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Short description: Entity manifesting from mental powers

Tulpa is a concept originally from Tibetan Buddhism and found in later traditions of mysticism and the paranormal of a materialized being or thought-form, typically in human form, that is created through spiritual practice and intense concentration.[1][2][3] Modern practitioners, who call themselves "tulpamancers", use the term to refer to a type of willed imaginary friend which practitioners consider to be sentient and relatively independent. Modern practitioners predominantly consider tulpas to be a psychological rather than a paranormal concept.[4][5][6][7] The idea became an important belief in Theosophy.


The concept of tulpas has origins in the Buddhist nirmāṇakāya, translated in Tibetan as sprul-pa (སྤྲུལ་པ་): the earthly bodies that a buddha manifests in order to teach those who have not attained nirvana. The western understanding of tulpas was developed by twentieth-century European mystical explorers, who interpreted the idea independently of buddhahood.[8]

Theosophy and thought-forms

Thoughtform of the Music of Gounod, according to Annie Besant and C. W. Leadbeater in Thought-Forms (1905)

20th-century Theosophists adapted the Vajrayana concept of the emanation body into the concepts of 'tulpa' and 'thoughtform'.[9] The Theosophist Annie Besant, in the 1905 book Thought-Forms, divides them into three classes: forms in the shape of the person who creates them, forms that resemble objects or people and may become ensouled by nature spirits or by the dead, and forms that represent inherent qualities from the astral or mental planes, such as emotions.[10] The term 'thoughtform' is also used in Evans-Wentz's 1927 translation of the Tibetan Book of the Dead.[11] The concept is also used in the Western practice of magic.[12][page needed] The Slender Man has been described by some people as a tulpa-effect, and attributed to multiple people's thought processes.[13]

Occultist William Walker Atkinson in his book The Human Aura described thoughtforms as simple ethereal objects emanating from the auras surrounding people, generating from their thoughts and feelings.[14] He further elaborated in Clairvoyance and Occult Powers how experienced practitioners of the occult can produce thoughtforms from their auras that serve as astral projections which may or may not look like the person who is projecting them, or as illusions that can only be seen by those with "awakened astral senses".[15]

Alexandra David-Néel

Spiritualist Alexandra David-Néel stated that she had observed Buddhist tulpa creation practices in 20th-century Tibet.[8][1] She described tulpas as "magic formations generated by a powerful concentration of thought."[16]:331 David-Néel believed that a tulpa could develop a mind of its own: "Once the tulpa is endowed with enough vitality to be capable of playing the part of a real being, it tends to free itself from its maker's control. According to David-Néel, this happens nearly mechanically, just as the child, when her body is completed and able to live apart, leaves its mother's womb."[16]:283 She said she had created such a tulpa in the image of a jolly Friar Tuck-like monk, which she claimed had later developed independent thought and had to be destroyed.[17][3] David-Néel raised the possibility that her experience was illusory: "I may have created my own hallucination", though she said others could see the thoughtforms that she created.[16]:176


Influenced by depictions in television and cinema from the 1990s and 2000s, the term tulpa started to be used to refer to a type of willed imaginary friend.[9] Practitioners consider tulpas to be sentient and relatively autonomous.[4] Online communities dedicated to tulpas spawned on the 4chan and Reddit websites. These communities refer to tulpa practitioners as "tulpamancers". The communities gained popularity when adult fans of My Little Pony started discussing tulpas of characters from the My Little Pony television series.[4] The fans attempted to use meditation and lucid dreaming techniques to create imaginary friends.[5][18] Surveys by Veissière explored this community's demographic, social, and psychological profiles. These practitioners believe a tulpa is a "real or somewhat-real person".[5] The number of active participants in these online communities is in the low hundreds, and few meetings in person have taken place. They belong to "primarily urban, middle-class, Euro-American adolescent and young adult demographics"[5] and they "cite loneliness and social anxiety as an incentive to pick up the practice".[5] 93.7% of respondents expressed that their involvement with the creation of tulpas has "made their condition better",[5] and led to new unusual sensory experiences. Some practitioners have sexual and romantic interactions with their tulpas, though the practice is controversial and trending toward taboo.[citation needed] One survey found that 8.5% support a metaphysical explanation of tulpas, 76.5% support a neurological or psychological explanation, and 14% "other" explanations.[5]

Practitioners believe tulpas are able to communicate with their host in ways they sense do not originate from their own thoughts. Some practitioners report experiencing hallucinations of their tulpas. Practitioners that have hallucinations report being able to see, hear and touch their tulpas.[5]

Veissière's survey of 141 respondents found that the rates of neurodivergence including autism, ADD, and ADHD was significantly higher among the surveyed tulpamancers than in the general population. He goes on to speculate that people may be more likely to want to make a tulpa because these groups have a higher level of loneliness. Tulpamancers were typically white, articulate, and imaginative and lived in urban areas.[19] A 2022 study found individuals that did not have psychosis who experienced more than one unusual sensory phenomenon, (in this instance ASMR and Tulpamancy) were found to have greater hallucination-proneness than people that only experienced one of the two sensory phenomenon.[20]

