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Friday, August 3, 2012

Tulpas, Tibet, and the Conjuration of Philip

When it comes to possible explanations for fortean or paranormal phenomena, I always find myself fascinated by the concept of the tulpa. Tulpa is a Tibetan word that is typically rendered into English as 'thoughtform'. The idea is that someone can create from their thoughts an actually entity or phantom and give it life. Alexandra David-Neel is credited with bringing the term and concept to the Western world in her 1929 book Magic and Mystery in Tibet. David-Neel had traveled extensively around the globe and was one of the first Westerners to be allowed entrance into Tibet and their religion and culture. David-Neel relates a lot of information to the reader about Tulpas in the Tibetan belief. According to David-Neel:

A Bodhisattva [David-Neel says this is a person that has attained a spiritual perfection that places them just below the Buddha] is the basis of countless magic forms. By the power generated in a state of perfect concentration of mind he may, at one and the same time, show a phantom (tulpa) of himself in thousands of millions of worlds. He may create not only human forms, but any forms he chooses....” (pg 121)

David-Neel continues by saying:

The power of producing magic formations, tulkus or less lasting and materialized tulpas, does not, however, belong exclusively to such mystic exalted beings. Any human, divine or demoniac being may be possessed of it. The only difference comes from the degree of power, and this depends on the strength of the concentration and the quality of the mind itself” (pg 121)

With this in mind, I wish to take a look at a relatively modern example of the creation of a ghost named Philip. During the 1970s a group from the Toronto Society for Psychical Research, along with a Dr. A.R.G. Owen (who was a mathematician) meet in order to see if they could, in essence, create a ghost. The group was comprised of Dr. Owen, his wife, a former chairperson of Mensa, an industrial designer, an accountant, a housewife, a bookkeeper and a sociology student. Additionally a psychologist by the name of Dr. Joel Whitton would also attend some of their experiments. The original idea was that this group of people could create a ghost seemingly by meditating on the idea of him including the history of the ghost. They would then attempt to make contact with this discarnate entity through séances and gain information from it.

Here is a part of the biography for the spirit the group created in order to flesh out “Philip Aylesford”:

Philip was an aristocratic Englishman, living in the middle 1600s at the time of Oliver Cromwell. He had been a supporter of the King, and was a Catholic. He was married to a beautiful but cold and frigid wife, Dorothea, the daughter of a neighboring nobleman.

One day when out riding on the boundaries of his estates Philip came across a gypsy encampment and saw there a beautiful dark-eyed girl raven-haired gypsy girl, Margo, and fell instantly in love with her. 

He brought her back secretly to live in the gatehouse, near the stables of Diddington Manor - his family home.

For some time he kept his love-nest secret, but eventually Dorothea, realizing he was keeping someone else there, found Margo, and accused her of witchcraft and stealing her husband. 

Philip was too scared of losing his reputation and his possessions to protest at the trial of Margo, and she was convicted of witchcraft and burned at the stake.

Philip was subsequently stricken with remorse that he had not tried to defend Margo and used to pace the battlements of Diddington in despair. 

Finally, one morning his body was found at the bottom of the battlements, whence he had cast himself in a fit of agony and remorse.
One member of the group even sketched Philip's portrait
With this back story firmly in mind, the group meet weekly in order to attempt to communicate with “Philip”. As a part of their weekly meetings the group would come together and meditate on both the image of Philip and also his history. The group did this for about a year with no positive results. Some members of the group did claim during this time that they were able to sense a presence, but apparently nothing that was verifiable. The group was quite determined and rather than let the last year be for waste they decided to change up the tactics a bit. In order to have better results with conjuring Philip, the group began to replicate the séances of old.

Candle light, sitting around a table, soft music playing, the whole thing. They even had pictures of castles like the one Philip would have lived in, had he ever actually lived that is. This new method seemed to do the trick. During one of the group's séances, they began to receive communication from an entity. Through a series of rappings (reminiscent of the early Spiritualism movement) the group was able to determine that they were finally talking with Philip. The entity revealed this to the group through a series of raps. Speaking through raps, Philip continued to display his own unique attitude. This was discovered by how long Philip would pause in between answering the questions which the researchers posed to him.

