Magonia 93, September 2006
Childhood is the Roman Coliseum of imagination, the Grand Old Opry of fantasy. When we are children we mentally create that which we cannot appropriate in the flesh, and, further, imbue it with a life that adult fantasies can never achieve. Ask any psychologist; that’s why children create what are usually referred to as “imaginary friends”, right? Well, maybe in some cases. But not all. No sirree. I had two “imaginary” childhood friends when I was a toddler.
One was called Maureen, the other Elizabeth. To this day I am convinced that they were more – far more – than fantasies. Ask anyone who has ever heard of the phenomenon what precipitates it and you will likely receive one of two stock answers. Most psychologists argue that youngsters create imaginary friends when they are short of siblings to interact with. If you ain’t got a brother, make one. Short of a sister? Build one in your head.
Of course, this may well hold true in some cases, but my research has shown me that the majority of “imaginary” friends actually belong to children who already have siblings, and it is at this juncture that the second explanation usually raises its head.
“Ah”, say the psycho-sages, “When there are brothers and sisters at home taking all the attention then kids will invent an imaginary playmate that they can ‘keep to themselves’ and don’t have to share.”
So they you have it. Kids with allegedly imaginary friends invent them either because they have no siblings or because they do have them. This is an argument which, I would venture, pretty much sows up all the possibilities, but it is flawed. Why? For it is built upon the premise that “imaginary” childhood friends really are imaginary and arrogantly ignores many other explanations.
I have interviewed nearly one hundred people from numerous continents and countries, all of whom had (or have) allegedly imaginary friends. What struck me, first of all, was a number of constants which always seem to present themselves.#
For instance, these ‘non-corporeal companions’ or NCCs as I prefer to call them, almost always fit neatly into one of four clearly-defined categories. More of that later. Another bizarre feature is the way that many NCCs seem to possess names which we may call “double-barrelled repetitives” A woman from the Philippines used to have an NCC called “Gardu-Gardu”. A youngster from South Yorkshire said his NCC was called Bally-Bally. A Bangladeshi youth I interviewed called his NCC Manno-Manno.
In June 2006 I gave a lecture at a conference in St. Annes-on Sea. An American chap in the audience raised his hand in astonishment and told me that his NCC had been called Likki-Likki. This double-barrelled repetitive was a universal constant during my research; not present in every case, but present enough times to make its significance obvious.
There are other constants connected to nomenclature. Many NCCs, for example, have names which are curiously dislocated from their own culture or gender. I encountered a Native American tribal chief called Brian, a boxer called Doris, a teenager known as Spider and a New York policeman called Mr. Marbles. Eventually I concluded that the bizarre naming system attendant to NCCs is so distinct that it almost certainly forms part of their “culture”.
I discovered other constants. NCCs never hurt their corporeal friends, but will sometimes frighten them. They often dish out “advice” or “counsel” to experients, and their appearances seem to be dictated by a fixed set of rules.
NCCs only seem to appear to experients between the age of 3 and the onset of puberty. They never appear to more than one experient (although it is just possible they may appear to other experients at different times who do not know each other) and they are always very vague about their origins when questioned. These constants become even more apparent when we look at the four aforementioned categories of NCC that I have been able to identify.
Type 1: The Invizikids
Invisible (to everyone but the experient) “imaginary” children comprise the most common order of NCC. They look and act like perfectly normal children and, about 70% of the time, have common names which are perfectly at home within the cultural setting of the experient. 30% of the time they will have a name which is a double-barrelled repetitive.
Invizikids will play games and engage in other activities with experients. They will also eat, drink, cough, sneeze and burp. In fact, the only things that distinguish them from corporeal youngsters are a) that they are invisible to everyone else, and b) that they can appear and disappear at will.
When Invizikids do their disappearing act it will normally take one of two forms. Some Type-1 NCCs will remain visible to the experient when another person enters the room. Whilst they are present the experient may see them whilst others cannot. This implies that their ability to become invisible is selective. Others will always become invisible to the experient too, suggesting that whilst some NCCs can choose who they become invisible to at any given time, others only have the ability to be either invisible or invisible to everyone at once.
Whenever experients question their Type-1 NCC about their origins, such as asking them where they live, or where they come from, the NCC will always be vague. Typically they’ll answer, “From far away”, or “From another place”. Curiously they may also claim to live on a vehicle which is always on the move, which also makes it difficult to ascertain where they hail from. One youngster told me that his Type-1 NCC “lived on a big red bus”.
Type-2: The Elementals
Type-2 NCCs almost always live out-of-doors, often by the coast and in remote areas where, presumably, they are unlikely to be seen. They will often be described as “little goblins”, “pixies” or such like. Unlike Type-1 NCCs, who are always conventionally-sized, Type-2 NCCs are typically between 30 – 50cm in height.
Type-2 NCCs tend to be named with either a double-barrelled repetitive or a bizarre title. Mol-Mol, Koddy-Koddy, Ball Eagle and Wumpy are examples I’ve come across. They generally appear distant or remote to their corporeal friends. They are not unfriendly, but they don’t make conversation as readily and tend not to smile very much.
Like Type-1 NCCs, Type-3s can appear and disappear at will. However, they tend to do this less often. This may be because they inhabit remote areas where, when they are interacting with an experient, they are far less likely to be interrupted by a third party.
