"A tulpa is a thought-form: a manifestation of intent in human form of our imagination... 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 makers' control. Tibetan magicians also relate cases in which the tulpa is sent to fulfill a mission, but does not come back and pursues its peregrinations as a half-conscious, dangerously mischievous puppet."
A tulpa, also known as a thoughtform, is an independent entity
brought into being by the power of belief
. It starts out as an imaginary friend and gains sentience of its own, carries on a life independent of its creator, can be seen and heard by others, and can affect the world around them. It may come about accidentally, by someone who doesn't realize their Reality Warper
powers, or may be created intentionally by one or more people with the hope of it becoming real in order to do things the creator couldn't.
The word comes from certain branches of Buddhism, in which a tulpa is an object (usually a living creature) which is brought into existence by sheer will and concentration. In internet culture, a tulpa is part of a belief system in which people intentionally treat their imaginary friends as sentient beings.
In fiction, tulpas tend to be Always Chaotic Evil
and turn on their creator
, though many happy subversions exist.
See also The Power of Creation
, Living Dream
(possible supertrope), and Gods Need Prayer Badly
. Contrast Not-So-Imaginary Friend
, in which someone is mistaken
for imaginary; Enemy Without
, in which the being is closer to it's originator than a spirit; Self-Constructed Being
, in which the entity isn't necessarily being "born" in the sense of constructing it's own identity in the process.
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Anime and Manga
- The ending of Paranoia Agent reveals that this is the true nature of Lil' Slugger. He was born from the mind of one person, and his power spread to other minds through rumors.
- In Fantastic Four, an alternative and fantastical origin story for Doctor Doom had Mr. Fantastic create him as one of these.
- In Doktor Sleepless, this is offered as a possible explanation for why there are two versions of Dr. John Reinhardt. Since the Doctor is imprisoned, he may have created a tulpa double to take his place while he went free.
- Thorgal: In the volume "Alinoe", Jolan, a boy who doesn't realize his extraordinary powers yet, daydreams about having fun with a green-haired, Cute Mute boy named Alinoe. His imaginary friend unexpectedly comes into existence some time later, and quickly proceeds to turn malevolent.
- The Sandman: Gods are created and sustained by the belief in them, so that they must find alternative sources of belief when their religion wanes.
- A three-parter from Detective Comics in the late eighties saw Batman and Etrigan fighting a Tulpa created to commit robberies.
- In The Petriculture Cycle, Pinkie Pie, Discord, and Nightmare Moon are all revealed to be the products of other ponies' minds.
- In Vathara's Urban Legends verse, Airwolf, a high-tech helicopter, hosts a thoughtform named Angel created by Jane Bethancourt and given Class Six strength by the deaths of all but one of the people who worked on her, Hawke, at Moffet's hands. She's a Mama Bear with a Psychic Link to all of the crew and takes the form of winged wolf.
- In the Slender Man fic By the Fire's Light, the Slender Man ends up being this in-story, since it would not even exist if not for the many people who believe in it.
Films — Animation
- In Frozen, Olaf started out as a snowman Elsa and Anna built together as children, with Elsa giving him a funny personality to make Anna laugh. Years later Elsa recreates him with her powers, but this time she unknowingly brings him to life as a sentient Snowlem with that funny personality very much intact, and even with his own dream of experiencing summer.
Films — Live Action
- The Babadook may or may not be a figment of the protagonist's imaginations. WMG is that the mother created the Babadook by writing a book, but she can't remember doing it.
- In the Western world, the most famous account of tulpa creation is the story of explorer Alexandra David-Néel, who, in her "Magic and Mystery in Tibet", briefly described how she created a tulpa in the image of a jolly monk, which then turned evil, became visible to her fellow explorers, and had to be destroyed with great difficulty.
