Jan 19, 2023 I Nick Redfern

Tulpas: Creating Dangerous Creatures That Are Born Out of Our Minds

Today, we come to one of the strangest of all the many and varied supernatural creatures that feed upon us. It goes by two names: the Tulpa and the thought-form; although they are one and the same. The concept of the Tulpa began, centuries ago, within the culture and beliefs of Tibetan Buddhists. In essence, a Tulpa is a creature that is created and driven by the power of human imagination. If that sounds, strange, well, yes, it is strange!  Essentially, it goes like this: if you focus your attention on a particular image – let’s say, for the sake of argument, that of a fiery-eyed, leathery-winged gargoyle – you can give it some semblance of reality and, eventually, an independent existence. You lay down on your bed, late at night, when and where you won’t be disturbed, and you focus intently on your legendary monster of choice. You carefully visualize its form, those huge wings, its malevolent face, and its clawed hands. Perhaps, you even give it a long and powerful tail. You focus on the image of the beast flying high above the rooftops of your own town in the dead of night. And, you repeat that process night after night, week after week, and maybe even month after month. You may even utilize meditative techniques to allow you to enter altered states of mind, which will serve to amplify the imagery even more. 

(Nick Redfern) Right now, the Slenderman is the most powerful Tulpa. There's no doubt about it.

Then, one day, reports suddenly begin to surface in your town of what sounds just like the very beast that you have been so deeply focusing on in the depths of your mind and imagination. In essence, you have successfully created a monster – solely by thinking it into existence. No, the monster is not of the flesh and blood variety, but it lives and thrives all the same. And, you – and you alone - are responsible for it. A wholly fictional entity is now active and living in your world and our world. Given the theme of this article – how supernatural entities use us as their fuel – two important questions need answering: how, exactly, does the Tulpa feed on us? And why is it so driven to feed on us? The answer is: in a very unconventional and alternative fashion. A fully-mature thought-form cannot exist without one particular thing: a strong and widespread belief in its existence. In other words, the Tulpa does not feed on us physically. Instead, it “dines” on our beliefs.   

As more and more people come to believe that the creature is real, it gains a greater, and more intense, foothold in our world and becomes more and more corporeal in nature.  If interest in, and acceptance of, the monster attains huge heights, another issues surfaces: eventually, the creature is no longer reliant on the beliefs of its creator to survive. In the early stages, a Tulpa will certainly hover around its creator. As it grows stronger, though, the Tulpa leaves its moorings behind and effectively draws in the beliefs of anyone and everyone that accepts it’s real. The disturbing side of all this is that, in almost all situations, when the Tulpa is fully energized - by the collective beliefs of maybe not just hundreds of people, but thousands, and maybe even millions – it takes on a deeply malevolent streak. It rapidly becomes evil and dangerous. And highly manipulative and rebellious, too. On top of that, to ensure that the belief in the Tulpa continues, the monsters of the mind need to be continually seen. After all, if people don’t see them, then they forget about them. And, when that happens, the Tulpas, and the beliefs in them, eventually crumble, fragment and disintegrate into irreversible nothingness. In very much the same way that we cannot survive without food and water, the Tulpa cannot survive without basking in that collective belief of untold numbers of people. In that sense, the Tulpa doesn’t just want us to believe in it: it needs its junkie-like fix of belief, and it needs it constantly. 

It’s time, now, to take a look at the case of a man named Richard Freeman; it’s a case which perfectly demonstrates how a Tulpa can be created, and how the outcome can be dark and harrowing for everyone involved. Formerly a head-keeper at England’s Twycross Zoo, Freeman has a deep interest in the field of Cryptozoology – which is the study of unknown animals, such as Bigfoot, the Loch Ness Monster, Mothman, the Chupacabra, and the Abominable Snowman. Freeman is convinced that many such cryptids are flesh and blood animals that the domains of science and zoology have yet to categorize and classify. He also believes, though, that at least some such creatures may well be Tulpas. To try and prove the point, back in the 1990s, Freeman set about creating his very own, abominable monster. Being a Goth and a dedicated fan of the writings of the likes of Clark Ashton-Smith and H.P. Lovecraft, Freeman chose to make his particular Tulpa of choice a huge, horrific spider of truly malevolent proportions. Freeman’s inspiration for his creation was Ashton-Smith’s spider-deity, Atlach Nacha.

