Tulpa and BOB-orbs in Twin Peaks resemble placentas—secundines, the second birth—and this is interesting considering Indigenous American beliefs and rituals surrounding this strange organ (the only organ manufactured for a purpose and discharged once that purpose has been fulfilled), its biological role as “gatekeeper,” and its critical role, according to cultural historian Peter Sloterdijk, in the development of our contemporary, capitalist, isolated and isolating narcissism.
Sloterdijk: “There is some indication that modern individualism could only enter its intense phase in the second half of the eighteenth century, when the general clinical and cultural excommunication of the placenta began.” In his Requiem For A Discarded Organ, Sloterdijk explains that when we carelessly discard our primal companion, demons take its place. “Where, on the other hand, as in antiquity and popular traditions, a space was left open for the soul’s double in the cultural imaginary, people could—up to the threshold of modernity—assure themselves that they were not directly connected either to their mother, “society” or their “own” people; rather, they remained primarily connected throughout their lives to an innermost second, the true ally and genius of their particular existence.”
Emerson: “We cannot let our angels go; we do not see that they only go out that archangels may come in.”
The placenta, as an essential phenomenon of every birth, used to be received with great esteem, even religious awe. Hospitals today label it “toxic waste” and dispose of it/sell it off immediately. The child never hears of it again, and this placenta-denying attitude influences our separate self sense and establishes “an imaginary solitary confinement of individuals in the womb,” according to Sloterdijk. We feel alone and that we have no control over our lives. Therefore, Sloterdijk, and J.R. Davidson in The Shadow of Life, after looking at the anthropological evidence, conclude that placenta rituals operate all over the world as “anxiety releasing mechanisms.”
Placenta imagery can increase anxiety, too. We see it in popular science fiction films like Alien and The Abyss (I’m thinking specifically of the facehugger). Its nourishing skin and umbilical cord protects but can also suffocate and kill.
“I’ll eat you.”
The child in utero is not an immediate part of the mother, but rather lives in an intermediate world of its own together with its placental guardian angel. When we think about how this organ works for the mother and fetus, we can better appreciate how the dark placental BOB and tulpa-orbs work in Twin Peaks.
The placenta is sometimes referred to as a filter, but it’s more of a gatekeeper between two worlds. Its job is to keep the maternal and fetal blood separate, while at the same time allowing nutrients to pass to the fetus from the mother. It also permits the fetus’s waste to pass through to the mother to be discarded. It does prevent some toxins from getting through (except radium, incidentally), however, they are not stored in the placenta but are passed back to be processed by the mother’s liver and kidneys for elimination. This incredible organ lives with the fetus in its amniotic sac.
Tangentially, when the placenta looks like a lambda (λ), which strongly suggests a dichorionic twin pregnancy, it’s called a Twin Peak Sign. “It should be noted that the ‘twin’ in ‘twin-peak’ refers not to the presence of two peaks, but that it relates to twins.”
Our womb mate, first friend, first comfort object/blanket/stuffed animal/pillow/log. Ultrasounds at five months reveal fetuses “petting” it, for lack of a better term. In Red Medicine, a Peruvian woman is recorded saying, “When a woman is pregnant, she carries within her two lives—the life of the baby and the life of the placenta.” It’s a living body/part, and according to some Native American beliefs, the failure to treat the umbilical cord and placenta with special consideration “decenters” human beings.
Doctors always examine the second birth for signs of disease, especially if the child is sick. Placentas reveal secrets; they’ll tell on you. Women who smoke or drink lots of soda give birth to blackened placentas, as do women who live near toxic wastelands. It’s as if the surface of the placenta makes visible the invisible parts of the baby. In this sense, Twin Peaks is the placenta of the United States.
The placenta is a mirror but it’s also a kind of horcrux. Some pharaohs mummified their “secret helpers,” and built temples lined with armed guards to protect them. The placenta-double was considered the incarnation of his outer soul, as it played a protective role inside as well as outside the womb. According to Egyptologist Aylward M. Blackman, “while in one aspect the placenta-ghost is a protecting genius, in the other it is the force that controls and suggests a man’s thoughts and actions. In short, in the latter aspect it is his personality.” (Sloterdijk claims that the ancient custom of carrying the pharaoh’s placenta ahead of the ruler in procession is where we get today’s national flag rituals, and this is particularly interesting when we consider the United States and Harold Bloom’s 1992 observation that fetus and flag are one within the post-Christian “American religion.”)
Holding onto the placenta was considered good luck, and we see this idea in Native American traditions that keep pieces of the placenta and/or umbilical cord in bundles and bracelets. I’ve heard that Navajo mothers continue to bury their children’s placentas near places they hope the child will be attracted to, like a university or a law firm, or just close to home. A number of traditions bury it under a tree. We read in Red Medicine about Pawnee women who place the placenta carefully in a buffalo skin sack and then hang it in a tree. An offering to the birds? A version of the Tibetan sky burial? A type of Christmas tree ornament?
The Bundle of Life
In Japan, it was customary to place the placenta and other important objects in a clay jar and bury it under the house. It appears that whatever is buried with the placenta influences the life of its twin, the child. Wrap it up in precious materials; bury it with art, and if you can, bury it in art. The Inca hero Huayne Capac supposedly built a statue of his mother and placed his own mummified placenta inside it, “along with much gold and silver.” A safe. Capac’s legendary reliquary sculpture-safe is called Tumi Pampa Pacha Mama. Similarly, the Lakota make beautifully beaded umbilical cord medicine bundles in the shapes of animals, and some non-Native American mothers dry out umbilical cords to turn them into dream catchers or other folk art. Contemporary sculptor Marc Quinn makes art out of his children’s placentas and umbilical cords that resemble stages of both the BOB and tulpa-orbs of Twin Peaks.
The missing half of the human spirit; the soul twin that remembers a time before the fall; the friend that accompanied our tragic descent into spacetime; the Oversoul; the witnessing presence that never actually enters time; the invisible side of us—it used to be projected onto the dark red placenta buried under a tree. Now our twin soul is projected onto God, Nation, and Culture.
A wine-red, royal purple pillow. I now have to reframe my interpretation of the ancient American practice of covering one’s body in red ochre. Maybe we were dressing up as our placenta doubles! We have lots of evidence that Paleo-Indian tribes, especially along the western coasts of North America, covered their living and dead bodies in red ochre (or as they understood it, the healing, petrified menstrual blood of some deity). Contemporary pagans still do this at the Beltane Fire Festival in Ireland, and we see woodsman paint Mr. C in his own blood.
Maya cultures also painted their pyramidal temples red and depicted their leader, Pakal, in a fetal position on the lid of his sarcophagus. These acts may convey a connection between the afterbirth and the afterlife, and they may also point to the drive in humans to reunite with our “other half.”
Placenta blood was believed to be especially magical and healing. Some Mayan people rub this blood into corn cobs, and over the years the harvests from the blood-stained kernels are collected to create a special, personalized strain of corn.
A Navajo friend told me: “If you lose a piece of the child’s placenta, the child will lose its way.” The placenta is the With, the primal partner, the shadow, and the excision of it from our lives may be the initial lack from which all lacks will follow. For too long we participated in placenta-honoring rituals, outward expressions of inward states; we believed the placenta was the key to a good life. Now, the gaping hole left in our psyche is the dark void out of which the ego builds its isolating case. This may be why BOB and tulpa-forms are symbols for our missing half and for the evil that can take its place.
For a little more information about the placenta double, read this midwife’s short story about the unexpected role placentas and foreskins play in healing our eyes. You’ll love it.