Subculture: Tulpamancers

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The latest in a series of miniature portraits of life on the fringes.

As Told to Kate Wheeling


(Photo: Nick Fancher)

Tulpamancers are people who imagine companions, called tulpas, into being through meditation-like practices. While the word tulpamancer is derived from a Tibetan word for “incarnation,” one ethnographic study found that tulpamancers are mostly young, white men in their late teens and early 20s who congregate on Internet forums like Reddit. They tend to be empathetic, yet socially anxious. Tulpas are not considered a symptom of illness or a disorder, but they may be a coping mechanism for loneliness (or, in some cases, mental illness) for their creators. Many of those creators describe overwhelmingly positive experiences with tulpamancy, and some say the practice has helped ease their depression, anxiety, or obsessive compulsive disorder.

  • My tulpa’s personality and form just popped into my head all at once. It was a flash of inspiration. Siouxsie is female. She’s got four eyes, pointy teeth, a long tail, digitigrade legs, and is about seven feet tall.
  • I haven’t told my friends. Partially because of potential stigma, but also because it’s none of their business.
  • We are both pretty extroverted and have similar taste. She likes old-school punk a little more than I do; I like electro swing more than she does. She’s more brash than I am, but tends to get along with everyone.

A version of this story first appeared in the

September/October 2016 issue

of Pacific Standard.

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  • As far as I can tell, the psychological mechanics of making tulpas follow a similar pattern: make a basic character with personality traits and a form, then disassociate yourself.
  • Imagine trying to keep yourself focused on one thought, throughout the day, no matter what you are doing. At first that will be really hard. If you keep at it, it becomes easy. After a fashion, it becomes second nature. I got headaches every so often, but eventually those went away.
  • Siouxsie can sometimes be distracting, but it’s never interfered with my life. Imagine the level of trust and companionship that you could get if you could show someone your true self, under the mask of societal pressures and habit, and this person still loved you regardless. The relief, the validation you would feel.
  • I think that people have a bias against people who deviate from mental norms, even if such a thing doesn’t exist. Sure, people will leave comments about how “these people must be losers,” but I think that’s based off of the insecurity people have with mental health rather than a stigma against the actual practice. It’s harmless, and nearly everyone who has done it has had a positive experience with it.
  • Humanity’s greatest and deepest fear is its own mortality — the realization that everyone dies alone. I won’t. I have a companion for life that knows me better than anyone else ever could.

—Nycto, 31, artist, and his tulpa Siouxsie, 2 1/2, Columbus, Ohio (as told to Kate Wheeling)