The Owls Are Not What They Seem

Written by Eden H. Roquelaire for Twin Peaks Freaks.

THE GIANT: I will tell you three things. If I tell them to you and they come true, then will you believe me?

COOPER: Who’s that?

THE GIANT: Think of me as a friend.

COOPER: Where do you come from?

THE GIANT: The question is, where have you gone? The first thing I will tell you is: There’s a man in a smiling bag.

COOPER: A man in a smiling bag…

THE GIANT: The second thing is: The owls are not what they seem. The third thing is: Without chemicals, he points.

COOPER: What do these things mean?

THE GIANT: This is all I am permitted to say.

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The phrase, “The owls are not what they seem,” is one of the most notorious and highly debated taglines of the Twin Peaks series. While most theorists are able to come to some general consensus about the meaning behind it, not everyone is able to agree on a deeper meaning. So, the owls are not what they seem… but what exactly are they? Dugpas? Demons? Angels? Aliens? Spies? Or something else? In this article, I will delve into the various theories and examine the evidence for each one.

After the Giant relays the ominous message to Cooper, it turns up again when Major Briggs arrives at Coop’s hotel room, bearing a piece of paper containing code. The code was read by “deep space monitors,” which we later learn are actually pointed at the woods in Twin Peaks. Most of the code is “radio waves and gibberish,” except for the phrase, “The owls are not what they seem,” and Cooper’s name repeated. This message was received at roughly the same time Cooper was shot, perhaps right as he was being visited by the Giant, who also relays the message. At first, we are sort of tricked into thinking this message came from aliens in outer space. We only later on learn that these monitors were actually pointed towards Ghostwood, which some branch of the government has apparently been researching as part of Project Blue Book. This last bit of information, of course, is revealed to us during the most hectic days for the Twin Peaks writing staff, about midway through season 2, when both David Lynch and Mark Frost were interested in other projects and the remaining writers were left to patch together the rest of the path based on rough drafts, guesswork, and their own ideas. This has caused certain fans to write it off, though it remains, in fact, canonical.

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Owl-like aliens seen on the cover of Whitley Strieber’s Communion

One popular theory, and the one that fits the best with the Project Blue Book storyline, is that the owls are aliens, as is written by Whitley Strieber in his novel Communion. In this novel, the author says he struggled with suppressed memories of alien abduction, and that, before he unlocked these memories clearly, all he could remember was the image of owls staring at him through his window. He later finds that the owls are a disguise used by the aliens, ergo, they are not what they seem.

If the owls are aliens (of some sort), then the involvement of Major Briggs and Project Blue Book amidst Native American mythology and Tibetan Buddhist spirituality seems a little less inexplicable.

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Another theory is that the owls are possessed by BOB and/or other Dugpas. This theory fits the infamous image of BOB, crouched behind Laura’s bed, with an overlay of an owl face. It also nicely explains how BOB is able to learn some secrets of the townsfolk, as he would be able to spy on them in disguise. Some further supporting points can be discovered by delving into mythology and folklore, which may have been drawn upon by Mark Frost, who would commonly weave such symbols into the mythos of Twin Peaks.

At one point, MIKE refers to BOB as his “familiar.” In black magic lore, a familiar is a demon that takes the form of an animal. In this case, the demon is BOB, and the animal is an owl. Owls have commonly been associated with witches and demons, especially through the entity Lilith, who is a patroness of witches and often said to take the form of an owl, or as being a woman with legs and wings of and owl. This would make the animal a natural choice for a familiar. They seem to be BOB’s personal favorite animal to take the form of, or perhaps the only animal he can take the form of, since owls, and no other animal, are repeatedly warned against by multiple knowing sources.

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Wood cut by Hans Wechtlin

Almost every ancient culture has seen the owl as heralding misfortune and even death. They are associated with witches, graveyards and demons that lurk in the night. In Chinese folklore, owls are seen as an omen of death (as their “hoo” call sounds like the Chinese word “hu,” which means “dig,” i.e., “dig a grave”), and associated with ghosts. The Chinese also linked owls with thunder and lightning. This is significant to Twin Peaks‘s owls, due to the symbolism of electricity, heyoka, and thunderbirds of Native American folklore.

