Corn, the atom bomb, and rape are central to the story of The United States and to the story of Twin Peaks. Let’s take a cue from the show and line these three important images up in our imaginations and see if any moiré or interference pattern appears. We may get a glimpse at The United States’ demonic shadow, like a flickering monster inside of glass box, or a flickering tv show inside of another tv show.
An Illustration of a Pawnee object representing the goddess Atira in the Pawnee Hako ceremony, 1912. “The corn is painted so the Rainstorm, the Thunder, the Lightning and the Wind are represented.” (See the Pawnee Morning Star Ceremony as agricultural magic that uses human sacrifice).
The cover of the Hopi People Of The Land teaching manual (2014). Lomawywesa: “Hopi basically are corn people….[O]ur greatest symbol is the corn, the ‘Corn Mother’.”
I’ve heard blood from Maya umbilical cords is rubbed into corn cobs, and over the years the harvests from the blood-stained kernels are collected to create a special strain of seed commingled from that blood. We see corn and human beings linked in the physical world and in the dreamy myth-histories. The Maya Popol Vu famously describes a story where God finally gets humans right by mixing us with corn. The corn, like the ‘holy spirit’ that’s mixed with dirt—adamah—in the Judeo-Christian version, gets us dreaming, screaming, and dancing. Tangentially, the influential Greek physician, Claudius Galen, taught that the human embryo is not animal but vegetable. Galen: “The fetus has first of all the vegetative power… Look at it this way: this plant is going to become an animal not by losing the power that it had from the beginning, but by acquiring another one.”
Like rice in Japan, we should think of corn not so much as ‘food’ but as blood, ancestral semen, lightning, or even as an extension of lava.
Corn is an extension of lightning in the Pueblo polysemous “stepped fret” design, which represents clouds, snakes, birds, lightning, and germinating corn sprouts all at once. The 90º hook turn is visible on the second corn sprout from the right.
Corn and Cosmos
Navajo creation stories and maps of the cosmos are sometimes described through the structure and life of a corn plant: the leaves are the various worlds—or sheathes, or chakras—that unfold and enfold in stages and cycles. Supernatural beings can pass between worlds through a thick, central stem or “opening,” aka axis mundi. Yellow pollen particles are also stars, spirits, and magic dust: Corn sperms invite the gods.
Cornmeal and corn pollen are still the holiest substances in many Native American religions. The Navajo—the largest Native American group in North America—can’t begin any ceremony without the presence of corn pollen; it’s the host. Some of my Navajo friends keep a tiny jar or bag of it in their cars, backpacks, or purses. Maybe similar to oil, ‘shemen,’ in Hebrew culture, sprinkling corn pollen onto something cleanses it and makes it holy. The pollen also cleanses the air of harmful energy, like smudging. Sprinkling it on a war veteran when they return home “brings them back into harmony.”
“One chants out between two worlds…” Just scattering corn and corn products is prayer because prayer can exist without words (see Numbers 12:8, when Moses talks with God mouth to mouth: silent, as in a kiss). In the Navajo sand painting motif below, Father Sky and Mother Earth are connected mouth to mouth by a track of corn pollen.
Native American Angels
In the western imagination, angels are bird-people. However, in the Navajo imagination, while the holy winds may look like birds, the yéʼii, “holy people,” are visualized as plants, similar to the Evolution Of The Arm (It’s fun that in the lodge, evolution is also in reverse, and we see a human become a plant). Drawings of their geometrically abstracted, elongated bodies are sometimes used as sigil magic in Navajo healing ceremonies for children.
Yéʼii are attracted to images of themselves, like Narcissus (related to the word narcotic), or like how BOB is attracted to pain and sorrow, or how Batman is attracted to his symbol. However, if the portrait of the Yéʼii is captured in something permanent, like a rug, a piece of paper, a mural, or if the sand painting remains on the hogan floor for more than a few hours, the spirits feel trapped, get angry, and will harm instead of help. Gods and goddesses are very busy beings, after all. For this reason and others, after the child leaves the hogan, the Navajo medicine man destroys the medicine painting. He gathers up the pigments (and apparently the sickness) and buries them outside in a place only he will ever know.
