Created By: KingZeal on August 14, 2011 Last Edited By: KingZeal on July 13, 2016
Troped

Visible To Believers

A person or thing that exists, but is only perceptible for the people who believe in them.

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This is an object that, in order to see it (or hear it, touch it, etc.), you have to already believe it's there. However, this doesn't change the fact that they are there, even if you have no way to sense them.

To the skeptic, when the door slammed on its own, it was "just the wind". When The Hero suddenly got his Heroic Second Wind, it was because they believed in themselves, and surely not the invisible MacGuffin everyone else believes in. However, the point to this trope is that the skeptic is wrong, because the story tells us the thing they don't believe in is there. The degree that the skeptic can't perceive the object may vary, such as being able to feel, hear or otherwise sense something, but not completely know what. Or they may not perceive the thing itself in any way (passing right through it, for example), but be able to detect its effects on the surroundings, such as other objects moving by themselves.

In philosophy, the problem this poses is called "The Invisible Gardener". If one person believes that some unseen person maintains a garden, but after waiting and watching, the other person neither sees, hears, or otherwise detects the presence of said gardener in any way, then to the second person, the gardener may as well not exist. Except, again, this is a story—so, we know that it does thanks to cinematography or description. In cases where we don't know, see Maybe Magic, Maybe Mundane.

This trope is in a similar vein to Gods Need Prayer Badly and Clap Your Hands If You Believe. Like in those tropes, belief in the metaphysical is key. However, unlike those tropes, the thing that's being imagined was there all along, but in a form that is useless to human senses. It isn't until you believe it's there that it finally makes itself manifest to you.

Compare Enlightenment Superpower, Power Born of Madness, Achievements in Ignorance, Imaginary Friend, Not-So-Imaginary Friend, Invisible to Normals and Living Dream.

NOTE: Again, what makes this different from Clap Your Hands If You Believe is that believing in something isn't what causes it to exist. It existed all along and (usually) would continue to exist even if the other characters stopped believing. It would simply remain Invisible until belief returned.

Examples:

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    Anime & Manga 
  • Fairies and elves are this way in Berserk. There's clearly a scene in which Puck is interacting with confused non-believers, who can't see him even though he's right before their eyes. Those that believe in fairies, however, can see him with no problem.
  • In Higurashi, there is a deity called Oyashiro-sama that people believe in. They think a lot of things about it that simply aren't true. For instance, they call Oyashiro a guy, only the REAL oyashiro is....a FEMALE. Not only that, some people, like Takano, believe Oyashiro-sama approved of the horrible deeds that the villagers committed in the past. In reality, Takano is the true monster, while Oyashiro-sama is nothing more than an innocent girl goddess who wishes for peace for her friends. However, the for the majority of the series, Hanyuu is there, but invisible to everyone except for Rika and people who are at a high enough level on the Hinamizawa Syndrome.

    Film 
  • The banquet in Hook. Everyone starts gorging themselves around Peter, and he can't understand it. When they tell him to simply imagine the food, it finally appears. No, actually, judging by everyone's surprise after it happens, his imagination overrides theirs.
  • The title character in Drop Dead Fred is an Imaginary Friend who was sealed in a Jack-In-The-Box for many years, until his creator accidentally releases him. Presumably if he hadn't been sealed up he'd have been out in the world even if he had no longer been believed in.
  • In The Santa Clause, in the Workshop, Judy the elf states this to Scott, adding, "kids don't need to see this place to know that it's there. They just... know."
  • Erik the Viking: Harald Missionary, the only Christian in Erik's crew, cannot see the Dragon of the North Sea, the Edge of the World, and the fortress of Asgard, because he considers these things as superstitions. He is even able to walk right through the walls of Asgard, which are perfectly solid for his pagan companions.