The group never questioned that the entity they were in communication with was Philip because of it's lack of knowledge on many topics. It seems that Philip only knew the answers to questions that someone in the group knew the answer to. If they would ask him a question that the group didn't know the answer to he would be unable to answer. While the Q & A portion of Philip's ability might have been lacking, he completely made up for this shortcoming with his very clear psychokinetic abilities. Overtime as the séances continued, the group discovered that Philip was able to move the rapping table. Often, Philip would even cause the table to rush over to people that were late to the weekly meetings.

The height of the Philip saga came when the group set out to perform one of their weekly séances in front of an audience made up of 50 people or so. Additionally a TV film crew was brought in to record the séance as part of a documentary. Unlike most paranormal phenomena, Philip actually seemed to enjoy the spotlight. The rappings and psychokinetic feats were on display for all the audience to see. At one point during the séance the group was even able to get the entire table to levitate a few inches off of the ground. Sadly, because of the dim lighting that was required as a part of the séance the film crew was unable to record this for posterity. Only a part of the documentary seems to be online and you can check out the few minutes of it that exist here.

Although the groups main objective of having Philip physically materialize (not unlike Rosalie), they were overall satisfied with the results of their experiments. So much so that after their success with Philip, the Toronto Society for Psychical Research went on to conjure other ghosts with similar apparent success. In one instance, using a different group of people, they were able to conjure a new spirit which was called “Lilith”. A few other groups are supposed to have been able to successfully recreate this experiment as well, but finding information on those incidents is rather difficult.

At the end of the day it's hard to say what it was that was actually occurring in this situation. It certainly seems to fit in with the concept of the tulpa, especially as explained by David-Neel in her classic work on the topic. I only wish that more of the documentary existed so that it could be scene. Ostensibly, if this experiment was truly as easy as the group proclaimed I suppose that anyone could conceivably do this at home. Before you do decide to go through with this and conjure your own ghost, I feel I must leave you with a parting warning from David-Neel:

.....the practice is considered as fraught with danger for everyone who …. is not aware of the nature of the psychic forces at work in the process. Once the tulpa is endowed with enough vitality to be capable of playing the part of a real being, it tends to free itself from its maker's control.....Sometimes the phantom becomes a rebellious son and one hears of uncanny struggles that have taken place between magicians and their creatures, the former being severely hurt or even killed by the latter.” (pg 313)

Sources and further reading:

Conjuring up Philip by Iris Owen (part of the original group that summoned Philip)


Cat Vincent said...

Good summation.

I note that, according to friends who are practitioners of Bon shamanism/Tibetan Buddhism that David-Neel's conception of the tulpa is far from the orthodox position - which can be summed up as "it's more about recreating the form of something, than something new". (This of course doesn't alter the fact that David-Neel' version is the basis of the Western version of the term & thus has acquired a reality of its own, as it were.)

Are you aware of the tulpa concept as expressed in the phenomena surrounding the internet-created monster Slenderman? Worth a look if not. (Self-pimp - I write a detailed piece on the subject for Darklore vol.7)

Tony Morrill said...

Hey Cat, thanks for the reply.

I think it's important to point out that David-Neel's "tulpa" is different from the traditional understanding and honestly I wasn't aware of that. I guess you do learn something new everyday :).

I had not read your piece yet, but I will be now. The same thought crossed my mind as I watched the Slenderman videos. In fact I was afraid if I kept watching them, he might actually pop up at my doorstep.

Brian D. Parsons said...

The basis for the "Philip" experiments comes from the work of Kenneth Batcheldor. The use of a fictional character comes from what he called "ownership resistance", the fact that PK production diminished when the sitters felt they were creating it themselves. The TSPR team also used a "designated cheater" which created movements until production was created by the participants in order to keep them from reacting negatively. The bottom line is that PK production is caused by living people, not ghosts or other paranormal or supernatural means. Unfortunately, it takes subjective experiments to create these conditions which is why Parapsychology and everyone else who has attempted to validate ESP/PK has failed to impress the science arena.

