Category Archives: Belief
Etymology: From the Tibetan word “sprul-pa” meaning “emanation” or “manifestation.” “Thought-Form” in English
In Buddhist mysticism, a Tulpa is a thought-form created by either spiritual or mental powers.
The term would later be adopted by Western Mysticism and thought in the 20th-century by Theosophists who would take the Tibetan words: nirmita, tulku, sprul-pa, along with others for the word “tulpa” meaning thoughtform. For Modern, Western practitioners of Theosophy, this thoughtform is seen as some sort of imaginary friend willed into existence that is sentient and capable of having its own free will.
What’s In A Name?
I should slow it down here, as there are several words in Tibetan mysticism and Buddhism that lead to the English use of the word “tulpa.” The main Tibetan word is sprul pa where the first part, “sprul” breaks down to mean “emanate” or “manifest” and the word “pa” is a function of Tibetan language that allows for a verb to be used as a noun. This is where, in English, the translation then becomes “Thoughtform.” Another similar word in Tibetan is “phrul” that not only means “manifestations” and “emanation,” but has several other meanings such as: magic, miracle, jugglery, trick, illusion, conjuring and even black art.
Still another Tibetan word that has been translated to mean “thoughtform” is the word “vilu” or “yid lus” and “yi dam” that are all words for tulpa. Further, there are several schools of mysticism, Asian shamanism, and Buddhism that have this concept found throughout China, the Himalayans, Bhutan, India, Mongolia, Nepal, Russia, Tibet and Tuva.
What the term Tulpa means in Buddhism obviously has differences with how Western mysticism approaches and sees the term.
Indian Buddhism –
In the Pali Samaññaphala Sutta, an early Buddhist text, the manomāyakāya or “mind-made body” ability is listed as a means to a full contemplative life. Other texts comment that this “mind-made body” is how the Gautama Buddha and arhats are able to travel up to the heavenly realms. This same ability is how the Buddha accomplished his multiplication miracle in the Divyavadana where he multiplied his nirmita or emanated form into a countless number of bodies filling the sky. This ability would be something that a Buddha or other enlightened beings would be able to accomplish as well.
As an aside, this sounds more like Astral Projection to me with the “mind-made body.” To be fair, the Buddhist philosopher Vasubandhu, who lived in the 4th to 5th century CE does say that the nirmita is a siddhi or psychic power that Buddhists can master. Other Buddhist philosophers see the nirmita or nirmana as a magical illusion. The Madhyamaka philosophy sees all of reality as empty and that all reality is a form of nirmita or an illusion.
Tibetan Buddhism –
There are several terms, nirmanakaya, sprulsku, sprul-pa that all relate and connect to the word trikaya. This is the Buddhist doctrine of the three bodies of the Buddha. These are often the “emanation bodies” of celestial beings, though there are “unrealized beings” such as those humans create too that are known to exist.
The 14th Dalai Lama is believed by some followers to be an emanation-reincarnation (tulku) of Chenrezig, the Bodhisattva of Compassion. The 14th Dalai Lama has even said in a public statement that his successor might appear while he is still alive as an emanation.
In Theosophy, Annie Besant, in her 1901 book “Thought-Forms” has this term divided into three classes. The form in the shape of the person who created them, those forms resembling objects or people that can potentially gain a soul or spirit or even by the dead and lastly, the forms that represent an “inherent quality” from the astral or mental planes. This is something abstract like emotions and ideas.
In Western occult understanding, the term “thoughtform” is first used as early as 1927 in Evans-Wentz’s translation for the Tibetan Book of the Dead. The Occultist William Walker Atkinson describes thought-forms in his book The Human Aura as simple ethereal objects created from people’s auras. Atkinson explains further in another book of his where thought-forms are astral projections that may or may not look like the person who created them. Or, thought forms are illusions that only those with awakened senses can see.
Alexandra David-Néel is a spiritualist who claims tulpas are capable of developing their own personality and being able to act on their own free will independent of their creator. David-Néel describes this process much like a baby developing in the womb and is later born, able to live outside.