It appears in Ashton-Smith’s story, The Seven Geases which was published in 1934. Atlach-Nacha is described as a terrifying, malevolent arachnid that has a somewhat human-looking hairy face, and huge, spidery limbs. It lives in a dark, subterranean world filled with winding and near-endless caves that can be found far below the fictional Mount Voormithadreth. Interestingly, Ashton-Smith’s monster straddled two domains: that of the dream state and that of the real world, which is exactly what the Tulpa does too: it’s a construct of the mind that very seldom stays there. All of which brings us back to Richard Freeman. It was the summer of 1997 and, at the time, Freeman was a student at the University of Leeds, England, where he was working towards a degree in zoology. When Freeman decided to try and create a Tulpa version of Atlach Nacha, he took the whole thing very seriously, which is certainly a vital key to ensuring a high degree of success. He enlisted the help of several friends at the university.

(Nick Redfern) Cryptozoologist, Richard Freeman, performed his very own Tulpa/thought-form experiment.

One and all set about constructing what can only be termed an altar to the monstrous spider-thing – in the cellar of the house they were all living in at the time. As well as constructing the altar, Freeman and his friends took a large piece of cloth, painted it to look like a vast spider’s web, and hung it up in the cellar. Then, at the foot of the altar, they began a complex series of rites and prayers, all designed with one goal in mind: to bring Clark Ashton-Smith’s monster to life – of sorts, at least. The group collectively concentrated on the image of the hideous spider deity for weeks and weeks. And, as is so often the case in such circumstances, the project worked: from the mysterious depths of the mind something horrendous came forth. It was late one night, and roughly a month after their experiment began, that Freeman went into that old, dark cellar – with the intent of trying to further enhance their Tulpa – and was confronted by something hideous and almost heart-stopping. To his horror, Freeman could see on one of the stone walls of the cellar a large, shadowy image. It was that of a huge spider, crawling and creeping slowly along the wall. Its eight-legs and bulbous body stood out prominently. Freeman was frozen to the spot for a few moments. Fortunately, though, he managed to break the spell of fear-driven paralysis which had overwhelmed and gripped him, and he quietly and carefully backed up the stairs and exited the room – ensuring to lock it behind him.

Clearly, that the spider was only seen in the form of a shadow suggests that while the process of raising a Tulpa version of Atlach Nacha was certainly working, it was going to take much more work to ensure that the creature became fully-formed. That was destined not to happen, though. Worried about the fact that they really had opened the genie’s bottle, so to speak, the group of friends decided that something had to be done: they chose to end the experiment, lest it just might spiral wildly out of control. It was probably a very wise move. The altar was destroyed, as was the web-like cloth. And, most important of all, the friends did their utmost not to think about Atlach Nacha, which, admittedly, was not exactly the easiest thing for them to do. Evidently, though, the process worked and the Tulpa was exterminated before it had the chance to attain a greater sense of reality and wreak who knowns how much untold havoc. Now, onto something else: Alan Moore is an acclaimed comic-book writer and the man who was responsible for both Watchmen and V for Vendetta – both of which were made into hit movies. Then, there is one of Moore’s most loved and popular creations of the 1980s, John Constantine – the creation of who also had significant input from fellow writers, Steve Bissette and John Totleben. Their character became a hit on the big screen in 2005, when the well-received movie, Constantine, was released at cinemas on a worldwide scale. 

It wasn’t long at all after the Constantine character came to fruition in Alan Moore’s mind that Moore encountered Constantine – in what was without much doubt a Tulpa-form. It was an otherwise normal day in London, England and Moore was eating lunch in a café in Westminster, when none other than John Constantine – the comic-book creation of Moore himself – walked right past an astonished Moore. In Moore’s own words, which are spelled out in Jim McGrath’s online article, “Conjuring Constantine,” of August 2012: “He looked exactly like John Constantine. He looked at me, stared me straight in the eyes, smiled, nodded almost conspiratorially, and then just walked off around the corner to the other part of the snack bar.”  With his nerves jangled to a major degree, Moore debated as to whether or not he should follow his creation-come-to-life. Moore chose not to. It’s almost certainly not a coincidence, given the nature of the strange affair, that Moore is not just a comic-book writer. He is also a practicing chaos magician. It just so happens that chaos magic involves the conjuring and creating of fictional characters and giving them some semblance of reality. Subconsciously, one suspects, this is exactly what Moore did: he created a temporary Tulpa of John Constantine. And, having done so, Moore was duly paid a visit of a truly extraordinary kind. Perhaps, had the story been spread far and wide, and belief in the Constantine Tulpa took off big-time, we would have seen the entity feeding on that collective belief and thriving very nicely. That it was not seen again, however, is a good indication that its life was destined to be a short one, a life that could not be sustained because of a lack of a strong enough belief.

