Bible symbolism in Twin Peaks

Copyright by Karim Ghantous 1999

When you cross the scholarly Mark Frost with the imaginative David Lynch you get something like Twin Peaks. Around ten years later we look back at those 30 episodes, many of the second season's which are disappointing. What is not disappointing is the complexity of the spirituality of Twin Peaks. A decade later, viewers are still debating the merits of their own theories formed when the series first aired, as well as those of others that just keep evolving and developing. Some of them are just stabs in the dark, products of bored imaginations. Still, 30 episodes of television is certainly going to give us plenty to think about, especially if spirituality is a major theme.

The differences between the approaches of the two creators, Frost and Lynch can be seen in just two examples. The 'European' pilot, written by both men and directed by Lynch, contains two or three of the most beautiful and entrancing scenes ever to be shot on film. These occur at the very end of this episode. Although the ending of the European pilot was only made to allow it to stand on its own as a separate video release, most of that footage was used in a later episode. Recall the Red Room sequence. Notice how tranquil it is, how strange, extraordinary yet controlled and modest. It's 25 years later. The Little Man from Another Place, Dale Cooper and Laura Palmer (or not) are in a room with a zig-zag floor, red drapes on all visible sides, a statue of Venus, two brass lamp stands, a table with a lamp in the shape of the planet Saturn and a chair for each person. Cooper doesn't speak too much, and neither does Laura. But she and the Little Man speak with thick, odd voices, eerie and unnatura l. Most of this came from a random burst of inspiration from Lynch - not based, as far as anyone knows, on a piece of literature, religious book, culture or previous experience. Yet the objects such as the statue and lamp seem to have come from Frost's thinking, taking ideas and symbols from ancient cultures to give direction to the on-screen action. More of Frost's influence is seen later in the series, when we are introduced to dream souls, magic chants, black and white lodges and so on. It seems that on average, whenever Lynch comes up with something for personal reasons, like Tibet, Frost capitalizes on that and expands the purpose. However, sometimes it seems that neither Lynch nor Frost knew about how deep some apparently minor detail in the show really was.

The spirituality of Twin Peaks is an amalgam of invention, myth, and several different religious beliefs, including much from the Holy Bible. Not surprisingly, the differences between the product of TP and the Bible are often contrasting. The Bible teaches that the soul dies; of a promise of paradise; the passive nature of 'hell'; one true God and his Son, the saviour; Heaven and Earth; defined morality; miracles; and truth and lies. In TP we hear of an immortal soul or spirit; a never-ending struggle between good and bad ('around and around'); wandering spirits; several key spiritual beings; the Lodges and Earth; less defined morality; magic; and goodness, love and hatred.

The first reference to Bible prophesy is found near the end of the European pilot. Mrs. Palmer has a vision of the killer crouching behind Laura's bed and calls her husband who subsequently calls Lucy Moran. Lucy is playing with a ball and paddle and Andy Brennan is practicing the trumpet. If it were not for the scene that followed, we would merely treat this scene as just some more Lynch weirdness or quirks of the characters. Yet it is not so simple. For this is a prelude to a climax, a battle between the archangel Michael and Satan, as shown in the book of Revelation.

Revelation (or Apocrypha, which means the same, not to be confused with apocalypse) tells mostly of the final days of this present system on Earth. The Bible tells us that until the days of judgement, the Earth will be ruled by Satan, the deceiver of mankind. After the war between Michael and his angels and Satan and his demons, those righteous believers will be resurrected to a rejuvenated Earth and will live forever with Jesus as King. So in the eighth chapter of the last book in the New Testament, the first of seven angels blows a trumpet to announce the first of six plagues that are to happen as a prelude to the war in Heaven. To the average viewer, it may seem unlikely that an event of universal significance should be mirrored in the strange happenings of a secluded, small town. And it is even more amazing what happens next.

