The Mystery of Wisteria

For the last few months, a new image became closely associated with David Lynch, his new project, and, as some of the fans believe, possible season 4 of Twin Peaks. I’m talking about wisteria—a beautiful vining plant from the family of Fabaceae, pictures of which keep appearing now and then on social media, and stir growing interest and discussions in Twin Peaks fan community. What is known for a fact is that Wisteria was the first working title of the new project of David Lynch. Regardless of whether the project is a continuation of Twin Peaks, some kind of spin-off, or completely new series with an unrelated plot, the anticipation runs high in any case.

Since we know practically nothing about the project, it was tempting to plunge into research and try to find anything to hold onto, even with the vaguest possible connection. Then I tried to allow my intuition to flow freely, without much reasoning, follow the twining of wisteria shoots and see where they take me. And now, I’m going to talk about my own ideas evoked by both the title and the beautiful plant Wisteria, without claiming that they necessarily have to do anything either with the upcoming series, or Twin Peaks, or David Lynch.

As a disclaimer, I must add that almost nothing I say below is based on facts related to the new series. I cannot possibly be sure whether the connections or explanations I make are valid or not (more probably, not). Everything said below represents only my assumptions or associations, revolving around whatever attracted my attention—conscious or unconscious—during the research.

So, let’s begin!

Meaning and symbolism of wisteria

The first thing that comes to my mind at the mention of wisteria is the unearthly feel it gives. If you look at wisteria gardens, they do seem to be growing from the sky. Like the beanstalk (in fact, its relative from the family of Fabaceae) that allowed Jack to go to the sky, wisteria too seems to connect earth beings with the above realms, giving the opportunity to get a glimpse of those other worlds, interact with them, and even take things from there.

Wisteria flowers can be white, blue, or pink, but their most commonly known colour is purple. This colour is often associated with higher consciousness: crown chakra is purple, for example. It is a mixture of blue and red (remember Twin Peaks and Dr. Jacobi’s glasses). Also, in the context of Twin Peaks, it is the colour of the ocean surrounding Fireman’s castle. And this is consistent with the symbolic meanings of wisteria, which can differ from culture to culture, but since the plant is native to East Asia, the most common symbols I could find also come from there. It can symbolize many things: love, beauty, fertility, everlasting wisdom, creativity, resilience, long life, memory and nostalgia, and expanding consciousness.

This plant can grow for more than a hundred years, twining and spreading endlessly towards the new spaces to occupy. Wisteria spiraling its way towards all directions indeed reminds of expanding consciousness. David Lynch loves to talk about ideas that are developing, giving new shoots, and interacting with other ideas. If one wanted to create an image of this process, I think wisteria would be a perfect choice for this.

Wisteria also needs care and pruning to shape it and avoid overgrowth. It can be cultivated as a bonsai tree as well, which can also be a perfect symbol of giving a shape to something endlessly changing and growing. In my imagination, I can see bonsai trees as stillness in the moment, or a still image captured during the movement. Bonsai symbolism has much more in it, and as it’s not the topic of this article, I won’t go further into it.

Wisteria bonsai tree

Like it is the case with every symbol, wisteria’s symbolism is ambiguous too. However beautiful, it can bring negative results. In the West especially, it is considered to be an invasive plant, as it can choke the other plants upon which it’s leaning. Wisteria clings to a tree and twines around it until the tree is dead. That’s why in Victorian England this plant symbolized overly passionate love (or would we call it a toxic relationship today?)

But the sight of Wisteria that is well looked after is heavenly beautiful. Just take a look at the oldest wisteria in Japan and its magnificent purple “sky”.

The oldest wisteria tree

Wisteria in Japanese culture

As I said above, wisteria has its origins in East Asia. I find it especially interesting how it is depicted in Japanese culture where it appears since at least as early as the 11th century.

The oldest source (that I’m aware of) where wisteria is not just mentioned but has quite an importance is The Tale of Genji—the novel from the 11th century written by the court lady Murasaki Shikibu. This is the story of the Emperor’s son, Genji, that follows his life, relationships, and also reflects the life of the Heian period aristocracy. The mere fact that wisteria appears repeatedly throughout the novel with various symbolic meanings, and is associated with an important character, speaks a lot about the significance of this plant in Japanese culture.

Wisteria is among the plants used for the traditional Japanese Hanafuda cards, or ‘flower cards’. Each of the 12 months in the Hanafuda deck is represented by the plant symbolically associated with it. Wisteria represents April, I reckon because it blooms in late April – early May.

Hanafuda cards for April
Hanafuda cards with wisteria

But the most impressive thing I found during my online research was the Ōtsu-e style (17th-19th centuries) paintings titled Fuji Musume, or Wisteria Maiden.

Wisteria Maiden

These paintings became an inspiration for the classic dance with the same title. The dance has various interpretations. Basically, it’s a story of unrequited love, but certain details differ between the initial classic dance (first performed in 1826) and the later interpretation from 1937. In the original version, a maiden from the painting falls in love with a man who gazes at her image, comes out of the painting and dances. In the later version, the maiden represents the spirit of wisteria, who is clinging to a pine tree (symbol of eternity, power, longevity). In the end, the maiden returns to the painting in one version, or becomes wisteria herself—in another.

Despite different interpretations, both of these versions have one thing in common: a blurred line between real and unreal. Whether it’s a maiden coming out of the painting, or the spirit of wisteria taking the shape of a maiden—the imaginary world is leaking into reality.

If anyone would like to see this dance, here I include the link to the Youtube video of Fuji Musume performed by a famous Kabuki actor Tamasaburō Bandō, with the comments of Kabuki scholar Paul M. Griffith.

Project Wisteria

And now, let’s get back where we started. What connection, in any, could all this have to the new project of David Lynch? I began this article with a disclaimer, and I’ll repeat here as well—it may have no connection at all! Or no connection but the air of mystery, unearthliness, elusiveness.

With so little known about this new series, we still have a few facts. One of them is that initially announced as Wisteria, the title of the project was soon changed to ‘Unrecorded Night’. This means that Wisteria is not even official title anymore. Though I wouldn’t assume that it has lost its significance. After all, ask Gordon Cole if unofficial equals to unimportant. Quite the contrary, it might be even more important, because it can contain deeper and meaningful truths hidden behind the façade of the official.

The new title sounds to me more specific; makes me think that it emerged when the story itself became more specific. By contrast, Wisteria sounds vague, to the extent that I could suggest that it may not have anything to do with the plot of the series. What if, instead, it denotes something elusive, something not yet fully formed even in its creator’s mind. Or some idea clinging to him, like real wisteria would cling to other plants. Or, what if it’s as simple as ‘wisteria’ being just a substitute word for ‘mystery’ present in or around the series? The latter assumption is justified both phonetically and by the plant’s appearance and the vibes of elusiveness that it conveys.

So the title ‘Wisteria’ could reflect the process of creation of the project, rather than being a part of its plot. In this case, it would serve as a symbol of the imagination and creativity growing in all directions, different branches of it intertwining, covering new areas and taking in new objects on their way. The symbolic meaning of wisteria as expanding consciousness supports this assumption.

These are the results of my research and the thoughts about the topic I wanted to share. In the end, all we have to do is to wait until more details get disclosed. But I have a strong suspicion that whatever the new project is, it will probably turn out to be nothing like we expect. I think we can trust David Lynch on that!

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