Notes from the Bookhouse: Legends of Ancient Sumeria

Welcome back to the Bookhouse. I’ve been hard at work scouring the bookshelves for clues as to the roots of mythology. As you are probably well aware, among the many questions that The Return, The Secret History of Twin Peaks, and The Final Dossier raised for fans of this world are the ones related to the deepening Twin Peaks mythology. No longer is this simply a world of Black Lodges and Red Rooms, of Dwellers on the Threshold and owls and engine oil and creamy canned vegetables. Where TSHoTP dove into myriad deep streams of occult thinking, The Final Dossier focuses in on one: the world of ancient Mesopotamia. Is the root of all evil in Twin Peaks, and indeed in the world as a whole, to be found in the very root of human civilization?

320px-n-mesopotamia_and_syria_english-svgLet’s start simply with a little bit of a history lesson. Mesopotamia refers to the land between the Tigris and Euphrates river; in fact, Mesopotamia literally means “land between the rivers.” Today it is encompassed by modern-day Iraq, and parts of Kuwait, Syria, and Turkey. It is here that the roots of western civilization first reached fertile soil as many as 8,000 years ago. Within Mesopotamia there existed several peoples, kingdoms, and dynasties. One of these was Sumeria, a land in the southern part of Mesopotamia, which is where the first urban cities were built. The Akkadians lived in central Mesopotamia, and their capital was Babylon, the seat of a powerful empire that formed around the Babylonian king Hammurabi, who conquered most of Mesopotamia in 1792 BCE. Assyrians lived in the north, while the Chaldeans lived in the far south, and eventually grew in size and power to the point where they conquered Babylon and expanded the empire, under Nebuchadnezzar, who was the leader responsible for the destruction of Solomon’s Temple and the deportation of the Jewish people to Babylon.

If you go back far enough, I’m sure you can find evidence that each of these unique peoples had their own belief systems that would later be codified into religions, which would later become the basis for both what we call mythology (which in many ways is just one way of saying old/dead religion). It makes amateur scholarship difficult, as the names and terminology may refer to a specific region or to the broader peoples of the entire area. But The Final Dossier mentions the Sumerians by name as the source of the mythology that spawned the demons that it is strongly implied are behind the possession of Leland and Sarah: Ba’al/Beelzebub and Joudy, so that’s where my research began.

I very quickly learned that this wasn’t going to be a straightforward mission. For starters, none of the variations of Judy’s name appear in any form not just within Sumerian mythology but in any of the Mesopotamian mythologies. As pointed out when the name first appeared in The Return, Jowday written as “jiāo dài” or in Chinese means, among other things, “to explain.” (Interestingly, another variant of jiāo dài also means “recording tape”…so I’m side-eying Season 1 & 2’s Diane the tape recorder right now…). Setting aside the conflation of Near Eastern mythology with Chinese phrases, it’s been pointed out that the Mandarin Chinese pronunciation of  jiāo dài does not correlate phonetically to either Judy (/ˈdʒuːdi/) or Jowday (/ˈdʒaʊ:deɪ/). It’s most likely that this is nothing more than an attempt on the part of the author (Mark Frost, in this specific case) to fit established mythology into something far larger, and that there is no answer to this question of who Judy is. I guess we really aren’t going to talk about Judy at all.

Ba’al is a different story. This demon definitely appears in Canaanite mythology and the Hebrew Bible, and has a well-documented history in that region. He is often linked to the Devil, as either the Devil himself or his right-hand man. Beelzebub, the second name given to this same deity/demon in The Final Dossier, is linked to Ba’al; they share similarities in name and function, and are often assumed to be one and the same. Ba’al was worshipped by the Phoenicians, Beelzebub by the Philistines, neither of which are Sumerian.

As there is no reference to Judy/Jowday in any of these same ancient sources, it’s hard to verify the accuracy of Tammy’s retelling of the ancient Sumerian legend that says she and Ba’al/Beelzebub were the female and male forms of utukku that, if united on Earth, would force a reckoning the likes of which humanity had never before seen; this is just one reading of this story, and it seems to be where Mark Frost (through Tammy) is pointing us. But, it’s here where we find the first concrete link to Sumerian mythology: utukku. We would call them “ghosts”. They are the spirits of dead humans who are generally acknowledged to haunt deserted places and are capable of causing harm to humans.