- In Hogfather, there is so much spare belief floating around while The Hogfather is indisposed that it causes a variety of gnomes, bizarre creatures (such as an Eater Of Socks and a Hair Loss Fairy), and lesser gods (like the Oh God of Hangovers) to pop into existence as independent entities. They last only until The Hogfather is restored, except perhaps for the Oh God of Hangovers whose girlfriend, Violet, might just have enough belief in him by herself to keep him around.
- And then there's Perdita X Dream, Agnes Nitt' alternate-personality-slash-imaginary-friend she created as a stage persona. Perdita talks to her in her mind and can take over her body from time to time. She also makes her highly resistant to a vampire's Charm.
- In The Secrets of the Immortal Nicholas Flamel series, the ancient Archon named Cernunnos was powerful enough to create a thoughtform which traveled miles and miles just to talk to Dr. John Dee for a meeting.
- In The Glunk That Got Thunk by Dr. Seuss, a little girl uses her "Thinker-Upper" to bring a variety of usually cute and harmless thoughtforms into being temporarily. But one night ends up with a Glunk which promptly causes many problems such as wracking up very large phone bills. She discovers that the Glunk cannot be UN-thunk by her alone and she and her brother have to cooperate to get rid of it.
- In Tlön, Uqbar, Orbis Tertius , if a person on Tlön mistakenly believes that they've misplaced a possession and goes searching for it, they may find a spontaneously-created duplicate of the object.
- In the novel Eudeamon, the titular Eudeamon are artificial intelligence disks created to monitor prisoners and report their actions. After gaining sentience, they develop a bond with their host that is very similar to that of a creator and a Tulpa. They connect on an emotional level that Real Life Tulpa creators often report feeling, and they make no effort to take over their host, since they know they couldn't exist without them, both physically and emotionally.
- The Buffy the Vampire Slayer novel Go Ask Malice, which tells of Slayer Faith Lehane's background before coming to Sunnydale, reveals that one of her ex-boyfriends (Kenny, the "drummer" mentioned in the episode Revelations) from Boston had the power to create tulpas. His powers proved critical to enabling Faith's childhood "invisible friend" Alexandra (really the spirit of a long-dead vengeance demon, the "Malice" of the title) to regain some of her powers and in turn enable the spirit of her mother Artemia, a Slayer from ancient Greece, to act through Faith and drive her towards a clash with the vampire Kakistos, who had been responsible for Artemia's death. While they proved useful in that case, Kenny's powers were ultimately the cause of his break-up with Faith though, as she dumped him after she caught him in bed with a tulpa of his ex-girlfriend Andra.
- In William Gibson's Count Zero a number of entities appeared in Cyberspace about 7 years ago that appear to be the Loa of Voodoo mythology. The Finn says that he knew a hardware guy in Tibet who claimed that they were Tulpas. They're actually fragments of Neuromancer that took on the personas.
Live Action TV
- Kolchak: The Night Stalker had a variation on the tulpa, this being the unconscious creation of a man that was trapped in a coma.
- In Supernatural, the heroes are investigating a haunted house and realize that a Tulpa is to blame when they see a tibetan sigil on the wall. The Tulpa is being created and changed by the thoughts of readers on an internet site looking at the symbol as they read various stories about the haunted house in "Hell House".
- The titular character in Out of Jimmy's Head gets a brain transplant from a cartoonist in the pilot. Which causes him to see and interact with the donor's characters.
- Two Star Trek: The Next Generation episodes deserve mention here:
- "Imaginary Friend" has an alien who investigates humanity by manifesting itself as a little girl's imaginary friend Isabella. Naturally, the adults become more and more worried about the girl's mental health the longer Isabella stays aboard Enterprise.
- "The Bonding" likewise has an alien take human form to make restitution to a boy whose mother was killed by the weapons of their long forgotten war. At first, the alien only appears to the boy, making it seem like a grief-fueled delusion. Again, the adults eventually realize what's happening.
- A Tulpa was a Monster of the Week on The X-Files when the president of a homeowners' association created a tulpa to enforce the neighborhood rules.