David-Néel says she created her own tulpa in the image of a Friar Tuck like monk. This particular tulpa of David-Néel’s eventually had to be destroy when it became too malevolent. David-Néel notes that she may have created her own hallucination despite others claiming they could see the thoughtforms she created.
I can see how that makes sense, many writers mention how the story they’re working on and the characters they’ve created can seem to take on a life of their own.
With the later part of the 20th Century and early 21st century, the term Tulpa has become popularized as well as secularized with the Western media and mindset. This has mainly meant equating a Tulpa as a form of Imaginary Friend that is consciously willed into being or created.
With tropes used in media and literature, the two terms of Tulpa and Imaginary Friend tend to get used interchangeably. Some stories have the Tulpa or Imaginary Friend able to have a physical manifestation.
There are self-described tulpamancers who can be found on such websites such as Reddit or 4chan claiming to practice tulpamancy to create sentient, imaginary friends that live within their head.
Done correctly, from a psychological standpoint, I can see how this practice can be a tool to help build empathy and social skills such as sharing or more easily deal with anxiety. Though given the mention of 4Chan and Reddit, it does become very questionable some of the activities these Tulpamancers are engaging in and if they’re suffering from mental illness and seeing things.
One of the articles that I came across that leaned heavily into the Western Mysticism of Tulpa creation mentioned that the tulpas could be “poisonous.” The article leaned into pseudo-science with sound vibrations and creation. It points out that the problems with the subconscious mind. If a Tulpa were created unintentionally or incorrectly, it could become dangerous or “poisonous” with drawing on darker aspects from the psyche of the person that created it.
In Buddhist Mysticism, a Tulpa is able to eventually become separate and it’s own entity, whereas in Western Mysticism, there’s a tendency to see these Tulpa as not separate, that it will be some sort of servitor and controlled by its maker and dismissed later when no longer needed.
What happens when it becomes independent? What happens if what you thought was a Tulpa or Imaginary Friend turns out not to be?
Tulpa Effect – Cryptids & Spirits
There are several Cryptid encounters, Ghost stories and even sightings of Shadow People that may be connected to what’s called the Tulpa Effect. Where a collective belief has fueled the creation of such a being or entity with enough people believing, hearing the stories and thus, it leads to the creation of an entity, even if such a creation were unintentional.
There have been enough discussions with how the expectations of seeing a ghost can manifest and create one even if the local stories and history don’t properly support it. The most notorious of these would be the Slender Man stories circulating and people claiming encounters that it fizzled out in the true short lived internet media sensation and hype.
An episode of the classic Real Ghost Busters has a quick discussion about the creation of the ghosts of Sherlock Holmes and Watson due to the collective beliefs of many people thinking they had been real people and constantly writing letters to the fictional characters. Just even in the confines of a cartoon, it can be seen how much the concept of Tulpas, Thought-Forms and Imaginary Friends becoming real permeates pop-culture.
With mainstream media, there are many shows and literature where the concept of the Imaginary Friend or Tulpa being willed into existence has become a common trope. From shows such as X-Files, Foster’s Home of Imaginary Friends (even if they didn’t use the term tulpa) to even Puss in Boots Netflix series use these beings as part of the plot for a sentient being that’s created.
With Imaginary Friends, most don’t last beyond childhood and can seem to fade away whereas with Tulpas, those can grow in personality and experience to become their own being that can’t be controlled is often what is cited as the distinction between the two.
This leads to another concept idea held behind these tulpas that get created through a collective unconscious and belief. In Fortean Phenomena, this concept is called a “window area” where these are places of former religious importance that are now fallen out of use and abandoned. It follows then, that due to religious beliefs, a local deity or entity could have been created and with their former worshipers gone, they continue to find other ways to instill a belief, cause paranormal activity to try and perpetuate a belief in them, thus feeding and keeping themselves from fading away.
Anyone reading or watching Neil Gaiman’s American Gods knows this idea very well.
