Laurie Eddie

(Investigator 210, 2023 May)

TULPAS: From the Tibetan sprulpa; these are creatures which are claimed to originate with thoughts, and then, via a process involving intense mental concentration and visualization by adepts in the magical or mystical arts, are claimed to take on an actual physical form,

"A Bodhisatva (A being who has attained the high degree of spiritual perfection immediately below that of a Buddha.) is the basis of countless magic forms. By the power generated in a state of perfect concentration of mind he may, at one and the same time show a phantom …. He may create not only human forms, but any forms he chooses, even those of inanimated objects … In fact … there is no limit to his power of phantom creation." [1]
Occult, phantom-like creatures, tulpas were claimed by some to be created to serve their makers. They were variously described as:-

a) The incarnation of a god;
b) The manifestation of a spiritual entity which coexists with the individual; or,
c) The reincarnation of a former living person.

Thoughts are mental cognitions, formed when neurons release chemical neurotransmitters which activate a multitude of other neurons. However, while thoughts can certainly motivate physical behaviour, since they occur entirely within an individual’s brain, they have no external corporeal existence.

However, those with mystical or religious beliefs tend to have a different point-of-view. While they tend to believe that many everyday events are directed by external supernatural forces, many also believe that reality can, to some degree, be influenced by direct human intervention.

A fundamental belief in many religions is that thoughts, in the form of prayers or supplication to divine beings, (e.g. praying for rain, etc.), can actually change natural events. Moreover, many of those with more esoteric spiritual convictions, believe their thoughts have an actual physical dimension, that they are, "… composed of matter of several degrees of density," [2].

Some even believe that, by using various meditation techniques, their thoughts can be projected into the external world, in tangible physical forms, even as active living entities, "… made of the finer kinds of matter." [3]. While they accept that only a few individuals, those with many years of intense meditational practice, can achieve such results, they claim that, "… occult science invests its adepts with a control of natural forces superior to that enjoyed by physicists of the ordinary type" [4].

Many, like the 17th century Chemist, Jan Baptist Van Helmont, believe that, since humans were created in the image of god, some remnant of this divine creative power must have been retained, and that, via  the powers of their imagination, this inherent ability could be used to create actual physical entities.

In the 18th century, Swiss Theologian Johann Kaspar Lavater, claimed that certain individuals could, by using the power of their imagination, so powerfully influence the minds of others, that, even if they were in some distant location, they would appear before them as an apparition.

It was commonly believed that ancient priests and magicians had, by the power of prayer, magical incantations and concentration, not only been able to summon elemental spirits in physical form, but make them obey and serve them. In 1875 Henry Felt, one of the founders of the Theosophical Society, claimed he could produce spirits in this way, however, while he offered to demonstrate his special abilities, he was never able to actually prove his claims.

Nevertheless, many members of the society believed that thoughts did  have an actual physical dimension, and, in 1905, Theosophists Annie Besant and Charles Webster Leadbeater produced a book, Thought-Forms, [5] illustrating what they claimed were the various forms and colours of human thoughts and emotions.

One of their members, Alexandra David-Néel, a student of Tibetan Buddhist religion, and, in particular, the powerful meditation thought processes through which she claimed a tulpa could be created, introduced the concept of the tulpa to the society.

In her anecdotal accounts she claimed to have actually created a tulpa in the form of small stout, gentle, compassionate monk. After considerable practice, she claimed, her mental creation gradually gained a more physical appearance until she could actually see the creature; however, as she continued “creating” the tulpa its appearance began to change. It became more independent of her control, slimmer and somewhat more sinister. Eventually it became so physically real that others could see it. Becoming increasingly more fearful of the creature she claimed, it became necessary to use various esoteric techniques, learned from the Tibetan Llamas, to force the creature back into the depths of her mind.

It is generally accepted that many cultural myths and legends have their origins in some factual, but distant events, and, it is possible, the concept of the tulpa has similar origins.

There are a number of possible explanations for the tulpa phenomena.

The first could involve eidetic memories, (from Greek eidos, form); this is a subjective visual process where individuals can “recall” images in exceptional detail, even when they are no longer present. Eidetikers claim they are able to see them as if they were being “projected” onto an external surface; however, since these images are not new creations, per se, but merely reproductions of things they have already seen, this does not appear to explain the tulpa phenomena.

Another explanation is that they might involve externalized apparitions, similar to those reported by a patient of Schatzman, (1980). As an adult living in Britain Ruth, (a fictional name), a victim of childhood sexual abuse, began to experience extremely bewildering and traumatic visions of her abusive father. Although he was alive and living in America; these appearances were so realistic that  she could hear the rustling of his clothes and smell the odour of his tobacco.

In time Ruth was able to produce similarly realistic apparitions of other individuals. Interestingly, the behaviour of these other apparitions, "… generally accorded with the usual behaviour of the individual." [6], a fact which suggests that, rather than the unpredictable behaviour one would expect from random dissociative hallucinations, the behaviour of these apparitions was based upon her personal memories.