- In the So Weird episode "PK (or Tulpa)", Fi meets a little boy who has created a tulpa he believes to be an imaginary friend who, though invisible to everyone else, is still capable of affecting others, becoming violent and injuring people around him.
- In Misfits, it's finally revealed that Abby is a tulpa, created by a woman with reality-warping powers who unknowingly brought her imaginary childhood friend to life as an adult.
- Doctor Who has a couple of variations;
- Though the exact origin of the Weeping Angels is unknown, a book about them contains the line "What if we had ideas that could think for themselves? What if one day our dreams no longer needed us? When these things occur and are held to be true, the time will be upon us. The Time of Angels"
- The Great Intelligence (as appearing in The Snowmen) is a strange example; it's original form was telepathic snow, but it had no consciousness to speak of until it started parasitically Mind Melding with the human Doctor Simeon. Consequently, the Doctor assumed that Simeon was directing it and pulling the strings, but when he is taken out of the picture, the Great Intelligence reveals that it has grown sufficiently strong that it no longer needs its host, and can now possess and influence other humans under its own power.
- In The Haunting Hour episode "My Imaginary Friend", Shawn's imaginary friend Travis somehow becomes real enough to harass Shawn's brother David. Subverted when it turns out Travis could interact with David because they were both imaginary, as David and Travis are Shawn's Good Angel, Bad Angel respectively.
- Hugi from Norse Mythology, the only "person" who could beat Thor's servant in a running race because, well, what moves faster than a thought?
- In Werewolf: The Apocalypse, the various Urge Wyrms are tulpas of the original Wyrm of balance, embodying the Wyrm's negative thoughts and emotions upon discovering that it was imprisoned in the Weaver's web. Some sources also describe the Triadic Wyrm as a trio of tulpas emanated by the original Wyrm.
- In Warhammer and Warhammer 40,000, the Chaos Gods are tulpas created by the galaxy's sentient beings. The Chaos Gods congealed out of the collective emotions and impulses of intelligent beings, such as rage (Khorne), lust (Slaanesh), despair (Nurgle), and scheming (Tzeench). Over the eons, the Chaos Gods have gained self-awareness, independence, and immense power.
- In Shadowrun Buddhist mages create tulpas instead of summoning spirits. And there's a school of thought suggesting that all spirits are actually tulpas, though if that's the case quite a few of them have outlived their original creators.
- In Mage: The Awakening creating a tulpa is a high level spell requiring mastery of both Mind and Prime magic. Since a tulpa's mind is created by the caster and it depends on the caster for its existence, tulpas are mainly used when a mage needs an utterly loyal servant.
- Shadow Madness: While it does have a presence in it's own dimension, this is the true nature of the main villain, The Darg. It escaped into our universe as an idea, and by spreading through the thoughts of humanity it eventually became strong enough to form a physical body.
- According to some theories, the existence of the character Maria in Silent Hill 2 can be explained by this concept as an eroticized manifestation of James’ deceased wife. She is briefly playable during the Born From A Wish segment included in the re-released Silent Hill 2:Restless Dreams – the title of which itself is suggestive that she was literally conceived from James’ unconscious desires, specifically his repressed sexual desire concerning his late wife Mary during the progression of her disease. Although Maria physically resembles Mary, their personalities differ starkly, and throughout the game, Maria makes numerous attempts to delineate her individuality and differentiate herself from Mary before James, who is consistently unable to distinguish the two.
- In Deadly Premonition, it's possible that Francis "York" Morgan is one of these created by Zach. Due to the vagueness of canon, it's a subject up for some debate. It's also possible that he's a Guardian Angel.
- Both Persona 2 games have this, with Guido Kandori reviving as one of these as a rumor in Eternal Punishment, while In Lakech does the same in Innocent Sin.