    Literature 
  • In the Nellie and the Dragon books by Elizabeth Lindsay, nobody can see Gertrude the Dragon unless they already believe she exists. At first, that's just Nellie, but later her best friend also comes to believe. Gertrude can still interact invisibly with people who don't believe in her, which gets Nellie into quite a bit of trouble.
  • The short story "Faith" by Sherwood Smith revolves around this.
  • The children's book O'Diddy by Jocelyn Stevenson is built on this torpe, combined with a dose of Accidental Nightmare Fuel: when an imaginary friend's child partner grows too old to believe in them, the imaginary friend is still around, but invisible and unable to interact with them in any way. The only way to avoid an And I Must Scream situation is to seek out another child to befriend. Or to do what O'Diddy does at the end, and convince the grown up child to believe again.
  • Lampshaded in Voyage of the Basset (and the film it inspired, Voyage of the Unicorn); the titular ship's motto, "Credendo vides", is translated in - universe as "By believing, one sees." In fact, a more accurate translation of the latin might be "you believe as you see".
  • Unicorns in The Last Unicorn are visible as themselves only to those who believe they exist — otherwise they look like horses.
  • Prince Caspian: When the Pevensie children are returned to Narnia for the first time, at first only Lucy sees Aslan. Edmund doesn't see Aslan but he believes her (since she was right about Narnia the first time) but the older Peter & Susan veto Lucy, thinking that either she's fibbing or imagining things. But after they've been lost for hours they finally give in and let Lucy lead the way - Lucy is following Aslan. Slowly, Edmund & Peter start to see him. Eventually even Susan sees him, even though she sees him before she admits to it.
  • Parzival: When Parzival and his pagan half-brother Feirefiz enter the Grail Castle, it turns out Feirefiz cannot see the Holy Grail because he is not a Christian. As soon as Feirefiz has renounced Jupiter and let himself be baptized, he can see the Grail.
  • Double Subverted with in "The Emperor's New Clothes'' by Hans Christian Andersen. A pair of con men sell the titular Emperor a set of "clothes" that are supposedly invisible to anyone unfit for his position or hopelessly stupid. It's subverted because of course there are no clothes, but double subverted because everyone pretends to see them because of social pressure and the fear of looking like an idiot.

    Live-Action TV 
  • In Doctor Who, Perception Filters are explained to work to this way. If you don't want to/don't have a reason to believe there's a blue anachronistic police box on the street corner, a second floor on your house that shouldn't be there, etc., then you simply won't see anything. But if you do want to believe there's something there, the perception filter falters and you become aware of the thing it was shielding.

    Mythology 
  • Japanese Mythology has this system in place for the "kami", the gods/spirits/ancestors that control natural phenomena. In Shinto mythology, the kami are Anthropomorphic Personifications of natural phenomena, objects, or concepts that reside in an "invisible world" outside of human perception, but that is still part of the real world. In order to see them, the first step is to already believe they're there, but that's not the only requirement. Only the Pure of Heart will be able to fully see and interact with them.

    Videogames 
  • In Ōkami: The protagonist, Amaterasu, can be seen by the other characters but her facial markings can only be seen by those who still believe in the gods. Those who can't assume she's just an ordinary wolf. There are two sisters, the younger of whom believes in the gods (and can see Ammy's true form) while her older sister cannot. If you perform enough Celestial Brush powers for her, though, the older sister does start to believe, and will comment that she can see "faint" markings on Ammy.

    Visual Novels 
  • In Umineko no Naku Koro ni, witches like Beatrice, and magic in general, can supposedly only be seen by those who genuinely believe in them in the human world. That's because they don't actually exist in the human world.

    Webcomics 
  • Played with in the webcomic Count Your Sheep, where Katie's "imaginary friend" Ship is real, but can only be seen by certain people. At first that's Katie and Katie's mom Laurie (whose imaginary friend Ship was when she was Katie's age), but later the strip introduces Laurie's mom — who can see Ship, but repeatedly denies that she believes he exists even when she's talking to him and there's nobody else around — and Laurie's Cool Big Sis — who can't see Ship, even though she believes he exists.

    :Western Animation 
  • Played with in the Dexter's Laboratory episode "The Koos is Loose". Dee Dee has an imaginary friend named Koosalagoopagoop. Dexter is able to interact with him as well, but is skeptical of his existence. When Dexter, after constant pestering by Koosy, demands that he disappears forever by thinking him away, Koosy complies. It is only then that Dexter realizes that he likes Dee Dee's imaginary friend almost as much as she does. Later on, it's revealed that Koosy still exists, with Dee Dee actually travelling to his world (where it turns out that she's his imaginary friend) and Koosy later showing up as a construct of Bubbles' imagination.
  • In one episode of Teen Titans Raven guards three super powered children all the while telling the oldest one her imaginary friend isn't real but at the end of the episode he's what saved all their lives.
Community Feedback Replies: 55
  • August 14, 2011
    X2X
    Compare Imaginary Friend, Not So Imaginary Friend.