Changeling: The Dreaming
The creation of Tulpas and Imaginary Friends all sounds like fun and games. The entire discussion of Tulpas reminds me of the Changeling: The Dreaming role-playing game. Instead of the term Tulpa, the term Chimera is used to describe those entities, sentient or non-sentient that are created. That these Chimera are created intentionally or not from human thoughts and emotions or just even the collective unconscious of everyone believing in the same thing. Such entities or object could manifest a physical presence in the world for a short period and when exposed to banality, human doubt, or disbelief, they could be weakened or even destroyed.
On one hand, when you have so many people claiming the same thing or beliefs, there must be something to it?
The idea of the Tulpas and Imaginary Friends is definitely a concept to stay a little more critical of. Crossing over to Ghost Stories, there’s also enough discussion how the expectations of seeing a ghost can manifest and create one even if the local stories and history don’t properly support it.
Some people have aphantasia and lack the ability to see anything with their imagination or mind’s eye. Other people have an incredibly vivid imagination. Is there an entity there, real, imagined or created? Is it someone who has mental health issues such as schizophrenia? Is it just a good, strong healthy imagination with someone able to strongly visualize?
Plus, not everything encountered will be the result of a tulpa. But it should be part of the line of questioning process when doing the process of elimination. That when you remove the impossible, whatever remains, no matter how improbable, must be the truth.
This one can be hard to define.
Also known as: Black Mass, Shadow Beings, Shadow Figure, Shadow Men
The appearance of Shadow People seems to be an offshoot of the Boogeyman. Instead of parents using the Boogeyman to frighten children into good behavior, the appearance of Shadow People appears more tied to, just as the name says, a dark, shadowy figure or mass where something might be. Appearing at the foot of the bed, in a corner of the room, in the closet. Wherever a darkened shadow appears, and the imagination fills in the blanks. For the believers, this extends to possibly seeing something from the corner of your eye with nothing there when you turn your head to look.
Researchers of the Paranormal and Supernatural have latched onto the idea of Shadow People as inter-dimensional beings or aliens. This tends to go into a lot of potentially pseudo-scientific ideas of what they could be and explanations. In terms of modern folklore and Urban Legends, it’s certainly a way to expand upon the classifications of potential ghosts and spirits, along with what they might really be.
A Shadow Person is essentially nothing more than a dark, shadowy figure that is vaguely humanoid in appearance or just a formless mass, sometimes it has tendrils, sometimes it doesn’t. Usually there are no other discernible features, though in some cases, red eyes have been noted.
Further descriptions mention where there is one main tall shadowy figure with numerous smaller hooded shadow figures. Reports say these types of Shadow People are not see-through. That this type is more prone to be drawn towards an individual than a particular place.
As the stories and accounts of Shadow People persist and grow, the descriptions begin to really vary. Ranging from small, child-sized figures, to tall with a jack-o-lantern head, and those of a tall figure wearing a hat.
Some of the sightings of Shadow People are reported to be mainly in Rhode Island and North Carolina in the United States. Some people claim they have been attacked physically with scratches and burns. Others will tell how they have been choked or attacked in their sleep during a sleep paralysis attack.
The Hat Man – This type of specific Shadow Being is described by some people as wearing a top hat and suit. This one is generally seen as being more demonic or evil in nature. This being was identified by the author Heidi Hollis who says that this being and others like it are trying to build an army for the dark side.
It is also strongly likely that the appearance of this Shadow Man is influenced by pop culture in terms of movies like the Nightmare on Elm Street series and the perpetuation of Urban Legends and similar stories.
Guardian Spirit – Some forum sites dedicated to the Paranormal & Supernatural Phenomenon will claim that a Shadow Person could be a guardian angel or spirit watching over a person. Given how often so many of the reports and stories have a negative view of Shadow People, this is not really likely.
There are claims that Shadow People have existed for thousands of years, found in every culture and religion. Which only makes sense with stories of spectral, shadowy beings and shades. The use of the term Shadow People would be more modern and expand the ways in which such entities of folklore and mythology are classified.
One story pointed out is “Le Horla” (“The Horla”), written in 1887 by French author Guy de Maupassant. In this story, shadow beings live on milk and water, they bedevil the human mind and stalk the unwary.
