In my last post I put on my alchemy glasses to look at Twin Peaks up until episode 6 of The Return. When episode 8 of The Return aired a little more than week ago I must say I was blown away (no pun intended). “This is epic”, I thought. And it was, it is, epic. What we saw was completely avant-garde and unique. Every second was like video art at it’s best – but aired in the format of a tv series episode.
Episode 8 of The Return will be talked about for a very, very long time. Many have already shared their thoughts. As we are all different people, our interpretations vary. What will follow are are my thoughts and analysis of selected scenes from what happens between the atomic bomb testing and the creation of the golden Laura Palmer orb in episode 8, Gotta light?.
I’ll focus here on the explosion of the bomb, the chaos of imagery that follows, the scene with the Experiment entity and the scenes from what I’ll call “the violet world”, in lack of a better description. I will theorize upon these scenes mainly from an alchemical point of view, but there will be a few side steps to other references as well – as seems inevitable when it comes to a vast, overwhelming and intense episode like this one.
REPETITION: THE SEVEN STEPS TO ENLIGHTENMENT
I have written pretty extensively before about Twin Peaks and how it relates to the concept of alchemy. I’ve mentioned the main goal of the alchemist and how it was believed one could reach that coal. If this is all new to you, I recommend you read my previous article, as the following reading will probably make much more sense that way.
For this piece I need to just quickly run through the last three of the seven steps of the transmutation/transformation process. The seven steps make up the alchemical path to a golden refinement in both matter and, perhaps most importantly, the spiritual mind.
- Step 5: Fermentation. Re-energizing. Coming out of the soul’s blackness and discover the yellow ferment – the better part of a foul soul. Arrival of fermentation is announced by a display of brilliant colors and meaningful visions. Will be achieved by deep meditation, dreaming and transpersonal therapy.
- Step 6: Distillation. Letting go of sentimentality, Increase in purity to the highest form possible. Realization of a higher love and purpose. Ridding oneself of any insecurities.
- Step 7: Coagulation. Gaining of confidence beyond all things. Experience the second body of golden light coming out of the crown chakra (the top of the head). This is the highest evolution of the mind. This steps means you find the Philosopher’s Stone, that allows existence on all levels of reality.
AN ALMOST MAGICALLY LITERAL DEPICTION
If I was blown away by the amazing sound design and visuals of episode 8, there was one scene in particular that almost made me stunned with pure amazement. Not only because of its beauty, but most of all because it seemed to me that it was an almost literal depiction of what I had previously written about the 7th and final step (described above). I’m speaking of course of the scene where ??????? exudes light from within that comes out of the top of his head.
From this light, the golden orb with Laura Palmer’s face appears. This golden orb struck me immediately as being the Philosopher’s Stone. What else could I think in that moment, after witnessing something that looked to me like an almost exact visual translation of something I had written about the alchemical highest state of consciousness? I must admit, seeing this scene made me shiver for a moment.
I will get into detail about this particular scene later on
THE ATOMIC BOMB, 1: THE NUMBER THREE
Trinity was the name of the first ever atomic bomb blast in the history of humanity (but sadly not the last). I know very well that the scenes of the Trinity test explosion in episode 8 are based on a real historical event, and therefore that the name Trinity was not given this bomb by Lynch and Frost. But I can’t help but find this name peculiar after all.
The number 3 is a powerfully symbolic number in many systems of beliefs; scientifically, religious, occult or combined. The Christian mythos with its trinity of the Father, the Son and the Holy Ghost is well known, of course. But there’s an important trinity in alchemy as well.
There are three prime principles in alchemy: The Soul, the Spirit and the Body – represented by Sulphur, Mercury and Salt respectively. (If you want to read more about this, I recommend this article.)
Which ones of the alchemical trinity were affected by Trinity the atomic bomb explosion? Physical matter (the Body), for sure. What about the Spirit and the Soul? Well, what happens in episode 8 suggests that they too were affected and/or disturbed by this destructive, world-altering event.
THE ATOMIC BOMB, 2: THE VISUALS
My analysis of what we see and hear in episode 8 starts off with the explosion of Trinity. Such a terrible invention with its destructive power being released upon Earth – yet still it might have been one of the most beautiful things I ever saw depicted on film. The beauty and the terror – all of it just made the hairs on my arms stand up as I was sitting there with my mouth opened wide, amazed and a bit conflicted with all kinds of feelings being highly present all at once.
