Brain Remodeling the Hard Way

What Was Its Attraction for Some Indigenous Peoples?

CAPTION: Willamette Valley head-flattening as portrayed by anthropologist George Catlin. Trepanning tools of nineteenth-century medicine.

Every dollar bill, as occultists are fond of pointing out, bears the image of an eye inside a triangle. Believed by some to represent the Third Eye (of etheric sight), the simple icon—found from Egypt to Micronesia—is also a symbol of power, if not wisdom. To what lengths would the ancients have gone to obtain that wisdom and power? We hear of ancient surgeries designed to “open” the third eye, and in this connection, much has been written about the trepanning procedures of prehistorical surgeons who left hundreds of “trephinated” skulls (with neat holes cut out) all across Europe, Asia, Africa, the Americas, and the Pacific. While medical procedures (for epilepsy, tumors, or to remove splinters, relieve pressure or treat fractures of the brain) may account for some of these drilled skulls, there remain instances of trepanning belonging to the realm of Psyche—indicating some shortcut to enhance the third eye’s telepathic powers (Drake, Raymond. Gods and Spacemen in the Ancient Near East, 179–80). Ancient man of Michigan, it has been noted, along with “the Mound Builders… Peruvians… Neolithic people of France and the Canary Islands had alike an extraordinary custom of boring a circular hole in the top of the skulls of their dead, so that the soul might readily pass in and out” (Donnelly, Ignatius. The Antediluvian World, 273).

That the head, the skull, was believed by some since deepest antiquity, to be the seat of the soul, the immortal part of man, is well known. That belief was carried into recent times by certain groups such as the Vajrayana sect of Tibetan Buddhism. Their practice known as phowa is designed to facilitate the transfer of consciousness at the time of death. Focused on the top of the head, this rite of incision is performed at death, opening the skull at the crown (sahasrara), thus enabling the “transferal” which sends the spirit of a person to the “Pure Land.” Given these practices and beliefs, we might better understand the Tibetan custom of keeping skulls for reverence—which reminds us, in turn, of the pre-Inca trepanning Huari-Huanca people and their custom of fashioning skulls from pure gold as well as painting the sacred skull on pottery. Peruvian mummies are still found with a large opening in the forehead.

Even modern testimonies hold the skull as our portal to other dimensions. In the vodoun religion of Haiti, it is said that the loa, or spirit, “dances in the head of the horse,” the “horse” being the entranced person, the one taken by spirit. This person is “mounted by the loa” just as a horse is mounted by its rider. All this is possible, as the vodounist explains, because loa (spirit) resides in the human head. Along the same lines, a man stricken with chest pains underwent a near-death experience; just as his spirit was moving out toward the Light, angelic voices forced him back; he seemed to return through the top of his head. Many others have witnessed the “white bird;” i.e., that gossamer cloud, that whisper of soul, that departs the body at the moment of death; and they all tell us that it leaves the mortal coil through the head.

But the Ancestors also embraced the concept of absorbing (not expelling) spirit through the top of the head. In fact, it may have become an obsession. Herein lies one of the great mysteries of the race: the almost worldwide distribution of disfigured skulls, many favoring the “conehead” appearance. Although, some of the best specimens of cranial deformation come from Peru where the process was called Satyu Uma, the “flathead” type (with forehead compressed upward) and it virtually circles the planet: from Egypt, Arabia, and China to the Crimea and Scythia (according to Strabo and Hippocrates), to the Uralic Turks and the Huns under Atilla, to the early Scands, Caledonians, Austrians, Swiss, Basque, and Canary Islanders; from Australia and Oceania, to the Caribbean and Mexico and on to Brazil (Minas Geras, where the forehead “entirely disappears”), and finally to North America, especially in the Northwest.

One intrepid traveler exploring the American West in the 1830s found more than twelve tribes along the Willamette and others along the Columbia, and its tributaries, who practiced flattening of the head—including the Flatheads of Oregon and the Chinooks. Yet other North American Indian tribes kept the custom, including the Catawba, Choctaw, Natchez, Osage, and Plateau Indians. As archaeology reveals, the Adena people of Ohio fashioned hard cradle-boards for flattening babies’ skulls, just as a similar cradle-board once prevailed in Britain and the north of Europe.