    Western Animation
  • August 14, 2011
    NoirGrimoir
    Actually, I don't think Fosters counts. "Imaginary friends" are treated as real, period. The only thing imaginary about them is that they were imagined into existence. You can't 'stop' beleiving in them, and when I character doesn't want them anymore, they don't suddenly become invisible.
  • August 14, 2011
    X2X
    Fair enough. I'll remove it then.
  • August 14, 2011
    TBTabby
    The Noble Dragons in Discworld only exist when people believe in them.
  • August 14, 2011
    randomsurfer
    The title character in Drop Dead Fred is an Imaginary Friend who was sealed in a Jack-In-The-Box for many years, until his imaginator(?) accidentally releaeses him. Presumably if he hadn't been sealed up he'd've been out in the world even if he had no longer been believed in.
  • August 14, 2011
    CommanderPanda
    I'm not sure if this is what you're looking for or not.

    In Magic The Gathering, semi-corporeal Illusion creatures can be summoned. An Illusionary Bear is just as combat-viable as a real one, but when its existence is acknowledged it dissipates into nothing.

    Subverted, inverted, non-applicable? I'm not sure, just thought I'd mention it.
  • August 15, 2011
    Damr1990
    alt Tittles:

  • August 16, 2011
    PaulA
    • In the Nellie and the Dragon books by Elizabeth Lindsay, nobody can see Gertrude the Dragon unless they already believe she exists. At first, that's just Nellie, but later her best friend also comes to believe. Gertrude can still interact invisibly with people who don't believe in her, which gets Nellie into quite a bit of trouble.
    • Played with in the webcomic Count Your Sheep, where Katie's "imaginary friend" Ship is real, but can only be seen by certain people. At first that's Katie and Katie's mom Laurie (whose imaginary friend Ship was when she was Katie's age), but later the strip introduces Laurie's mom -- who can see Ship, but repeatedly denies that she believes he exists even when she's talking to him and there's nobody else around -- and Laurie's Cool Big Sis -- who can't see Ship, even though she believes he exists.
    • The short story "Faith" by Sherwood Smith revolves around this.
  • August 19, 2011
    Draxen
    In one episode of Teen Titans Raven guards three super powered children all the while telling the oldest one her imaginary friend isn't real but at the end of the episode he's what saved all their lives.
  • August 19, 2011
    KingZeal
    The children's book O'Diddy is built on this torpe, combined with a dose of Accidental Nightmare Fuel: when an imaginary friend's child partner grows too old to believe in them, the imaginary friend is still around, but invisible and unable to interact with them in any way. The only way to avoid an And I Must Scream situation is to seek out another child to befriend.
  • August 22, 2011
    Tambov333
  • August 25, 2011
    KingZeal
    This is still a different trope--in fact, it's a Sub Trope. For this, the invisibility can be reversed by "believing" hard enough.
  • August 25, 2011
    Xzenu
    Compare Living Dream.
  • August 25, 2011
    FrodoGoofballCoTV
    Literature:
  • September 25, 2011
    MorganWick
    I think Skull from PVP is an example, but it rarely comes up and I haven't read much of it.
  • September 26, 2011
    PapercutChainsaw
    Title is a bit misleading... what about Believing Is Seeing?
  • September 26, 2011
    Higurashiblood98
    [[Anime/Manga]] In Higurashi, there is a deity called Oyashiro-sama that people believe in. They think a lot of things about it that simply aren't true. For instance, they call Oyashiro a guy, only the REAL oyashiro is....a FEMALE. Not only that, some people, like Takano, believe Oyashiro-sama approved of the horrible deeds that the villagers committed for her in the past. In reality, Takano is the true monster, while Oyashiro-sama is nothing more than an innocent girl goddess who wishes for peace for her friends. However, the for the majority of the series, Hanyuu is there, but invisible to everyone except for Rika and people who are at a high enough level on the Hinamizawa Syndrome.
  • September 26, 2011
    TBeholder
  • September 27, 2011
    Damr1990
    the beings of Those need faith to made it come to existance, without faith, they cease to exist, on this one, they exist by themselves and need no faith to keep existing, however, the faith enables us to see them, it really needs to change the tittle
  • September 27, 2011
    Chariset
    Unicorns in The Last Unicorn are visible as themselves only to those who believe they exist -- otherwise they look like horses.
  • September 27, 2011
    kyun
    In The Santa Clause, in the Workshop, Judy the elf states this very trope word for word to Scott, adding, "kids don't need to see this place to know that it's there. They just... know."
  • September 28, 2011
    TechUnadept
    Slender Man only exists if you think about him.
  • September 28, 2011
    KingZeal
    ^ Again, that isn't this trope.