The European pilot continues with Dale Cooper being awakened by a telephone call. He seemed to have been dreaming strange things. What they are, we don't know. He answers the phone: it is the One-Armed Man, and he has information for Cooper. He knows who killed Laura Palmer. So Cooper calls Sheriff Truman and they eventually meet at the hospital. The OAM talks to them about who he is and why he is there. He tells them that his name is MIKE and the killer's name is BOB. Eventually he is asked where BOB the killer is and tells them that BOB is in the basement. So the two lawmen go down to the hospital's basement and there they find BOB. He beckons them down and after asking if MIKE was with them says he would love to sing with him again. Immediately after BOB says this a high pitched shrill is heard. BOB has at his feet a mound of dirt surrounded by twelve candles. This set-up does not have a direct or intended relationship with the Bible, yet we may take some liberty in suggesting that the twe lve candles represent the crown of stars of the woman as described in Revelation 12:1,2. Or that they represent the twelve symbolic tribes of Israel who are ruling in heaven with God - Revelation 7:3-8. So that BOB, who crouches over the altar of dirt, is like the Devil who crouches over the righteous, ready to trick and devour them. BOB then talks to Cooper and Truman, telling them the meaning of the letters under Teresa's and Laura's fingernails and promising to kill again. Or so he would wish. Several minutes after the high pitched shrill, MIKE, who was ready to pounce, runs forward with a gun and shoots BOB dead. That was it, the final battle between Michael and Satan, symbolic in the second-last scene of the European pilot of Twin Peaks.

It is not surprising that there is still more, as this is not the end of the matter. The war in heaven was fought to cast Satan out of heaven - so much for the belief that Satan is the ruler of 'hell' - and onto the Earth where he has a short time to tempt mankind. He is eventually imprisoned for a thousand years, let loose for a final, shorter time, and finally destroyed, never to see another day again. It seems that the relationship breaks down at this point. The EP was supposed to be understood in its own context, not in that of the series. Yet oddly enough it seems to fit more with the series proper because of this one detail, that Satan was cast into the world. Although not exactly analogous, when MIKE killed BOB (casting him out of heaven - or at least the basement, his 'lair') BOB must have somewhere to wander until he is finally destroyed, which leads us comfortably into the first episode after the pilot. Of course, the relationship must surely break down here, as we should remember t hat in TP's spirituality there is no end, but a continuous battle between good and evil.

Notice already the difference between the Bible and TP. While the Bible contains several prophecies about a final battle and resurrection, TP gives us the impression of a constant battle between the gifted and the damned, as it were, while everyone in between struggles on in this shadow.

The last scene of the European pilot is in the Red Room. We note the statue and the lamp, symbols of pagan faith, obvious enough, which have meanings, but these are beyond our scope. Remember that there are two tall lamp stands in the room. Compare this to the 'two witnesses' that the mighty angel with his right foot in the sea and his left foot on the land speaks of in Revelation 11:3-7, the 'two olive trees and the two lampstands which stand before the Lord of the earth'. These 'two witnesses' are to prophesy for 1,260 days. We read that if anyone tries to harm them, he will be killed. These witnesses have the power to 'shut the sky', turn waters 'into blood' and to 'smite the earth with every plague'. But in Revelation this is written before the war in heaven that correlates to the events in the hospital's basement. So we can only compare Revelation with the hospital scene to a point. Whatever the case we can at worst be intrigued at the closeness of the two narratives and at best apply on e to the other. If we do the latter, we would be setting beautiful imagery against beautiful imagery; mysteries will be given and revealed; and man must and will be called to account.

Notice that the two lampstands are not only to be found in the Red Room. They are found on either side of the entrance inside Ben Horne's office; they are placed carefully in frame on either side of the white horse which appears to Mrs. Palmer before the killing of Maddy Ferguson; in the RR Diner the camera selectively includes two small, wall-mounted lamps in the composition; and on either side of the mirror in Cooper's bathroom in his room at the Great Northern.

