Symbols & Archetypes
The most prominent of these symbols is the one found minutes into episode one which I’ve covered to some extent in another article.
There is a significant difference between a sign and a symbol, and an archetype for that matter. Jung described these differences in his book Man and His Symbols.
Man uses the spoken or written word to express the meaning of what the wants to convey. His language is full of symbols, but he also often employs signs or images that are not strictly descriptive. Some are mere abbreviations or strings of initials, such as UN, UNICEF, or UNESCO; others are familiar trademarks, the names of patent medicines, badges, or insignia. Although these are meaningless in themselves, they have acquired a recognizable meaning through common usage or deliberate intent. Such things are not symbols. They are signs, and they do no more than denote the objects to which they are attached.
This “symbol” isn’t a symbol at all. In the real world, it is actually a logo or a sign for “boy-love” used by pedophiles to identify each other. The show wants us to believe that it is a symbol so I will refer to it as such.
In some instances, the origins of the symbol are attributed to the triskele or “the yellow sign” from the book The King in Yellow written by Robert W. Chambers; however, neither really resemble the symbol used in True Detective. Once compared, it would be difficult to deny the strong similarities between the blue triangular spiral and the BLogo.
The owl can be found toward the end of episode two when Cohle and Hart enter the old burned-down church as they look for clues. The owl is perched on one of the exposed roof beams of the church right before the detectives uncovered a significant clue that would keep the investigation moving along.
The owl wasn’t the only interesting thing in that scene. On one of the walls of the church, you can make out some kind of painting resembling pizza. I could not discern what the painting was originally supposed to be but under the debris and rubble, it looked strikingly a lot like pepperoni pizza which is disturbing given the context of the episode.
The owl could belong to the ancient Greek goddess Athena, patron goddess of Athens. Many know Athena as the goddess of wisdom and, consequently, her owl also represents that as well.
The owl is a nocturnal bird often given the attribute of night vision since it hunts in the dark. Owls can illuminate the darkness in a figurative sense, possibly with the aid of wisdom or knowledge. You can’t spell ‘knowledge’ without ‘owl.’
One of the explanations for the owl’s appearance is that the show kept predatory birds on set to scare off mockingbirds. This answer doesn’t seem satisfactory. Not only does the owl show up at an appropriate time in an episode already filled with hidden messages, but it even gets posted on the show’s Instagram page on Halloween day of 2013, a very special occult holiday. The people behind the show seem to be well aware of pagan and occult practices which makes the appearance of the owl a lot less likely to be pure coincidence.
Another interesting point is the name of episode two in which this all takes place, Seeing Things. This is alluding to Cohle’s “visions” which he mentions in the same final scene.
Yeah, back then, the visions. Yeah, most of the time, I was convinced that I’d lost it. But there were other times… I thought I was mainlining the secret truth of the universe.
There is also a reference to an owl in the short-story An Inhabitant of Carcosa by Ambrose Bierce.
A moment later a man’s head appeared to rise out of the the ground a short distance away. He was ascending the farther slope of a low hill whose crest was hardly to be distinguished from the general level. His whole figure soon came into view against the background of gray cloud. He was half naked, half clad in skins. His hair was unkempt, his beard long and ragged. In one hand he carried a bow and arrow; the other held a blazing torch with a long trail of black smoke. He walked slowly and with caution, as if he feared falling into some open grave concealed by the tall grass. This strange apparition surprised but did not alarm, and taking course to intercept him I met him almost face to face, accosting him with the familiar salutation, “God keep you.”
He gave no heed, nor did he arrest his pace.
“Good stranger,” I continued, “I am ill and lost. Direct me, I beseech you, to Carcosa.”
The man broke into a barbarous chant in an unknown tongue, passing on and away.
An owl on the branch of a decayed tree hooted dismally and was answered by another in the distance. Looking upward, I saw through a sudden rift in the clouds Aldebaran and the Hyades! In all this there was a hint of night—the lynx, the man with the torch, the owl. Yet I saw—I saw even the stars in absence of darkness. I saw, but was apparently not seen nor heard. Under what awful spell did I exist?
Again we see the same principle of seeing in the dark. Both the owl and lynx are nocturnal predators. The strange man dressed in animal skins while carrying a torch is a shaman (something I will touch more on later on) and is akin to Arcanum XV of the Major Arcana of the Tarot, also known as The Devil who lights his Promethean torch on The Sun and explores the dark caverns of the subconscious (notice that the prefix sub means “under, below, beneath” such as a cave or Hell).
In some cultures, the owl might be a sign of death or foreboding simply because it is a predatory animal but it has other connotations, biblical ones.
In brief, the owl is also linked to the ancient Canaanite deity Moloch. There is a sourced and in-depth article covering the connection not just between owls and Moloch, but also the elite’s obsession with owls in general.
