Ghostwood: Angry Nature Spirits in Twin Peaks

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Written by Eden H. Roquelaire for Twin Peaks Freaks.

“My people believe that the White Lodge is a place where the spirits that rule man and nature here reside.”

-Deputy Hawk

Throughout Twin Peaks the series and the film Fire Walk With Me, we repeatedly encounter the symbol of wood, and cutting through wood. The sawmill, the Log Lady, Josie being trapped in a drawer knob at the Great Northern, and, of course, the ever-present trees. Hidden in the plot is an environmental message: The preservation of Ghostwood, which is threatened by industrial development. In Fire Walk With Me, woodcutting tools like axes and chainsaws are recurring motifs. All of this suggests something: Could the Dugpas be some form of angry nature spirits, attacking the humans who threaten their home?

Twin Peaks‘ symbolism encourages us to connect spirits with nature, which is an element seen in every ancient culture’s lore. In Greek myth, Nymphs known as Dryads live in trees, and have been known to attack humans who attempt to cut down their home. In Egyptian mythology, two turquoise sycamores stand at the Eastern gate where the Sun God Ra rises each day. A key aspect of Native American cultures, whose symbols permeate Twin Peaks‘ mythos, is that every aspect of nature has a spirit, and is connected to the Earth Mother. The Cherokee tribe tells a tale of how humans and animals came to possess fire. It was granted to them by beings known as the Thunders, who sent down a bolt of lightning, which struck a hollow sycamore tree, causing it to catch on fire. From there, the animals were tasked with collecting the fire. Among the animals who attempted to retrieve it were three owls.

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This story is a fascinating read, considering how many key symbols it has in common with the mythology of Twin Peaks. As we all know, at Glastonbury Grove, the entrance to the Lodges is inside a circle of sycamore trees; very similar to the divine fire being lit inside a hollow sycamore tree. The Egyptians closely associated the sycamore with the Goddess Hathor, and it was seen as a symbol of both life and death. The tree was thought to grow in the underworld where its fruit was food for departed souls.

Some Native American tribes refer to the Sycamore Tree as “the Ghosts of the Forest,” and tell sinister tales about them, such as this example:

Probably the most notable Sycamore Indian lore stems from along the Little Kanawha River valley near Freeport. The Wyandotte’s spoke of twin Sycamore trees that stood along the old Indian trail near the Hughes River. As legends states, the great chief of the Evil Spirits became angry at two of his followers and cast them out along the water. These two evil spirits that had been cast across the water ended up colliding against two stately sycamore trees. All at once, the evilness spread into the trees causing them to become deformed with the limbs becoming grotesque. The Indians always believed these two trees were inhabited by the evil spirits and would be very careful when passing by. When settlers arrived and heard these tales, they would often laugh. That is until one of the settlers was found dead under one of the trees with the horrified look of having been scared to death frozen upon his face. Occasionally a defiant settler would scoff at the “haunted” trees and brag that he would cut them down for firewood. Usually after these threats were made…ill misfortune would occur to the unlucky boaster. One of the last known attempts to cut the evil trees down was made in 1840. This gentleman grabbed an axe to hack into one of the vexed trees and missed. The axe glanced off the tree and ended up lodged inside his leg. An artery was struck causing blood to spew at the base of the trunk where he promptly bled to death.

(Source: Fireside Folklore: Sycamore Trees

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Daphne transforms into a tree. Painting by Nicolas Poussin.

The idea of cast out evil spirits as seen in this tale is eerily similar to the backstory of BOB, and his Lucifer-like nature. It also plays along nicely with Twin Peaks‘ narrative of “evil in the woods.” But there isn’t just evil lurking in the woods: In fact, all kinds of spirits are dwelling in wood in Twin Peaks. The fact that Josie is trapped in the wood in the Great Northern Hotel, where she died, and the implication that the spirit of the Log Lady’s husband resides in the log she carries, is just another example of spirits in wood seen in the series. This idea is common in mythology, where we see cases of people dying and becoming flowers, or being transformed into trees to escape unwanted pursuit (such as in the case of Daphne).

From these myths, we can see the concurrent themes of spirits, nature, and the life and death cycle. With such evidence, it is not outrageous to believe that the forest of Twin Peaks, so aptly named the Ghostwood, would possess some manner of sentience.

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An intriguing subplot in Twin Peaks which was never properly explored was the Ghostwood Development Project, originally conceived of by Ben Horne, and later spearheaded by Catherine Martell. Had this plot continued, it might have revealed an intriguing, environmental message: Nature spirits angered by the imminent destruction of their home, as more and more incursions are made upon the woods, by the townsfolk, the sawmill, and the looming Ghostwood Development Project. This would provide greater meaning for  the latter two within the story, and elaborate on the backstory of the Dugpas.

Native American teachings emphasize the importance of nature; that plants and animals have spirits just as human beings do, and thus we should treat nature with love and respect. These spirits, if not treated respectfully, can turn on people, and cause them varying degrees of trouble. This message, when applied to Twin Peaks, provides the Dugpas with another, deeper motive, rather than just doing evil for evil’s sake, to feed off the suffering of humans. What makes a nature spirit angry? When its home is threatened. Certainly, that sawmill must cause the Lodge spirits some grievances… Perhaps they only decided to interfere with humans once their home began being trespassed upon? This would provide a compelling motivation for these supernatural villains, making them more complex and almost sympathetic.

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The portrayal of Dugpas as Nature Spirits is further supported by their shapeshifting abilities; an attribute commonly associated with nature spirits such as the Norse Vættir or the Horned God Cernunnos. Furthermore, Hawk describes the White Lodge as being occupied by spirits that control nature. This by itself is a fairly vague statement, however, if we provide this statement with the proper context, it becomes reasonable evidence for the “angry nature spirit” idea. Of course, this is referring to the White Lodge, but the Black Lodge being the “shadow-self” of the White Lodge, it is not illogical to believe that it possesses an equatable concept. From this, we can infer that the Black Lodge contains the spirits of the darker side of nature: Those associated with death and decay, which are both necessary for the existence of nature, but are cause of much grief for those living in it.

This reminds us that nature is amoral, and dualistic. Alongside great beauty is terrible ugliness. However, it is only the human mind that provides this context. Nature by itself is neither ugly nor beautiful, neither kind nor cruel. Much like entering the Lodges, what you see depends on your own mind, and your own spiritual well-being. An animal carcass is sorrow for its kin, but bounty for those who will feed on its meat. In this way, the Lodges reflect Nature in its purest form: To Annie Blackburn, the Black Lodge is a place of horrors, but to Windom Earle, it appears as a place of bountiful power, until, of course, those powers of death and decay claims him, as well.

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Whether or not you subscribe to this theory, it is undeniable that the forces of nature pose as a powerful presence in Twin Peaks, from the eerie wind blowing through the Douglas Firs, to the ominous hooting of the owls in the night. The powers of Earth, Air, Water, Fire, and Spirit are all prominent, and play a role in this story. And in the town of Twin Peaks, there may very well be a war between the forces of nature and human development.

“There is only one way to save a forest, an idea, or anything of value: and that is by refusing to stand by and watch it die. There is a law of nature which is more fundamental to life than the laws of man. And when something you care about is in danger, you must act to save it, or lose it forever.”

-Audrey Horne