After the atomic blast, we enter the raging pillar of fire and dust. Inside we are greeted with imagery like from another world – and in some ways, I guess it could be argued that it was. Scenes of enormous chaos, explosive colour bursts and all kinds of surreal and powerful happenings are played out. Surreal, or maybe they are just a bit too real?
I noticed that one of the chaotic sequences looks very similar to a microscopic view of sperms swimming blindly and desperately and trying to find their way to be the first one to reach an egg. This thought is uncanny considering what will later happen in the episode’s scenes, partly ones I won’t focus on in this article, but I found it worth mentioning in relation to another visual reference further down
The chaotic and painfully beautiful events are powerful to watch. They really do create a sense of helplessness and the loss of control. And at the same time, I’m drawn to them, not wanting to blink for a moment. I must see them all, fully emerged in the experience.
THE ATOMIC BOMB, 2: EGGS, ECTOPLASM AND BOB
Later on we get the black and white scene of a void that is inhabited only by the Experiment creature. This entity floats in the emptiness with its arms spread out, and its hands are turned the wrong way, like its ”arms sometimes bend back”. The Experiment is seen throwing up, spitting out or maybe giving some kind of oral birth to a white, slimy substance packed full off stone-shaped bright objects (later understood to be some kind of eggs).
The Experiment’s slimy substance made me think of ectoplasm. The paranormal phenomena of ectoplasm is highly debated of course, as everything else in our world that has to do with claims of the spiritual realm taking on a physical, “real” form. Ectoplasm is described as a spiritual substance or energy ’exteriorized’ by physic mediums.
It’s been said that ectoplasm is ”associated with the formation of spirits excreted as a gauze-like substance” and that it makes it possible for psychics or mediums to ”interact in the physical and real universe”. This notion suits the narrative of the Experiment as we later learn that the eggs will manifest on Earth and take on a physical form.
…and yes: There, among those eggs in the ectoplasm, we also see the dark, organic orb with Bob’s face in it. In this article, I’ll not focus much further on the meaning of the eggs and Bob, but I want to state my thoughts on them real quick:
I don’t believe that the frog-legged creature that we later see is Bob himself. In my viewing, the ectoplasm contained a lot of eggs, so there should be a lot of these creatures crawling into mouths all over. That is unless Bob managed to ”hitch a ride” with one of these eggs, possessing one of them to access a human host. A close look at what happens doesn’t tell me exactly whether Bob’s orb comes out of the Experiment’s mouth or if it appears from the void to attach itself to the matter.
There are many questions about every scenario. Did Bob come from the Experiment? Did he slip through some portal that was opened by the forces of the atomic bomb and attached himself to the egg/s? Is this Experiment entity mentioned ”Mother”? Is she the mother of Bob? Is she the Babalon that Jack Parsons tried to summon in the same desert area with his rituals known as The Working?
One thing that I do believe is that whatever the case, we did not witness the birth of Bob. I do believe that Bob is an entity that is way older than having been “born” in the 1940s-1950s. Maybe the fear and/or the electric storms caused by the atomic bomb made it possible for Bob not to appear, but to reappear. (Signs of this electric storm can be seen in an above picture as vertical white lines near the epicenter of Trinity.)
An interesting thing to note is the visual similarity between what happens in the Experiment scene and the scene of the sperm-like ”baby” that exits Henry’s mouth in Eraserhead, especially considering what I earlier interpreted as swarming sperms
THE ATOMIC BOMB, 3: FIRE AND SMOKE
Let’s continue on with what happens after the scene of the entity in the void. We see even more explosions, but although these are similar to the chaotic ones we saw before, these later ones are not shifting in colors as those in the first round. Instead, here we see pure fiery, yellow, orange and golden scenes of explosive matter that creates black dust and smoke around them.
These scenes can be viewed as a further stage of a process that is possible to interpret as both metaphorical and physical. Or alchemical. From the fire and smoke of these final blasts, a golden essence appears in the center. I will soon return to this scene.
THE ALCHEMY OF BALANCE
In alchemy, balance is a fundamental concept. Balance is a state in which all different elements exist in the correct proportions to one another and in perfect equality. When balance reigns, the possibility for progress and inner balance is at it’s best. This concept is important to remember while moving forward.