Stars and Skulls
Earlier in episode two, one of the victim’s friends, when interrogated by detectives Cohle and Hart, displayed tattooed stars on her neck and embroidered stars on her sweater. The tattooed stars appear to be six-pointed while the stars on her sweater appear to be five-pointed. She also wore a skull and bones necklace on a lock pendant.
Remember that this episode is called Seeing Things and caps with Cohle expressing his belief that he was “mainlining the secret truth of the universe” so we have reason to believe this episode is about great revelations. As an article on Entertainment Weekly put it,
“Seeing Things” was about the search for truth and the avoidance of it. It was about being known, and wanting to remaining unknowable. It was about the occult — not in the supernatural sense of the term, but in the Latin, as in ‘that which is clandestine, hidden, concealed,’ and how our understanding of a person or thing changes when secrets are revealed.
The five and six-pointed stars can have multiple meanings ranging from the pentagram, satanism, Freemasonry, Judaism, and so on but the concept of a star in itself has a more fixed meaning. Stars emanate light and dispel darkness making them a symbol of illumination.
We hear of stars again in episode eight Form and Void.
Hart: Didn’t, uh… didn’t you tell me one time at dinner once, maybe, about you used to… you used to make up stories about the stars?
Cohle: Yeah, that was… that was, um, in A-Alaska, under the… under the night skies.
Hart: Yeah, you used to lay there and look up, yeah, at the stars?
Cohle: Yeah, and you remember I… I never watched a TV till I was 17, so there wasn’t much to f*ckin’ do out there besides walk around and explore and… And… and look up at the stars and make-up stories.
Hart: Like what?
Cohle: I tell you, Marty, I’ve been up in that room looking out those windows every night here and just thinking… It’s just one story. The oldest.
Hart: What’s that?
Cohle: Light versus dark.
Hart: Well, I know we ain’t in Alaska, but… appears to me that the dark has a lot more territory.
Cohle: Yeah. You’re right about that.
We can imagine that in ancient times the star-filled night sky was a wonderful canvas to project meaning and stories unto. As Lao Tzu wrote in the Tao te Ching, “When the people of the Earth all know beauty as beauty, there arises (the recognition of) ugliness. When the people of the Earth all know the good as good, there arises (the recognition of) evil.” One of the first stories created and perpetuated must have been the story of duality and, possibly, a conflict between the two opposing sides, the same story told in the first season of True Detective, “the oldest” story.
According to SymbolDictionary.net, the skull and crossbones mean:
The skull and crossbones is also an important emblem in Masonry, where it symbolizes the transience of the material world, and is used in initiation rituals as a symbol of rebirth. It may also symbolize the sephirah daath on the kabbalistic Tree of Life, the gateway to the higher realms of understanding only achievable through spiritual death and rebirth.
Since the skull and bones are seen on a lock, we can assume the gateway to a “higher realms of understanding” are inaccessible and require a “key” to unlock it.
The shaman’s first appearance is in episode one with the corpse of Dorah Kelly Lange.
As I’ve already pointed out earlier, the shaman has connections with Arcanum XV of the Major Arcana. One of the similarities between the shaman and Arcanum XV are the antlers. Alejandro Jodorowsky had this to say about Arcanum XV in his book The Way of Tarot: The Spiritual Teacher in the Card:
The three figures are crowned with horns, indicating that this Arcanum is that of passion above all else: amorous passion and creative passion. This card contains all the hidden potentials of the human subconscious, both negative and positive. This is also the card of temptation: a summons to search for the occult treasure, immortality, and powerful energy buried in the psyche, which is necessary for all great human endeavors. Obviously, this card can also represent a fraudulent contract in the Faust tradition, sexual deviance and degeneracy, infantilism, deceit, mental delirium, economic rapacity, gluttony, and all self-destructive attachments.
Jodorowsky says in a different part of the text:
The figures on this card are a blend of the human and the animal, which makes reference to our primordial powers, the prehistoric memories buried in the deepest depths of the nervous system. This feature reminds us, through the various esoteric signs adorning these figures, that the initiate, to achieve illumination, should not refuse his animal side but accept it, honor it, and guide it to angelic light.
The horned shaman is one of several dancing figures depicted in a cave painting in Ariege, France, dated 10,000 BC. Nicknamed the “dancing sorcerer,” it is believed to represent a shaman in ceremonial dress, or in the form of a shapeshifter.
The composite creature has the tail of a wolf, the body and antlers of a deer, the eyes of an owl, and the paws of a bear.
The satanic cult in the show doesn’t get as much attention as I wish it would given the important role it should play in such a scenario. We know from later episodes that the Tuttles were involoved with some kind of satanic organization and its alluded to that the serial killer, Childress, was probably related to them. But, as is usually the case, the book is better than the movie; Or, in this case, reality is better than the show (arguably, “better” isn’t the right adjective).
Given that the show didn’t bother going deeper into the satanic cult side of the story, I want to use this opportunity to outline some real world examples of satanic murder and ritual abuse, specifically from one of my favorite books Programmed to Kill.