Anonymous said...

Slenderman is complete fiction. If they're manifesting in reality because of the sheer number of people thinking about it, then there'd be a herd of Twilight vampires running around. What a load of tosh.

Tony Morrill said...


Thanks for your input. I was not aware of that aspect of the story. I appreciate you adding more information!

Tony Morrill said...


Thanks for your input. I was aware that Slenderman was fiction, as a matter of fact I believe he was created on the Something Awful forums during one of their "Create your own Paranormal entity" contest or something to that effect. Regardless, the point was being made that one could potentially manifest something that they meditated on sufficiently enough. I'm not sure that reading Twilight is quite the same thing. Overall sorry that you felt the post was "tosh". Perhaps if you look back in my archives you may find something that's a bit more to your liking?

alanborky said...

Personally To' I reckon you're correct sensing 'Philip' and tulpas're somehow related.

I'd also connect them with the phenomenon described by many authors of creating characters who then take on a life of their own.

And if his creators'd given 'Philip' enough time he almost certainly'd've eventually started asserting his independence from them to the degree of developing his own set of biographical details (something Johnny Cash Bob Dylan and Jack White've all been accused of in their time).

Because what a lot of people fail to notice about the 'Philip' experiment's how the life story created for him's no different from the life story created for each one of us.

Take yourself.

Assuming you had a relatively orthodox upbringing then from the moment you were born these two complete strangers would've kept telling you you belonged to them because they were something called your parents and you were something called their son Tony which made you a member of a tribe called the Morrills who existed within an even bigger tribe called Americans.

They'd've told you you believed in the teachings of someone called Moses or Jesus or Muhammed or Darwin or Malcolm X and who you followed rightwing or leftwing politics wise and who your favourite sports team was and so on (much of which even now you're unlikely to question unless you discover you're like the Argentinians who only now in their mid thirties're undergoing the crisis of finally learning the rich fascist couples whose kids they thought they were actually stole them from leftwing freedom fighters they'd been a party to murdering).

But some stage of course though you'd've started asserting your independence but even then at least some of your new beliefs would've been as much a form of defiance as the girl in a documentary I once watched about a rough tough mohicanned lesbian couple who couldn't understand how it'd come to pass the daughter they'd bought Doc Martens and tool kits and electric drills every Christmas now as a teenage crowded out her bedroom with dolls and cuddly manequins and wanted to spend her allowance on frilly pink girly clothes and fill her fill her walls with posters of heterosexual boy bands.

My point being ultimately we're all tulpas of a kind figments of each others' imaginations which's something the art of tulpa developing's supposed to enable us to grasp releasing us from our limiting conceptual beliefs about who we are and thus unleashing our supposedly infinite possibilities.

Tony Morrill said...

Thanks for the reply! I love the idea you put forward, if I understand what you were saying; essentially the "me" that exists now is, in a way, a tulpa created by me. In other words I have in some fashion manifested the "Tony" that I wished to exist? Either way I really appreciate your amazingly thoughtful and deep reply.

Anonymous said...

I forget the non-fiction book I was reading by L Ron Hubbard where he told a story about some guys stationed in the Pacific during the war. To entertain themselves they decided to pretend that they had a dog. They decided what it looked like and joked about "don't set there, you'll sit on the dog."

One day the whole thing stopped because "someone saw the dog."


Tony Morrill said...


THanks for that, I had not heard of that before. It definitely strikes me as along the lines of the tulpa idea. Not surprised to see Hubbard writing about that kind of a concept honestly. After all it's pretty well known that he hung out with Jack Parson's and was involved with Aleister Crowley to a point. So he probably came across the tulpa idea and integrated it into one of his stories. I'd be surprised if it didn't also turn up somewhere in Dianetics or Scientology.

Red Pill Junkie said...