So let us now apply the alchemic process of transmutation/transformation to the chaos that follows after the mushroom cloud of the atomic bomb in episode 8. This again is from my short description of the alchemical Step 5 – Fermentation:
”Coming out of the soul’s blackness and discover the yellow ferment – the better part of a foul soul. Arrival of fermentation is announced by a display of brilliant colors and meaningful visions.”
All the colors that initially are displayed after the blast are shifting, creating visions if you will, are later replaced by similar scenes but of pure orange, golden and yellow colors. The golden substance appears from the flames, just as it would if you were to work with a heated metal in a blacksmith. It all could be a visual depiction of Fermentation.
Later in the episode ??????? watches these same scenes we just saw of the atomic bomb and what follows in his theater. He’s witnessing the Experiment entity giving birth to something Bad, maybe a depiction of ”the evil that men do”, as Hawk once described the entity Bob.
Hawk’s quote is a description of the Bad that bares close resemblance to what Robert Oppenheimer (one of the men behind The Manhattan Project and responsible for the Trinity atomic bomb) said after the first atomic bomb test:
“We knew the world would not be the same. A few people laughed, a few people cried. Most people were silent. I remembered the line from the Hindu scripture, the Bhagavad-Gita; Vishnu is trying to persuade the Prince that he should do his duty, and to impress him, takes on his multi-armed form and says, ‘Now I am become Death, the destroyer of worlds.’ I suppose we all thought that, one way or another.”
If Oppenheimer with this quote expresses remorse, fear or any change of mind is not for me to decide, but it seems likely that he was struck with the reality of the destructiveness of the atomic bomb first after the fact that its power had been released upon the Earth.
With an alchemical reading, the release of the atomic bomb’s destructive power however also seems to hold another potential path than the pure Bad. This because primarily of one thing: The golden substance that appears from within the flames of Fermentation.
This is the potential gold (the conscious and the Good). It’s not yet a pure gold since the it is not completely refined. The matter is in a melted and floating form. Black oxides in the shape of dust clouds are still present, suggesting there are still parts of a foul soul present. But it’s all a clear sign of an alchemical and process.
In the scene, the golden substance plays a metaphorical role. The gold is not a representation of the physical metal, it is rather a symbol of the enlightened mind that has reached it’s highest level possible. This substance, not yet gold, is the yellow ferment of step 5. In this analysis, there’s a suggestion that within the very Bad, there is also a potential Good. Only a “true alvhemist” is focused not only on the physical gold – that would make them too attached to worldly matter and riches, existing in a state of non-balance. Only the “true alchemist” – who has a pure intention, a spiritual aim for knowledge and enlightenment – may have the ability to refine the ferment into gold and find the Good.
THE GOOD AND THE BAD
In the realm of Twin Peaks, the one with both ability and intention to find the Good that will balance the Bad is ???????. When he gets the alarm and witness what has happened on Earth, he immediately takes action in a way that corresponds with alchemical 5th step – Fermentation:
”Coming out of the soul’s blackness and discover the yellow ferment – the better part of a foul soul.”
??????? realizes that the atomic bomb is a manifestation of the blackness of the human soul, metaphorically as well as physically. Maybe he’s even ”waking up” from a darkness of his own, in the form of ignorance or non-focus. After all, Trinity was the first atomic bomb in the history of humanity. Such a terrible and amazing sight would wake up anybody.
The sight of the atomic bomb, the appearance of the Experiment and Bob’s face ”wakes up” ???????, putting him on the path of counter-action. Silently and almost gently, he’s filled with a realization of the need for ”a better part of a foul soul” of all mankind. This makes ??????? go into deep focus, a form of meditation. The yellow ferment is there and he must now refine it into pure gold.
??????? is now on a mission. He’s filled with a strong and natural urge to restore the balance between the Good and the Bad. To overcome the acts of Bad and their effects that are now a part of the physical world, his deep focus enables him to enter the 6th step of the alchemical process – Distillation:
”Letting go of sentimentality, Increase in purity to the highest form possible. Realization of a higher love and purpose. Ridding oneself of any insecurities.”
Like what is said about meeting ”your own shadow self” and facing ”the Dweller on the Threshold” with courage (a belief in a higher purpose), there can be no room for hesitation, fear or insecurity in this situation. Only if ??????? is able to enter as well as accomplish the alchemical 6th step of Distillation will he be able to continue on to the final, 7th step.
When he lifts from the floor to levitate in the air, it is the sign that he has passed the challenge of Distillation. Without hesitation and within a realization of “a higher love and purpose”, he is ready to rise (both physically and spiritually) to the highest level. He almost immediately enters and subsequently completes step 7, Coagulation.
