The dark, dense mythos of Twin Peaks was created by the alchemical merging of many different belief systems. David Lynch and Mark Frost were able to fuse elements of Tibetan Buddhism and Native American folklore with science and the supernatural, into a single construct, in which science, religion, UFO’s, the supernatural, nature, good, and evil, all exist within one unified cosmology.
The supernatural and UFO elements introduced in season two of Twin Peaks ultimately divided the fan base of the show and have been cited as a major factor in the show’s decline. The die hard fans embraced the originality and ever increasing high strangeness of the show, while mainstream audiences struggled with the show’s delays, time slot changes, and new esoteric direction.
In spite of the role these esoteric sensibilities played in Twin Peak’s demise, looking at these elements of the the show in retrospect almost a quarter century later, and viewing the show from the scope of its impact on ufology and the esoteric in television and popular culture, it becomes clear that these elements were just another facet of a show that was far ahead of its time. The show’s UFO and esoteric elements have proven to be highly influential.
Project Blue Book & Deep Space Monitoring
Our first insight into Major Briggs’ classified work for the Air Force comes when he confronts Agent Cooper with a readout of a signal containing Agent Cooper’s name, and the cryptic and iconic message the giant gave Cooper in a dream: “the owls are not what they seem.” According to Major Briggs, the signal was picked up by deep space monitoring equipment, but strangely, the signal wasn’t coming from outer space, but emanating from Ghostwood, the forest surrounding Twin Peaks.
When Major Briggs returns from his disappearance from Glastonbury Grove we finally learn the true nature of his classified work for the Air force. He explains he is part of a small group selected to secretly carry on the work of the Air Force’s Project Blue Book, after its cancellation in 1969. Major Briggs elaborates that the group uses deep space monitoring, similar to SETI (Search for Extraterrestrial Intelligence), to monitor space as well as Ghostwood Forest.
Project Blue Book was the Air Force’s third scientific study into the UFO phenomenon. Started in 1952, the studies two goals were: 1.) to determine if UFO’s were a threat to national security, and 2.) to scientifically analyze UFO related data.
The mere inclusion of Project Blue Book as a plot point on a network show like Twin Peaks was influential in itself. Twin Peaks’ esoteric sensibilities laid the ground work for shows like X Files and Dark Skies, and has influenced countless other television shows and movies.
The show’s premise that UFO’s and the supernatural were somehow connected was a fairly advanced concept for a network TV show at the time. This concept was not new at all in the realm of ufology, but in terms of television and pop culture, it was a groundbreaking premise.
The very same year Project Blue Book was terminated, French Astronomer, and Computer Scientist Jacques Vallee was one of the first Ufologists to suggest an alternative theory to the classic extraterrestrial hypothesis in his 1969 book Passport to Magonia. Protege of Project Blue Book’s Scientific Adviser J. Allen Hynek, Vallee’s theory is that UFO’s may not be flying great distances through space in physical crafts, but may be aliens or multidimensional beings that exist on a different planet, plane, or dimension, manipulating time and space to travel great distances, or travel between dimensions. Vallee also suggests a link between UFO’s and other supernatural phenomenon, such as ghosts, demons, and angels, in that they may be different aspects of a singular phenomenon.
At the time of Twin Peak’s airing in 1990-1991, the publics perception of UFO’s had been somewhat adversely affected by an influx of bizarre alien abduction claims flooding ufology. The dominance of alien abduction claims in the 80’s and early 90’s may have played a part in the mainstream’s reluctance to embrace the increasingly strange UFO and esoteric elements of the show’s second season. Despite how the esoteric elements of the show were received at the time, these elements created a density and complexity that few shows ever reach.
The Red Room
We first are introduced to The Red Room in one of Agent Cooper’s dreams. As the series evolves we learn of The Black Lodge, The White Lodge, and their connection to The Red Room. All three locations are thought to exist on an extradimensional plane. In the series finale, The Man From Another Place gives a vital clue to the purpose of The Red Room, referring to it as a “waiting room,” which suggests The Red Room is the waiting room for The White and Black Lodges. This idea is further enforced by Deputy Hawk’s statement about The Black Lodge, that “every spirit must pass through there on the way to perfection.”
The White/Black Lodge
The concept of the “White Lodge” is first introduced to Agent Cooper by Major Briggs, just prior to Briggs’ disappearance from Glastonbury Grove, and is further elaborated on by Deputy Hawk in the following episode. According to Deputy Hawk, the “White Lodge”, “Black Lodge”, and “Dweller On The Threshold” are part of a local Native American legend. However, the origin of these concepts does not appear to lie within Native American folklore, but can be traced to Frost’s interest in Helena Blavatsky, a Russian-German occultist and founder of the Theophysical Society.
Theosophy is based on the belief that hidden knowledge can offer a person enlightenment, salvation, and an understanding of the mysteries of the universe and how they are unified. The Theophysical aspects integrated into the show via the Native American folklore of Twin Peaks further exemplifies how the show merged belief systems from different cultures.
The Theophysical concept of the Mahatma, the “Great White Lodge” consists of a group of “Ascended Masters” who were once human, but have since become immortal after acquiring the knowledge and karmic balance necessary for “Ascension”, or the “Sixth Initiation.” They serve as teachers to man from the realms of the spirit. Blavatsky also came up with the concept of “Dweller On The Threshold” which she describes as “the discarded astral double of an individual in a previous life that may not have fully disintegrated yet when that individual is reborn.”
