Inside David Lynch: An Esoteric Guide to Twin Peaks

The sacrificial victim, Laura Palmer.

The sacrificial victim, Laura Palmer.

By: Jay Dyer

“‘I learned that just beneath the surface there’s another world, and still different worlds as you dig deeper.’ David Lynch

If you’ve ever sensed the flimsy, thin veneer of what parades itself as the good ole US of A, and felt a bit like you’ve been sold a fake, then David Lynch’s Twin Peaks is a series you must see. More like an initiatory experience than a mere television series, Twin Peaks functions as a hilariously terrifying vision of the real America lurking in the seedy underworld beneath the façade of white picket fences, much like the picturesque severed ear on the beautiful lawn in his celebrated 1986 comedic horror, Blue VelvetTwin Peaks might even properly be titled an esoteric dark satirical soap opera. There are countless reviews, essays and analyses of Lynch and Twin Peaks, but almost all miss the complex system of symbols and hidden meanings that relate directly to high level occultism.

Before we go there, we must discuss set and setting: Twin Peaks is aptly described as quintessential Lynch. Fans often speak of scenes being “Lynchian,” but nothing stands out with that epithet better than this surrealist, neo-noir melodrama that magically captures the spirit of America itself. Differing from later Lynch focused on Hollywood (which is itself the Inland Empire), Twin Peaks is more akin to his 1990 film, Wild at Heart, in its presentation of America in miniature. Like later Lynch films, however, Twin Peaks does share its deeper occult symbology with films like Lost Highway, Mulholland Drive and Inland Empire. In this analysis, we will delve even deeper into that unique place, the subconscious dreamscape of Lynch, and decode the scenes and images many still find mystifying 25 years later.

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Worth mentioning before delving into the narrative itself is Lynch’s preferred style.  Part horror, part neo-noir, part comedy, part melodrama and part soap opera, the Lynch/Frost collaboration collates a vast array of Hollywood classics, from Hitchcock “doubling” to Otto Preminger’s 1944 noir classic, Laura.  Parallels between the myna bird from Hitchcock’s The Birds, and the hard-hearted detective who finds himself taken with an apparently murdered Laura, abound, and Lynch intentionally includes countless parallels to sprinkle his work deriving from the Golden Age of cinema.

As we enter the world of Twin Peaks, protagonist Agent Dale Cooper (played by Kyle MacLachlan) arrives to investigate the enigmatic murder of popular high school blonde babe, Laura Palmer (played by Sheryl Lee). Based on an unsolved murder from Twin Peaks co-director and creator Mark Frost’s hometown, Laura will function as the focal point for the show’s arc. However, as Agent Cooper unravels the actual story of Laura’s demise, the truth involves a much wider conspiracy than originally conceived. With his unorthodox divinatory methods of solving crime, Cooper astounds local law enforcement with the concept of utilizing synchronicity to associate similar names with inanimate objects in a game of rock toss.  This odd practice will configure Cooper as both a classic pulp detective figure along the lines of Sam Spade, but also grant a mystical side from which he will draw to peer into the psychosphere. Couliano writes, citing Eliade of the shaman in descriptive terms that capture the spirit of a Lynch work:

“Mircea Eliade defined shamanism not as religion properly speaking, but as a “technique of ecstasy,” a system of ecstatic and therapeutic methods whose purpose is to obtain contact with the parallel universe of spirits and to win their support in dealing with the affairs of a group or of an individual.” (Out of This World, pg. 38)

Bad Laura and her double, the good girl Maddy Ferguson.

Bad Laura and her double, the good girl Maddy Ferguson.

As I commented in previous analyses, Lynch, through Cooper, is drawing on a highly complex and deeply rooted eastern notion of formal and essentialist association that extends beyond immediate space and time. The stage is thus set for Cooper to be much more than a clever detective, but rather we see the emergence of his role as an other-world traveling shaman. Later in the series, his spiritual “gifts” are noted by Native American deputy Hawk and General Briggs, where Cooper is eventually revealed to be the one who can travel to, and call, between the worlds, fulfilling the role of the magician from the series’ famed tagline below, “fire walk with me.”  This is the role of the shaman I described in reference to Lost Highway, citing Levenda’s analysis:

Famed comparative religion scholar Ioan Couliano's "Out of This World" chronicles the history of other-worldly planes and shamanic journeys in  the same fashion Lynch presents.

Famed comparative religion scholar Ioan Couliano’s “Out of This World” chronicles the history of other-worldly planes and shamanic journeys in the same fashion Lynch presents.