This supports the idea that the owls of Twin Peaks are spirits that spy on the townsfolk, either inhabited by BOB, other Dugpas, or being separate entities of their own. Evidence indicates that BOB utilizes the owls, or is taking the form of the owls, which also ties into the idea of him being MIKE’s familiar. One area of confusion for this theory, however, is when the Log Lady brings Cooper to the Roadhouse, telling him “we [my Log and I] don’t know what will happen or when, but there are owls in the Roadhouse.” However, BOB is not present: He is at the Palmer residence, murdering Maddy Ferguson. It should be noted that the Elderly Bellhop (one and the same with the Giant) is present, which lends credence to the idea that the owls are commonly used vessels for all Lodge spirits; not just BOB.

 

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If the owls are aliens, or if the owls are spirits, or vessels for the Dugpas, it is necessary at some point to question the distinction between each of these. According to writer Bob Engels, there were some rough ideas for Season 3 that involved the Dugpas being from a planet of creamed corn, which would make them aliens, and reinforce the Project Blue Book storyline. However, this would seem like some odd back-tracking, after the revelation that the message received from the deep space monitors came not from space, but from the woods. If this storyline is to be taken into consideration, though, it blurs the distinction between spirit and alien.

There is yet another theory that the owls are agents separate from the beings that we know, perhaps spirits of nature simply observing these events that pass through their woods. I would argue that this does little if anything for the story, and is contradicted by evidence that BOB is connected to the owls. Besides, most signs support the notion that the Dugpas are nature spirits of a kind, even if it is a darker side of nature.

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It’s most likely that no definitive answer will ever be given on the nature of Twin Peaks‘s owls, as final answers are so rarely given in Lynch’s surrealist world. There are so many theories to consider, each with their own set of compelling evidence. Which do you find to be the most convincing theory? Or do you have your own interpretation? What other mysteries from Twin Peaks still have you stumped? Let me know in the comments section below!

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Through the Darkness of Future’s Past: The Magician and the Devilish One

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Written for Twin Peaks Freaks by Eden H. Roquelaire.

Disclaimer: This article contains spoilers for Twin Peaks the series and Fire Walk With Me.

“Through the darkness of future’s past, the magician longs to see. One chants out between two worlds… Fire Walk With Me.”

Undoubtedly, one of the most fascinating arcs of Twin Peaks was the mystery of MIKE and the One-Armed Man, Philip Gerard. Unfortunately, Gerard disappears from the series after Season 2, episode 9 (“Arbitrary Law”), and his reappearance in the film Fire Walk with Me brings up more mysteries than answers.

After watching Fire Walk With Me, I think I was left with the most questions about MIKE and BOB. There were a lot of things bugging me. What were the origins of MIKE? Was he an ordinary man once, or a spirit like BOB? Was the Man from Another Place truly helping Cooper, if he was indeed the “evil” left arm? Why, indeed, was the Man From Another Place a representation of MIKE’s arm? Who is MIKE, anyway, and whose side is he on?

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Angels and Demons:

My first theory involving MIKE also involves the Angel seen at the end of Fire Walk With Me. It is an important point that angels seem to exist in the Twin Peaks universe, or else some being is using the image of an angel to appear to humans. The being that Laura sees is her angel, the one she was hoping for, and, in her perception, the angel came for her in the end. Most likely, this was an emissary from the White Lodge, taking the appearance of an angel in order to appear to Laura when it came to guide her to the next plain of existence.

So, if angels exist (to an extent) in the Twin Peaks universe, is it possible that they appear anywhere else in the series?

When I first saw Cooper’s dream sequence, where MIKE is introduced, my mind immediately drew an association between him and the Archangel Michael, based mostly just on their shared name, and their connections with Christianity. As I delved deeper, I found that this association actually makes even more sense than I initially thought, and helps to explain his relationship with BOB. Correlations can be found between MIKE and BOB, and the Archangel Michael and the Dragon of Revelations.

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MIKE is the Archangel Michael, adversary of the Devil/Dragon/Lucifer, who will strike him down during the Apocalypse. In Muslim lore, the Archangel Michael is believed to have wings the color of emerald, paralleling the stone in Owl Ring and the color of the infamous Formica table. Michael is also said to have been given dominion over the forces of nature, such as wind, snow, rain, and lightning — wind being a recurring element in David Lynch’s movies, and lightning tying in with the symbolism of the Dugpas. Michael is also an angel strongly associated with repentance, and MIKE is first presented to us as a repentant killer, desperate to atone for his crimes after seeing “the face of God.” Michael’s planetary affiliation is Mercury, the planet of alchemy and ritual magic. In Roman mythology, Mercury is the God of Magicians, which connects to the Magician who “longs to see.”

