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My Little Tulpa: Friendship is Magic
September 4, 2014 1:53 PM   Subscribe

"Tulpas are sentient beings imagined into existence using meditation-style exercises. Their creators, known as 'tulpamancers', form the internet’s newest subculture, meeting online at tulpa.info and the subreddit r/tulpas."

A tulpa is "a materialized thought that has taken physical form." Its origins go back millennia in Indian Buddhist thinking; a version of it was introduced to French and English speakers by Alexandra David-Néel's 1929 Mystiques et Magiciens du Tibet (published in English translation in 1931.)

Tulpamancers have taken a census of themselves and were studied by anthropologist Samuel Veissière, who concluded:
Their ‘happiness’ levels were assessed through a variety of qualitative interview tools, and correlated with the Positive and Negative Affect Schedule Scale, on which all scored very highly. This suggests that the experience of tulpamancy has an overwhelmingly beneficial impact on their general happiness.
What could go wrong?
The practice is considered as fraught with danger for every one who has not reached a high mental and spiritual degree of enlightenment and is not fully aware of the nature of the psychic forces at work in the process. 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 maker's control. [...] Sometimes the phantom becomes a rebellious son and one hears of uncanny struggles that have taken place between magicians and their creatures, the former being severely hurt or even killed by the latter.
c.f. Holy Guardian Angel, egregore, servitor, and The Conjuration of Philip.

Previously.
posted by Zed (103 comments total) 62 users marked this as a favorite

 
See also "The Circular Ruins," "The Tale of the Student and his Son," Harvey
posted by Iridic at 2:15 PM on September 4 [3 favorites]


It's nothing compared to my Chalupamancy.
posted by Navelgazer at 2:18 PM on September 4 [19 favorites]


Yeah, but wise people stay away from Chupacabramancy.
posted by b1tr0t at 2:20 PM on September 4 [22 favorites]


So... Imaginary friends for adults?
posted by sotonohito at 2:22 PM on September 4 [5 favorites]


So... Imaginary friends for adults?

This strikes me as being more like an extension of the pseudoscientific otherkin/"multiple system" communities (that mostly became familiar online through Tumblr and jokes made at their expense.) It's got to be all wishful thinking, but if it makes them happy, I've got nothing against it.
posted by LSK at 2:23 PM on September 4 [1 favorite]


I may have only read the first link, but I have a hard time disassociating this from imaginary friends. The differences from a childhood imaginary friend are: 1) the user is consciously aware of having created the tulpa using effort, 2) the tulpa cannot manifest outside of the user's body and thoughts, and 3) tulpas can possess parts of the user. Is my understanding correct?

Whatever floats people's boats, as long as it receives proper attention. I'm not qualified to know if there's deeper issues at work here.
posted by halifix at 2:23 PM on September 4


1) There's a very cool issue of the comic Doktor Sleepless that prominently features a tulpa.

2) Oh, come on.
posted by lumensimus at 2:23 PM on September 4 [3 favorites]


There are some amazing, potentially mind-expanding mystical concepts going on here. I don't know how I feel about those concepts being used to create silly animal friend avatars. The internet is a stranger place than anyone can imagine.

If it's helping troubled people heal, cool? I wonder if it's more about inventing an escape from reality. Like those people who watched Avatar and got deeply depressed that it wasn't real and they couldn't have a blue alien girlfriend. There are more people taking more drastic routes to short-circuit reality than ever before, it seems.
posted by naju at 2:24 PM on September 4 [6 favorites]


The last time tulpa mania ran wild, it sank the Dutch economy.
posted by delfin at 2:26 PM on September 4 [53 favorites]


Their ‘happiness’ levels were assessed through a variety of qualitative interview tools, and correlated with the Positive and Negative Affect Schedule Scale, on which all scored very highly.

Huh...interesting...

This suggests that the experience of tulpamancy has an overwhelmingly beneficial impact on their general happiness.

Well, no, it doesn't, it doesn't suggest that, unless they studied another population alongside or did longitudinal data collection.

Of course, I'm saying this about a study examining the lives of people who don't understand the difference between fantasy and reality, so.
posted by clockzero at 2:28 PM on September 4 [9 favorites]


A lot of what I've read is that Tulpas are benign but that could be the rose tinting of practitioners. The weirdest part is the claim that Tulpas can have skills that the creator does not. The most common claim is math skill. (Wishful STEMbro thinking?)

One way to think about this is that practitioners are trying to give themself multiple personality disorder. Alternately, we could assume that they're full of crap since individual claims are not falsifiable, solipsism being what it is and all that.

Reddit has another subculture, the Dark Triad folks, that are trying to evoke personality disorders. In the Dark Triad's case, it's narcissism and psychopathy.

We live in interesting times...
posted by Skwirl at 2:29 PM on September 4 [6 favorites]


Tulpamancy becoming a trend is the sort of thing that people would gripe about if they read it in a Grant Morrison comic.
posted by Ipsifendus at 2:30 PM on September 4 [10 favorites]


[Place "mea tulpa" joke here, I can't be bothered to come up with it.]
posted by George_Spiggott at 2:31 PM on September 4 [19 favorites]


Lonely teens appropriating esoteric Tibetan meditation techniques for the purpose of generating furry anime girls they can bang in their heads? Yes, this is the internet I remember. I've missed it so much.
posted by theodolite at 2:32 PM on September 4 [117 favorites]


There are more people taking more drastic routes to short-circuit reality than ever before, it seems.

I still think this might end up being the answer to the Fermi Paradox. Intelligent life tending to reach a point where it falls into a vortex of introspection, ceases all attempts at outwards engagement and finally vanishes up its own virtual fundament...
posted by protorp at 2:32 PM on September 4 [3 favorites]


c.f. Holy Guardian Angel, egregore, servitor, and The Conjuration of Philip.

Also.
posted by sukeban at 2:34 PM on September 4


Yeah, this is just more of the otherkin/headmates stuff, with a nice dollop of cultural appropriation on top of it.
posted by Pope Guilty at 2:36 PM on September 4 [6 favorites]


One way to think about this is that practitioners are trying to give themself multiple personality disorder.

