Ontological Shock

Those who return from the other world are never the same. A visionary experience is an ontological shock.

Agent Cooper’s journey in “Twin Peaks – The Return” appears to be like the aftermath of a shock. It resembles both real cases and the endless chain of mythological stories.

This is not an interpretation of the new landmark series by David Lynch. The story of “Twin Peaks – The Return” is very special and leaves room for a lot of interpretations.

I am talking about underlying themes and archetypical patterns. It’s about something which happens also in reality not only in fiction.

“Ontological shock” as a theme had been a driving force in the development of the Forest Dark. These things happen more often as we think and sometimes in a more subtle way.

What do we mean by “ontological shock”? This is a philosophical term; It is the state of being forced to question one’ worldview. The term appeared – not surprisingly – in connection with the MATRIX movie and was one of the titles in the soundtrack.

So, many phenomena, as described earlier, like dangerous lights in the forest, UFOS, apparitions in the forest could create an ontological shock. If we see something which is simply not possible, this could lead to an ontological shock.

It is interesting, however, that in dreams we experience a lot of things which are not possible, like being able to fly, but we don’t remember them as a shocking experience.

In theological terms, an ontological shock is also related with non-being. This is an interesting aspect of visionary experiences. They open up the question of existence and non-existence.

Furthermore, the return from the other world is probably the shocking moment. We are not any longer in awe of the wonder or occupied by questioning what’s going on but being back in the “normal world” is the most difficult time. We can’t pretend like nothing has happened.

In Agent Coopers’ journey, we find mythological archetypes as “Orpheus” or classic folk-story motives like “Rip Van Winkle”. Somebody vanishing and reappearing years later has always been a very prominent motive in legends and folklore throughout all times.

Even in modern UFO-stories “missing time” is a typical part of the narratives of alien abduction victims. When David Lynch did “Twin Peaks – The Return” there had already been a long tradition of these stories.

However, another interesting question is if the ontological shock is something which happens after the return from the other world, is it because we learned about something which opened another reality upon us or is it because we can’t understand our everyday world not any longer?

Agent Cooper has obviously forgotten about the normal world after his return and the normal reality is for him the otherworld.

Perhaps it is also the moment of shock when we understand what our world really is (facade, a kind of stage).

Furthermore, the ontological shock seems to be related on one side with a realisation (my whole idea of reality was wrong) but on the other side with the loss of memory.

Agent Cooper, when returned from the black lodge, has forgotten about nearly anything. He needs to “wake-up”. In his forlorn state, the everyday-like world appears like a dream.

The most interesting part of this is that it is a familiar thing. It needs a little shift of point-of-view, and we can see the strangeness of our world ourselves in certain moments of heightened awareness.

People who had a visionary experience like near-death-experiences are sometimes conflicted that they cannot any longer relate to the “normal worldview”. They can see “through things”.

Carol Zaleski writes in “Otherworld Journey”: “Several accounts describe a liminal period after recovery, during which the near-death subject, with one foot still in the other world, finds it excruciatingly difficult to adjust to normal life”.

Zaleski finds that in many accounts the “visionary transformed” has completely changed his life, doesn’t speak about what happened, doesn’t laugh and expresses a deep seriousness. This applies both to medieval accounts of otherworld journeys as modern near-death experiences. Agent Cooper has a lot in common with medieval visionaries.

If we look at David Lynch’s cosmogony everything makes sense. In a BFI article (Remain In Light…) B. Kites writes convincingly about the obvious elements of gnostic religion and Indian Vedanta in Lynchs Work. It’s a view which has been discussed in Anamnesis earlier, the soul reborn entering our world and forgetting what has been before. “The Soul take on the guise of individual identity and enters the theatre of the world…where it forgets its origins”.

In this context Plato’s End of Republic with the “Vision Of Er” is very interesting to compare. It is like the very fundament of both works of fiction and real accounts of visionaries about otherworld journeys.

However, things are a bit more complicated. In otherworld journeys, it is not about simply being shocked because one sees suddenly what’s really going in, it is also disorientation and pain because one can get caught in the treacherous maya other world (this is also part of Eastern theological systems).

In these spheres, there might be forces which want to forget the soul about its origins. It wants us to get in a state of shock and it is not about revelation it is about deception. Thus in some cases the visionary transformed can be the victim of deception.

Ontological shocks happen also in our everyday world. It might not even imply the witnessing of supernatural events but sometimes an incredible set of circumstances leading to mind-shattering events. It looks like somebody is doing this and this makes us fear. Or, somebody wants us to have fear.

The important question is who is behind certain cases. Is there somebody out there who can give us an “ontological shock” if he wants to? B. Kites mentions the corrupt gnostic demiurg as part of Lynch’s cosmogony, which sounds convincing, if we think of the “theatre of our lives” as a battleground of cosmic forces of good and evil.

The Local Gods

Walter Evan-Wentz, a student of folklore, developed some very interesting ideas about the ancient gods, religion and paranormal phenomena. Among the famous “Tibetan Book Of The Dead”, he is also well-known for his book “The Masked Gods” in his time. It’s common knowledge now that the ancient gods are continued to live under different names.

