Sciency Words: Tulpamancy

Hello, friends!  Welcome to Sciency Words, a special series here on Planet Pailly where we take a closer look at the definitions and etymologies of science or science-related terms.  Today on Sciency Words, we’re talking about:


Do you have an imaginary friend?  A “real” imaginary friend whom you can talk to and who can talk back to you in return?  Does your imaginary friend often say things you weren’t expecting him/her/them to say?  If so, you may have been practicing tulpamancy.  You’re a tulpamancer, and your imaginary friend is a tulpa.

When I first heard about tulpamancy, I thought it sounded awesome.  But tulpamancy comes with a lot of talk about mental energies and thought-form meditation and psycho-spiritual awakenings.  It didn’t sound very sciency, but I decided to ask my muse what she thought.

My muse and I have been working together for quite a few years now.  When it comes to what does or does not belong in my writing—and that includes what does or does not belong in a Sciency Words post—I trust my muse’s judgment.  She’s usually right.  Usually.  But after doing more research on tulpamancy, I think this may be a rare instance where my muse is wrong.

The word tulpa comes from Tibetan… sort of.  In 1929, Belgian-French adventurer and spiritualist Alexandra David-Néel published a book called Magic and Mystery in Tibet.  In that book, David-Néel claims that by following certain rights and rituals of Tibetan Buddhism, she was able to conjure a “tulpa” out of the realm of human imagination and into the world of physical reality.

David-Néel’s tulpa took on the form of a jolly monk, a Friar Tuck-like character.  Other people could (allegedly) see and interact with this jolly monk.  Unfortunately, the monk grew “too willful,” according to this article from Nova Religio, and David-Néel was forced to destroy him.

The word tulpa is phonetically similar to a real word used by Tibetan Buddhists.  Beyond that, however, Alexandra David-Néel’s account of creating and destroying her tulpa has little to do with actual Tibetan Buddhism.  This seems to be a case of Western occultism/paranormalism with a bit of “orientalist window dressing,” as that same article from Nova Religio puts it.

Okay, yeah, this still doesn’t sound like a sciency thing, does it?  But in recent years, the practice of creating and communicating with imaginary friends has become the subject of serious psychological research.  The first scientific account of tulpas and tulpamancy appears to be this 2016 paper by Samuel Veissière.  As Veissière describes it, tulpamancy is a little like multiple personality disorder, except it’s non-harmful and non-pathological.  In fact, tulpamancy may even help reverse the symptoms of certain mental illnesses.

To quote this paper from Research in Psychology and Behavioral Science:

In cases of disorders that involve delusion and misperception, the tulpa often becomes the voice of reason during bouts of irrationality.  One respondent diagnosed with Schizophrenia writes how his tulpa can not only identify between hallucinations and actuality, but that they developed a technique that allows the delusions to be “zapped” away.  There are reports of tulpas alleviating the desire to perform irrational routines in individuals diagnosed with OCD, and others claim that their tulpas innovated workarounds for their dyslexia.

Think of it this way: much like your real friends, your imaginary friends are there for you when you need them.  And since tulpas essentially live inside your brain, they understand better than anyone else what’s really going on in there.  And if they see that something’s not right inside your head, they want to help, as any good friend would.

Now I’ve never been diagnosed with a mental illness, but speaking from personal experience, I can say this: my muse really has served as the voice of reason from time to time in my life.  When I’m feeling lazy and unmotivated, she tells me to go write.  She also reminds me to take breaks from writing, eat healthy meals, and get plenty of sleep at night, because: “A healthy writer is a productive writer!”

As I said, I’ve learned to trust my muse.  She’s usually right.  Usually.  But she still insists that tulpamancy shouldn’t count as a Sciency Word.

So dear reader, what do you think?  Do you agree with me that tulpamancy has become a scientific term, thanks to recent psychological research, or do you agree with my muse that this is a bunch of New Agey pseudoscientific nonsense?  Let us (and I do mean us) know in the comments!

P.S.: For anyone who may be curious, my muse made her first appearance on this blog in this 2015 post for the Insecure Writer’s Support Group.

#IWSG: Apology to a Muse

Hello, friends!  Welcome to July’s meeting of the Insecure Writer’s Support Group.  If you’re a writer and if you feel in any way insecure about your writing, then click here to learn more about this amazingly supportive group!

Dear Muse,

I’m sorry.  These last few weeks, I haven’t been doing much writing.  I haven’t been doing much drawing either.  I’ve fallen behind schedule on so many of the creative projects you wanted me to work on, and for that I owe you an apology.