From the Reddit FAQ:
Q: Isn't this just trying to give yourself schizophrenia/multiple personality disorder/dissociative identity disorder?
A: No. Those are mental illnesses that impair your ability to function in daily life. Having a tulpa is a form of healthy multiplicity that does not impede your mind or body.
Well, that adequately allays my concerns.
posted by Iridic at 2:37 PM on September 4 [27 favorites]


I also recall reading /r/tulpa folks warning against banging your Tulpa. *If* (big "if") you assume Tulpas are separate sentient beings, it's ethically problematic in the extreme... But the main warning was that Tulpas have one-dimensional needs and will become sex addicted. Soooo, yeah... There's a lot of deep thinking on this...
posted by Skwirl at 2:39 PM on September 4 [3 favorites]


My son's freshman roommate claimed to have a Tulpa. He's on the Austism Spectrum (as is my son) and was perfectly happy staying holed up in the room as often as possible, muttering about Tulpas and demons. My son was freaked out by the kid, and switched rooms, so I don't know if it was an affectation,a joke or the manifestation of something more serious.
posted by Biblio at 2:40 PM on September 4 [2 favorites]


Also, one of the best episodes of X-Files.
posted by Invisible Green Time-Lapse Peloton at 2:41 PM on September 4 [4 favorites]


Just about to quote that Iridic. This is definitely some weirdness I had no idea existed. "Healthy multiplicity" sounds like double-speak to me.

/NOT TULPAIST
posted by joseph conrad is fully awesome at 2:41 PM on September 4


This sounds a hell of a lot like Walter Jon Williams' Aristoi, where everyone's splintered off pieces of their psyche so they can do cool multitasking.
posted by mikurski at 2:44 PM on September 4 [3 favorites]


Sometimes the phantom becomes a rebellious son and one hears of uncanny struggles that have taken place between magicians and their creatures, the former being severely hurt or even killed by the latter.

e.g.
posted by sebastienbailard at 2:47 PM on September 4 [1 favorite]


Once in like, the early 2000's maybe, I wrote a fair bit of a tulpa story about how a group of mystical ne'er-do-wells created the Spring-heeled Jack myth by dressing up and terrorizing hapless Londoners to create mass hysteria and then used that mass psychic fixation to create the creature for real as a tulpa. But I kind of trailed off and stopped writing it when I thought it through to the logical conclusion that any old group of mystical ne'er-do-wells could just pop tulpas out willy-nilly with any popular fictional characters and suddenly my fictional world could, by its own rules, take a left turn into Who Framed Roger Rabbit instead of Hellboy-ish Victorian adventure. Also I probably got distracted by some other new shiny idea. The bits I did finish were alright, I mean it was pretty much a Frankenstein ripoff at points but eh, I had fun. But I have no idea which old hard drive that's all living on nowadays. And that is the story of my tulpa story.
posted by jason_steakums at 2:51 PM on September 4 [9 favorites]


Never invoke anything bigger than your head.
posted by bukvich at 3:03 PM on September 4 [29 favorites]


Yeah, this is just more of the otherkin/headmates stuff, with a nice dollop of cultural appropriation on top of it.

Culture is appropriation.
posted by Sebmojo at 3:03 PM on September 4 [6 favorites]


Also the pictures in this book are incredible. You can see a couple of them on Amazon's look inside widget.
posted by bukvich at 3:06 PM on September 4 [2 favorites]


"Here are instructions for fracturing your psyche! What could possibly go wrong?"
posted by Mooski at 3:10 PM on September 4 [3 favorites]


Tulpa is also the name of a Canadian post-punk band from the early eighties. They have a Bandcamp page where you can stream their only album. I recommend the second track "Rome Is Burning".

Musical aside completed, this modern tulpa stuff is completely ridiculous. Exactly the same kind of special snowflake bullshit that manifests itself elsewhere as headmate/otherkin nonsense, as Pope Guilty mentioned above.
posted by adecusatis at 3:26 PM on September 4 [2 favorites]


This sounds exactly like the shit that I was warned about in my fundie Christian childhood. Demonic possession, summoning of spirits, descending slowly but intractably into madness. They told me it was an inevitable result of playing D&D or Magic: The Gathering, so I guess now they'll have to add reddit to the giant fundie list of "demon things to be afraid of".
posted by DGStieber at 3:30 PM on September 4 [5 favorites]


I thought we weren't doing point and laugh posts anymore?
posted by emptythought at 3:31 PM on September 4 [22 favorites]


Thought experiment: Try to imagine comments by tulpa people in the voice and style of Aleister Crowly. "I AM THE GREAT BEAST PWNY488!"

I welcome at least a little bit of occultism and esoterica that doesn't support water memory or whatever, and the scientism moves they pull to assert legitimacy are fascinating.
posted by angusiguess at 3:32 PM on September 4 [1 favorite]


Also the pictures in this book are incredible. You can see a couple of them on Amazon's look inside widget.

Those illustrations are pretty famous, and are originally from the 1863 edition of the dictionairre infernal, of which you can find plenty of scans of varying quality online.
posted by Pyry at 3:42 PM on September 4 [4 favorites]


Isn't this what novelists do? You're supposed to create recognisable characters that aren't yourself, which have traits and capabilties and - supposedly - start behaving independently while you're writing them.

Not for nothing are the classified pages of the NYRB full of psychiatrists.
posted by Devonian at 3:44 PM on September 4 [11 favorites]


Well...um...o..kayyyyy...
I guess whatever makes you happy. I guess.

Just, please forgive my hysterical laughing if you ever try to seriously talk to me about any of this.
posted by Thorzdad at 3:45 PM on September 4


Devonian: Unsourced William Burroughs quote from Wikiquote: "I think all novelists particularly are engaged in the creation of Tulpas. That is exactly what they are doing. Ahh... they are trying to create characters that have an existence apart from the novel, apart from the page."
posted by larrybob at 3:46 PM on September 4 [12 favorites]


I thought we weren't doing point and laugh posts anymore?

