As the old saying goes, “sometimes truth is stranger than fiction.” This may indeed be the case, in the simplest of terms. However, it seems that a more thorough analysis of the curious interplay between fiction and fact reveals a factor that is far more often overlooked; this deals with the various ways art–whether it be through drawings, painting or portraiture, or though written works in the collected volumes of our finest literary minds–becomes influenced by strange phenomenon.
One classic example of this dealt with the famous author of pulp novels, Walter Gibson, who was best known for his creation of the serialized hero of books and radio known as “The Shadow.” The stories centered around the character Kent Allard (sometimes calling himself Lamont Cranston, a wealthy businessman whose identity was “hijacked” by Allard for various purposes of concealment), who had learned hypnotic arts of “clouding men’s minds” while traveling in the East. This unique trait was worked into Gibson’s stories early on, since in this way, the Shadow was able to appear to his enemies as though he were standing in a location several feet away. Then, once fired upon, bullets would seemingly pass through him without causing harm (note here the almost ghostly quality Gibson’s character had been given; later on, this story will prove to involve yet another ghostly manifestation… but by all accounts a very real one).
For simplicity’s sake, this “ghost-like” quality was later changed for radio audiences, so that the character instead became invisible altogether. Regardless, it is interesting to note that Gibson, whose character managed to achieve his ghostly trickery of the mind through hypnotism, had taken a real interest in the subject, having authored a book on the history and various qualities of the hypnotic arts and the intense focus that became involved in undertaking their mastery. Even more intriguing, as related by researcher John Keel, was how future tenants of Gibson’s former residence–the same from which he studiously and prolifically authored the adventures of his famous crime fighting hero–later was described as having been haunted by a rather peculiar ghost. By all accounts, the specter seen in years since at Gibson’s former New York residence resembled his famous hero, complete with a slouching, long brimmed hat and a billowing cloak! Perhaps Gibson’s own hypnotic focus and intent, especially with his knowledge of the clandestine arts of mental trickery, had somehow created an actual psychic manifestation of his character, or as Keel suggested, “a tulpa.”
Tulpas, that is, physical manifestations of phenomenon that result from intense focus or meditation, are rife throughout various memoirs of famous literary icons. In my book Magic, Mysticism and the Molecule, I detail another peculiar account, related by the controversial spiritualist and American Nazi-sympathizer William Dudley Pelley back in the 1950s:
One night while writing my fourth novel, “Golden Rubbish”, I went out to spend the evening with an extremely capable psychical lady who could see thought forms with her naked eye… and there is such a thing as what the Scots call “second sight.” But during the course of the evening she leaned across the table and whispered to me, “Who’s the pretty lady who seems to be following you about so closely?” I wasn’t aware of any such person, and said so. Then, my psychical friend turned my blood cold, by listening a moment and then volunteering to me, “She says her name is Louise Garland,” and then proceeded to describe her minutely as she appeared in the physical. Louise Garland was the name of the heroine of the story I was then writing day after day in my apartment down on West 53rd street! According to the data which developed, I gathered the astounding impression that, thinking of this imaginary ‘story girl’ day after day over so long a period, had given her literality in the astral immediately above me. To carry out the idea I’m trying to convey to you, suppose a mediumistic person had been present to cloak Louise Garland, my story heroine, with “teleplasm”, wouldn’t I have created a literal woman to all intents and purposes in the flesh; at least temporarily?
Could Pelley indeed have managed to create a “Thoughtform” that followed him as he went about his business, albeit psychically? Perhaps this idea isn’t as foreign as it sounds, as similar instances of bizarre psychic manifestations were reported by authors such as Edgar Allen Poe, who managed to “predict” a horrific instance of cannibalism at sea, as related in his short novel The Narrative of Arthur Gordon Pym of Nantucket. Another American novelist, Norman Mailer, described how characters in his second published novel, Barbary Shore, seemed to “leap out” at him as he began the early stages of writing. Specifically, a pair of Russian spies had seemingly worked their way into the manuscript; imagine Mailer’s surprise when, later on, he would learn about very real spies of the Red persuasion, who had been living in an apartment nearby! The coincidences are somewhat startling, but they linger in the mind of the serious Fortean researcher: do authors have a tendency to somehow “tap” real world characters and events, which subsequently reveal themselves (or do so well in advance, such as in cases like Mailer and Poe’s, as an apparent byproduct of psychic prediction or unnatural coincidence)?
Let’s not leave the arts out of this, however. Have a look at this 1871 tome of spirit art I stumbled across recently, titled Catalogue of the Spirit Drawings in Water Colours, Exhibited at the New British Gallery, Old Bond Street, attributed to a “Miss Houghton.” The odd tome details alleged “spirit drawings” attributed to the author in the style of somewhat-famous automatic writers and the like, many of whom have claimed over the years to be able to subconsciously draw representations of other realms with the aid of metaphysical techniques of otherworldly communication and perception. Do some artists indeed harness the ability to channel images from the afterlife–or someplace else entirely–through their pencils and paint brushes, much like some authors tap into the ethereal with their prose? It’s a strange notion indeed, but one that challenges the otherwise mundane expression that “truth is stranger than fiction,” and in a very literal way.