The process began in infancy; since living bone is plastic material, it can be molded. Among these various head-flattening tribes, the homemade vice grip was usually fashioned of padded boards. Steadily the pressure was increased, as cords (pulled through hinges) were tightened. In the Willamette valley, the Indians placed the infant on a board, to the edges of which were attached little loops of hempen cord, passed across and back, enclosing the child. The force of the pressure was regulated by the strings that passed through holes in the board. The brilliant explorer-painter, George Catlin, personally witnessed head flattening in the 1830s: “The Osages… shave the head… There is a peculiarity in the heads of these people, which is very striking… produced by artificial means in infancy… Infants are lashed to boards, with their backs upon them, apparently in a very uncomfortable condition… forcing in the occipital bone… [produced] and an unnatural elevation of the top of the head.”

Well-known is Catlin’s portrait of a Chinook woman with child in arms, her own head flattened and the infant undergoing the process.

A good deal of speculation followed the discovery of drilled/trepanned skulls, some theorists supposing their purpose was to obtain small roundels to serve as amulets for good luck. A world of second-guessing has also chased down the odd and evidently painful custom of skull flattening. Among the more inane interpretations: “it presses out a bold and manly appearance” (even for females?); it was done “for decorative purpose” (according to one historian writing about the mid-western Adena culture). More recently, scholars have suggested that deformation was performed to signify group affiliation. As a standard of elite status, the elevated crown, say these theorists, served to distinguish between commoners and nobility, just as the Huns and ancient Scythians felt it imparted a certain “aristocratic distinction.” Others, looking farther afield, have surmised that reshaping of the head was done in imitation of some Superior Ancestor, royal lineage, or exalted forbear, thought to be everything from “ancient gods” (Von Daniken, Erich, Twilight of the Gods, 24) or beneficent alien beings, to a bygone heroic and dominant race marked by a naturally receding forehead (Donnelly, 271–272).

The domed head that was considered “beautiful” in Peru (Paracas, Ica, Chimu, Aymara, Kola Wata) was also de rigueur among some of America’s Northwest tribes: “It is even considered among them a degradation to possess a round head, and one whose caput has happened to be neglected in his infancy, can never become even a subordinate chief in his tribe, and is treated with indifference and disdain” (as reported in 1835 by John Townsend).

Fashionable too in ancient Nubia and the land of the Nile, the elongated, abnormally shaped pate is found on the monuments of Egypt and on busts of Queen Nefertiti and King Tutankhamen. Now it is true that in Egypt, head flattening seems to have been confined to a special class. One legend of Abraham’s sojourn in Egypt may shed light on this privileged class of flatheads, as well as on the occult value of the earliest “sand-tables”:

“Now at the time that Abraham and his people came into… Egypt… the Sun Kingdom [kept]… tablets and books and maps relating to heaven and earth… in a library, the summit of which building was used as an oracle for consulting with the spirits… [Here] a man or woman whose head had been flattened in infancy sat by a table covered with sand, whereon the spirits wrote with the finger. And that person… was in rank next to the Sun King. Now, no matter what wars took place, the library [and] the temple… were sacred, and never suffered harm even betwixt enemies” (Oahspe: First Book of God, 11.19–23).

Two circumstances, however, blemish the rectitude of these oracles, reminding us of Erich von Daniken’s opinion that these unpleasant rites and relics are of a brutal past. First, the flathead was made a “simpleton” for life (though now a seer, he was “dull of judgment”). Secondly, his counsel was usually for the sake of imperial war and boundless glory. More often than not, that counsel concerned earthly gain and the enlargement of the king’s domain. “[They] raised up prophets and seers, and they were willing instruments in the hands of tyrants and ambitious lords… By pressing down the front brain of infants, they could be made capable of [etheric sight]. And infants were strapped on boards, and another board strapped on the forehead to press the head flat; and every day the headboard was strapped on anew, tighter and tighter, until the forehead, which holdeth the corporeal judgment, was pressed flat, and the judgment of the brain driven up into the light-perceiving regions at the top of the head” (Oahspe: Book of Divinity, 11.22–23).

Among the flathead seers were some with the back part of the head three times the volume of a normal skull! Thus have scholars reasoned that those with elongated skulls were perhaps made “smarter or more psychic… The enlarged cranium… [gave] an advantage over people with normal-sized brains” (Childress, David H, “The Cranial Deformation Mystery,” Atlantis Rising #93). Well… smarter, no. But psychic, yes! This “back-brained” simpleton, though boosted up in telepathy, was nonetheless cognitively damaged—virtually lobotomized. With the brain thus compromised, the frontal lobe loses much of its executive function, intellectual acuity, and self-monitoring. They may hear God talking to them, but at the cost of mental normalcy. The “temporal lobe personality,” as one thus afflicted describes it, loses all sense of proportion—“You’ve seen the end of the world, heard angels or devils speaking to you… People think you’re crazy, and call you schizophrenic.” (Druse, Eleanor, The Journals of Eleanor Druse, 76, 167, 206).