“In Twin Peaks, it is the light in the morgue over the place where the body of Laura Palmer had been kept, and which is then visited by Mike, the one-armed man, who recites the famous poem:

“Through the darkness of futures past
The magician longs to see;
One chants out between two worlds
‘Fire walk with me.’”

There, in a strange little verse, we have the key to unlocking the mystery not only of Twin Peaks but virtually all of Lynch’s films: the suspension of normal laws of time (“futures past”) and the idea that the magician lives “between two worlds.” The suspension of normal, linear narrative event in favor of a dreamlike, hallucinatory set of images that are taking place all over the fourth dimension is part of Lynch’s appeal as a director, and part of what makes his films so frustrating to the filmgoer. His realization that there are two worlds, and a place to stand between them, is what contributes to his aura as a modern, twenty-first century initiate of the Mysteries, for that is what “mystery” films are: elucidations of the core Mystery behind reality.” (Sinister Forces, Vol. 3, pg. 151).

And this forms the solution to Lost Highway, as well. The shamanic and magical elements are here in full force, as Fred is a character trapped in different psychical worlds that seem to unfold and envelop other psyches, as we will see.”

Interpreting Twin Peaks accurately involves understanding the notion of “twilight language,” or Sandhyabhasa. It is my contention that Twin Peaks should be read in this way, as if the series itself were a yogic text, and this is natural given Lynch’s (and Agent Cooper’s) preference for eastern meditation. Indian scholar Vijay Mishra comments on the ambiguous semiotic discourse involved in twilight language as follows:

 

This analysis is now expanded in published form. To read the rest, please click the image below and order a copy of Jay’s book! 

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30 thoughts on “Inside David Lynch: An Esoteric Guide to Twin Peaks

      • An excellent take on this underrated series. I agree also with your hint at the bohemian grove group. And although your audience is well versed on occult subjects, this one may unknown to some of them. Lynch most certainly would have had some knowledge of the grove and its members; the referencing to owls at times throughout the series is, I believe, directed. Owls are also considered “gate keepers” by Salish Indians from where I am from–so there you go. I also commend you for referencing Peter Levenda, who is a great admirer of Lynch. “Sinister Forces” should be mandatory reading for grade 12 in American schools–it would clean out the toxins in our youth’s minds…

        R.

      • Forever was apparently enough to get it right! Congratulations for this beautiful analysis! As an early fan of Twin Peaks I had been mesmerized by this series and it took me decades to digest its magical content and be able to face its unbelievable truth.

        Olivier

  1. A excellent analysis and enjoyable to read. Though not an expert, I am knowledgeable in the area of the esoteric. Unfortunate, but understandable, is your omission of Mark Frost’s considerable contribution. He certainly is very versed and into Western esotericism and occultism. Just read his “Paladin” book series, with the third volume coming out this fall. He had to have written much of the Western esoteric plot points.

    Lynch’s dedication to Transcendental Meditation for over 35 years would seem to point to an Eastern mystical approach, but he declares “no religion” on his Wikipedia page. His statement in several interviews that “we live in a dualistic world” gives credence to what some have said is a streak of Western Gnosticism in his philosophy. Much of “Mulholland Drive” and “Blue Velvet” can be interpreted as such. This would dove tail with Mark Frost’s Occult White and Black Lodges and Western Magick references.

    Whether the reboot will be done is still up in the air at the moment, but let’s hope those scripts that are finished will be published at some point. Whatever, Mark Frost has a book due out next year continuing the Twin Peaks story line, most likely based on that 9 finished scripts he co-wrote with Lynch.

  2. This is great! I’m curious, do you practice any type of personal contemplative study or daily ritual?
    The precision of your awareness and the generated analysis, especially at the rate you are producing at, to me are indicative of a disciplined and highly focused mind…or your just a natural…or some sort of channeled entity.. do you sir, hail from the White Lodge?

    Further, what do you think about David Lynch in regards to his childhood experience?
    It is interesting to see that the man whose foundation advocates transcendental meditation has produced the grittiest, exposed nerve film canon the world has seen… along with Cronenberg, maybe De Palma and a few others… but Lynch stands out. Don’t get me wrong I am a huge Lynch fan…

    I have read that his father worked for the US Dept of Agriculture, and that David moved around a lot as a child. The USDA is not nearly as innocuous as its made out to be, I feel you need no convincing on this… I imagine its budget and operations function similarly to the way of the military, classified, need to know etc..