Frightening stuff, to be sure.

But does that square with what we know about BOB and Judy within the Twin Peaks “canon”? It doesn’t seem as though either of them are the earthbound spirits of a recently departed living human; the closest we might get to that is the character of Denver Bob from TSHoTP, who lived in the area in the 1800s and had some kind of contact with what seem to be Lodge-like forces, at least according to the journal left by his travel companion. If Denver Bob is BOB before he died, then who was Judy? It seems unlikely that she is simply the spirit of a once-living human but, again, the texts leave us wanting, for better or worse.

If we assume that Tammy is on the right path with her research but not quite all the way, an interesting alternative is that perhaps Ba’al and Joudy are not utukku at all but are instead related to the Sumerian demon trio Lilû, Ardat Lili, and Lilitu. These spirit entities fit much more closely to what we know (or at least intuitively suspect) of BOB and Judy. Lilû was the male demonic figure, and Lilitu the female; Ardat Lili is sometimes known as “Lilitu’s handmaiden” but she falls into the same class of demon as the first two. The male and female versions of this particular spirit were said to be night demons who visited humans while they slept, similar to the later concepts of incubi and succubi.

If you know your Biblical mythology, then you should recognize the name Lilitu; sheepic-of-gilgamesh became Lilith in Talmudic lore, and was the first wife of Adam. Biblical stories vary but it seems the general gist is that Adam and Lilith did not get along, and Lilith fled, at which point she was defiled by the Great Demon. In many cases, this Great Demon is acknowledged to be Samael, who is now often linked to the Devil himself and is an archangel in his own right, one of fallen angels from the Book of Enoch. Their subsequent marriage had the potential to produce demonic children capable of destroying the world; God castrated Samael to prevent this from happening.

Now I am no Biblical scholar and I know we’re in fictional Twin Peaks mythological territory here, but it sounds a lot like Lilith and Samael are behaving the way Tammy alleges the Sumerian utukku spirits Joudy and Ba’al are said to behave.

The union of these two — Lilith/Lilitu and Samael/Lilu — is further cemented in a version of the story that alleges that, when Adam and Eve sinned in the Garden of Eden:

it caused two sexual awakening [sic] among the two pairs of “twins”. This was the awakening in which the snake, either called Nahasiel or Gamliel, took part – the event that caused evil to become its own entity capable of expression.”

This idea of “twinning” sounds awfully familiar, as does the notion that sin — and in this case, original sin — brought pure evil into the world, literally as a result of the sin itself.

It’s worth pointing out that, in the King James Version of the Bible, Lilith is said to be represented by a screech owl. Make of that what you will.

This is all I’ve got from my research so far, though this task is ongoing. But it’s enough to tantalize. What does this all mean? I’m really not sure yet. We’ve established that Tammy is not the world’s most reliable narrator, whether because she’s mistaken about the timelines or because she’s sloppy (though I favour the former explanation). Is it possible that Tammy is simply not up on her Ancient Sumerian mythology and simply confused the idea of utukku with the much more malevolent Lilû/Samael and Lilitu/Lilith demons? Of course it is; we established early on that this area is rife with confusion. But the origin story of Lilû and Lilitu matches that of BOB and Judy far more closely than any utukku does, so it makes me wonder. If there are going to be ancient mythological deities haunting Twin Peaks for the purpose of wreaking havoc upon of humankind, my money is on them.

the-palmer-familyAll of this leaves wide open the question of Leland and Sarah, the very mortal humans whom we met in the Pilot as grief-stricken parents and who, by the end of Part 18 of The Return, had been transformed into an incestuous, infanticidal monster of a father and a raging she-beast of a mother. This doesn’t sit well with a lot of people, people for whom the Palmers’ stories represented, at times, true-to-life versions of a terrifyingly common stories: of abuse and shame and powerlessness to fix things, to help in any way. If Leland and Sarah were not Leland and Sarah but were in fact inhabited by ancient mythological deities hell-bent on destroying the world, what does that do to the human levels of this story?

