud. The higher the shroud
reached, the nearer was the approach of death.
Something analogous to wraith-seeing comes within the
scope of modern psychical science, and the apparition is explained
in various ways, as an astral projection or an emanation
from the person of its living prototype.
A well-known case is that of the Birkbeck Ghost, when three
children witnessed the apparition of their mother shortly before
her death. This instance, reported in Proceedings of the Society
for Psychical Research (vol. 1, 1882, pp. 121122), is noteworthy
because Mrs. Birkbeck was conscious before she died of
having spent the time with her children. (See also J. W. Goethe;