I see no trace of mockery in the post itself, are you sure it's not the comments that you're referring to? Because about four-fifths of all MeFi threads involve some amount of poking fun. You can't control how people react to things.
posted by George_Spiggott at 3:48 PM on September 4 [7 favorites]


I suddenly recall the hit country song "All my Tuplas live in Tulsa."
posted by hellojed at 3:50 PM on September 4 [11 favorites]


I'd love to see an MRI study (or similar) involving these folks. It seems possible that they may have trained themselves to have a genuinely fragmented sense of self, which, while maybe not wise, would be pretty amazing.
posted by Kilter at 3:57 PM on September 4 [3 favorites]


Also, one of the best episodes of X-Files.

And the featured monster of the week in a silly-fun episode from Supernatural's first season.
posted by Squeak Attack at 3:59 PM on September 4 [2 favorites]


Isn't this what novelists do? You're supposed to create recognisable characters that aren't yourself, which have traits and capabilties and - supposedly - start behaving independently while you're writing them.
Not just novelists, but also software engineers. A big part of being a successful coder is developing the ability to execute code in your head just like the machine or language that you are working with. And yes, I certainly can do math via an algorithm in my head that I couldn't do otherwise. The formalism of working within the computational framework makes things much easier. So I'm not shocked that some people are able to unlock latent math ability with tulpas.

A bit more closer to every day reality, what else are we doing the week before mother's day when we think of exactly what gift to give Mom than invoking a tupla-like simulacrum of her that we carry around in our head? Would she like flowers? Or new jogging shoes? Or a high-powered laser for her mad-scientist lab? For each question, there is an interior dialog with something that seems a bit like Mom and a bit like a tulpa.

I suspect that this ends up being little more than terminology that freaks out the squares, but represents stuff that everyone does all the time without thinking much about it.
posted by b1tr0t at 4:05 PM on September 4 [17 favorites]


The weirdest part is the claim that Tulpas can have skills that the creator does not. The most common claim is math skill.

As a former math teacher that doesn't surprise me in the slightest. The biggest obstacle most people have to doing math is personal hangups: emotional association of math with failure and shame, low expectations after being told from birth that they're just not good at math, fear of ridicule from peers, you name it.

"Create an imaginary friend to do the math for you" might be frowned upon as an educational technique, though.
posted by Ndwright at 4:12 PM on September 4 [26 favorites]


Isn't this what novelists do? You're supposed to create recognisable characters that aren't yourself, which have traits and capabilties and - supposedly - start behaving independently while you're writing them.

Yes, exactly. That's why my feelings on this subject are complex and mixed.

On one hand, externalizing things we imagine is basic human nature, and is done everywhere to some degree by every person in the world. We're social animals, and it can be very helpful to imagine thoughts and feelings as beings that we converse with. Spend too much time alone and you start to talk to yourself - that's like Tulpa 101, except you're not giving the imagined being any individual qualities. A step past that is the externalization of emotions and desires, like poets and artists have been doing throughout history. The Muses and gods are tulpas that grant you boons if you imagine them hard enough. Then later on they became angels and demons fighting for the soul of cartoon ducks. And then of course there's writers, who often talk about the point when their characters "come alive" and start writing their own dialog. Tibet is not the sole wellspring for this kind of thinking.

The problem, or what bothers me anyway, is the addition of bunch of mysticism into something that is really self-created. This idea that you can only make special externalizations called tulpas if you use a process of meditation that's a learned skill, and that your creations can somehow be real takes control away from the person doing the imagining, and that's bad. (You should never teach yourself that you're not in control, because it's so easy to come to believe it.) After a lot of time and effort they believe they've mastered some obscure 0-day hack of reality, when all they've really done is make the same kind of imaginary friends that people have been making throughout history. It could all be much simpler and less time consuming (and less inducive of magical thinking) to just remember that you're the source of it all.
posted by Kevin Street at 4:18 PM on September 4 [13 favorites]


I see no trace of mockery in the post itself, are you sure it's not the comments that you're referring to? Because about four-fifths of all MeFi threads involve some amount of poking fun. You can't control how people react to things.

Yeah, this isn't a great thread, really. This subject may be silly as hell, but if the only way you can engage with it is to say so, do you really have something worth saying? Maybe you don't.
posted by kittens for breakfast at 4:20 PM on September 4 [6 favorites]


Monstertalk had a recent episode on the history of tulpas, where they talk with a graduate student who studies Tibetan linguistics and religion. It's really interesting, since it turns out the entire idea of a tulpa was probably a Westerner's misunderstanding of a particular practice.
posted by WidgetAlley at 4:28 PM on September 4 [6 favorites]


I... don't know. I have experienced a divided consciousness during a seizure, and it was a curious experience -- one part of me lucid and, apparently "me," while the other part was confused, angry and "not me," except that it was. I was simultaneously aware of both parts of my consciousness and aware of only the one confused part. It's really hard to describe, although it's very clear in my memory. I imagine if I could wander into this state while suffering abnormal brain function, you could probably induce it with the right effort. I don't think I would recommend it, but I guess playing with your own brain/consciousness is your own business.
posted by GenjiandProust at 4:29 PM on September 4 [7 favorites]


A bit more closer to every day reality, what else are we doing the week before mother's day when we think of exactly what gift to give Mom than invoking a tupla-like simulacrum of her that we carry around in our head?