And what does this mean for Laura Palmer? Her salvation at the end of Fire Walk With Me was brought about by a devastatingly powerful moment of true choice in the train car, when Laura decided that she would rather die than let herself become her abuser and allow BOB to possess her. We’ve already seen how Part 17 and Part 18 seem to usurp the power of this choice, turning Laura into a pawn in a larger game she has no control over, the outcome of which was determined a very long time ago. If this interpretation holds, what’s the point? It all starts to feel very hopeless all of a sudden.

Last week found some semblance of hope for Annie, for Diane, and for Audrey; will Laura find hope as well?

My colleague Gisela is hard at work on a similar line of inquiry; look for her work on ancient mythologies in the coming weeks.

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Lindsay Stamhuis

Written by Lindsay Stamhuis

Lindsay Stamhuis is a writer and English teacher who also moonlights as 25YL Site's Executive Editor and Style Manager. In addition to editing and writing about TV and Film, she is the co-host of The Bicks Pod, a podcast currently deep-diving into the collected works of William Shakespeare. She lives in Edmonton, Alberta with her partner Aidan, their three cats, and a potted pothos that refuses to grow more than one vine.

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  1. I believe that “Judy” is the deity Jack Parsons (mentioned in the most important chapter of “The Secret History…”) attempted to conjure through his Babalon Working despite the warning from Aleister Crowley not to try to evoke her.
    Crowley called Babalon the entity whom he identified with both goddess Isis and the biblical Mystery-Babylon The Great Mother Of Harlots And Abominations.
    Her roots are sumerian, Inanna being the prototype and Ishtar the most known of her names among assyrian, akkadians and babylonians.
    Other important worldwide variations include the names Semiramis, Astarte, Astaroth, Hathor, Morrigan, Freya, Kalì, Tara, Anaita, Usha, Aset, Jezebel, Kwannon, Sauska, Neith, Ariadne, Cibele, Libertas, Aphrodite and Venus, whose eponymous planet hosts the continent called “Ishtar Terra”.
    The arabic last letter for Ishtar is ر (readable as râ’ or simply r) but it appears written as the first one from left to right, since arabians write from right to left; anyway it’s very similar to our “J” (and in fact the tiny block letter “r” is a “J” turned by 180°).
    Madame Blavatsky, who first wrote about the two Lodges in XIX century, titled to her the book “Isis Unveiled”, and New York (where the portal surrounded by the glass box is located) hosts her largest “totemic” monument, the Statue Of Liberty, which was conceived by two french masons (Edward Laboulaye & Frédéric-Auguste Bartholdi) who previously had to give up building an Isis statue on the Suez Canal but eventually managed to re-use the same deity for the Manhattan symbol for freedom.
    Notice that “Experiment Model” is grey as Lady liberty is, and that in ep. 3×05 we see a half-cut mini-Lady Liberty hanging in a box on the wall of Dr. “Amp” Jacoby’s studio.
    Isis’s sacred number is 15, purple violet (as well as scarlet red) is her sacred colour and she’s the goddess of fertility, sexual freedom, prostitution, war, agriculture and immigration; some of her iconography show her bare-breasted, with two lateral bovine horns (sometimes replaced by wings or by ears of corn) and wearing a sycamore petroglyph; sometimes she’s associated with the rose flower and with water (the Milky Way and the Nile river being born from her own tears, according to egyptian traditions) as was Venus (born from water); moreover, she can generate life through eggs and appear in her followers’ dreams.
    The two biggest Giza pyramids symbolize her “twin peaks” (breasts) and another important city sacred to Isis is Paris (greek crasis for “next to Isis”), where Gordon’s meta-dream occur in ep. 3×14.