However, Jaques Valleé speaks in his book “Dimension” about an even more interesting discovery by Evan-Wentz: “Could it be, he asked, that every land has its own psychic and telluric forces, contributing to the appearance of certain spirit entities, regarded by human beings as gods and goddesses? (Jacques Vallee, “Dimensions”)”


As I said in The Summoning I think that rituals and secret practices are often the expressions of the hidden forces at a certain place. It is an interesting thought that these gods are an expression of a psychic and telluric force rather than universal beings, which are usually imagined as celestial beings. However, if we look at ancient and even Christian tradition it makes sense. There are many saints which are special and have some sort of “local identity”.

The most interesting thought by Evan-Wentz is that not only the locals but the visitors, the new settlers, the intruder comes under influence of these gods.

Evan-Wentz writes in Masked Gods: “They had confronted here that great psychic entity which was the spirit-of-place, the heart of a new continent. It shattered them completely. But each succumbed in a different way”.

I believe that is what often also folk horror stories are about. It’s not only a potential confrontation with the locals but the visitor comes under influence of the landscape and its psychic forces. These forces find expression in paranormal phenomena but not necessarily.

Evan-Wentz reported that he heard about “shining beings”, which appeared to the Indians in California on sacred mountains which were very similar like the encounter the founder of the “Church Of Latter-Day”, Joseph Smith, had. It seems that in the new world resides a powerful psychic force, which triggers people to change in a certain way. It tends to create its own kind of belief-system. The otherworldliness of the new world is a different one as in Europe or Asia.

Sometimes it is all about atmosphere and a sort of hidden influence felt by visitors or by inhabitants. Often we can’t lay our finger on it. It’s difficult to describe what it exactly is, but we know it is there. Imagining these psychic forces as gods is a logical way to give these forces some face. In stories, it’s a challenge because if you want to stick true to otherworldy realities you might not have a Bigfoot-like monster or an ax-swinging madman as an antagonist. Therefore it’s sometimes difficult to explain the story.

Often we deal with’s what left of paranormal events a long time ago. Some supernatural-god-like force left its footprint on the landscape and the local population. Wonders and unexplainable mind-shattering events lead to weird belief-systems. Maybe the spiritual entity is already gone for a long time. But what happened is alive in a tribal memory.

If we look deeper into this, we are confronted with more mind-boggling questions: How could it be the place, the landscape? Why does it happen? My opinion is it even we not necessarily find a paranormal element either in a true story or legend or a fictional story it always tells us that there must be some sort of otherworld. It means there is an otherworld even more powerful than we think: our literal world, the landscapes, the forests, the mountains are more or less the surface on a windows-screen. The real world lies beneath. The otherworld carries our world.

And why? Maybe there is a spiritual control system. One favorite theory of Valleé and other ufologists is that men are the object of a control system engaged by invisible gods.

In the same chapter in “Dimensions” Jacques Valleé mentions a former Jesuit priest who implied in conversations with Vallee that “the “phenomenon originates with entities that manipulate our reality and our destiny for their own purposes”(Dimensions).

But what do we know? We can only develop our models or speculate what’s going on but the enormous impact both of real stories and fiction dealing with “the local gods” make us sure of the underlying truth.

The Summoning

Invocation of a demon or the elder gods, sacrifice, violent happening: the climax of forest horror stories and in folk horror is often the darkest moment in the story, and my project doesn’t make an exemption from the rule. But don’t forget: the movies weren’t there in the first place. They took inspiration from reality. The origins of rituals in the forest were discussed earlier in this place but we should look deeper into the meaning of these archaic images.
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We see still a lot of remnants from the old traditions in our days even the outcome is usually less dramatic. However, the spirit is still there. Luckily (or hopefully) we don’t see a real sacrifice in our days like the poor policeman in “Wicker Man”, but often there is an effigy, perhaps a puppet of the witch, which then is sacrificed in a huge bonfire.

One meaning of sacrifice is often that something is given to get something in return. The gods were feared in former times. But it could be also an attempt to connect with the spirit of the place. The landscape was a living thing, a certain mountain was a godlike being or a volcano was described with human characteristics.

Even today on islands like Java the scientists compete with old ritualistic traditions which tell how people should live with their volcano. There is so much empirical knowledge in this tradition that the scientists respect the religion. Here the connection between a tribal society and nature is a peaceful one.

The portrayal of violent pagan rites and the outsider from the city becoming a sacrifice in some rural hinterland in many stories seems more rooted in a deeply disturbed connection rather then “tradition”. The happening ending in violence might be more like a brutal reconnection with the power of place ending up in demonic possession.

From our modern view a “rootedness in place” is strange as Michael Newton says in his article in “The Guardian”, “Cult, human sacrifice and pagan sex: how folk horror is flowering again in Brexit Britain”. Indeed the locals are often partners in crime of the sinister supernatural forces at work.