    What do you think about this? Do you think David had a standard childhood, or received a different enhanced training from an early age? Montana also borders Canada, McGill… MK Ultra etc.. all of which is encoded into Twin Peaks.. along with Tibetan Mysticism…

    Considering that there was no internet back then, and David would have to have read or had a knowledgeable teacher for all of his vast reserves of subject matter, I think that a specialized tutelage somehow related to his father’s status of a government official is plausible… A position externally labeled as USDA official in the 50s and 60s could easily be a superficial title for a high level insider, possibly privy to classified material. David Lynch was also in LA in the 70s, he could have been hanging out in Laurel Canyon right in the middle of everything he depicts as well… maybe a combination of the two.

    Yes, please do Inherent Vice!!! Hearkens back to Polankski’s Chinatown… with a drug fueled pastel wash.
    Both period pieces produced about 40 years of their respective timelines… hindsight.

    PT Anderson has refined his style beyond belief over the past decade, he definitely is communicating in twilight language in The Master and Inherent Vice, with some overlapping subject matter. In my mind, the structure of Inherent Vice is extremely Lynch-ian, non linear etc.. except where Lynch leaves the nerve exposed, Anderson does a kind of smooth lulling water color finish… making my mind at least become drawn in deeper from a process in direct opposition to Lynch’s technique.

    Lynch’s exposed nerve style makes anyone jump back at first, where it is then up to the state of the viewers mind, whether or not they want to come back to the material and dig in for a closer look… The average viewer most likely never desires to return for a closer look after the initial shock.

    There Will Be Blood, The Master, and Inherent Vice all sugarcoat intense and somewhat disturbing layers upon layers of subliminal subject matter… Inherent has porn, mind control, an interesting slighter version of Manson as a henchman of elitist mogul… etc.. Anyways Im ranting, I would love to hear your response on this.

    • While we wait for Jay’s response, I have a few thoughts, myself.

      You obviously didn’t read my first comments above, on April 20th. I think you left out the equal influence of Mark Frost on Twin Peaks. He’s the one with the verifiable background and interest in Western Occult and esoteric matters. Lynch probable has some interest and knowledge of such, but check out Frost’s first two novels in his “Paladin” series. Full of the supernatural, paranormal, Magic and secret societies of both good and evil. The third part of the series is due out this Fall. Also, read this interview with him back in 1992:

      http://www.independent.co.uk/arts-entertainment/higher-peaks-in-view-the-man-who-wrote-twin-peaks-has-plans-to-get-weirder-mark-frost-talked-to-kevin-jackson-about-sherlock-and-warlocks-1541807.html

      As for David Lynch, I think it’s quit a stretch, some would say preposterous, to link his childhood with MK-ULTRA and other sinister matters because his father was a scientist with the Agriculture Department. Plus, I can see no Tibetan Buddhism in Twin Peaks, or I missed something. If a small reference is there, Mark Frost put it in, it’s certainly not in any of Lynch’s other works and I’ve done some study of Tibetan Buddhism over the years.

      It’s true that Lynch has been dedicated to Transcendental Meditation for over 40 years, but TM stems from Hinduism, not from any school of Buddhism. The Western TM that he advocates has been stripped of most, if not all, of it’s Hindu references.

      Lynch is tight lipped about his over all philosophy of life, and I’m sure he studies many subjects. But, from his film works, we can ascertain elements of Gnosticism with it’s battle of Good vs Evil in the world, with Evil a real force, not merely some psychological trauma. But, with good triumphing in the end. Also, an understanding of reality as being multi-layered and multi-dimensional.

      His grittiness and “open nerve” approach in some scenes is part of his over all story telling approach. Check this interview with Lynch last year, October, 2014.

      http://the-talks.com/interviews/david-lynch/

      I did enjoy your comments and hope this enlightens matters a little more.

      • Cooper mentions Tibet and the Dalai Lama and meditation numerous times in the series. All meditation stems from India.

      • You got me there, as far as Tibet, the Dalai Lama and Twin Peaks. My error and thanks for the correction.

        It’s true that meditation stems from India, but the Hindu practices and Tibetan Buddhist practices are from different places in India and differ lineages.. In fact, there are numerous Buddhist sects and the Tibet tradition is only one among many, Zen being the most known in the West. It’s very dissimilar to Tibetan Buddhism.

        This reference must have come from Mark Frost. If you read the ’92 interview with him, he mentions Blavatsky as one influence on him and his writing. Her Theosophy combines elements of Tibetan Buddhism, elements of Hinduism, some Western esoteric ideas and some of her own.