That's a good point, and it might help explain a bit about why this sort of externalization is so easy (and often beneficial) for people to do. We've got a lot of hard-wiring in the brain that deals with imagining the inner mental states of other people, so we can navigate in a social environment. If those neural connections are already there and not being used, it might be quite easy to use them to imagine a person who embodies something that's going on inside us, kind of like the way our brains use pattern recognition to see faces in clouds.
posted by Kevin Street at 4:31 PM on September 4


Magazine, 1978: My Tulpa
posted by charlie don't surf at 4:34 PM on September 4 [3 favorites]


GenjiandProust, what you're describing might have been a temporary impairment in the functioning of the corpus callosum, the bundle of brain tissue that connects the left and right hemispheres of our brains. For a little while there you may have actually had two brains, one with language ability and one without that could only think with emotions.
posted by Kevin Street at 4:37 PM on September 4 [3 favorites]


If those neural connections are already there and not being used, it might be quite easy to use them to imagine a person who embodies something that's going on inside us, kind of like the way our brains use pattern recognition to see faces in clouds.
I suspect that we are using them all the time, and one's ability to be successful in social situations is directly correlated to how quickly a person can create a tulpa to help them navigate new social situations.

Stereotypes could also be explained by tulpas - a lot of people seem to be carrying around tulpas of brown criminals, and apply them to many or all of the brown people they encounter in life and the media.

Perhaps tulpas are data structures that our minds use in social situations. Develop a tulpa that is too detailed, and you won't want to leave home. Develop tulpas that are too rough, and you will treat the people around you callously.
posted by b1tr0t at 4:41 PM on September 4 [2 favorites]


Also, one of the best episodes of X-Files.

All this time I thought that was a Golem.
posted by fshgrl at 4:51 PM on September 4 [1 favorite]


I will admit that when I'm in the bottom of a depression well, I too will turn to the comfort that is Miniature Equine Aficionata
posted by hellojed at 5:18 PM on September 4 [6 favorites]


So, when people pray and then perceive that God is talking back to them or otherwise guiding their lives, they've basically just created a tulpa?
posted by Jacqueline at 5:22 PM on September 4 [4 favorites]


Now you get it.

This is also an interesting thing to know about.
posted by clarknova at 5:40 PM on September 4


So, when people pray and then perceive that God is talking back to them or otherwise guiding their lives, they've basically just created a tulpa?
That's the "its just really advanced psychology" model of mysticism, in a nutshell.
posted by b1tr0t at 5:41 PM on September 4 [4 favorites]


Reddit has another subculture, the Dark Triad folks, that are trying to evoke personality disorders. In the Dark Triad's case, it's narcissism and psychopathy.

lmao jesus christ that's fucking terrifying. from what i can tell its tied into dork enlightenment dweebs. from this:

Ruthlessness
...
Escalate to a fuck close. Don’t wait for it.


be a rapist: the ideology
posted by p3on at 5:44 PM on September 4 [1 favorite]


It's a powerful tool in that many things can be dealt with more easily once given a definition, a shape and a name. This concept pops up everywhere in religious and spiritual contexts. A classic one is the notion that knowing the name of a demon gives you the power to command/control it. Or the idea of becoming lucid during a nightmare and turning to face the monster. Or praying. Ultimately you are dealing with components/aspects of your own mind. Giving them shapes and names can make it easier to understand, control and alter them.

The danger is in forgetting that it's a tool, not something real. It's the same problem with basically any kind of faith. Switching into a mode of unquestioning certainty can help you perform better in many areas and under many circumstances as it allows you to overcome deep seated fears and prevent subtle forms of self sabotage from taking place. However, it's a tool meant to be used with a narrow focus and the trick is to be able to exit these states of mind once the actions that required them have been completed. To do so can require substantial discipline because it's so tempting to hold onto all of it as "truth" because everything becomes comfortably simple in those states. Robert Anton Wilson referred to it as the "Chapel Perilous" and Zen teachers may hit you with a stick to help you snap out of your latest realization of "truth".

So, not recommended if it doesn't come with lots of awareness, discipline and gradual practice. But very, very useful if done right.
posted by Hairy Lobster at 5:54 PM on September 4 [13 favorites]


one part of me lucid and, apparently "me," while the other part was confused, angry and "not me," except that it was. I was simultaneously aware of both parts of my consciousness and aware of only the one confused part. It's really hard to describe, although it's very clear in my memory.

Thank you very much for sharing this, GenjiandProust, and I hope you won't mind me saying so now -- and it is something I've thought to myself many times before -- but among mefites I have developed any sense of through their contributions, you stand out above all others for great clarity of thought and for complete absence of malice.

It's entirely plausible to me that the "confused, angry" part of you would manifest during a seizure, and I'd hazard a guess that your brain keeps that part quiet because activating it raises the probability of a seizure.

In my own case, I feel that my personality changed sharply when I at last learned to read in the third grade, and up until then I also did not know the alphabet and could not count to 20, and I believe a part of my brain woke up then and has demanded appeasement ever since -- mainly by reading more or less compulsively.

The upshot is that it doesn't seem outre or impossible to me at all that people might be able to cultivate and host a secondary personality.
posted by jamjam at 6:03 PM on September 4


I suspect that this ends up being little more than terminology that freaks out the squares, but represents stuff that everyone does all the time without thinking much about it.

I think that hits on a pretty big point. I guess my only real objection is the idea of the discrete segmentation of the mind, which I don't necessarily think of as being a thing. Sure, we have modes of thought based on circumstance, but complete independence seems like a stretch.

There's terminology, but also the clear association to bronies and furries, groups that both carry pretty strong associations with lots of folks.

The question of whether we can consciously segment our personalities is just a much more conservative phrasing of the question of whether we can consciously do anything.
posted by angusiguess at 6:12 PM on September 4


My tulpa is a 3-D hologram of a rapper. I call him Tulpac.
posted by 4ster at 6:15 PM on September 4 [21 favorites]


Also, one of the best episodes of X-Files.