Somer et al. (2021) described the Internet tulpamancer subculture as being used to "overcome loneliness and mental suffering", and noted the close association with reality shifting (RS), a way of deliberately inducing a form of self-hypnosis in order to escape from current reality into a pre-planned desired reality or "wonderland" of chosen fantasy characters.[19]

See also


  1. 1.0 1.1 Campbell, Eileen; Brennan, J. H.; Holt-Underwood, Fran (1994). Body, Mind & Spirit: A Dictionary of New Age Ideas, People, Places, and Terms (Revised ed.). Boston: C. E. Tuttle Company. ISBN 080483010X. 
  2. Rojcewicz, P.M., 1987. The "men in black" experience and tradition: analogues with the traditional devil hypothesis. Journal of American Folklore, pp.148-160
  3. 3.0 3.1 Westerhoff, J. (2010). Twelve Examples of Illusion. Oxford University Press.
  4. 4.0 4.1 4.2 Thompson, Nathan (2014-09-03). "The Internet's Newest Subculture Is All About Creating Imaginary Friends". 
  5. 5.0 5.1 5.2 5.3 5.4 5.5 5.6 5.7 Veissière, Samuel (2016), Amir Raz; Michael Lifshitz, eds., "Varieties of Tulpa Experiences: The Hypnotic Nature of Human Sociality, Personhood, and Interphenomenality", Hypnosis and meditation: Toward an integrative science of conscious planes (Oxford University Press) 
  6. "Personality Characteristics of Tulpamancers and Their Tulpas". Bethel University. 
  7. Fernyhough, C.; Watson, A.; Bernini, M.; Moseley, P.; Alderson-Day, B. (2019). "Imaginary Companions, Inner Speech, and Auditory Verbal Hallucinations: What Are the Relations?". Front Psychol 10: 1665. doi:10.3389/fpsyg.2019.01665. PMID 31417448. 
  8. 8.0 8.1 Mikles, Natasha L.; Laycock, Joseph P. (2015). "Tracking the Tulpa: Exploring the "Tibetan" Origins of a Contemporary Paranormal Idea". Nova Religio 19 (1): 87–. doi:10.1525/nr.2015.19.1.87. 
  9. 9.0 9.1 Mikles, Natasha L.; Laycock, Joseph P. (6 August 2015). "Tracking the Tulpa: Exploring the "Tibetan" Origins of a Contemporary Paranormal Idea". Nova Religio: The Journal of Alternative and Emergent Religions 19 (1): 87–97. doi:10.1525/nr.2015.19.1.87. 
  10. Besant, Annie; Leadbeater, C. W. (1901). "Three classes of thought-forms". Thought-Forms. The Theosophical Publishing House. Retrieved 26 April 2017. 
  11. Evans-Wentz, W. T. (2000). The Tibetan Book of the Dead: Or The After-Death Experiences on the Bardo Plane, according to Lāma Kazi Dawa-Samdup's English Rendering. New York: Oxford University Press. pp. 29–32, 103, 123, 125. ISBN 0198030517. 
  12. Cunningham, David Michael; Ellwood, Taylor; Wagener, Amanda R. (2003). Creating Magickal Entities: A Complete Guide to Entity Creation (1st ed.). Perrysburg, Ohio: Egregore Publishing. ISBN 9781932517446. 
  13. Chess, S., & Newsom, E. (2014). Folklore, Horror Stories, and the Slender Man: The Development of an Internet Mythology. Springer. pp. 132
  14. Panchadsi, Swami (1912). "Thought Form". The Human Aura: Astral Colors and Thought Forms. Yoga Publication Society. pp. 47–54. Retrieved 26 April 2017. 
  15. Panchadsi, Swami (1916). "Strange astral phenomena". Clairvoyance and Occult Powers. Retrieved 26 April 2017. 
  16. 16.0 16.1 16.2 David-Neel, Alexandra; DʼArsonval, A. (2000). Magic and Mystery in Tibet. Escondido, California: Book Tree. ISBN 1585090972. 
  17. Marshall, Richard; Davis, Monte; Moolman, Valerie; Zappler, George (1982). Mysteries of the Unexplained (Reprint ed.). Pleasantville, New York: Reader's Digest Association. p. 176. ISBN 0895771462. 
  18. T. M. Luhrmann (2013-10-14). "Conjuring Up Our Own Gods". The New York Times. 
  19. 19.0 19.1 Somer, E., Cardeña, E., Catelan, R.F. et al. Reality shifting: psychological features of an emergent online daydreaming culture. Curr Psychol (2021).
  20. Palmer-Cooper, Emma; McGuire, Nicola; Wright, Abigail (2022-05-04). "Unusual experiences and their association with metacognition: investigating ASMR and Tulpamancy" (in en). Cognitive Neuropsychiatry 27 (2–3): 86–104. doi:10.1080/13546805.2021.1999798. ISSN 1354-6805. PMID 34743647. 

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