However, we should consider this scenery very precisely. In most forest horror nearly everything is dysfunctional.The rural community in the backwoods isn’t a healthy tribal society disturbed by outsiders. We may find people who found again a connection to the wild but it’s not a good one, they found the darker side of nature or these dark forces found them. And if we are not careful we lose civilized manners deep in the forest. The wilderness takes over, the savage spirit prevails.

In these scenarios it’s not any longer a folklore tradition to please the gods, the summoning or happening ends up in pure chaos. We see acts of madness and evil. The invocation triggers the “get down and boogie side (Stephen King)” of people. The summoning is often associated with the climax because it is about revelation.

It’s the moment when the true nature of the psychic forces are revealed to which the place is charged up. It’s the critical moment when the full potential is shown which is part of human nature. We see what people are capable of doing to each other.

Of course there is already a sort of addiction to these forces long before we enter the darker realms. The secret societies or the cult is an opportunity to act out that “get down and boogie side”. So, is it more a psychological thing or is the human race like the white mice in the lab which could be manipulated easily? If we are the object in an experiment we’ll never know, but we know it doesn’t take much effort, just ringing the right bells, and “rules and rituals that are both remnants of some tribal memory” (Michael Newton, The Guardian) are taking over. The journalist is right that for example in “The Wicker Man” there is no supernatural element involved in the climax but perhaps the ritual or the summoning is itself the expression of these hidden forces: It made us do something. It succeeded over us.

Forest Folk Horror: An Ancient Subsonic Rhythm

Paul A. Green said the subtext in Nigel Kneale’s “The Stone Tape” (A BBC Play) “is the insinuation that a dark force still pulses like an ancient sub-sonic rhythm in the mix of our everyday lives”(Mcourt).

This is a very good definition for some force which is there but can’t be known exactly as what it is, but can be experienced in a certain way.

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“The Stone Tape” is a mix of horror and sci-fi offering itself theories about the nature of the supernatural phenomenon demonstrated in the play . The apparition is seen as a recording in the first place. The (ghost)house is the recording medium. The house has a sinister history. People committed suicides and there had been failed exorcisms. The scientists in the movie see the “premedieval stonework of the room (where the moments of terror happen) itself as an organic recording medium” (Paul A. Green). The ghost-hunters then try to record the voice of the ghost but fail, however the recordings are played back directly to the brain.

This is an interesting theory and the play-writer Nigel Kneale took inspiration from real speculations and theories during that time (70s), which are still around (like from Konstantin Raudive, Breakthrough).

The legendary TV-Play does a very good job to pinpoint one mechanism and fundamental problem which lies at the core of visionary experiences: Scientists fail to record unexplainable phenomena still people have very serious experiences and make convincing claims about what happened to them.

We see that very often when so-called “proof” is presented. Neither photographs nor videos or audio tapes with recordings of “ghost voices” look convincing. These things happen on another level and the human brain works in an unknown way like a receiver or antenna.

In the end of “The Stone Tape” the main characters discovers an ancient (alien) demonic force as the source of the apparition when it’s too late.

Nevertheless it seems that the concept that the old building was charged with some kind of dark force and that these force can also perform phenomena which look more like videotape-loops is not ruled out.

Wouldn’t such a concept apply very well also for our haunted forests? Isn’t the ancient soil we are living on loaded with unfathomable energies? A form of (sometimes dark) force which can generate an endless variety of phenomena, a power which can make people do things at certain times in the forest?

This is something which lies perhaps at the bottom of all folk horror. In folk horror nature (or the forest) is “no longer content to be background. It has power, agency, in folk horror” as it was said in a brilliant article by Dawn Keetley about the “Resurgence Of Folk Horror” (horrorhomeroom.com).

“Things happen because of the landscape”. Jane Bennett put it this way: “fleshy, vegetal, mineral materials are encountered not as passive stuff awaiting animation by human or divine power, but as lively forces at work around and within us” (Jane Benett, System And Things).

Of course this is what my movie project and the Forest Dark is also about: Folk horror where things happen because of the landscape. Forest Dark is a folk horror project.

And I think folk horror is a great chance not so much for “some story based on true events” but for stories revealing a deeper truth in images. It’s a genre revealing to us something which is very real.

The idea of an “ancient subsonic rhythm” might come close to what it is. It might not actually some sort of sound but more kind of a radiation which we feel in certain landscapes. And there might be a rhythm, maybe a rhythm which encompasses different timespans as we would usually apply to a rhythm.

It would be an interesting question if we have series of events in haunted places like the freetown fall river forest happen like in Stephen King’s It where the monstrous events happen nearly every 30 years.

And “sub-sonic” is great as a description for something which is there but couldn’t be heard or seen directly most of the times. This is what’s “in between the trees” in the forest.

In the movies and in horror-stories we try to extract that “ancient sub-sonic rhythm in the mix of our everyday lives”. We attempt to make it visible, to let us see what we normally shouldn’t see and face that hidden force in our lives.

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