I whole-heartedly agree with Alan, after finishing reading Jeffrey Kripal's Mutants & Mystics, where the concept of the Tulpa is explored through the work and life of Alvin Schwartz, one of the first writers behind Superman & Batman's Sunday strips. Schwartz in the end understands that, just as Bruce Wayne, his 'Schwartz' persona was a figment of his imagination, but beyond the illusory Ego lies the true Self of who we *really* are.

Also, it might amuse you (or not) to learn a Hollywood bastardization of Philip will arrive to your nearest Cineplex shortly.

Tony Morrill said...

Hey RPJ!

It's funny you mention that movie. I was talking to my girlfriend about this post and she said, "Oh you mean like in that new movie?" I had no idea what she was referring to and so I just sort of shook my head and said yeah. It wasn't until you posted this that I had any idea what she was talking about :)

Leave it to Hollyweird to due a number on an unusual story. Although as I say that I know I'll probably eventually at least rent the movie, even if I don't go into debt in order to see it in theaters.

On a slightly different topic, thanks for mentioning me to Micah Hanks. I was listening to The Gralien Report, when at the end I heard him say something about a "Tony Morrill" and I though no way that's me, right? Sure enough it was. So I appreciate you giving me plugs to other people, though I'm not entirely sure that they're warranted :)

Red Pill Junkie said...

Oh, they are warranted --or at least they were until you admitted to be the kind of guy who doesn't know what his girlfriend is talking about, but goes along with it anyways :P

Hopefully Micah will have you on the show as guest very shortly. He was very excited about your blog :)

Rachel said...

Bibliophiles, the final tale in G.S.Hargrave's Doctor Ramani's Children and Other Stories, concerns the accidental creation of a tulpa. The incident follows the unexpected appearance of a peculiar antiquarian book: Thoughtforms in Theory and Practice, by Garmund Firth, PhD; Oculus Publications, London, 1873.

As the story demonstrates, words can have real power. It's always a good idea to be careful what you read to an especially imaginative audience.

Tony Morrill said...

Hey Rachel thanks for your response!

I was not aware of the tale that you have sighted, I'll have to do some reading up on it before I can fully comment. But I appreciate you sharing regardless!

Mike Guy said...

Alan Moore has something interesting and entertaining to say on the subject here :-

Anonymous said...

If English isn't your native language, then disregard this message. Otherwise... geesh, proofread for our sake. Or have a friend do it. Just from glancing at a few paragraphs (and skipping the rest): "meet" should be "met", "scene" should be "seen". If you're going to be a writer, then the least you could do is learn the proper use of your own language. If English is not your native language, then I'd say your English is so good that I mistook you for a native speaker. Otherwise, brush up on grammar or show a pic that depicts you as the redneck you seem to be.

Tony Morrill said...

Hey Anonymous, thanks for the reply!

First English is definitely my native tongue as I was born and raised in the U. S. of A. For your sake anonymous I can't say that I'm necessarily going to proofread. It's the nature of the beast. Remember this is just a blog, not a periodical, not a magazine, and not a scientific journal. If, on occasion there exist some typos then oh well. Additionally I hope that you did more than "glance" at a few paragraphs and actually took the time do digest the information that was given.

As one final point I would like to say that typically criticism, even of a constructive nature, goes better when you do not insult the recipient. As for pics, I don't know if they will "depict (me) as the redneck (I) seem to be" but you are more than welcome to either head over to my Facebook page or Google+ page for many more photos of me.

Oh and as a ps, should you choose to critique in the future, why not have the intestinal fortitude to sign your actually name on it instead of hiding behind the anonymity of the internet. It will certainly make your case a lot stronger. And I might actually be more inclined to listen!

Unknown said...

Excellent piece of research. I learned something new about something I only had a passing knowledge about. Not to dishearten you; but I believe there is a modernized horror movie in the works loosely based off of the Phillip experiments.

Anonymous said...

I'd just like to point out that your comment to anon1's criticism on your improper usage of homonyms and other such grammatical errors had, by my count, at least 3 errors.

Tony Morrill said...

Oh well, can't win them all right? :) I appreciate you pointing this out. Anonymously of course.

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