The hapless creature used (and deformed) by ambitious potentates of old is the prototype of the “idiot savant,” which might help us understand why certain peoples worshipped deformed children, like the Olmecs of Mexico who left statues marked by a strange cleft in the forehead. As for the abuse of prophetic powers, we are reminded of tales of erstwhile kings and despots whose magicians and diviners were always close at hand. Aided by gifts of miracles and the power of prophecy, these tyrants hoped to become king of all the world. Instead of furthering peace and harmony, their flatheads were led to “consult the spirits of the dead for war and earthly glory in blood and death” (Oahspe: First Book of God, 24.26). What sort of god-kings were these rulers who cared more for conquest than the public good? State-gods, it seems: In both Mexico and Peru, head-flattening was a priestly prerogative controlled by the ruling elite. (Ignatius Donnelly also identified the flatheads on Egyptian monuments as the heads of priests.)

More recently, the psychic opener has been dubbed a “valve” by Robert Monroe, a rare adept in the modern world, whose enlightening excursions into the Unseen (which he calls the Second State) are well documented. Not surprisingly, Monroe’s extraordinary powers were, at one point, harnessed by the state. In closely related ESPionage research, David Morehouse’s story (Morehouse, David, Psychic Warrior), if we study its genesis, only confirms our speculations about cranial manipulation: the head—if rattled, hindered or deformed—tends to unleash its psychic potential—but too often in unruly ways. A successful army officer, Morehouse, though helmeted, had been hit in the head by a stray bullet. Soon after, out-of-body-experiences began. Owing to his newfound occult powers, he was recruited by the top-secret Stargate program engaged in RV (remote viewing, i.e., psychic spying). But there were hazards in the altered state, and when Morehouse entreated his doctor for answers, she told him that the bullet had made his brain stop functioning properly: “The impact and… trauma opened something you were not prepared for.” Yes, it opened something, but none of the doctors knew exactly what. As a Watcher, Morehouse had disturbing visions, lucid dreams, nightmares, depression, images of both past and future, conversations “with an angel,” mind-reading, time-travel, etc. But he could not “rid my mind of the images darting endlessly in and out of… my mind’s eye open all the time… [He told his wife] I’m scared, honey… That bullet did something to me, something strange. I can’t turn it off. I can’t stop these goddamned images… and they’re driving me out of my mind.”


In our Materialist Age, we are left with scarcely more than accident or injury to open the psychic gate or “valve.” Some of our foremost seers have started their careers with an accident or serious illness, most notably with head trauma—a blow to the head. Europe’s great medium, Eusapia Paladino, for example, had a peculiar depression of her parietal bone caused by an accident in childhood. From my research on Abraham Lincoln, it appears that the sudden acquisition of psychic abilities began at age ten after a horse kicked him in the forehead. The boy’s skull fracture, thought Dr. Kempf, left him with certain “permanent injuries and functional impairments of his brain” that greatly influenced his personality.

Since Lincoln’s time, many, many more incidents have been noted where head trauma has awakened dormant psychic powers. Though this pathology is largely under-appreciated, a great variety of paranormal phenomena are traceable to cerebral concussion; that laundry list includes:

  • Out-of-Body-Experience: A single example, an Englishman was thrown off his sled and landed on his head; he was immediately astonished to see himself lying motionless on the road, but then realized he had left his body. Yet he could not understand how “there could be a duplicate of himself” (Battersby, H.F. Prevost, Man Outside Himself, 59).
  • Profound Clairvoyance: Peter Hurkos, the Dutch-American seer who took Hollywood by storm and assisted in the hunt for the Boston Strangler, is the best example I can think of; after falling off a ladder, he became one of the most remarkable modern psychics.
  • Artistic Possession: one such case involved “C.E.” who was possessed by a dead Austrian painter; C.E. had earlier been hospitalized with a serious head injury.
  • Secondary Personality: the classic case of Doris Fisher sees the young girl thrown violently to the floor by her drunk father; her head was injured. Somnambulism and “possession” by different personalities began in her teens.
  • Psychokinesis: In one of Scott Rogo’s cases, the bell starting ringing all by itself when the man was at home recovering from a concussion.


As with most myths and hoary traditions, the Third Eye of occultism has its basis in fact. It’s not necessarily as awesome or mysterious as some might suppose. Knowing the actual origin of “coneheads” among the early races of man helps us de-mystify one of the oddest customs of our predecessors. Yet it is only the tip of the iceberg in the long history that saw men of power exploit the psychic sense for their own unseemly ambition. Does this sound familiar?

By Susan B. Martinez, Ph.D.