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Tulpas: A History and Example of Living Thoughtforms

Sarah is a paranormal enthusiast who has long held a fascination with supernatural encounters, folklore, and study.

Tulpas are based on an ancient Buddhist concept of thought-forms.

Tulpas are based on an ancient Buddhist concept of thought-forms.

Did you ever have an imaginary friend? Someone, or something, that you played with and told all of your secrets to? A friend that you were so sure could be real if you only believed hard enough? What if all of your beliefs and intentions actually made them real? Some believe that this is really possible—that if you put enough careful thought and intention into an imaginary being, you can will it into existence. Once created, this being is essentially a living thought-form—a tulpa.

What Is a Tulpa?

By most definitions, a tulpa is a being or object created out of intense spiritual concentration. Typically, these beings are created for a specific purpose or to help their creators accomplish a specific goal. The idea of a tulpa was first introduced to me in what I now realize was a little-known Disney channel show called So Weird. In this show, the main character (a girl who encounters the paranormal on a regular basis) meets a young boy who created an imaginary friend as a way of coping with bullies.

The imaginary friend became real—a tulpa—and had the ability to move things and affect the world around it. It also had a mind of its own and became very overprotective of its creator. In the episode, the young boy eventually had to stand up to his tulpa and banish it. I remember being fascinated by this concept that what we imagine could somehow take on a life of its own.

How and Why Would Someone Create a Tulpa?

Tulpas are typically created on purpose, to fulfill some sort of need. Today, there are certain magic practitioners that incorporate tulpas into their practice, only they may be called Servitors (Kreiter, 2018). These servitors are created to perform a task—whether it be to protect their creator or their home, or to go out into the world and bring things into the life of their creator, such as love or money (Kreiter, 2018). There are a number of uses for these beings and one practitioner may create multiple servitors for different purposes.

Tulpas, or servitors, are typically created through intense concentration as mentioned previously. A person may write down the purpose of their tulpa and list out the characteristics that it needs to have to accomplish this purpose (Kreiter, 2018). The creator may even draw an image of what it should look like. For example, if a tulpa was being created to protect someone’s home the creator may imagine a very large being with strong arms, perhaps even armor, or sharp teeth, or whatever else the creator feels is a protective feature. They would then focus all intent and belief on this image or whatever they had written, perhaps even entering a meditative state to bring the creature into existence.

History of the Tulpa

The word "tulpa" originated from the Tibetan “Sprul Pa,” which means “to let emanations go forth” (H.A. Jaschke, 1881). In 1929, the word was used by Alexendra David-Neel to describe a practice she discovered when traveling and learning about Tibetan culture. In her book Magic and Mystery in Tibet, David-Neel explains that she met the Dalai Llama in 1912 and he explained that in a state of perfect concentration he could create many “phantoms” (tulpas) of himself in any form that he chose (David-Neel, 1929).

The limitless power of creation of the Dalai Llama was attributed to spiritual status; however, she also references “Tulkus”, which were described as a shorter lasting manifestation that any human had the power to create (David-Neel, 1929). It seems the strength of the Tulpa depends on the strength or level of concentration.

A similar being in Jewish folklore is called a golem. According to Merriam-Webster, the term "golem" originally meant "shapeless mass". Golems are creatures created from inanimate matter, such as mud or clay, and brought to life to serve their creator using a charm or sacred word (Merriam-Webster, 2020). The main difference here is that golems are actually created from matter, whereas a tulpa is created purely from intention (although if strong enough they may have a physical appearance).

Because a tulpa is sometimes described as an emanation or extension of self, one might think it similar to astral projection, or the practice of leaving one’s physical body. While the Tibetan idea may have started out that way, more modern adaptations of the word describe a sentient being that is completely separate from its creator. The tulpa may still be considered a projection of its creator in the sense that it is a manifestation of their thoughts and intentions, however it is an independent being that can learn and act on its own.

Media and the Tulpa Effect

Tulpas are not something that are often referred to directly in pop culture. Aside from the episode of So Weird (season 1, episode 10) mentioned above, I believe I have personally only seen one other reference to them on the show Supernatural (season 1, episode 17). In doing a little research into tulpas in the media, I found that there are a few examples that can be found in shows like The X-Files, Twin Peaks, Doctor Who, and Big Wolf on Campus (TVTropes, 2020). There are undoubtedly more, however they may not always be referred to as a tulpa.

Supernatural had an interesting take on tulpas, in my opinion, because it involved stories spread on the internet. In the episode, “legends” are posted to a popular website and because of the collective belief of its followers (and a special sigil) a tulpa was created. This is a modern take on what has been deemed the “tulpa effect”. This is the idea that the collective belief of many can create a living thought-form. Having the internet at our fingertips makes it so easy to spread a story in today’s world. Whether it be an opinion, a piece of gossip, or a creative story, it is easy for hundreds or thousands of people to see a story that sparks curiosity or even belief in only minutes.

The most common example I came across when researching the tulpa effect is the story of Slender Man—a tall, thin, supernatural creature with a featureless face. Slender Man originated in 2009 when a user on the Something Awful forum posted photo shopped pictures depicting the tall, creepy figure in the background (Cohn, 2018). From there spawned more photos and stories posted by multiple users, eventually creating a back story for Slender Man, thus creating an urban legend.

There are those that believe that because of the persistent presence and following of the Slender Man on the internet, the stories could create a tulpa, if they haven’t already. While the origins of Slender Man are well-documented and clearly a thing of fiction, there are still those who claim to believe in him. Most notable was a terrible event in 2014, when two 12-year-old girls, who claimed to be followers of Slender Man, lured a friend into the woods and stabbed her 19 times to appease him (Robinson, 2019).

This was not a tulpa at work, but the actions of two young girls whose line between reality and fiction had been blurred. However, if such stories could inspire such intense and horrible action, is it possible that if enough people were to focus their belief/intention into one idea (even unintentionally), it could create something living—and possibly dangerous?

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Is it possible that if enough people were to focus their belief/intention into one idea (even unintentionally), it could create something living—and possibly dangerous?

Do You Believe?

It is not an uncommon belief that thoughts and words can help to create one’s own reality. For example, the Law of Attraction has to do with focusing on positive thoughts and speaking your desires to the Universe to attract the life you desire.

It could be argued that a tulpa is a way of taking this theory one step further—creating an actual being from the energy you are focusing, and using it to help you accomplish what you would like to achieve. However, once this separate being is created, how do you know that it wouldn’t eventually begin to act on its own thoughts and desires? Is it possible to create such a thing, or is a Tulpa simply the result of an overactive imagination? What do you think?


Cohn,Gabe. (2018). The New York Times. How Slender Man Became a Legend.

David-Neel, Alexandra. (1929). Magic and Mystery in Tibet, 121.

Jaschke, H.A. (1881). A Tibetan English Dictionary, 336.

Kreiter, John. (2018). How to Create a Servitor to do Your Bidding.

Merriam-Webster. (2020). Golem.

Robinson, Kelley. (2019). ABC News. ‘Slender Man' Stabbing Victim Speaks Publicly for First Time: 'Without the Whole Situation, I Wouldn't be who I am'.

TVTropes. (2020). Tulpa.

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