Friday 1 January 1988

Tulpas and Other Oddities

If you're reading this, you probably finished reading While You Were Sleeping.

Thank you for your time, and I hope you enjoyed it.

As a special bonus for you, I added this little page for you. I might add more, too, so please feel free to come back and visit.

In the summer of 1987-1988, the dawn of my senior high school year, I discovered the concept of a Tulpa. Similar to Norman Cole, it appeared in one of those books you find in the public library’s psychic phenomena section – right next to the books on hypnotism.

The book’s title is lost to memory. Many photocopied sections I took also disappeared from my writing folder - perhaps the result of a purge because I nearly scrapped the idea. Yet the stories about Madame Alexandra David-Neel and her Friar Tuck tulpa remained indelibly etched in my mind. So did the story of Phillip the ghost.

I admit, at that age, I thought along the same lines as Norman Cole did. What if one could create a romantic partner by thought? A mental Pygmalion. So I wrote a character description of her, based partly on the Maerie from a Dungeons & Dragons book I’d borrowed from another friend. And a horrible thought entered my head. What if things went wrong with her just as David-Neel’s tulpa changed appearance? (Madame David-Neel pictured to the left)

The idea scared me out of trying the idea.

In mid-1988, I finished outlining the novel and showed it to a few of my friends: David Boulton, Tony Evans and Jaimie Hermann. David and Tony liked it. Jaimie thought parts of the original outline were sick (in a bad way). I wrote the first chapter in January 1989 before going into hospital. Six weeks later, when University started, I forgot it.

Yet the notes and outline remained in my writing folder until December 2018 when I found them, hand-written on yellowing foolscap paper.

The idea changed. Norman wasn’t merely bullied in school. He was comatose! I loved it. The two final twists manifested on their own.

As I finished the first draft, I conducted some new research and discovered something else.

Tulpas exist in modern society, but different to Maerie's breed. A whole subculture resides on the internet in different Facebook and Reddit groups. Their members visualise their tulpas, create histories for them, and meditate on them too. Yet they differ in that only the creators can see or hear them, but they can't appear to others.

When I first read this, I scoffed at the idea. I thought them weird - a subculture of people creating imaginary friends! My ego considered them wannabe practitioners although they hold similarities to Norman Cole. Some claim to have sex with them (which was part of Norman's original plans).

I investigated this by interviewing some members and asked the simple question: has anyone seen, heard or felt your tulpas? I wanted to know the extent of their thoughts. It turns out there are two kinds of tulpa. One is external, the kind that manifests as Maerie does in While He Was Sleeping; it comes from the Tibetan Buddhist concepts and requires great psychic power to create. The second is internal. Only the practitioner can see or hear it - unless they "front" or "switch".

Asking what those terms meant provided me with frightening answers... and possibly room for a sequel.

Please comment below and let me know what you thought of While You Were Sleeping. Would you like to see Norman and Robin return?

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