BOB is Lucifer/the Devil/the Dragon, who, with “the fury of his own momentum,” breaks away from the other Dugpas (similar to how Lucifer leaves Heaven, wanting to run his own Kingdom). Both are strongly associated with fire, death, and “the evil that men do.” When we first see BOB in Cooper’s dream, he is in the basement. This can have psychological connotations, such as representing evil’s residency in the depths of the subconscious, but it could also connect to the Devil’s place in subterranean Hell. In the battle that takes place in Revelations, Lucifer, in the form of a Dragon, battles the Archangel Michael, and is finally defeated. This conflict between the two mirrors MIKE’s need to defeat BOB.

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Another intriguing clue into the nature of this relationship is that MIKE refers to BOB as his “familiar.” This implies that, though he is “similar” to BOB, they are not equal, as BOB would seem to be his servant. A familiar, in Black Magic folklore, is a demon that takes animal form to serve a witch or warlock. This would imply that BOB was once servile to MIKE, and perhaps the other Lodge spirits, until he gained “the fury of his own momentum” and broke away.

Piecing these clues together begins to weave a convincing narrative: MIKE and BOB are spirits, possessing human forms, who work together, killing and sowing misery in order to collect garmonbozia for themselves and the other Lodge spirits. However, BOB becomes greedy, and breaks away from the rest of the spirits, stealing all the garmonbozia for himself. At some point, MIKE has a divine revelation, repents, and removes his own left arm, which severs his connection with BOB. (Perhaps this betrayal is what spurred BOB on to leave in the first place?) As part of his penance, MIKE attempts to hunt BOB down and stop him. However, here is where we reach one of many contradictions in MIKE’s character: If he is now seeking penance, and no longer wants to kill with BOB, why does he want his share of the garmonbozia, or pain and sorrow?

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It could be that, in spite of what he may wish to be, MIKE is still a Lodge spirit, and thus needs to consume garmonbozia in order to survive. Another theory is that he is still being manipulated by his evil left arm (the Man from Another Place), who is seeking his portion of pain and sorrow. The third, and, in my opinion, most depressing theory, is that MIKE is lying when he pretends to be an agent of good. He has not repented, he is still a creature of the Black Lodge in body, mind and spirit, still happy to subsist on the pain and sorrow of others. He only works with Cooper in order to find BOB faster, and claim his share.

The Magician Who Saw the Face of God:

Another point of interest: In the dream where Laura meets Cooper in the Black Lodge, she believes that he is MIKE, and, in an early draft of the script, Cooper reaffirms this, saying “Laura and I had the same dream, but in her dream, I was MIKE.” Considering the recurrence of chronological anomalies in Twin Peaks, could it be possible… that Cooper is MIKE?

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“Bob and I … when we were killing together … there
was a perfect relationship; appetite and satisfaction. A
golden circle.”

It has been noted by fans that we never see MIKE’s true face in the same way that we see BOB’s. Some have theorized that the true face of MIKE is the Man from Another Place, but I would argue that he is “the Arm,” as he says, and therefore can’t be the face as well. So… is it possible that Agent Cooper, in the future, becomes MIKE? In my article predicting the potential future of Cooper, I propose that he is destined to become a shaman, or magician, in order to defeat BOB. Following this logic, he could become the same magician from MIKE’s poem, the one who can look back “through the darkness of future’s past,” as he seems to do in Fire Walk with Me when he warns Laura not to take the ring. Cooper, like MIKE, most likely ends up killing together with BOB after his return from the Black Lodge, perhaps until he (or rather, the Good Dale) experiences the visitation from the Angel alongside Laura (this could represent “the face of God”). At this point, speculation becomes more tricky. Cooper taking off the left arm could mean a few different things, and perhaps isn’t meant to be taken literally. He may have a confrontation with the Man from Another Place (who states, “I am the arm”), which leads him to freeing himself of BOB’s influence. It may very well be that Cooper becomes trapped in a time loop, his evil Doppelganger freely killing with BOB, while the Good Dale, trapped in the Lodge, becomes a powerful magician, and uses his powers to communicate back through time to give himself vital clues about BOB’s identity, and try to save Laura Palmer.

