A fetch, or fetich, is an apparition in the form of a living person,[1] featured in folk-tales from all over England; fetches are also known as swarths or waffs in the north of England.[1][2] Their appearance is almost always ominous, particularly if seen at night, and may be a portent of the imminent death of the person whose double has appeared. The double may be of the person themselves, as in the case of the daughter of the Earl of Holland, who while strolling in her father’s grounds in Kensington met her own apparition and died of smallpox a month later.[2] The medievalist William Sayers has described a fetch as “a ghost in the making”.[3]

According to the Oxford English Dictionary, the term fetch in the sense of an apparition first appears in English in 1787, but its etymology is uncertain.[4] Sayers has suggested that its linguistic root is the Old Norse fylgja, a word describing either a supernatural follower or a guardian spirit. He goes on to suggest that the fetch represents a cultural fusion between the Norse idea of an individual’s spirit emanation and the notion of a personal or family guardian spirit which appears at the onset of a change in fortunes, found in the folklore of Ireland and the Western Isles of Scotland.[3]

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Bibliography


Alexander, M. (2002). A Companion to the Folklore, Myths & Customs of Britain. Sutton Publishing.
Briggs, K. M. (1977). An Encyclopedia of Fairies: Hobgoblins, Brownies, Bogeys and Other Supernatural Creatures. Pantheon Books.
OED. (2020). fetch, n.2. In Oxford English Dictionary (online). Oxford  University Press. https://www.oed.com/view/Entry/69589
Sayers, W. (2017). A Hiberno-Norse Etymology for English Fetch: “Apparition of a Living Person.” ANQ: A Quarterly Journal of Short Articles, Notes and Reviews, 30(4), 205–209.