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.

owls

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.

Communion

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.

FinderScreenSnapz035

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.

 

Giant_Owls

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.

the-owls-are-not-what-they-seem

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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Sacred Clown Time

Written by Eden H Roquelaire for Twin Peaks Freaks.

DISCLAIMER: Spoilers for Twin Peaks within the article.

"Trickster Parade" by Kelly Moore

“Trickster Parade” by Kelly Moore

The words of the Heyoka are like a lightning bolt which can pierce the heart, for the Heyoka’s words can have a “sharp edge.”

– Wambli Sina Win

Every Twin Peaks fan is familiar with the Native American imagery that appears throughout the series, but it turns out that the tribal influence may go deeper than just inspiring the look of the show: In fact, it may be the source for the central story-line.

The Black Lodge and the Dugpas.

Sacred Clowns are often depicted as painted in black and white.

Sacred Clowns are often depicted as painted in black and white, like the carpet on the floor of the Black Lodge.

There are many correlations between the Dugpas and the beings known as the Heyoka, or Sacred Clowns of Native American culture, that suggest they may have been the source of inspiration for the Black Lodge’s denizens. Some connections include their backwards-speak and use of cryptic words:

Heyókȟa are thought of as being backwards-forwards, upside-down, or contrary in nature. It was manifest by doing things backwards or unconventionally — riding a horse backwards, wearing clothes inside-out, or speaking in a backwards language. For example, if food were scarce, a heyókȟa would sit around and complain about how full he was; during a baking hot heat wave a heyókȟa would shiver with cold and put on gloves and cover himself with a thick blanket.

(Source: Wikipedia – Heyoka)

The Heyoka never tell you something straight out; they make you use your own mental power to learn the meaning behind the words. They use a lack of logic to mock the conventions of our world, and challenge the minds of their disciples. It is interesting to note that the main source of our information on the Dugpas and the Black Lodge is Deputy Tommy “Hawk” Hill, a Native American of an unspecified tribe (it is implied that he may be Blackfoot). This again suggests that they have an origin in Native American lore. Plus, we have seen the Man From Another Place make what is referred to as an “Indian whooping call.” Also take a look at this image of a Heyoka Medicine Man:

“Stanley Good Voice Elk, a heyoka, burns sage to ritually purify his surroundings. In Oglala spirituality, heyokas are recipients of sacred visions who employ clownish speech and behavior to provoke spiritual awareness and “keep balance,” says Good Voice Elk. Through his mask, he channels the power of an inherited spirit, which transforms him into Spider Respects Nothing.” —National Geographic

“Stanley Good Voice Elk, a heyoka, burns sage to ritually purify his surroundings. In Oglala spirituality, heyokas are recipients of sacred visions who employ clownish speech and behavior to provoke spiritual awareness and “keep balance,” says Good Voice Elk. Through his mask, he channels the power of an inherited spirit, which transforms him into Spider Respects Nothing.” —National Geographic

Does it look familiar?

The Jumping Man, seen in Fire Walk With Me.

The Jumping Man, seen in Fire Walk With Me.

That is the so-called “Jumping Man,” who appears in Fire Walk With Me, most notably dancing at the meeting above the convenience store. He carries a stick, perhaps a dowsing rod, and hops around. He is speculated to be a magician or priest. Perhaps he is a Heyoka?

Various Native American tribes have versions of these beings: the Cherokee have the Boogers, the Zuni have the Ne’wekwe, and the Lakota call them the Heyoka.

“The Spirit of perversity and chaos, considered both as a divine entity in its own right, and the effects of that spirit upon humans. The entity is double-faced, showing joy on one side and grief on the other. He is said to be the source of meteors, and in other ways exhibits most of the characteristic heyoka attributes. Mortals who dream of Wakinyan often become heyokas.”

(Source: Obsidian’s Lair “A Lakota Pantheon“)

A person who becomes a Heyoka is one who is inspired by a visit from a Wakinyan or Thunderbird, a powerful spiritual being who is always cloaked in storm clouds. The Thunderbird usually appears to them in a dream, which is considered to be a communication from the Wakan Tanka, the Great Spirit (or Great Mystery) of the Lakota.