    Maybe another rename might clear up the issue?
  • February 28, 2014
    paycheckgurl
    In Doctor Who Perception Filters are explained to work to this way. If you don't want to/don't have a reason to believe there's a blue anachronistic police box on the street corner, a second floor on your house that shouldn't be there, etc., then you simply won't see anything. But if you do want to believe there's something there, the perception filter falters and you become aware of the thing it was shielding.
  • February 28, 2014
    Larkmarn
    Invisible Phenomenon is bad. It just sounds like, well, something is invisible. Nothing about belief.
  • February 28, 2014
    KingZeal
    Changed. ...Again.
  • February 28, 2014
    DAN004
    The name Your Mind Makes It Real is confusing - It's about dream, VR or hallucination, not strictly about belief.

    While Clap Your Hands If You Believe is about altering reality by belief.

    This is about a being or phenomenon that already exist, but invisible unless you believe in it (subtrope of Invisible To Normals, thus).

    Am I getting it right?
  • February 28, 2014
    foxley
    @Morgan Wick:

    Skull from Pv P is an example: a troll who can only be seen by those who believe in him. However, in later strips, the main characters admit that they can no longer remember who is and isn't supposed to be able to see him.
  • February 28, 2014
    Psi001
    • Mr Hankey the Christmas Poo was depicted as such in his first appearance in South Park which briefly led to Kyle getting sent to a mental institute after others see him carrying what seems to be a lifeless turd around. Oddly enough he seems to appear before even the most cynical of strangers afterwards (granted given how surreal the show's universe is, it may be less they don't believe as much as they don't care]).
  • February 28, 2014
    ShanghaiSlave
    I dunno, while I understand the trope (something exists, but isn't perceptible unless you acknowledge it's existence), i think we got this covered somewhere. perhaps Your Mind Makes It Real. and if DAN 004's right, then that one is misused for this.

    I'm liking Your Faith Makes It Tangible (or visible, whatever) for the name if my understanding is right though.
  • February 28, 2014
    darthcaliber
    expanding on the Count Your Sheep example: Played With is really the accurate term here as the comic kept presenting possible explanations for who could or couldn't see Ship only to then present a situation that contradicted the theory so that even Ship himself didn't understand how it works:
    * Ship answers the phone when Laurie's mother calls -she can hear him but stubbornly insists it's impossible for him to be on the phone since he "doesn't exist"
    * This strip is given a Call Back when Laurie's sister Karla calls. She can't hear him, but acknowledges Ship's existence and simply asks him to put Laurie on the phone.
    * This leads to a Flash Back storyline where young Laurie discovers her parents really can't see or hear Ship leading her to think maybe only she can -only to immediately discover Marty (her future husband/Katie's father) can also.
    * so Laurie confronts her parents writing "I exist" on Ship's chest. They don't react until Ship himself changes the message to "I exist Suckers!" This gets a reaction implying they can see Ship but try to deny it.
    * followed immediately by Karla coming home and accepting Ship exists -but it turns out she can't see or hear him
    * years later Karla comes to visit now adult Laurie and still cannot see or hear Ship -until she announces her pregnancy at which point she suddenly can see and hear him.

  • February 28, 2014
    randomsurfer
    In The Last Battle the Dwarves can't see that they're in Aslan's Country, or see Aslan, because they no longer believe in him. They think they're in a tiny dark shed.
  • March 2, 2014
    Djanchorhead
    In Okami The main character Amaterasu can be seen by the other characters but her facial markings can only be seen by those who still believe in the gods. Those who can't assume she's just an ordinary wolf.
  • March 2, 2014
    henke37
    I remember some unspecified cartoon where the main character wanted to belive in something like this, but couldn't belive enough, so they didn't see it, even if they could sorta detect it. The ending obviously involved gaining enough belif that they did see it fully.
  • March 2, 2014
    Lyendith
    Visual Novels:
    • In Umineko No Naku Koro Ni, witches like Beatrice, and magic in general, can supposedly only be seen by those who genuinely believe in them in the human world. That's because they don't actually exist in the human world. Those we see either live in the metaphysical plane, or are actually Imaginary Friends. "Seeing" Beatrice only means that you know her identity and understand her true nature (i.e. that she is a character played by someone) — as is the case with Genji, Kumasawa, Nanjo, and Maria (although the latter really believes Beato is a witch).

    The Higurashi example would need a few spoiler tags, notably about Takano being the culprit...
  • March 2, 2014
    Omrega
    Voyage Of The Basset actually has a page here.
  • March 3, 2014
    Stratadrake
    So how does this relate to Invisible To Normals again...?
  • March 3, 2014
    KingZeal
    Invisible To Normals means that the person(s) who can see, hear, etc., the thing in question are some sort of extranormal group. In this case, the persons who do so are simply those who already believe it's there, and can theoretically be anyone.