      • I’m aware, as a some time student of traditionalism and perennialism, but look man, it’s an article written to appeal to a TV watching audience. It’s not a PhD thesis. I’ve read Blavatsky, too. Not saying I don’t appreciate your comments, but some articles I write here are geared towards a wide audience, and some are more specific and academic.

  3. thank you for your response

    The core requirement to successfully analyze our surrounding environment is an internally still, intensely focused mind.

    David’s central theme in all of his work is the dimensionally layered nature of reality, pushing the viewer to examine the external surface of the everyday things we are familiar with to uncover hidden facets and dimensions.

    I know some of the ideas in my comment are a huge stretch, and I simply entertain them as mere possible realities… honestly, I was distracted halfway through my comment by the arrival of guests, came back to it hours later adding scattered sloppy revisions in an altered state.

    You’re right, I have not factored in Frost’s contributions as I am unaware of his other work, though I plan to check it out.

    Sticking to David, my main postulation is that the man utilizing refined twilight language to instruct the rest of “the tribe” to look closer to reveal hidden worlds within our own, does not himself need be excluded from the application of his teachings.

    Along with many other individuals at the pinnacle of their various industries, especially those creating multi layered media based messages, with primary, secondary, tertiary layers of encryption etc…

    It is at least a possibility that there is more to David Lynch than meets the eye at first glance, and I personally think David would be disappointed if his work failed to inspire his audience to have a at least a few deeper questions about the man behind the media.

    • To Jay,

      I didn’t mean my remarks to be a criticism of your original article. I still maintain it is excellent with some real depth. It’s also highly readable and thankfully NOT a PhD thesis. Those are usually, if not always, dry as saw dust! – I’ll be checking out some of your other posts in the near future.

      To mrmasseyman,

      I understand and would add that comments on various articles can not be held to high standards. They’re only meant to be fairly quick, informal reactions to the material. There’s not the time to do exhaustive research and reflection before hand. In other words, you have to give people some slack, but at the same time giving others the room to contribute informal feedback.

      That being said, your comments above do have some pertinent elements in them.

      Exactly how much Mark Frost contributed is not known, but it was considerable. Neither one talks about that nor all the meanings of Twin Peaks. It would take an insider who worked with both to really answer who exactlly contributed what, and so far no one like that has come forward, to my knowledge.

      Lynch never talks about the meanings in any specific work of his, but some clues can be gleamed from interviews over the years. There is a lot in his major works in multi-layers, so different interpretations are going to emerge, Certainly, in the case of Twin Peaks, Frost and Lynch throw so much surreal and esoteric material out there that a number of interpretations can be perceived and each of them having a partial truth.

      • I am also disappointed that Mark Frost is rarely acknowledged for his contribution to Twin Peaks. Don’t get me wrong, Jay, I loved your analysis. I’m no expert on the esoteric(or anything for that matter), but I have read that the “Lodges”, The Dweller on the Threshold, Dugpas, and such come from Mark Frost’s interest in the theosophical society. I guess what I’m trying to say is Twin Peaks is a fusion of Frost/Lynch but Lynch seems to get most of the credit. Lynch was not actually involved in that many episodes(directed 6, co-wrote 4, I think) although his influence is certainly there. And, of course, Fire Walk with Me was all him.

        It’s exciting that the new series will be ALL Frost/Lynch. I can’t wait to see how it unfolds. Although, I am truly going to miss all of the cast members who have since died.

        Oh, and one correction on “The owls are not what they appear.” The quote is “The owls are not what they seem.”

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  10. Great discussion as always Jay.

    What a shame that, as others above have noted, Lynch doesn’t himself go into detail about the meanings behind his work.

    However, he’s done interviews where he implies that his ideas come from the subconscious via meditation, so perhaps he doesn’t fully understand them himself on a conscious level, and maybe his thoughts would shed no more light than anyone else’s on his work. Or alternatively, from a conspiracy perspective, he’s just a smart guy who knows when to keep his mouth shut!

    Nice interpretation of Lynch as shaman/magician – his work has certainly had effects on me unlike any other films I’ve watched that could be interpreted as a form of magic.

    btw – I think the “young version of Lynch” you mention is Pierre Tremond, supposedly a black lodge spirit played by Lynch’s son in the TV series (but not the movie) – hence the resemblance to Lynch.

    Look forward to your analysis of the new series as and when!

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