The specific term of “Shadow People” first appears on September 21st, 1953 as the title to a radio drama from the “Hall of Fantasy” broadcast on Chicago’s WGN-AM station. Later, on April 12th 2001, the late-night radio show, Coast to Coast AM would bring back and modernize a belief in Shadow People. On the show, the host, Art Bell interviewed a Native American elder by the name of Thunder Strikes, also known as Harley “Swift Deer” Reagan. Listeners to the show were encouraged to submit drawings of Shadow People and those drawings, in turn, were posted to the show’s website.
Later that year, in October 2001, author and researcher Heidi Hollis published her first book, “The Secret War,” where she goes into more information on Shadow People. The book details Shadow People having many traits that cross over to folklore with the Nightmare attacks and imagery of ghostly or spectral figures. Hollis goes on to say that Shadow People may be related to the alien entities of Greys and Reptilians. Hollis details how Shadow People don’t like to be spotted and as such, she does provide several means by which to decrease encounters with these beings.
Master your fear and don’t let it control you, focus on positive thoughts, hold your ground, use the name of Jesus to repel them, keep a light on and bless your room or house.
Side note: Given the whole alien Reptilians and the conspiracy theory around them, I do find much of what Hollis says, suspect. Plus, the name of “Hall of Fantasy” for the radio drama, gives the whole Shadow People as real, as being just made up. Especially if anyone is trying to assign them any significant power.
Most will agree that ghosts are spirits of the deceased who have not moved on for any number of reasons. Most ghosts often have descriptions of appearing as balls of light, being misty white, and having a distinctively human form to them, such as clothing, facial features, and other details that can be described.
This Arabic entity has been suggested for what Shadow People might really be, especially if you are leaning towards Shadow People being demonic in nature. The Jinn are usually invisible to humans, but some descriptions say when they do appear, it is that of black smoke that may or may not have a vaguely humanoid outline.
If Shadow People aren’t the ghosts of the deceased, their ethereal and incorporeal natures do say that they belong to the broader category of Spirits. As to what type of spirit, it’s hard to say. Some speculate that Shadow People may be a type of demon. What is it that they want, other than to frighten people, remains unknown.
Native American Spirits – Taking the “Hall of Fantasy” interview with elder Thunder Strikes or Harley “Swift Deer” Reagan, I can see, while researching Shadow People, that some of the sites I looked at concluding that Shadow People are Native American in origin. When looking at the Hat Man Shadow, his description fits just enough to suggest the Stovepipe Hat Bigfoot from the Tall Man Spirit in Lakota lore. It’s also easy to see a connection to the Urban Legends of Slender Man.
In some of the older Lakota lore, they have stories of bad spirits or giants that once wandered the Earth. They had become prideful and arrogant to the point that they challenged the thunder and lost to it. These stories lend themselves to the Tall Man Spirit and if we’re looking at more than one entity, they could account for some of the Shadow People stories and sightings that people claim.
Also known as Egregores or Tulpas. Whether intentional or not, the negative thoughts and energy can or could create and manifest an entity identified as a Shadow Person. A strong enough belief and enough people believing can also cause manifestations. Especially if people believe, want to believe, say they saw something, jumping the “me too” bandwagon. This would explain easily why there’s an increase in the number of people claiming to see Shadow People or just having another term of what to call previously known folklore and mythological figures.
This certainly leans more into Pseudo-Science. After all, mainstream science acknowledges and speculates about there being more than three dimensions to as many as 10 spacetime dimensions and how the laws of physics would work differently in those dimensions where these different dimensions interact. Add in too, psychics claiming they can sense the vibrational frequency of these other dimensions and beings.
In Paranormal studies, the idea then is that these beings who live in other dimensions can sometimes, partially cross over, interact or be seen. That how we might perceive these beings who live in these other dimensions is as shadows.
Ufology & Aliens
Some people claim that Shadow People might be aliens, extraterrestrial beings abducting people. Those who claim to be the victims of the alien grays say these beings can pass through walls, closed windows and have advanced technology that enables them to appear and disappear quickly.