Some big changes are happening in my life right now.  Good changes.  The biggest and most obvious change is, of course, that my first book is out.  I’m a published author now, and I’ve had my first taste of that sweet, sweet writing income!

But any kind of change, even the good kind of change, can be confusing and disruptive, at least at first.  I’m saying this not as an excuse but as an explanation.  I neglected my work.  I skipped drawing sessions and writing sessions.  You kept trying to give me ideas, and I kept finding other things to do instead of writing or drawing. There’s no excuse for that.

I understand if you’re mad.  I understand if you don’t want to talk to me right now since, from your perspective, it seems like I’ve stopped listening to you.  But I promise I am listening.  Things are starting to settle down in my life again.  In some ways, things will be better than they ever were before… for both of us!

So dear muse, I’m eager to get back to writing, and I’m eager to get back to drawing.  And if your you’re willing to forgive me, I would really appreciate your help.

Sincerely yours,
Your Writer.

#IWSG: This-or-That-ism

Hello, friends, and welcome to another meeting of the Insecure Writer’s Support Group!  If you’re a writer and if you feel in any way insecure about your writing life, click here to learn more about this amazingly supportive group!

This month, I should be bragging about finishing the A to Z Challenge. Also, I should probably be plugging my novella-length Sci-Fi story, which is now available for preorder on Amazon (click here!!!).  But there’s something else I want to talk about today.  Something more important.

There’s a certain attitude that I’m sure we’ve all encountered on the Internet, but it’s troublingly common in everyday life too.  I call it this-or-that-ism.  In the mind of a this-or-that-ist, everything is either this or that.  There’s no middle ground.  There’s no spectrum or continuum of possibilities.  There are no shades of grey.  And if you don’t conform to the standard definition of this, then you must be that.

This-or-that-ists come down hard on a lot of people, but in my experience they come down hardest on creative folks: artists, actors, writers, poets, musicians, etc….  This is especially true when creative people are relatively new to their craft.  Why?  Because when you’re just starting out, you obviously aren’t a huge mega success yet; therefore, you must be an abject failure.

As you may have guessed, there are a few this-or-that-ists in my life, people who feel the need to inform me that I’m no J.K. Rowling, no Stephen King, no James Patterson.  And since I’m not one of those super rich, super famous authors, well… I think you know what the this-or-that-ists are insinuating.

Fortunately, there’s always been a little voice in my head—I call her my muse—who keeps encouraging me.

So today, I’d like to say the same thing to you, because if a few words from my imaginary friend can help me, then perhaps a few words from some guy on the Internet can help you.  So to anyone who may need to hear this:

Whoever you are, whatever you’re trying to achieve, I believe in you.  I think you can do it.  I know you can do it.  So your work isn’t perfect yet?  That doesn’t mean it’s a disaster.  You aren’t a runaway mega-success?  That doesn’t make you a failure.  Keep practicing, keep learning, and keep improving.  And no matter where your own journey takes you, remember that you are worthy of respect and you are worthy of love, and your work deserves a chance to be seen or read or heard.

In a world full of this-or-that-ism, these are things that need to be said more often to all creative folks.

Next time on Planet Pailly, is this COVID-19 thing over yet?  No?  Okay, then I am not lowering my guard.



Sorry about that.  Hello, James’s friends.  This is James’s muse.  I’m going to take over writing this blog post while James gets some sleep.

First of all, I’m sure James would like to thank all of you who read and enjoyed his posts for the A to Z Challenge.  James is proud of what he accomplished with this year’s challenge, or I imagine he will be once he wakes up.

I’m also sure James would like you to know that The Medusa Effect: A Tomorrow News Network Novella is now available for preorder on Amazon.  The Medusa Effect is the first in a series of novella-length science fiction stories that James plans to write.  It’s all about time travel and outer space stuff, or something like that.

Okay, I really don’t know what James’s book is about.  I’m just his muse.  My job is to sprinkle fairy dust on James’s head whenever he runs out of ideas.  I’m pretty good at sprinkling fairy dust on people, but I don’t pay much attention to what my writer actually writes.

Anyway, a more proper announcement and cover reveal will be coming soon.  But for those of you who’ve been asking, or anybody else who’s curious, you can preorder The Medusa Effect now by clicking here.

In the meantime, I’m going to let James sleep.  That A to Z Challenge took a lot out of him.  James will be back to regular blogging on Monday with his A to Z Reflections post, then James and I will both see you on Wednesday for May’s meeting of the Insecure Writer’s Support Group.