And similar to one of the more memorable episodes, at least to me, from the last season.
posted by audi alteram partem at 6:17 PM on September 4


There's a well known author of books on Crowley-style magic who's fond of addressing questions about whether mysticism consists of actually experiencing something that's real and external, or if it's rather entirely subjective or delusional, with an aphorism:

"The answer is: it's all in your head. You just have no idea how big your head is."
posted by Ipsifendus at 6:24 PM on September 4 [20 favorites]


<spock>Fascinating.</spock>

This certainly isn't outside the realm of known psychological phenomena (voices and whatnot) that happen to a lot of people, and I'd heard of the practice in Tibetan Buddhism, but the fact that there's a *subreddit* dedicated to it...I suppose I should be glad the internet can still surprise me.
posted by uosuaq at 6:27 PM on September 4


I think that hits on a pretty big point. I guess my only real objection is the idea of the discrete segmentation of the mind, which I don't necessarily think of as being a thing. Sure, we have modes of thought based on circumstance, but complete independence seems like a stretch.
I can share that concern. The big problem with observing your mind is that it is your mind doing the observing. I think the most that can be done here for a person who is curious about this kind of thing is to learn to meditate and then do visualization exercises. From there, you can make your own subjective determinations as to how separate things actually are. But you still end up with a subjective answer that you really can't compare objectively with anyone else's.
There's terminology, but also the clear association to bronies and furries, groups that both carry pretty strong associations with lots of folks.
I've encountered tulpas in meditation forums, so have limited exposure to the MLP/brony/furry side of things. So that helps.
posted by b1tr0t at 6:53 PM on September 4


"Create an imaginary friend to do the math for you" might be frowned upon as an educational technique, though.

Eh, worked for Calvin.
posted by ODiV at 7:02 PM on September 4 [3 favorites]


b1tr0t:
"The big problem with observing your mind is that it is your mind doing the observing"
Only if you assume that the mind is an indivisible unit. If you don't make that assumption then it seems plausible that one part of the mind may be able to observe another.

I suspect that the concept of self-awareness/consciousness as something basic and indivisible that somehow exists in people and has true continuity is something not entirely unlike the concept of the luminiferous aether in physics. It'll probably have to be abandoned and replaced by a much better model of the processes that take place in our brains and give rise to our sense of self and, occasionally, be it by design, accident or malfunction, to states where that sense of self becomes fractured or entirely annihilated.
posted by Hairy Lobster at 7:32 PM on September 4 [5 favorites]


Wow. I have never ever heard of this, and I have heard of most things.

I've had more than one friend with DID (What used to be called multiple personality disorder.) At least two of them were successful at reintegrating the parts into one core personality. I don't see it as farfetched to be able to reverse the process, but I don't see it as a great idea. I do believe in spiritual as well as material reality, and I could see a malignant entity taking advantage (bear in mind that I do not believe that DID=demonic possession. Not at all. I believe it is generally the brain's sensible response to help children survive horribly unbearable abuse, a response that lingers after the need for it is gone.)
posted by St. Alia of the Bunnies at 7:36 PM on September 4


I think this is the kind of thing that spiritual teachers are talking about when they recommend that you only do very serious meditation with a teacher. I have heard many times that there is some weird phenomenology that goes on when you do very intense practices, whatever your beliefs as to what that means, or as to the reality of the alleged entities reported by practitioners. It's supposed to be dangerous to fool around with this stuff without a guide, or so I have read.
posted by thelonius at 8:33 PM on September 4 [3 favorites]


the fact that there's a *subreddit* dedicated to it

It's less that there's a subreddit dedicated to tulpas and more that there's a subreddit dedicated to a bunch of white American teenagers' vague ideas that they formed after hearing a vague summary of the idea.
posted by Pope Guilty at 9:04 PM on September 4 [6 favorites]


thank you for this post, it takes me back to a novel i abandoned writing a few years back, because i was at a complete loss as to how to bring it to a plausible conclusion, about a tulpa who got out of control of its creator and started cutting up rough.

the best line from it was (approx, no gonna go back and look): "the [private investigator] made a face like an old priest just hearing confessed a sin previously unknown even to god."

in the story, my tulpa moved to the southwest and became a staunchly republican female vampire yoga instructor. by day she would teach yoga, by night, seduce men in bars, let them take her out to the front seat of their vehicles and mount her, then bite them in the neck. naturally, she eventually came after her creator and [pronoun redacted's] family.

the husband was a software developer who had abandoned his wife and young son after he came home unexpectedly at lunchtime and saw through the window his wife banging their realtor. she hired the aforementioned PI to find him as he traversed downmarket motels in nameless, dusty desert towns while making scratch publishing onliine a serial story much as you have read so far, under an untraceable alias. there is also a sidestory about the wife's first husband, who vanished mysteriously in a solo sailboat thing. a motel clerk became a significant player, people drank agua fresca out of big plastic cups with the top three inches dumped out on the ground and refilled with tequila, the online publishing contact person weighs in ,the husband performs remarkable ATM feats to withdraw cash under his alias and jet fighters on training missions from nearby air force bases rumble repeatedly overhead.

the husband and the tulpa return home at the same time for a big showdown with auxiliary characters also present, the tulpa tries to kill the kid, but the family cat stops her, the tulpa's power source, a piece of art drawn in crayon on sheetrock, is revealed and destroyed.

i've done a lot of other things, i aspire to be a successful published novelist, and i'm working on a much better idea than the one you just read.
posted by bruce at 9:12 PM on September 4 [5 favorites]


Also I seem to recall Peter Carroll being very into the tulpa concept, and if the next big thing in internet dorkery could be chaos magic that would be hilarious.
posted by Pope Guilty at 9:20 PM on September 4 [2 favorites]


if the next big thing in internet dorkery could be chaos magic that would be hilarious.

I've had the displeasure of knowing a self-styled libertarian who was into chaos magic. This is a thing you do not want. Give me Satanists any day over internet chaos magic misanthropes.
posted by jason_steakums at 9:25 PM on September 4 [9 favorites]


It's interesting this popped online only one day after I saw this.
posted by Mitrovarr at 9:33 PM on September 4


Oh man I'm gonna see a Rinpoche at work tomorrow and I am totally asking him what he thinks about this.
posted by elizardbits at 9:54 PM on September 4 [4 favorites]


I'm Mr. Meeseeks. Look at me!
posted by Robin Kestrel at 9:57 PM on September 4 [1 favorite]


I completely believe it's possible. I mean, once you stop kidding yourself that you're a Bodhisattva, then it's basically nothing more than trying, through dogged practice, and mutual reinforcement, to create in your own psyche a state very similar to multiple personality disorder or some schizophrenic delusions, right? I don't see anything inherently impossible in that.