There is very little doubt at all that the most powerful Tulpa in today’s world is the Slenderman – the Internet sensation that is part-Man in Black, part-ghoul, and part-Lovecraftian nightmare. The story of the pale, faceless, black-suited and tentacle-waving monster dates back to 2009. That was the year in which a man named Eric Knudsen created the Slenderman – purely as a piece of entertainment and nothing else – for the Something Awful website. Knudsen skillfully manipulated a couple of black-and-white photos and inserted his creepy creation into the pictures, which showed the Slenderman among groups of children – who, in the tales, he preys on in disturbing fashion. In no time at all, and certainly surprising Eric Knudsen, the Slenderman went from being a bit of harmless, Net-based fun to a full-blown meme: blogs were created in his name, fictional stories were posted online to further expand the legend of the creature, and his devoted following of largely young children and teenagers grew at a phenomenal and extraordinary rate. The entertainment angle was most definitely eclipsed in 2014 when, on May 31 of that year, two young girls from Waukesha, Wisconsin attacked and almost killed a former school-friend. She was stabbed close to twenty times in what was a frenzied and furious attack. It was all done in the name of the Slenderman, who, the two girls believed, would allow them entry into his spooky mansion in the woods, as a result of their planned sacrifice. Thankfully, the girl who was attacked survived and made a full recovery. Both of the girls who directed the attack plead guilty, but were found not guilty on grounds of mental illness. 

When the story of the attack got out, it became not just local or even nationwide news: it became worldwide news. The result was that millions of people had now heard of the Slenderman. And, guess what happened? That’s right: the Slenderman began to be seen in the real world. Eric Knudsen’s Internet creation had now – just like Richard Freeman’s spider-god and Alan Moore’s John Constantine – come to life in the form of a Tulpa. The massive belief that so many kids had for the Slenderman had allowed it to take hold in our reality. The Slenderman didn’t just dine on belief: it totally feasted on it. Gorged, might be an even better word to use. Since the events of 2014, witnesses claim to have seen the Slenderman in their bedrooms, in the dead of night – which is the Slenderman’s typical time to surface and hunt. Others have heard it calling to them on their laptops and iPhones. More than a few have encountered it in dark and shadowy woods, which are the most preferred area for the Slenderman to lurk in. And, there are even accounts of the Slenderman invading and manipulating peoples’ dreams and turning them into full-blown nightmares.

(Nick Redfern) When so many people focus on the Slenderman, it becomes "alive."

To say that the Slenderman is the definitive Tulpa is not wrong: it’s right on the money, in fact. His massive following has ensured that. And, right now, there doesn’t appear to be any way to deconstruct the Tulpa version of Eric Knudsen’s creation, such is its immense power. By feeding on the beliefs of what may well amount to millions of kids, the Slenderman is all but indestructible. And, of course, while it is very easy to think about the Slenderman, it’s extremely difficult not to think about it – and particularly so when the matter is placed in your mind, which is what I have just done with you, the reader. In fact, just by reading these very words, you may be inadvertently making the Slenderman Tulpa more powerful by the moment, as it voraciously devours belief upon belief.

Related to the phenomenon of the Tulpa is that of the poltergeist. As for the German word itself, in English it is “noisy spirit.” The poltergeist is a dangerous and violent entity which engages in hostile activity, which torments those in the home where the activity is taking place, and which can place the victims of the attacks in downright danger. The poltergeist is somewhat different to the average disembodied spirit, however. Faced with the likes of seeing furniture moving across one’s living-room, windows shattering, beds raising off the floor, books flying off their shelves, and electrical items blowing out, it’s perfectly natural to ascribe all of this chilling activity to an evil, supernatural entity. Things aren’t quite as straightforward as that, however. It’s a fact that the vast majority of all poltergeist activity revolves around one particular person in the targeted family. What we have here is a case of the victim unknowingly causing the very phenomena that are assumed to have external components.

Nick Redfern

Nick Redfern works full time as a writer, lecturer, and journalist. He writes about a wide range of unsolved mysteries, including Bigfoot, UFOs, the Loch Ness Monster, alien encounters, and government conspiracies. Nick has written 41 books, writes for Mysterious Universe and has appeared on numerous television shows on the The History Channel, National Geographic Channel and SyFy Channel.

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