    The two can overlap if belief grants you superpowers, or if you can be born with the ability to see and thus already believe it.
  • March 3, 2014
    DAN004
    Invisible To Normals is a Super Trope. That trope doesn't specify believers. :P
  • March 3, 2014
    randomsurfer
    Prince Caspian: When the Pevensie children are returned to Narnia for the first time, at first only Lucy sees Aslan. Edmund doesn't see Aslan but he believes her (since she was right about Narnia the first time) but the older Peter & Susan veto Lucy, thinking that either she's fibbing or imagining things. But after they've been lost for hours they finally give in and let Lucy lead the way - Lucy is following Aslan. Slowly, Edmund & Peter start to see him. Eventually even Susan sees him, even though she sees him before she admits to it.
  • March 3, 2014
    SquirrelGuy
    Played with on Sesame Street. From 1971-1985, Mr. Snuffleupagus was only "visible" to Big Bird and the children. But he wasn't "invisible" per se to the adult cast; rather, they always just missed him when Big Bird tried to introduce them, and eventually the adults concluded that Snuffy was all in Big Bird's imagination.
  • March 4, 2014
    KingZeal
    ^ That one doesn't seem to count.
  • March 4, 2014
    Stratadrake
    To help expound the Okami example, there are two sisters (what were their names, Camille and Camilla?) you see, the younger sister believes in the gods (and can see Ammy's true form) while her older sister cannot. If you perform enough Celestial Brush powers for her, though, the older sister does start to believe, and will comment that she can see "faint" markings on Ammy.
  • March 4, 2014
    flamingcarrot
    I second Believing Is Seeing.

    Discworld's Death is another example.
  • March 4, 2014
    KingZeal
    ^ Context needed please.
  • March 4, 2014
    Arutema
    • In Babylon Five, those who believe in higher powers see the Vorlons as such should they leave their encounter suits. Those who do not see only a bright light. Subverted when it's revealed that the angelic form is a psychic projection, and the bright light is closer to the Vorlons' true forms.
  • March 4, 2014
    KomodoClassic
    • In Rise Of The Guardians, no one can see Jack Frost because he's not one of the ones that parents tell their children about, like Santa Claus or the Easter Bunny. It's quite a touchy subject for him, too, since he's been on earth for a few centuries, completely invisible.
  • March 4, 2014
    Stratadrake
    ^ Invisible except to his fellow Guardians, of course. It's apparently a common element to all of them, including the Big Bad.
  • March 6, 2014
    Arivne
  • July 12, 2016
    LordGro
    Film
    • Erik The Viking: Harald Missionary, the only Christian in Erik's crew, cannot see the Dragon of the North Sea, the Edge of the World, and the fortress of Asgard, because he considers these things as superstitions. He is even able to walk right through the walls of Asgard, which are perfectly solid for his pagan companions.

    I think the description might be a little bit too narrow when it specifies it is only about believing in the existence of the object that is seen or not-seen itself. This excludes the following example:

    Literature
    • Parzival: When Parzival and his pagan half-brother Feirefiz enter the Grail Castle, it turns out Feirefiz cannot see the Holy Grail because he is not a Christian. As soon as Feirefiz has renounced Jupiter and let himself be baptized, he can see the Grail.

    Feirefiz does not disbelieve the existence of the Grail; it's just the Grail is so holy that people who are not properly baptized Christians cannot see it.
  • July 12, 2016
    KingZeal
    I actually don't think the description excludes those examples like you think.
  • July 12, 2016
    LordGro
    My concern was specifically about the second example.

    The description above says: "This is an object that, in order to see it (or hear it, touch it, etc.), you have to already believe it's there." In the Parzival example, the requirement to see the Grail is to be a baptized Christian. To just believe in the existence of the Grail is not sufficient (and hypothetically, even a Christian who does not believe in the existence of the Grail beforehand would still see it).
  • July 12, 2016
    KingZeal
    That's a pretty thin hair to split, so I think we're good. The point of the example is that you have to believe in the entity or force that created the Grail (the Christian God) before it becomes visible. That's close enough, in my opinion.
  • July 12, 2016
    JoeG
    • Played with in "The Emperor's New Clothes' by Hans Christian Andersen. A pair of con men sell the titular Emperor a set of "clothes" that are supposedly invisible to anyone unfit for his position or hopelessly stupid. Of course there are no clothes, but everyone pretends to see them because of social pressure and the fear of looking like an idiot.
  • July 13, 2016
    KingZeal
    That sounds more like Double Subversion to me.
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