But then they assume that since they've done it deliberately and had some aims and goals, that it will be useful or enjoyable and that they can easily enough turn it off. But, y'know, there are times I can't get just some song out of my head long after it's no longer pleasant. I really don't want to imagine trying to rid myself of a dysfunctional mental pattern that took me months or years of work to ingrain into myself.
posted by tyllwin at 10:10 PM on September 4 [1 favorite]


It's supposed to be dangerous to fool around with this stuff without a guide, or so I have read.

There used to be series of diet pill commercials that came on late night tv, where the commercials would emphasize how powerful the pills were and that they were for serious weight loss only and not to be used if you only needed to lose a few pounds. You see the same trick on ebay auctions for haunted dolls, where they'll say that the auction is only for experienced ghost hunters who know what they're getting into.
posted by Pyry at 10:23 PM on September 4 [8 favorites]


Reminds me of the character Susan James (a.k.a. "The Gang") from Blindsight, an induced multiple-personality linguist with at least one persona who has a serious chip on her shoulder about playing games with one's own selves:
"We were probably fractured during most of our evolution," James once told me, back when we were all still getting acquainted. She tapped her temple. "There's a lot of room up here; a modern brain can run dozens of sentient cores without getting too crowded. And parallel multitasking has obvious survival advantages."

I nodded. "Ten heads are better than one."

"Our integration may have actually occurred quite recently. Some experts think we can still revert to multiples under the right circumstances."

"Well, of course. You're living proof."

She shook their head. "I'm not talking about physical partitioning. We're the state of the art, certainly, but theoretically surgery isn't even necessary. Simple stress could do something like it, if it was strong enough. If it happened early in childhood."

"No kidding."

"Well, in theory," James admitted, and changed into Sascha who said, "Bullshit in theory. There's documented cases as recently as fifty years ago. [...] People were fucking barbarians about multicores back then—called it a disorder, treated it like some kind of disease. And their idea of a cure was to keep one of the cores and murder all the others. Not that they called it murder, of course. They called it integration or some shit. That's what people did back then: created other people to suck up all the abuse and torture, then got rid of them when they weren't needed any more."

[...]

Sascha was right; there'd been a time when MCC was MPD, a Disorder rather than a Complex, and it had never been induced deliberately. According to the experts of that time, multiple personalities arose spontaneously from unimaginable cauldrons of abuse—fragmentary personae offered up to suffer rapes and beatings while the child behind took to some unknowable sanctuary in the folds of the brain. It was both survival strategy and ritual self-sacrifice: powerless souls hacking themselves to pieces, offering up quivering chunks of self in the desperate hope that the vengeful gods called Mom or Dad might not be insatiable.

None of it had been real, as it turned out. Or at least, none of it had been confirmed. The experts of the day had been little more than witch doctors dancing through improvised rituals: meandering free-form interviews full of leading questions and nonverbal cues, scavenger hunts through regurgitated childhoods. Sometimes a shot of lithium or haloperidol when the beads and rattles didn't work. The technology to map minds was barely off the ground; the technology to edit them was years away. So the therapists and psychiatrists poked at their victims and invented names for things they didn't understand, and argued over the shrines of Freud and Klein and the old Astrologers. Doing their very best to sound like practitioners of Science.

Inevitably, it was Science that turned them all into road kill; MPD was a half-forgotten fad even before the advent of synaptic rewiring. But alter was a word from that time, and its resonance had persisted. Among those who remembered the tale, alter was codespeak for betrayal and human sacrifice. Alter meant cannon fodder.

Imagining the topology of the Gang's coexisting souls, I could see why Sascha embraced the mythology. I could see why Susan let her. After all, there was nothing implausible about the concept; the Gang's very existence proved that much. And when you've been peeled off from a pre-existing entity, sculpted from nonexistence straight into adulthood—a mere fragment of personhood, without even a full-time body to call your own—you can be forgiven a certain amount of anger. Sure you're all equal, all in it together. Sure, no persona is better than any other. Susan's still the only one with a surname.

Better to direct that resentment at old grudges, real or imagined; less problematic, at least, than taking it out on someone who shares the same flesh.
posted by Rhaomi at 10:57 PM on September 4 [19 favorites]


It sounds like something people would turn to for relief from chronic feelings of loneliness, powerlessness, and lack of peer esteem.

Partly for that very reason I guess it attracts contempt and promotes isolation in a way that would tend to reinforce that problem.
posted by Segundus at 10:57 PM on September 4 [3 favorites]


Fascinating post, Zed. Thanks.
posted by homunculus at 1:19 AM on September 5


Oh man I'm gonna see a Rinpoche at work tomorrow and I am totally asking him what he thinks about this.

Perfect! Please share.
posted by homunculus at 1:27 AM on September 5


"Tulpas are sentient beings imagined into existence using meditation-style exercises. Their creators, known as “tulpamancers”, form the internet’s newest subculture, meeting online at tulpa.info and the subreddit r/tulpas."

Imaginary friends for adults that's obviously filling some sort of need, but still IMAGINARY and NON-EXISTENT.
posted by GallonOfAlan at 2:02 AM on September 5


Imaginary friends for adults that's obviously filling some sort of need, but still IMAGINARY and NON-EXISTENT.

Again, I dunno. When you are talking about your "self," I am not sure "imaginary" and "non-existent" are useful distinctions. The "divided consciousness" state I half-described above was transient, but, for the time I experienced it (probably less than a minute, but maybe more), it was quite existent and non-imaginary. Now, I won't rule out that it was a dream or hallucination (although some of my actions have external corroboration), but my sense is that it was real enough.