To establish that these appearances were not merely internalized hallucinations she underwent a series of tests; one involved her looking at a checker-board pattern on a screen, while her brain patterns were recorded using an Electroencephalograph. When requested to produce the image of her father standing in front of the screen, the signals changed, suggesting that something was definitely blocking her view of the screen.

Ongoing psychoanalysis uncovered her extensive history of childhood sexual abuse, from the age of ten, and, it was concluded, her apparitions were related to her feelings of shame and guilt associated with these childhood incidents.

However, the most likely explanation for the tulpa phenomena is that they are a form of self-induced hallucination, produced by a combination of self-hypnosis and suggestion.

Meditation, which is a form of self-hypnosis, involves the creation of an altered state of consciousness or awareness. This is produced by first relaxing, with the eyes closed, then, by excluding as much external stimuli as possible, and by concentrating and turning one’s thoughts inward the conscious level of the mind becomes “detached” from everyday matters, resulting in a deep level of internal awareness where the subconscious part of the mind is able to respond creatively to suggestion and imagery.

Given the extreme levels of concentration and visualization suggested as being necessary to “produce” a tulpa, it would appear that only adepts, those with considerable meditational experience, would be capable of creating the necessary deep levels of mental focus.

An important aspect of all forms of hypnosis is suggestion; either external, (by another person), or internal, (auto-suggestion); whatever their origins, suggestions can produce dramatic visual, [7] [8] [9], auditory [10], or tactile experiences.

One particularly powerful form of auto-suggestion comes from an individual’s personal beliefs and expectations; essentially, what one expects to see, hear or feel, will heavily influence their experiences during their altered state.

For example, lengthy periods of self-imposed mortification, combined with prolonged sessions of prayer can often produce ecstatic religious experience. In these altered states Catholics tend to experience familiar imagery, visions of Jesus, the Virgin Mary, saints, or bleeding and sacred hearts; on the other hand, Protestant visions tend to be more abstract, like the Quaker George Fox, who described how he was plunged into an infinite eternity of the indescribable love of god.

Similarly, practitioners of Reiki or Therapeutic Touch, who have to hold their hands and arms in an elevated position for some time, “transmitting” a mysterious healing energy into others, tend to interpret the resulting muscular fatigue as evidence of the "flow" of the mystical energy.

An anecdotal example of the power of suggestion occurred many years ago, when the author, a member of Skeptics [SA], was invited to attend a meeting of a local UFO group where, it was claimed, would be shown a video of a genuine UFO.

At the meeting the lecturer explained how, while driving to Melbourne, one of their members saw a UFO which had landed in a paddock alongside the highway, and that they had been able to record the spacecraft with a video camera.

Although all this author saw was a small, very indistinct flickering spot of light in an otherwise black screen, the lecturer excitedly described how the UFO was not only clearly visible, but its doorway was wide open and they could see inside. There were audible gasps from the audience, with comments not only echoing the lecturer’s observations, but some even claiming they could see alien forms standing in the doorway.

While we may never actually know how the concept of the tulpa began, it was almost certainly influenced by early primitive Tibetan animistic and shamanistic beliefs. Shamanism, in particular, has a long history of using altered states of consciousness to create, and interact with, various spirit guides; and, even today, still influences Tibetan Buddhism.

An important aspect of such forms of meditation is that the individual’s sense of reality can become so confused they can actually believe their imaginary creation is real, so it is possible that, somewhere in the past, in their attempts to explain such experiences, the concept of the tulpa was erroneously created.

1)    David-Néel, Alexandra, (1936). p. 115.
2)    Besant, A. and Leadbeater, C.W., (1925). P. 21.
3)    Ibid, p. 16.
4)    Sinnett. A.P.,  (1884), p. 1.
5)    Besant and Leadbeater, op cit.
6)    Schatzman, M., (1980), p. 108.
7)    Barber, T.X. and Calverley, D.S., (1964).
8)    Bryant, R.A. and Mallard, D. (2003).
9)    Spiegel, D., (2003).
10)    Estabrooks, G.H., (1927).


Barber, T. X., & Calverley, D. S. (1964). An experimental study of "hypnotic" (auditory and visual. The Journal of Abnormal and Social Psychology, 68(1), 13–20.

Besant, A. and Leadbeater, C.W. (1925).Thought Forms. London: The Theosophical Publishing House Ltd.

Bryant, R.A. and Mallard, D. (2003) Seeing is believing: The reality of hypnotic hallucinations. Consciousness and Cognition, 12:3, (June),  219-230.

David-Néel, A., (1936). With Mystics and Magicians in Tibet.  London: Penguin Books.

Estabrooks, G.H. (1927). Two cases of induced auditory hallucination. Journal of the Society Psychical Research, 24, 99-101.

Schatzman, M. (1980). The Story of Ruth. New York: G.P. Putnam’s Sons.

Sinnett,  A.P. (1884). The Occult World. London: Trubner & Co.

Spiegel, D. (2003). Negative and Positive Visual Hypnotic Hallucinations: Attending Inside and Out. International Journal of Clinical and Experimental Hypnosis, 51:2, 130-146.