Don’t worry about the yéʼii images in this essay: they are altered to protect us. All yéʼii images revealed to outsiders are not what they seem. Their true form is kept secret, and the Navajo have no intention of letting outsiders misuse their protective spirits by learning their signals. As Native scholar Andrea Smith points out in Conquest, to know a culture in the Biblical sense is to have sexual relations with it, to rape it, to consume it, to control it. “Knowledge” about someone gives you power over that person. Withholding knowledge, therefore, is an act of resistance—an act of survivance.
Creamed Corn Walking
In Fire Walk With Me, BOB takes creamed corn garmonbozia out of Leland’s stomach and throws it to the ground where it turns to blood, in reverse. Interestingly, our blood is full of corn (contemporary Aztecs say their blood is corn) so that all Americans are physically, if not spiritually, children of the corn. We are “corn walking,” or rather, creamed corn walking. Our bodies are said to contain more corn than any other nation’s population. Todd Dawson, a biologist at the University of California-Berkeley, tests people’s hair to determine how much corn is in their diet by looking for Carbon 13. He says, “We are what we eat with respect to carbon, for sure. So if we eat a particular kind of food, and it has a particular kind of carbon in it, that’s recorded in us, in our tissues, in our hair, in our fingernails, in the muscles.” Dawson’s study found that seventy percent of the carbon found in a typical American comes from corn.
It’s because corn exists in nearly everything we eat—ketchup, salad dressing, meat, donuts, soda, cookies, chips, they all contain corn (usually high fructose corn syrup). Factory farmed meat is raised almost entirely on corn. Most beef is ninety percent corn, which is hard on cows, whose stomachs are designed to break down the cellulose in grass, leading to an epidemic of antibiotic use.
And maybe this is corn’s master plan. Maybe Michael Pollan is right: plants and animals manipulate and domesticate us, not the other way around. From a “plant’s eye view,” agriculture can be seen as a brilliant, even if ‘unconscious,’ evolutionary strategy on the part of the plants. He says our lawns seduce us into keeping back the trees by constant mowing, in the way flowers con bees into touching their colored surfaces. Exporting your sexual reproduction to another species was risky business, flowers, but it sure paid off. Paleontologist and polymath Michael Garfield likes to remind people that when flowers exploded onto the global scene 90 million years ago, it was another planet-wide catastrophe—flowers took out most of the evergreen plants and almost all of the dinosaurs. A sudden, fiery, catastrophic event in Mexico would wipe out the rest.
Corn is a kind of catastrophe, like a bright yellow explosion in slow motion. It has a shadow side—a dark, maddeningly evil shadow side. Once Squanto taught the settlers how to plant it in 1620, it helped them survive and helped them displace many of the native plants and animals and eventually the Native Americans themselves. “After all,” writes Pollan, “[corn] provided growers with a ready-to-eat vegetable, a storable grain, a fiber source and animal feed, heating fuel and an intoxicant.” William Bradford referred to Squanto in his journal as “a special instrument sent of God for their good beyond their expectation.” Corn quickly became the perfect commodity since its kernels can be dried, easily transported, and sold. In this way, it helped many of the peasant communities make the leap from a subsistence to a market economy. Corn is therefore marked “the protocapitalist plant.”
Like depictions of artificial intelligence in the movies, corn protected us at first, but then assisted in the destruction of the people who had birthed it. “Yet in time, the plant of the vanquished would conquer even the conquerors.”
Corn-Human Incarnation Cycles
According to the Popal Vu, everyone alive around the year 2012 is witnessing the end of one corn-human incarnation cycle and the beginning of another. This is why the Maya calendar calculations accurately coincide with a rapid increase in genetic engineering applied to corn cultivation, which threatens not only the livelihood of indigenous farmers, but also the soul of the Americas (see Kathleen Rogers).
“You stole the corn! I had it canned in the convenience store!”
“Agrochemical companies patented our maize.” A statement from the Tzotzil people of southern Mexico continues: “If these agrochemical companies try to do away with our maize, it will be like putting an end to part of the culture that our Mayan ancestors bequeathed to us.” To address the threat to traditional corn, the Tzotzil people have formed the Mother Seeds in Resistance project.
In Part 8, a giant named ??????? and his friend Señorita Dido watch David Lynch’s surrealist film of the Trinity explosion and subsequent violence in a movie theater deep inside another lodge surrounded by a purple ocean with no shore (some call it a fortress beneath the waiting room of the Black Lodge). When a strange alarm goes off, they conjure and send, perhaps as a way to balance the new equation, an orb with Laura Palmer’s face in it—an angel made of golden light gathered from ???????’s mind and kissed by his silent female companion. The couple passes the corn-colored bowling ball into the silver screen where it somehow enters the projected revision of the Universal Pictures logo from the 1930s. Surreal industrial tubism blends with imagery from The Wizard of Oz and Christian mysticism right before our eyes.