It has encouraged me to believe an idea held by at least some Buddhists that the "self" is not "real" because the "self" is not a thing but a continual process. A verb instead of a noun, more or less. Your "self" is constantly constructed out of memory and stimuli and just as constantly fading away. If this is true, my experience, whatever the underlying chemical/electrical/physical causes, was a "malformed" attempt to "self," but just as real as my normal "self."
posted by GenjiandProust at 3:08 AM on September 5 [6 favorites]


I'm sympathetic, although of course it's certainly quite side-eye-worthy at least to so casually take up a specific name/practice/tradition as your own, whole cloth, with little to no real contact with the 'host' religion. The problems with that are well known.

But still, I think that a lot of disparate religious practices contain or trade on quite universal aspects of the mysterious human experience, and finding and recognizing and developing those threads in your own practice, integrating and synthesizing the concepts, effects and archetypes that work for you, is a very valid approach. (Not to mention, of course, the history of mutual or one-sided adoption/cannibalization of ideas between religions themselves. Spiritual concepts flow freely.)

The idea of multiple selves, divided awareness, and of the possibility for apparently self-contained, self-sustaining personas within a greater, vaguer pool of 'selfness' is a familiar thread to me in my own spiritual explorations, in my writing and other creative work or consumption -- the Burroughs quote is apropos -- and other areas of my life. Being more proactive about shaping and enlivening them is actually a type of practice I'm interested in exploring more fully, and despite being kinda goofs, these enthusiastic and perhaps young folks give me some inspiration. I'll be interested to read this more fully when I get home.

It may be haphazard and unrigorous, but sometimes religion should be.. exuberant.

Wouldn't mind me some of that happiness, either.
posted by Drexen at 3:47 AM on September 5


Imaginary friends for adults that's obviously filling some sort of need, but still IMAGINARY and NON-EXISTENT.

You're imaginary and non-existent. But don't worry, you're in good company. :P
posted by Drexen at 3:51 AM on September 5


I'm sympathetic, although of course it's certainly quite side-eye-worthy at least to so casually take up a specific name/practice/tradition as your own, whole cloth, with little to no real contact with the 'host' religion. The problems with that are well known.

Well, this is why you want to have a teacher (and why most meditative practices are done in community). Your brain throws up all sorts of things, and, without a guide, it seems possible to have a lot of trouble dealing with it. This can range from very frightening experiences to developing delusions (it's not surprising that many destructive "gurus" have a history of solo study).
posted by GenjiandProust at 5:14 AM on September 5 [1 favorite]


But, y'know, there are times I can't get just some song out of my head long after it's no longer pleasant. I really don't want to imagine trying to rid myself of a dysfunctional mental pattern that took me months or years of work to ingrain into myself.

Advice from a neurologist that I read somewhere: to rid yourself of an earworm, mentally "sing" a short, familiar song to completion, something like "Happy Birthday To Me" and hammer on the final note. The theory is that you get an earworm because you can't completely remember the song, so your mind loops it, trying to remember the missing bits. So when you run one "tape loop" song to completion, it shuts down all the others. This actually works, and is based on some fMRI research.

And this is why I am constantly amused by these amateur occultists who read some book by comedians like RAW or LMD and think they know what they're doing. Even with guidance from other delusional occultists, things go wrong. Even source materials like Crowley's are so full of deliberate lies and obfuscation, they are intended to drive you crazy. I can't imagine what it's like operating off third-hand advice from reddit.
posted by charlie don't surf at 5:24 AM on September 5 [5 favorites]


It's interesting, or perhaps unsurprising, that this particular community seems to be part of, or at least strongly linked with the furry/anthropomorphic community. To me it outlines a spectrum, from 'regular' treatment of characters in fiction, to a stronger focus on and 'knowledge' or familiarity with the character in, say, fanfiction; to extensive, consistent, and self-identifying characterization in furry where a character can be somewhere between another personality you interact with, and an expression of your own identity; to this full-on, 'literal' interpretation of the idea leading to people constructing what seems to them like a fully distinct, coherent person who is within, yet separate from them.

It's interesting to me to relate that spectrum to other things like heavy author investment in their characters (again, referencing Burroughs and other writers who have expressed similar sentiments) along with actors, especially method actors, puppeteers, ventriloquists; and also the religious phenomenon of 'possession', 'riding', invocation... even the occult paradigm of calling on, and/or trying to manifest or embody the personas and attendant strengths of a pantheon of gods and demons.

I guess what has me so interested is the idea that this phenomenon, which speaks quite directly to our own sense of self and how it works and how it can be interpreted spiritually, can be so easily accessed by people who it seems are often not doing much more than just shifting gears on their imagination, using whatever imagery (mythology?) they happen to be immersed in.

Time to go reread some Grant Morrison maybe. :P
posted by Drexen at 5:35 AM on September 5 [3 favorites]


It's interesting, or perhaps unsurprising, that this particular community seems to be part of, or at least strongly linked with the furry/anthropomorphic community. To me it outlines a spectrum, from 'regular' treatment of characters in fiction, to a stronger focus on and 'knowledge' or familiarity with the character in, say, fanfiction; to extensive, consistent, and self-identifying characterization in furry where a character can be somewhere between another personality you interact with, and an expression of your own identity; to this full-on, 'literal' interpretation of the idea leading to people constructing what seems to them like a fully distinct, coherent person who is within, yet separate from them.

It's just the next logical step after headmate bullshit and they can point to their having heard of tulpas to justify it.
posted by Pope Guilty at 6:06 AM on September 5 [1 favorite]


Well since the subject has turned to how this is unsurprisingly on the edge of the furry scene...

I spent a lot of time playing various characters on the internet, and arguably one of them took me over. If so, I'm happier for it. I used to be a very depressed and lonely guy who played a dragon lady named Peganthyrus, now I'm a reasonably social lady who goes by the name Peggy and has dragon wings tattooed along her arms. There was clearly some gender stuff going on before I started playing that dragon, of course.

I've performed the role of a retired destroyer-goddess online. There were a few moments where she started talking on her own in my head, which were fascinating and frightening - there was a sort of tranquility that she had that I've never experienced before or since. I did not think of trying to turn her into a tulpa, and would not want to. She felt like something too large to actually fit into my head for long.