    Her son is Horus, the masonic all-seeing-eye (derived from her damaged left eye – associated with the moon – repaired by Toth/Hermes/Mercury after he lost in the battle with his uncle Seth who killed his father Osiris, Isis’s husband whose corpse was dismembered in 14 parts of which only the penis was never found and was replaced by Isis with a golden phallus – symbolizing resurrection, see also Margaret’s “my log is turning gold” line which results in a palyndrome “dlog”, the log being an obvious phallic symbol – through which she managed to become pregnant of Horus, who became an incestuous son-lover to her, similarly to the myth of Semiramis replacing his lost son Nimrod with Tammuz after having incestuous sex with the corpse of the first one) and variations of his name include Marduk, Moloch (the giant owl worshipped by Bohemian Grove’s members), Vishnu (whose last incarnation was a white horse), Mithra, Dionysus, Pazuzu, Enlil, Beelzebub and above all Ba’al, whose ancient temple at Palmyra (in Syria) was, coincidentally, destroyed by the terrorist group ISIS in 2015 and re-built in New York in 2016.
    We can assume that BOB is (narratively speaking) Horus himself, and that his sisters are American Girl (“Harlots”, visually configured as the promiscuous Ronette Pulaski, who’s obviously not literally her) and Naido (“Abominations”, since her eyes are those of a circus freak).
    The word “utukku” designs a benign ghost, while its demonic counterpart is “edimmu”, so we can assume Tammy in TFD is just making up some confused “fan-theories” and that Jeffries’ words “[Gordon]’ll remember the unofficial version” imply an alteration of memory in any other character involved with the Blue Rose task force investigation, therefore “Joudy” is just a mispelling, as well.
    The word “jow” is a scottish variation on “jollen” first used in 1515 (twice Isis’ sacred number) and currently means “to knock” (“Mother” furiously and menacingly knocked from her confinement withing the violet limbo of ep. 3×03), “the ringing of a bell”, “woman with protruding lower lips”, “woman with masculine jaws”, “wobbling sideways after banging the head”, “old friend” and “marijuana”.
    Carrie Page lives at civic number 1516, and 430 are the years intercurring between 1515 and and the Trinity Test (1945).
    Sarah (whose second name Judith is just a red herring, indicator of which was already the Jumping Man – Pinocchio-nosed and red-dressed – briefly peeping out) is indeed possessed by dark Laura (we see her teeth and left hand behind Sarah’s face in ep. 3×14, and the turkey jerky scene is connected to the delirious turkey reference by Laura in FWWM), while the bight one (appeared in ep. 3×02 in a scene reminiscent of Maya Deren’s “Meshes Of The Afternoon”, the first proto-lynchian short movie ever) has been sucked away and shifted (presumably by her father, The Giant/Zeus/Jupiter) as the amnesiac Carrie Page into our very own reality level where there’s no Sarah and “Twin Peaks” is just a fictitious tv show.
    “JuDy” is still on the loose in TP’s internal narrative universe and she can disguise herself as an unsuspectable average person: JaDe, who is a prostitute with protruding lower lips and middle eastern physical traits and skin, wears violet lipstick and bag, has a ring handle doorknocker as a trinket hanging from her necklace, has motherly attitudes towards Dougie (she gives him sort of a pocket money before the casino, without any apparent reason for leaving him right there and not somewhere else), is someone _a_ Cooper “already met” (Jeffries knows there are more than one Cooper out here, but in new “tin machine” form has no eyes to distinguish them) and, most importantly, triggers the whole “315 key” chain of events.
    In our very own reality level, Judy may be the famous Threshold, accompanied by the colour violet, notably in Sherilyn Fenn’s dance before being abruptly “awakened” from a dream not of hers and exiting his Audrey character’s role, but also in the strangely violet taillights of the car that surpassed “Cooper”‘s car before he and Carrie made it to “Twin Peaks” in ep. 3×18 and above all the nocturnal neon reflex outside the Double R diner at whose crossroad Lynch frameshot the real green roadsigns “Bendigo Boulevard” and “North Bend Way” which belong to North Bend, one of the actual shooting locations of Twin Peaks (the other being Snowqualmie, both in WA).
    The Threshold links directly to “Inland Empire”: at the beginning the Phantom is looking for a threshold in Poland and the anonymous woman “who lives down the lane” (Grace Zabriskie) speaks about a kid who, after trespassing the threshold, generated a reflex “and then Evil as born and accompanied the kid”.

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What you know is valid, and everyone else’s fan theories are valid too

The White of the Eyes – Revisiting Judy as a Metaphor