And remember: Lyman Frank Baum, author of The Wizard of Oz, who was so good at expressing the dreaming American subconscious, famously asserted in 1890 that the safety of white settlers was only guaranteed by the “total annihilation of the few remaining Indians.” The author of The Wizard of Oz was a genocidal maniac.
In Peak Peaks, Sarah Nicole Prickett points out that Lynch does not have to follow Marguerite Duras to Hiroshima to get to the other side. He locates inhumanity at the test site, where for two hundred miles around there was no human presence: a void. The original footage of the Trinity explosion shows the bomb burning so bright it turns the film black. Check it out. For the Trinity explosion in Part 8, however, Lynch uses his computer to recreate the iconic mushroom cloud from the Hiroshima explosion against the sonic nightmarish backdrop of Threnody for the Victims of Hiroshima. The actual image of the moment Trinity explodes appears like the Laura Orb.
When the United States decided to drop an atomic bomb on a city filled with hundreds of thousands of innocent people, something changed in us, and in the universe, forever. Something opened. Lynch says the A-bomb in Twin Peaks “creates an opening,” a crack in everything, (where the darkness gets in). Hanging in Lynch’s/Cole’s office is a framed picture of an ear of corn floating upright superimposed onto what looks like smoke or the bottom of a mushroom cloud. Layering the two images—the two stories—in our imagination creates a third, like a moiré pattern, like an interference pattern that spells out U. S. A.. An American Flag and a picture of Lynch’s Hiroshima Bomb leads our imagination.
The United States is Creamed Corn walking, and it broke the world—morally, atomically, technologically, spiritually, and Twin Peaks carefully guides us to that multi-dimensional, macro-moment.
Twin Peaks also centers its story on the chronic rape of a young girl by someone she knows and trusts. This image of the United States is critical when we are reminded of the continual raping of children by the Catholic Church, by ICE and police officers, by teachers, trainers, coaches, and caregivers, daily. It’s critical when we imagine the raping of Indian children at government and Christian boarding schools throughout the U.S. and Canada, and the less-reported missing and murdered Indigenous women, MMIW.
We often forget that we live on this land because millions of Native peoples were raped and murdered. In Conquest: Sexual Violence and American Indian Genocide, Andrea Smith uncovers the ways rape was and still is used by Euro-Americans to destroy, to conquer, and to colonize:
“While the era of Indian massacres in their more explicit form has ended in North America, the wholesale rape and mutilation of indigenous women’s bodies continues.”
Bloomberg’s editorial board just published this statement: “Americans may be largely unaware of the extreme and pervasive dangers facing American Indian and Alaska Native women. According to a National Institute of Justice study, more than half have been sexually assaulted. More than a third have been raped — a proportion more than double that of white women. For girls and young women aged 15 to 24, homicide is the third leading cause of death. And thousands of American Indian and Alaska Native women and girls have simply gone missing.”
Conquest, like Twin Peaks, broadens our definition of sexual violence to include nuclear bombs and toxic waste. For example, we know that in areas where uranium is mined, such as New Mexico, Utah, the Four Corners and the sacred Black Hills in South Dakota, Native people face skyrocketing rates of cancer, miscarriages, and birth defects. Men and women who grew up in the Four Corners develop ovarian and testicular cancers at 15 times the national average. Meanwhile, Indian women on Pine Ridge in the Black Hills experience a miscarriage rate six times higher than the national average. “And in the Akwesasne Mohawk reserve in New York, one of the most polluted areas in the country, the PCBs, DDT, Mirex, and HCBs that are dumped into their waters are stored in women’s breast milk.”
“Through the rape of the earth, Native women’s bodies are raped once again.”
Smith also reminds us of the horrible fate of women from the Marshall Islands, where the U.S. exploded 66 nuclear bombs after World War II. One of these bombs, “Bravo,” was 1,300 times more destructive than the bomb dropped on Hiroshima. Indigenous people were directly in the fallout and have continued to suffer cancer and major birth defects, including “jellyfish babies”—babies born eyeless and without bones.