However, this would mean that his goal is potentially impossible, as it would cause a paradox if he were to succeed in saving Laura. This could explain some of MIKE’s seemingly erratic behavior, as he is repeatedly going back to this point through time, and trying different methods, in desperation, to save Laura and help his past self stop BOB. Perhaps this is the reason for MIKE’s reference to his relationship with BOB being “a golden circle”: A direct reference to Cooper’s ring, which he gave the giant. Perhaps MIKE is telling him, “I know something about you that no one else would know.”

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“Who do you think that is there?”

It could be that, once Cooper ascends to being a shaman, he becomes an agent of the White Lodge, in other words, an angel. And an Archangel at that: He is to be their warrior, who will cast down the Devilish One. MIKE could be an honorific title bestowed upon him as an Archangel, or it could be a code name so that he can remain unrecognized by his younger self.

The Left-Hand Path:

On the general symbolism of hands and arms in the Twin Peaks mythos, there are many points to consider, some less obvious than others. There are numerous references to rings, which, of course, are worn on hands, but also have their own significance within the series. One ring, the “Owl Ring,” directly connects to the significance of arms. Before Teresa Banks died, her arm was said to have gone completely numb. It is implicated that there is a connection between this phenomena and the wearing of the Owl Ring, as Laura’s arm goes numb when she awakes with the Owl Ring in her hand. When the doorway to the Lodges are about to open, hands of the townsfolk are seen trembling violently, apparently in reaction to the celestial and/or interdimensional event. One of the earliest and most memorable references to arms is Laura’s statement, “Sometimes my arms bend back,” referring to the fact that her arms were bound behind her the night she was murdered. This has no tie-in with the mythos of Twin Peaks, but it serves as an essential clue in Cooper’s investigation, and reinforces the recurring motif of hands and arms. During the Lodge sequences, Laura is seen to make a few cryptic hand gestures. The so-called “Meanwhile” pose, which is theorized to be a version of a Tibetan Buddhist hand sign, meaning “Fear not,” and is a warning to Agent Cooper not to feel fear in the Lodge. What Laura could also be saying is that, in the meanwhile until she and Cooper meet again, he will be achieving this state of zen fearlessness. The nose tap, which probably refers either to Laura’s cocaine use, or the disclosure of a secret, or both. A nose tap often is used to indicate some kind of secret communication is taking place, and that is just what is happening when Laura makes the gesture to Cooper. Finally, there is the “snapping and pointing” gesture, which has not yet been given a satisfactory translation. It may be connected to a similar gesture Laura makes while having sex with a client in “the Pink Room,” and thus could have some sexual meaning.

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MIKE having removed his left arm is very telling, as following “the Left Hand Path” is a term for being a follower of the Devil. By cutting off his left arm, he is cutting off his connection to “the devilish one.” However, nearly all other symbolism involving hands involves the right hand. This could simply be because the majority of people, including the actors in these scenes, are right-handed, and tended naturally to use their right hand. However, I would imagine that if David Lynch wanted it to be the left hand, he would specify it, and it would have shown up as such. The use of the right hand rather than the left hand, if one wanted to ascribe meaning to it, could signify a person’s alignment to the steps of the Buddhist Noble Eightfold Path, which are Right Understanding, Right Thought, Right Speech, Right Action, Right Livelihood, Right Effort, Right Mindfulness and Right Concentration.

Hands are a significant symbol in Twin Peaks, because they represent a individual’s actions; i.e., the good or evil that one does, which is such an integral point in the narrative.

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It is my conclusion, based on this evidence, that there must be a final confrontation between MIKE and BOB, the Archangel and the Dragon. And there will be, however, not in the form that we might expect, especially with BOB’s actor, Frank Silva, having sadly passed away in 1995. How this resolution takes place is anyone’s guess, but it would be fitting if it took the form of Agent Cooper confronting his own inner Devil and casting it out. An important recurring symbol in the series is duality, and the need for balance. It is only fitting that the series should end with Agent Cooper restoring balance within his own soul, as well as the town of Twin Peaks.

“Even the ones who laugh are sometimes caught without an answer: these creatures who introduce themselves but we swear we have met them somewhere before. Yes, look in the mirror. What do you see? Is it a dream, or a nightmare? Are we being introduced against our will? Are they mirrors? I can see the smoke. I can smell the fire. The battle is drawing nigh.”

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