Like I already mentioned, ”a second body of golden light” is indeed literally ”coming out of the crown chakra (the top of the head)” of ??????. From this bright light, the highest consciousness of his golden being, the Philosopher’s Stone appears. This golden orb is of the purest form, the essence of ???????’s highest knowledge and spiritual enlightenment.
One thing I don’t think anyone would have ever guessed beforehand is the fact that this golden orb seems to be Laura Palmer – as a person, phenomena, symbol or entity? We just don’t know that yet.
But the question is: By doing this act, is ??????? sharing a piece of his already vast spiritual enlightenment without ”suffering” much loss, or is he sacrificing himself in order to help restore the balance between Good and Evil?
In any case – a touched Señorita Dido blesses the golden orb with a kiss and sends it on it’s way towards Earth.
(This transition of the orb is very meta. As viewers, we exist in ”real life”. We’re watching on our screens something that’s being sent through another screen – to allegedly then appear in the ”real world” – a “real” fictional world that we are watching on our screens… A mildly mind-blowing thought of its own, it also makes me think of previous Lynch movies such as Inland Empire and Lost Highway.)
A GIANT FORCE OF ENLIGHTENMENT
This is not the first time in Twin Peaks that we see The Giant (now credited as ???????) exude light, seemingly in a quite literal way, in order to metaphorically help enlight and thus enhance someone else’s mind. The Giant visits Cooper twice in the first episode of season 2. The second time he tells Cooper that the one who saw ”the third man” is ”ready now to talk”. He also tells Cooper that he ”forgot something”, but as is the case of other times that we meet The Giant, he don’t tell Cooper exactly what it’s about. I read this as a message to Cooper, and maybe to us viewers as well: Knowledge, answers to questions and a spiritual and mental progression isn’t something you can receive from someone else. True spiritual refinement – the true gold of the mind – must come from a process of awareness and refinement within yourself.
“May the Giant be with you”
The Giant ends his visit to Cooper by creating some kind of shining ball of golden light. He seems to then direct this ball towards Cooper’s head, maybe towards his third eye (the symbol of the counsiosness and spiritual center, located on the forehead). By doing this, The Giant has given Cooper not only explicit, outspoken clues but also a kind of implicit or unconscious knowledge meant help Cooper find within himself the path to the truth.
With a (mostly) alchemic reading of that’s going on in chosen scenes from episode 8, many things fall into place for me. The alchemy glasses I’m wearing allows me to look deeper into meanings and narrative. I find this useful and enriching, not because I am one of those people who absolutely must understand everything (I’m rather positioned on the contrary end of that spectrum), but because it offers so many more layers that open up a whole new world. Whether my interpretations correspond exactly with how Lynch and Frost thought creating these beautiful scenes or not – that is not very important to me. Like I said in the beginning: We are all different people with different readings. My hope is that my reading will deepen the experience for others, as their readings enriches mine.
For some reason, alchemy and other hermetic ways of viewing the world comes to mind easily while watching The Return. Thoughts then lead me ahead to learn more, and this creates new thoughts. It becomes “a golden circle” of “appetite and satisfaction“, if you will.
Eventually, as it turns out, this has all made me write quite a lot about alchemy and Twin Peaks.
Some very kind souls out there have been referring to me as some kind of expert on these subjects, and although I’m absolutely taking that to heart as compliments; Really, I am not. I’ve never written about or researched alchemy this much before in my life. By pointing this out, I want to say two things:
I’ll do my very best to respond to any questions, should they come up. But I am really not an expert. I have an art history degree and an interest in many things in general, but that’s it. And:
Because I’m not an expert, I appreciate anyone who cares to share their tips of interesting documentaries or podcasts about hermeticism and alchemy. Or other interesting related things as well. Obviosly, I’m on the path of knowledge myself here.
To finish this once again pretty long piece I just want to add that WOW. What an experience it is to be alive and conscious during a time like this. We all get to see this new and wonderful world of Twin Peaks, and we have the social medias where we can share each other’s experiences.
I’d love to hear what you think about my reading or about your own thoughts on this matter.
Recommended further related reading from our other writers on the team:
A tale of two souls and My mother is coming by Cheryl Lee Latter
The Origin of Evil, Laura’s The One, Post #100: The Waiting Room by Andrew