The Sacred Clowns are known to do bizarre things that are contrary to our logic, including speak and walking backwards, saying the opposite of what they mean, wearing cold weather clothes in hot climates, laughing when sad, and crying when happy. They are said to be able to interpret dreams. They also have a connection to celestial bodies and electricity, as they are associated with lightning, and the legendary Thunderbird.

“The heyoka were different in three primary ways from the other sorts of clowns. They were truly unpredictable, and could do the unexpected or tasteless even during the most solemn of occasions. Moreso than other clowns, they really seemed to be insane. Also, they were thought to be more inspired by trans-human supernatural forces (as individuals driven by spirits rather than group conventions), and to have a closer link to wakan or power than other clowns. Not surprisingly, these unique differences were seen as the result of their having visions of Thunderbird, a unique and transforming experience.”

Steve Mizrach, Thunderbird and Trickster

The rites of sacred clowning are also practiced in Tibetan Buddhism, which, as we know, has a powerful influence on Coop. A clown in Tibetan Buddhism would be to do absurd things – wear shoes on one’s head, call a stone soft, wear rags to meet a prince and expensive clothes to meet a pauper. The method behind this is to teach disciples of Buddhism to think outside the bonds of the reality we are familiar with, to consider less orthodox explanations, and encourage a sense of wonder and curiosity. When one assumes they know everything there is to know, then the mind is not open to learn.

The Laughing Buddha

The Laughing Buddha

“The clown does not fit in, indeed refuses to fit into, the patterns and constructions of the conventional world, representing some other order of being. The clown gets everything wrong: dress, decorum, logic, speech, gestures, and movements; yet in this wrongness is a rightness of another sort. Out of this foolishness rises another level of wisdom.”

(Source: The Laughing Buddha: Zen and the Comic Spirit by Conrad Hyers

In its own way, David Lynch’s work itself does this, by way of his absurdist humor, which sometimes occurs at the most inappropriate of times. It makes us laugh amidst the horror and tragedy going on around us. This act of unsettling our minds and giving rise to doubt causes us to reconsider what we believe is happening, and what it means. In a sense, it forces us to search for new meaning in the familiar.

Let us consider also some of David Lynch’s music. Here’s the cover for his album The Big Dream:

David Lynch's "The Big Dream"

David Lynch’s “The Big Dream”

It’s a man being struck by a lightning bolt, and of course, the title of the album is “The Big Dream.” This implies it is a dream of some importance, perhaps a “divine revelation” of sorts. Could this cover be a representation of a revelation from the Thunderbird, in the form of a dream?

Now you might be saying, “But the Dugpas aren’t good beings; they aren’t teachers or benefactors to humanity.” I would argue that the Dugpas are neither good nor bad; some go rogue, as BOB did, but the Man From Another Place has been shown helping Cooper, as has the Giant. I would say that this is because they had a common interest, and therefore could be compelled to help Cooper. BOB is the only one, I would venture to say, who evokes evil. The others who dwell in the Lodge are amoral, and only act in their own self-interest. This in and of itself ties in with the sporadic nature of the Sacred Clown teachers, who work with opposites and contrast. Both the Dugpas and Sacred Clowns fit into the Trickster category of deities and spirits, along with characters such as Loki, Anansi, Crow, and Prometheus. Often these beings are shown as acting dangerously and amorally, but sometimes these actions also benefit humans, as shown in the tale of Prometheus stealing fire. Other times, the character may start out doing more harmless fun, but eventually graduate to all-out chaos and evil, such as Loki and his plot to murder the light god Balder. Trickster spirits are never easy to pin down; as soon as you think you have them figured out, they change their nature.

That brings us to another David Lynch album, “Crazy Clown Time”:

David Lynch's "Crazy Clown Time"

David Lynch’s “Crazy Clown Time”

The lyrics to this song portray an animalistic party, full of drinking, spitting and stripping. This ties into our second definition of clowns in Lynchian symbolism. It is important to note that David Lynch has connected his Clown symbolism with base and degrading behavior, rather than the “Sacred Clown” archetype, which is about spiritual evolution. Lynch talks about how negative behavior, such as irresponsible drinking, drugs and partying, throws the soul off-balance and causes spiritual disintegration: Deep down, you become depressed and angry, though you continue to suppress these feelings with the negative actions that are causing them in the first place. It is a vicious cycle, or, as Lynch calls it, a “Suffocating Rubber Clown Suit.”