I feel like there's a lot of interesting things to be done in terms of trying to run different personalities on your brain at various levels of emulation. I've mostly done this for the purpose of some deliberate reshaping of my personality. Creating an Imaginary Friend feels like it's missing the point of these tools to me, but maybe that's just because I've never tried. I'm too busy using these same skills for writing stories, now.

Personality is weird and complicated and just not something most of us think about much. Furries happen to be a fantasy-prone, involuted bunch, whose adult games of "let's pretend" take them to the edge of this territory, and occasionally over.
posted by egypturnash at 6:43 AM on September 5 [11 favorites]


Related themes from a different culture, via an audiobook I enjoyed: The Golem and the Jinni.
posted by Wyeldfire at 8:24 AM on September 5 [1 favorite]


Advice from a neurologist that I read somewhere: to rid yourself of an earworm, mentally "sing" a short, familiar song to completion, something like "Happy Birthday To Me" and hammer on the final note. The theory is that you get an earworm because you can't completely remember the song, so your mind loops it, trying to remember the missing bits. So when you run one "tape loop" song to completion, it shuts down all the others. This actually works, and is based on some fMRI research.

Yeah yeah! I keep a bunch of images, phrases, and melodies in my head for use as exactly that kind of toolbox. It's good for repressing and calling forth all kinds of things! Although I think of them less as tape loops and more as magical sigils, which seems to be the proper amount of respect for Nicki Minaj's Super Bass, an astral form with a simply insane amount of raw psychic power.
posted by Greg Nog at 8:33 AM on September 5 [4 favorites]


It's just the next logical step after headmate bullshit and they can point to their having heard of tulpas to justify it.

Is it really so important for it to be strongly 'justified'? Where's the harm in taking it at face value? I find it more interesting to approach the idea on its own merit, even if, in this case, that merit consists mostly in the strength of feeling/connection and the happiness that it seems to bring to the people involved, more than in a strong and solid pedigree of "authenticity".
posted by Drexen at 8:43 AM on September 5 [4 favorites]


So, when people pray and then perceive that God is talking back to them or otherwise guiding their lives, they've basically just created a tulpa?

This taken larger is one of the thought trains behind various gods and goddesses, that they are a mutual creation from the belief of groups of people. Once formed though, they supposedly have an independent consciousness, will, and some ability to effect the real world. Maybe everybody is running a small piece of their deities as part of a massively parallel processing architecture?

Imaginary friends for adults that's obviously filling some sort of need, but still IMAGINARY and NON-EXISTENT.

That is the difference between an imaginary friend and Tulpa though. A tulpa given enough effort is likely running at least a partially independent consciousness. Our brains are not nearly so monolithic as we like to think, we are a bunch of loosely connected systems kept reasonably synchronized with an automatic process on top filling in the gaps to give the illusion of continuous singular consciousness. (Dissociatives and hallucinogens mess with individual systems and with the central synchronization in different ways).

As for the non-existent part, you can hack your proprioception enough that you can definitely experience touching them and feeling it as or nearly as strongly as touching something in the physical world.

I'm not really for or against the practice, but to summarize the DSM in only a few words: crazy isn't crazy if it doesn't cause you problems in day to day life.
posted by RowanYote at 9:30 AM on September 5 [9 favorites]


This series of four interesting essays from meltingasphalt.com (1, 2, 3, 4) touches on tulpas as well as the idea of the 'bicameral mind', mental illness, and dualism. It provides some very interesting speculation into just how things like tulpas might actually work.
posted by Stove at 1:51 PM on September 5 [3 favorites]


I suddenly recall the hit country song "All my Tuplas live in Tulsa."


Surely you're thinking of Livin' on Tulpa Time?
posted by murphy slaw at 9:51 PM on September 5


I wish this could be taken out of the whole pseudoscientific white-american-teenager scene (which being on the edges of both aspie and furry scenes I have seen far too much of for one lifetime) and applied a bit more generally with the idea that external projections of personalities can be beneficial to working with problems - as stated earlier in the thread, we do this all the time already to model people's behaviours or to work out our novels, and the conscious awareness of this method could have benefits for working on oneself. Get your alter to check what's wrong with the television rather than freaking out about it, for example.

I was involved with tulpas about six years ago - IRC channels - and I went along with it for a bit. This came to involve very strange proprioception, most notably when I gained the physical sensation of several other limbs for a couple of minutes. I think drugs are probably better all things considered.
posted by solarion at 2:28 AM on September 6 [3 favorites]


staunchly republican female vampire yoga instructor

Shucks, I was hoping "vampire yoga" was a thing.
Downward-facing bat post.
Coffin pose.
Fang lunge.
etcetera
posted by detachd at 10:25 AM on September 6 [5 favorites]


It's just the next logical step after headmate bullshit and they can point to their having heard of tulpas to justify it.

Haven't done this before; won't again, but I first read this as:

'... and they can point to their heaving herd of tulpas to justify it.'
posted by jamjam at 11:22 AM on September 6


As an added bonus, most Tulpas are gluten free.
posted by stirfry at 7:35 PM on September 6


After poking around a bit on the linked websites, I think I've finally figured out why these people rouse such a strong feeling of condescending judgment in me. It's part spectacular delusion, which sparks my hatred of fundies and creationists, and it's got that flavor of pseudoscience and woo that also pisses me right off.

I have an acquaintance, as weeaboo as weeaboo get (lives in Tokyo and has a Japanese gf, at last checking) who casually dropped, as incontrovertible fact, that he was a "kyuubi." I remember wanting to reach over the table and smack the dumb right out of his mouth, and what irked me about that was the assumption that you have to have something like an anime-based animal demon living inside you in order to make yourself sufficiently unique; because all you normal people just aren't inherently special like he is. It seemed condescending, like when a TV pastor insists that God is talking to him and only he can deliver that divine truth.
posted by GoingToShopping at 8:48 PM on September 6 [3 favorites]


*purses lips, exhales slowly for fifteen full minutes*
posted by turbid dahlia at 5:09 PM on September 8


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