Fear Is The Mind Killer
I will not fear.
“I must not fear. Fear is the mind-killer. Fear is the little-death that brings total obliteration. I will face my fear. I will permit it to pass over me and through me. And when it has gone past I will turn the inner eye to see its path. Where the fear has gone there will be nothing. Only I will remain.” – Frank Herbert, Dune
The existence of Shadow People seems to thrive on a fear of the unknown. These entities show up and hang around, feeding off the fear and dread they cause by their unsettling appearance.
Anywhere with strong negative associations and energy could easily attract the presence and sightings of Shadow People. It’s only in movies, video games, and books that such entities get to have any “extra powers” or abilities.
Even if a case got chalked up to an overactive imagination, human beings are pattern seekers, we’re prone to letting the mind fill in the blanks on vague shapes and patterns, putting a recognizable form or image to something. This tendency is called Pareidolia, to think we saw something out of the corner of our eye and then to fill in the blanks on what it might be.
Possible Reality Behind The Myth
Overactive Imaginations – To shine a light on things, figuratively and literally, you do have to rule out possible overactive imaginations involved. I know I’m repeating myself, human beings are prone to pattern-seeking and if we see a vague human outline in the shadows, we are likely to fill in the blanks to see something that isn’t there.
I know that explanation puts a damper on many people who claim to have seen Shadow People or study the paranormal and believe.
Apply a little bit of the Scientific Method here. Is it the active imagination of a child who is having trouble going to sleep at night? Everybody loves a good ghost story and stories of encounters with Shadow People tend to be remarkably similar. As such, these accounts can also be very anecdotal and subjective with no real good way to verify them.
Hallucinations – Are you sleep deprived and not getting enough sleep? Is there a particular substance or drug that was taken known to cause hallucinations? Mental Illness?
Electromagnetic Fields – There are theories that in the right conditions, electromagnetic fields can mess with human perceptions, causing both audio and visual hallucinations. It could allow for people to believe they saw any manner of things from ghosts, to spirits, aliens, fairies, Elvis.
Any old buildings with substandard wiring, power plants nearby, a place with strong magnetic fields? Researchers have been able to recreate in laboratories the experiences that people have had with such hallucinations, including those of seeing Shadow People.
Rule out the possible causes before whatever remains, no matter how improbable is taken as the truth.
Pareidolia – I’ve mentioned it before, humans are wired and have a tendency to see patterns, mostly faces and other human characteristics.
Sleep Paralysis Attacks – This can be frightening for those who have experienced one. It is when you wake or have a lucid dream and are unable to move while sleeping, especially during REM sleep. Some people will claim terrifying images of dark, shadowy beings surrounding them, in the room or trying to attack them.
From the folkloric view, the description of a Shadow Person trying to choke or suffocate someone in their sleep matches the classic Nightmare and Hagging Attacks.
Sleep Walking – This is close on the heels of the Sleep Paralysis Attacks, only instead of being paralyzed, the person sleeping is getting up and moving around. Some sleepwalkers report dreams where they’ve seen shadowy figures or beings as they move around the house.
Substance Abuse – Is the person using drugs known for causing hallucinations?
Mental Illness – I’m not trying to make light of this, is it possible that a person claiming to see Shadow People prone to seizures and other mental health issues such as delusions or hallucinations?
Substance Abuse and Mental Illness can be why some of the descriptions of Shadow People are inconsistent.
For small children, night lights work wonders and don’t underestimate the power of a favorite stuffed animal or other toy to comfort them as they sleep. If it is an overactive imagination at work, many children will outgrow this stage or learn to control it so this overactive imagination isn’t getting the better of them.
If there is an entity there, like the Boogeyman, such entities tend to only be able to feed a fear, again something children grow out of or once you confront it, it goes away.
A Dream Catcher; try hanging one above the bed where you sleep. Especially if you know you are prone to sleep paralysis attacks and nightmares. Depending on your religious affiliation, prayers, crystals and other protective charms can be effective.