“I call that depression and anger the Suffocating Rubber Clown Suit of Negativity. It’ssuffocating, and that rubber stinks. But once you start meditating and diving within, the clown suit starts to dissolve. You finally realize how putrid was the stink when it starts to go. Then, when it dissolves, you have freedom.”

(Source: The Utne Reader, “Deep Thoughts by David Lynch“)

A good example of Lynch’s use of this negative clown archetype would be its association with Jacques Renault and Leo Johnson, two of the most notorious party people in Twin Peaks:

Leo isn't clowning around... well, maybe a little, actually.

Leo isn’t clowning around… well, maybe a little, actually.

The clown painting found in Jacques Renault's apartment.

The clown painting found in Jacques Renault’s apartment.

And this symbolism isn’t limited to Twin Peaks. Remember Ben singing about the Candy Colored Clown in Frank Booth’s favorite song?

Dean Stockwell ("Ben") sings Roy Orbison's "In Dreams" to Frank Booth in Blue Velvet

Dean Stockwell (“Ben”) sings Roy Orbison’s “In Dreams” to Frank Booth in Blue Velvet

And the way Frank paints his lips when he listens to the same song later?

Frank Booth

Frank Booth smears his lips with red lipstick while listening to a song about a “candy colored clown”

These characters are both associated with drugs, violence, and all-around debased behavior, just as Jacques and Leo are. This is their “Suffocating Rubber Clown Suit of Negativity” that they bury themselves in rather than facing their demons and evolving as people.

Both Frank and Killer BOB are used in their respective stories as representations of “the evil that men do,” as Jeffrey asks Sandy in a philosophical moment, “Why are there people like Frank in the world?” Sandy tells him that love and light is the only thing that can and will destroy the darkness in the hearts of humanity. In this way, we can associate the characters of Frank and BOB with each other, and thus connect the clown imagery this way. BOB is also always depicted as smiling and laughing, and is described as “eager for fun” in this poem:

He is BOB, eager for fun. He wears a smile, everybody run!”

-MIKE the One-Armed Man

Of course, BOB’s idea of fun is one of evil and debauchery, spreading the suffocating negativity everywhere he goes.

So it’s inarguable that Lynch has used this negative clown symbol before, but does that invalidate the possibility that he has also used the Sacred Clown symbol? I will leave conclusions up to you, but I personally think that the evidence points to uses of both meanings. After all, Lynch has a well-known infatuation with duality and double-edged meanings, and the connections between the Dugpas and the Sacred Clowns are notable enough not to be ignored. Take another look at the scene “Above the Convenience Store”:

The meeting "Above the Convenience Store"

The meeting “Above the Convenience Store”

Definitely looks like it could be the Black Lodge’s idea of a party, where they gather to feed on the Garmonbozia that BOB has collected. There is the Jumping Man in the corner, who, as we discussed, may be a Heyoka. Perhaps he is leading the feeding ceremony. BOB is sitting at the table, throwing his head back in uproarious laughter.

As a final point, let us discuss the Greek God Dionysus. He is the God of wine, revelry, feasting, ecstasy, and is the all-around life of the party. He and his parties are dual-natured: They can bring about both horrible violence and beautiful knowledge. Many of the parties end with his followers, the Bacchantes, ripping apart uninitiated passersby, as was the case with Orpheus. However, this was also a cult of the secrets of the Earth, where one could learn Nature Magick and arcane wisdom. There was obvious risk in being involved in this cult, but there were benefits that could make those risks justifiable. Similarly, Cooper is taking a sizable risk in entering the Black Lodge; however, if he succeeds, the benefits could be worth it. If he loses, he will be ripped apart, spiritually.

Trickster Spirits are beings of both chaos and wisdom: There are some things that you can only learn from these beings, and yet to learn from them takes tremendous risk. However, it is often in our times of darkness, strife, and chaos that we have our revelations, and realize important things about ourselves. It is through trial that we evolve, and through constant questioning that we learn. The Sacred Clowns and Tricksters of various cultures embody that chaotic path to wisdom.