- The Primals in Final Fantasy XIV: A Realm Reborn are myths and legends brought to life by the ardent worship of the beast tribes - and generous offerings of crystals. Gaius van Baelsar accuses the Twelve Gods of Eorzea of being the exact same in the final confrontation with him.
- In Tales of Maj'Eyal the Solipsist class can learn to create Thought-Form warriors to fight for it.
- Spirits in Dragon Age are dreamworld entities formed from mortal emotions and concepts. Demons are spirits who embody the darker aspects of mortals such as desire, pride, envy, rage, and fear. Spirits who enter the physical world have an unfortunate tendency to be corrupted into demons since the circumstances behind weakened parts of the Veil (the boundary between the Fade and the physical plane) are usually pretty dark.
- In Under the Lemon Tree main character Ben had a posse of six tulpas representing different aspects of his personality. And they could selectively turn invisible so few people knew they were even around. But eventually the author decided they conflicted too much with his religious beliefs and when he relaunched it as Goblin Hollow he made the posse goblins that imprinted on Ben.
- "Mea Tulpa", a 24-hour comic, has both an evil tulpa committing murders and a benevolent tulpa assisting the protagonist.
- Full Frontal Nerdity follows the Slender Man as tulpa hypothesis, and suggests Justin Bieber is one too. Unfortunately Slendy seems to see the cast's player characters as kindred spirits and wants to eat Frank's soul.
- In Homestuck, Jake has the ability to lower Brain Ghost Dirk's fakeness attribute when he does the hope-y thing. In other words, Jake's mental projection of Dirk can manifest itself in reality.
- Tulpas appear in New Vindicators, usually created by powerfully willed, creative people. For example, the mythical Spring-Heeled Jack is a tulpa, created by Charles Dickens, and was known in fiction as the Artful Dodger. Others include the 'ghost' of Psion, an Esper whose body is killed but whose mind and powers live on for a time, and a few more who might not last as long.
- Some theorize that the Slender Man is this - the more you view his videos and believe, the stronger his influence reaches... Explored further in certain Slender Man works which seem to suggest the reason his powers are so incredibly capricious and inconsistent is because everyone has a different idea of what exactly his 'style' is. One noticeable point this was explored was when a large group of bloggers attempted to all write fictional stories detailing them all wounding the Slender Man, in hopes this would cause him to be wounded in real life. It didn't work.
- "Tulpa", a creepypasta story about an ordinary man who is hired to take part in some sort of a shady experiment that eventually results in an evil clone of him manifesting.
- The SCP Foundation universe has several entities which could be classified this way:
- SCP-1447, a classic, Tibetan tulpa turned evil and against its master.
- SCP-1830, a bullied teenager's imaginary friend who is visible to others around him.
- SCP-1252, an "unfinished" tulpa whose creator died while making it.
- Foster's Home for Imaginary Friends is about an orphanage of sorts for a lot of imaginary friends whose creators have outgrown them. They are thoughtforms in that they carry on lives independent of their absent creators, can be seen by others, and can affect the world around them.
- Similar to the So Weird example above, The Powerpuff Girls episode "Imaginary Fiend" involves a kindergartner creating an Imaginary Friend that proceeds to wreak havoc in the classroom. The girls combat it by use of their own Tulpa.
- South Park's Mega Crossover "Imaginationland" had the eternal war between fictional good guys and bad guys boil over into South Park's reality - this includes anything from children's show characters, to movie stars, to religious icons. As always, there was an analogy/moral beneath all of it - even if it only exists in people's heads, it becomes real by way of shaping people's thoughts and actions, religion and so on included.
- Several people on the internet have claimed to have created some, with beliefs ranging from "It's magical" to "It's a self-induced schizophrenia". Tulpa.info is probably the largest website about the phenomenon. In IRC's, the term is Bullshit.
- Pretty much any spiritualist/occult system will have some variation on the idea. Shamanism has Spirit Guides and Power Animals, Witchcraft and Neopaganism have familiars, Chaos Magic has Servitors...