Inside the World of Tulpas, aka Imaginary Friends for Adults

Nathan Le Master
April 20, 2017 

SUBREDDIT: /r/tulpas

Q3VDNU9 - Imgur

Direct experience is an evasion, or hiding place, for those without any imagination.
   – Fernando Pessoa

Where’s your will to be weird?
– Jim Morrison

Just as it sounds, the word, “tulpa” is not native to the English language. It originates from a Buddhist practice of fabricating a spiritual being solely through extreme focus and thought. But with the advent of the Internet, tulpas became inspired with contemporary meaning, thanks to a very surprising source, the Brony movement. Fanboys of My Little Pony: Friendship is Magic reappropriated the term tulpa to signify an imaginary companion, also created solely by willpower–albeit in their context, typically ponies from the TV show. Since the early 2010s, tulpas began to include any being, in whatever form, from whatever source, created by a “tulpamancer”

Home to many underground communities, 4chan was one of the first crossroads where tulpamancers could meet and share their ideas. Some members have since migrated to forums, as well as the subreddit /r/tulpas, where you’ll discover numerous guides on how to create and nourish your tulpa, as well as countless Q&As addressing every single angle.

Here’s my quick rundown of tulpas and tulpamancers:

Tulpas are created to assist in memory recall, to help get rid of negative feelings, but most importantly, for companionship. This is purportedly a lifelong commitment, therefore a high level of maturity is believed to be a requisite (one guide explicitly says do not create a tulpa if you’re young). The tulpa creation process can potentially take months to years. To create a tulpa, it helps to first imagine a “wonderland,” or an imaginary environment for your tulpa to inhabit. Tulpas are brought to life via “forcing,” either “actively,” through a practice similar to meditation, or “passively,” where you train yourself to direct all of your daily thoughts to the tulpa. It is unhealthy to assume that your tulpa will take on the form you originally intend. Tulpas are believed to be organic, individual, stand-alone entities, therefore some “deviation” is expected, just as you can’t expect your friends to be develop exactly how you want them to be. You can create multiple tulpas, although creating more than five is discouraged, just as spreading yourself too thin amongst too many best friends means you can’t give each one the same concentrated attention. “Switching” is a much more mature concept where you can literally exchange places with your tulpas, i.e. inhabit your “wonderland” while your tulpa takes control of your body and speech.

Tulpamancers are an inherently shy group. Anybody who’s been on the receiving end of harassment as a kid knows the source of this defensiveness. Conditioning teaches you that opening your mouth leads to ridicule, so thoughts worth having are not thoughts worth sharing. Therefore, whenever someone–journalist, academic, psychologist, or just simply a naturally inquisitive person–requests an interview with a tulpamancer, the top comments are always warnings by the veterans, sometimes outright demanding that no one participate, often citing the 2014 Vice article which they believe spun the tulpamancer community as a group of basement-dwelling perverts, clutching their Twilight Sprinkle plushies.

However, as tulpamancers do strive to gain a greater acceptance–emboldened as they are by online communities–some have begun to ally themselves with the Hearing Voices Movement, advocacy groups trying to destigmatize the Western diagnosis of disorders like schizophrenia, arguing that auditory hallucinations are actually a positive, healthy attribute, as evidenced by it’s greater appreciation amongst some non-Western, less globally-involved cultures. The obvious foreseeable danger then becomes a muddied distinction between private hobby and genuine mental illness, an effect that could prove highly calamitous to some.

But knee-jerk reactions aside, overall, are tulpas really that outlandish? How different is it than any other belief system that peoples negative space with all kinds of fantastical creatures, gods and devils, angels and demons, spirits and ghosts? Don’t these projections all originate from the same place, to not feel so abysmally lonely? From skimming multiple threads on /r/tulpas, you soon discover that the question of whether or not tulpas are real is irrelevant, especially to these tulpamancers. Like any religious or spiritual belief that provides a greater sense of authentic meaning and purpose: if it helps, it helps.

In the sage words of George Costanza, it’s not a lie…if you believe it.

Reddit threads, further reading for the curious:

Tulpa Guides and Resources
My name is Jay, and I’m a tulpa.
The Internet is laughing at us and you shouldn’t care.
Tulpa hardships: Do we tend to neglect the shit tulpas go through?
Please please PLEASE stop posting about your tulpa leaving.
What’s your single favorite SFW activity to do with your Tulpa
I think I almost killed my Tulpa.

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s