A unique feature of Type-2 NCCs is that they may appear in multiple numbers to experients.
Type-3: The Animals
Type-3 NCCs look like conventional animals and are proportionately-sized. Like Type-1 NCCs they appear “normal”. If you could see a Type-3 rat, dog or cat, for instance, you may never know that it was an NCC unless it suddenly disappeared in front of you. Like Type-1 NCCs they can also appear and disappear at will.
Type-3 NCCs have a unique feature; they can almost always talk in the language of the experient and are quite happy to engage them in conversation. Intriguingly, although Type-3s only ever appear to the primary experient, they are often heard by others in the vicinity. This is interesting, for it suggests that NCCs may not be a subjective experience created in the mind of the experient, but may well have an objective reality.
Type-4: The Wackies
Wackies comprise the most bizarre of the four NCC orders, and also the least well-known. Like other types they will appear and disappear at will, but it is their appearance that distinguishes them markedly.
Wackies come in two distinct types; Sages and Animates. Sages are human-like but typically dress in an exotic manner and tend to display distinct cultural characteristics. Almost always this will be a culture different to that of the experient. They may appear as a Native American warrior, a Buddha-like sage or a Chinese mandarin, etc. Sages may also only show themselves from the waist up (one youngster told me that his “Eskimo” NCC would appear from the waist up at floor level, looking as if his legs were buried in the ground.) Sage-like Wackies always appear as adults, never children. Typically they will dispense pearls of wisdom to their young experients, often urging them never to steal, get angry or hurt others.
Animates share many of the characteristics of Sages, but their appearance is radically different. Curiously, Animates will appear as every-day household objects that suddenly grow arms and legs (but rarely heads). During my research I have came across yoghurt cartons, banana skins, wall-mounted radiators and candle-holders which have suddenly taken on a life of their own and spoken to their presumably startled witnesses.
Like other orders of NCC, Type-4s will either have human names such as Walter, Ethel of Cindy, or, again, double-barrelled repetitives like Mook-Mook, Kobby-Kobby or Fudda-Fudda. It is this common denominator which urges me to include animates within the family tree of Non-Corporeal Companions.
One characteristic typical of Type-4 Animates is that they usually only appear when the experient is at a low ebb psychologically. When the child witness is unhappy, worried or depressed a nearby object will burst into life, grow arms and legs and offer words of comfort.
Animates have a curious habit of leaving behind essentially useless “gifts” for experients, such as a pile of biscuit crumbs on the carpet, a small ball of coloured fluff or a dried leaf.
Curiosities of the NCC Phenomenon
When I was a child I had two Type-1 NCCs. They never appeared together except when we moved house. Just before we vacated the premises for the last time they both appeared simultaneously to bid me farewell. However, they never interacted with each other and seemed completely unaware of each other’s presence. I remember them actually talking over the top of each other. I never saw them again.
NCCs are distinctly place-centred. If you relocate they will stay behind. However, even this characteristic needs some investigation. A Philippina woman told me that her young cousin had a Type-1 NCC that always appeared to her in a particular grove of mango trees. The cousin eventually relocated to another city, and, one day, went for a walk to familiarise herself with her new environment. Eventually she stumbled upon a mango grove very similar to the one back home where she had encountered her NCC. To her astonishment her NCC appeared and started to talk to her. This begs the question; are NCCs tied to a particular geographical location or, as it seems in this case, a particular type of location?
As a child I used to insist that my mother set a place at the table for either Maureen or Elizabeth. I can recall seeing them eat their food with gusto, but my mother’s recollection is different. She remembers taking out the untouched plate of food into the kitchen.
I sometimes wonder if I was experiencing two different realities simultaneously. In Reality A, Maureen/Elizabeth was present and ate her food. In Reality B, she was absent and the food set out for her was wasted. I can’t be sure, but it’s a thought.
Sometimes NCCs let their guard slip and their presence becomes obvious to others. I remember on one occasion passing a ball back and forth across the lounge floor with Elizabeth. Suddenly my grandmother entered the room just in time to see the ball roll away from me, come to an abrupt halt and then roll back to where I was sitting. She could not see Elizabeth, but her face was a picture.
To be honest I do not know where NCCs come from and I have no fixed ideas as yet regarding their nature. I simply know they exist. They may be the spirits of the dead or creatures from another dimension. Perhaps they are something else entirely.
I have never found anything remotely sinister about this baffling phenomenon, although the refusal of NCCs to disclose anything about their origins could be viewed as a little disturbing. We may never get to the bottom of the mystery, but for me it doesn’t matter. I simply accept NCCs on their own terms and believe they may even play a vital part in our development into adulthood.
What fascinates me more than anything else is that, despite the universal prevalence of the NCC phenomenon, it has attracted very little attention. Studies available on the Internet are almost all governed by the “psychological” approach, that NCCs are the product of the mind of a lonely child.
People are normally disturbed by the idea that their house may be haunted, and yet they accept without the slightest reticence the notion that their child may be talking to an invisible entity. Is this because they don’t believe that their child’s “imaginary” friend really exists, or because they sense that the phenomenon, whatever its nature, is essentially harmless?
They say that “an only child is a lonely child”. Maybe, just maybe, there aren’t so many lonely children around as we’ve hitherto imagined.