One event in this final scene, which ends with the 'cousin' who looks exactly like Laura Palmer kissing Cooper and whispering something in his ear (kiss and tell...), has provoked much curiosity by fans of the show. When the LMFAP rubs his hands together like some magician we hear the high shrill again and see a shadow pass across the drapes. It seems to be the shape of a rectangle although it is distorted by the folds of the drapes. Many point to a reference in the screenplay that it is supposed to be a bird of some sort, specifically an owl. This doesn't sit too badly with our Biblical parallel, as it is written in Isaiah 34:15, 'There [the wasteland of Edom] shall the owl nest and lay and hatch and gather her young in her shadow'. But more of the owl later.

There seems to be another explanation available. It seems most likely that other explanations were not in the minds of Lynch and Frost, but the viewer has the right to overrule the creator as long as he can be justified in his explanation. The shadow is not an obvious ornithid shape, so it could be anything. And we have an insight into what it is in the book of the prophet Zechariah. Zechariah describes many symbols that he had seen in visions. Two in particular are worthy of meditation, but we will concentrate on one for now. In 5:1-5 we read

Again I lifted my eyes and saw, and behold, a flying scroll! And he said to me, 'What do you see?' I answered, 'I see a flying scroll; its length is twenty cubits, and its breadth ten cubits.' Then he said to me, 'This is the curse that goes out over the face of the whole land; for every one who steals shall be cut off henceforth according to it, and every one who swears falsely shall be cut off henceforth according to it. I will send it forth, says the LORD of hosts, and it shall enter the house of the thief, and the house of him who swears falsely by my name; and it shall abide in his house and consume it, both timber and stones.'

Let the reader make what he or she will of this verse, but what is striking is that the shadow across the drapes could very well be the flying scroll just described. It is a curse, we read, that goes out over all the land and whoever steals or falsely swears will be cut off (that is, to be put to death or not take part in the resurrection) and that his house will be consumed. Remember that TP is not a message or warning about morality as much as the Bible is. But we do see something of purpose. Firstly, both Cooper and Zechariah are eyewitnesses to revelations. Cooper may not understand much in the Red Room but Zechariah certainly understands what is before him. 1:8 reads 'I saw in the night, and behold, a man riding upon a red horse!' Both men are dictated to by creatures in red, one a horse and the other a little man. The essence of what is being described to them contrasts. Agent Cooper is focussing on the mystery of one person, whereas Zechariah is being revealed events about the whole Earth. But still we see a general parallel if not a specific one. Quite simply, both men are in the presence of spirit creatures, being told of future events. Cooper is told cryptically the clues that will surface in the investigation of Laura's murder and Zechariah is being shown the future of Jerusalem (among other things). And for the moment, they can only be passive witnesses.

In episode 3 (assuming the pilot to be episode 0) the autopsy reveals that Laura Palmer had been bitten several times by a bird. Birds are featured quite regularly in Twin Peaks, as are animals in general. The three birds featured, all of which are significant to the story, are owls, mynahs and ravens. It is only fitting that nature is used as a narrative device in the show. What's more, this is a manifestation of a striking, symbolic prophecy given in the book of Isaiah.

Isaiah chapter 18 verse 6 says, 'They will all be left to the mountain birds of prey and to the wild animals; the birds will feed on them all summer, the wild animals all winter.' This specifically is a prophecy against Cush, otherwise known as ancient Ethiopia. Yet in Jeremiah 7:33 it says a similar thing: 'Then the carcasses of this people will become food for the birds of the air and the beasts of the earth, and there will be no one to frighten them away.' And that was regarding the evil that the people of Judah had committed in the sight of God, like child sacrifice, idolatry and disobedience. Again in Jeremiah 16:4 we see a similar warning: 'They will die of deadly diseases. They will not be mourned or buried but will be like refuse lying on the ground. They will perish by sword and famine, and their dead bodies will become food for the birds of the air and the beasts of the earth.' This warning of a great disaster was given because the fathers of the people had followed other gods and disobeyed Jehovah; further, the people were deemed to have been stubborn and behaved worse than their fathers. The books of Isaiah and Jeremiah share a similar theme, describing a waste land as a feeding ground for wild birds. The owl as mentioned previously is found in many verses, like Isaiah 14:23: 'I will turn her into a place for owls and into swampland; I will sweep her with the brooms of destruction, declares the LORD Almighty.' The same imagery is used to describe the punishment of Israel and other peoples - Babylon, Egypt and so on (see also Deuteronomy 28:26, Jeremiah 19:7).