Further bolstering the proof that the Theophyscist was the source of inspiration behind the White Lodge, Blavatsky played a role in Frost’s 1993 novel, The List of Seven.
Owls & Native American Folklore
One of the most prominent reoccurring symbolic elements of Twin Peaks is the presence of owls throughout the series. The owl is the chosen animal form of BOB, the Native American demonic entity who possessed Leland Palmer as a child. The owl symbol is also found on the pole and Native American pictograph found by Windham Earle in Owl Cave, and on MIKE’s ring in Fire Walk With Me.
The symbolism and folklore behind the owl is extremely varied across different cultures. Even within Native American tribes there is great diversity in beliefs regarding the owl. Some tribes view the owl as a positive omen, a guardian protector, yet other tribes see the owl as a harbinger of coming death, and the gate keeper to the spirit world.
The main unifying themes that emerge when comparing the different Native American tribes’ beliefs about owls is that owls can contain the souls of the dead and can be a tangible vessel for the souls of the dead in the material plane. The inspiration behind the role of the owl in the Twin Peaks mythos is clearly derived from a combination of Native American legend, and the concept of “familiars” from European medieval folklore.
Some have suggested the use of owls in Twin Peaks can be traced to Whitley Streiber’s 1987 best seller Communion, in which owls were used as a screen memory to alien abduction. It is quite possible Streiber’s novel was an influence on the show. However, when we take into account the strong Native American themes already present in the show, and the fact that Mark Frost has described BOB as a local, ancient, evil Native American spirit, it is safe to assume the show’s owl motifs are rooted in Native American legend.
After combining the strange skin markings on the Log Lady and Major Briggs in a sketch, Agent Cooper discovers they form an owl symbol, which Annie Blackburn and Sheriff Truman recognize as a symbol they have seen before in Owl Cave, a cave located in Ghostwood Forest, containing Native American pictographs and is home to owls.
The symbol found in Owl Cave is very similar to the Spedis owl symbol, used by Wisham Indians, an Indian tribe native to Washington state, the setting for Twin Peaks. The exact purpose of the Spedis owl petroglyph is not definitively known. There are two dominant theories pertaining to the petroglyph: one is that the symbol was used to mark ownership of a fishing location, the second theory is that the symbol was placed on rocks near the shore to protect natives from being drowned by water monsters.
The Owl Ring
The owl ring was used by MIKE in the same way it is thought the Native Americans in Washington state used the owl symbol, to claim ownership of something. BOB and MIKE are ancient Native American demonic entities, so it makes sense that they would use this symbol to convey ownership. Anyone wearing the owl ring became property of MIKE, rendering BOB unable to possess them, and entitling MIKE to any “garmonbozia,” (pain and sorrow,) elicited from the ring wearer. Putting the owl ring on in the train at the last second saved Laura from being possessed by BOB, but ultimately cost Laura her life.
It is revealed by MIKE, the demonic spirit inhabiting the one armed shoe salesman, Philip Michael Gerard, that BOB was his “familiar.” MIKE, who once was partners with BOB in a series of murders, had repented and severed his arm in an attempt to rid himself of a tattoo which connects him to BOB, and evil. According to European medieval folklore, a “familiar” is a supernatural entity that assists witches in their practice of magic. They appear in various forms, namely animal or human, and unlike ghosts, they were “clearly defined, three-dimensional… forms, vivid with colour and animated with movement and sound.”
Tibetan Buddhism & Dream Interpretation
Throughout the series Agent Cooper’s detective work is based largely on his intuition and interpretation of the dream messages he receives from other characters. The cryptic clues Cooper receives in his dreams ultimately aid him in his investigation into the death of Laura Palmer, and lead him to the identity of Laura’s killer BOB. Agent Cooper explains his openness and ability to communicate and glean information through his dreams to the officers:
“Following a dream I had three years ago, I have become deeply moved by the plight of the Tibetan people, and have been filled with a desire to help them. I also awoke from the same dream realizing that I had subconsciously gained knowledge of a deductive technique, involving mind-body coordination operating hand-in-hand with the deepest level of intuition.”
The Tibetan Bon religion, which preceded Buddhism, used dreams to diagnose illnesses, train the mind, and interpret the relationship between spirits and the living.
Throughout the series, many of the main characters appear in the Black Lodge in the form of doppelgänger. A doppelgänger is a supernatural double of a living person. Though it is a German word, which translates to “double goer,” the concept of doppelgänger can be traced throughout folklore, all the way back to ancient Egyptian culture.
Garmonbozia is the word used to describe the pain and sorrow of the characters, which the inhabitants of the Black Lodge feed on. Garmonbozia is represented in its tangible form as creamed corn. The origin of the word garmonbozia is a mystery. I was unable to match the exact word to any known languages. But by breaking the word into sections, I discovered the Polish word bozia. “Bozia” means “why God” in Polish. This may be where the term garmonbozia was derived from.
After exploring all the intersecting elements and belief systems that make up the dense mythos behind Twin Peaks, it is easy to acquire a profound appreciation for the intricate universe Lynch and Frost were able to weave within their show, and the impact it continues to have on television and pop culture.
I hope this article serves as a good field guide to the esoteric elements of Twin Peaks, and helps illustrate the diversity and complexity of the elements merged to create the Twin Peaks mythos.
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