So we're back to Laura Palmer being pecked at by Waldo, the mynah bird. As far as we the audience can tell, Laura begun her descent of self-destruction when she was about twelve years old. Perhaps this begun earlier and if it did we wouldn't be surprised. Because of the weakness of her father she gradually found her life to be a wasteland of its own, with nothing to live for, nothing to give her comfort. The Secret Diary of Laura Palmer reveals that she was traumatised when her pet cat, Jupiter died (Oct 3, 1985). Then she found out that her pony, Troy was not a gift from her father but one from Ben Horne. So she set it free (Jun 24, 1987). Everything seemed to abandon her. Even, it seemed, the angel in the picture that was given to her by the young grandson in Fire Walk With Me. She prostituted herself, took drugs and found herself in life-threatening situations. By the time Waldo left his bite marks on Laura's shoulder she was effectively long dead - meaning she had given up hope for herself a long time ago - and in fact was going to be killed soon after the small orgy in Jaques Renault's cabin where the bird bit her.

Despite this, there is a positive conclusion that we can draw so far as TP will allow. Isaiah 26:19 says, 'All those sleeping in their graves will wake up and sing for joy.' This is a promise that the righteous of Israel will be ultimately given victory and everlasting life. But out of its intended context, it slightly parallels Laura Palmer's victory over the forces of darkness. Her life was torture, like the wasteland inhabited by owls and ravens described above. When she died, it was in order not to give in to BOB. In the afterlife of TP's spirituality, she is for the most part safe and triumphant. She didn't allow BOB in, and from what we see of her joyous attitude, right from the beginning of TP to the end of FWWM, her reward was a happy existence in what we will simply call the Lodge. In any case, at the end of FWWM the angel from the picture came back to her and she beamed radiance as we listen to Cherubini's deeply moving and subdued Requi em.

The LMFAP in Fire Walk With Me says, 'I am the arm.' Many take this to mean that he is a manifestation of MIKE's left arm, cut off because MIKE saw the 'face of God'. This is certainly justified and leads to some solid ideas and interpretations. There is not surprisingly another way to understand what the 'arm' is. If we use terminology used in the Bible, we can get a somewhat simpler idea.

The word 'arm' is used in common English today in a figurative form when we speak of the long arm of the law. The word is also used in 'armament', 'army', 'armour' and 'firearm', where it implies power or strength. In the Bible the word is used in relation to God, like in Isaiah 52:10, 'Jehovah has bared his holy arm before the eyes of all the nations' and 53:1, 'And as for the arm of Jehovah, to whom has it been revealed?'. In other words, the arm of God is the power of God.

Understanding this word the way it has been used in the Bible, we may interpret the LMFAP's statement as 'I am the power'. If he is the power he must rule the lodges, or at least one of them. He must have the ability to do what he pleases and might possibly be the highest ranking inhabitant of his dominion (where the birds sing a pretty song and music is always in the air). If he is without doubt the most powerful figure in his dominion in a similar way that God has ultimate power over all creation, then some interesting interpretations of Twin Peaks might evolve. Questions that might be asked are whether he is neutral, good or evil. The answers already without this new understanding of the word 'arm' are far more complicated than first thought.

Symbolism in the Bible as seen in Twin Peaks is prominent, and to some it may be surprising. Lynch and Frost intentionally scoured popular and spiritual cultures for material to influence their creation. How much they took from the Bible is not known. But not very much has been said about this subject so we can guess that a lot of TP's symbolism is either coincidental or taken from sources which in turn have based themselves on the Bible. For example, Christians and Jews won't find it surprising if one suggests that a lot of Native American spirituality was adapted from Hebrew scripture, long ago. If that is true, then that would explain why the owl can be used to bring Bible symbolism to TP. Whatever the case, the Bible, whether one takes it as truth or not, adds yet another dimension to the beautiful and complex drama that is Twin Peaks.

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