The Hexham Heads are a fun little discovery that took on a life of their own…almost literally. We talk about them on episode 51 of the Archaeological Fantasies Podcast. Go give it a listen!
Supposedly, found sometime in 1971 by two young boys, Colin Robson and his brother Leslie, in their back garden in Hexham, England (Andrew 2012, Ferrol 2012, Urban 2014), these two tiny stone heads created a stir almost as soon as they were found. Kept in the home of the two boys, the heads were said to have the power to rotate around as if looking at things (Urban 2014), pull hair (Ferrol 2012), cause random items to break without reason (Andrew 2012), and other supernatural like occurrences. It’s also claimed that during Christmas, a strange flower blossomed on the location one (or both?) head was found, and that a strange light glowed there (Andrew 2012). The pinnacle of strange phenomena attributed to the heads actually happened to the neighbor, Ellen Dodd.
Dodd owned the other half of the duplex the families shared. According to the story, she woke one night to see a half-sheep, half-human creature in her bedroom. It reportedly “padded” it’s way downstairs and put the front door as she watched (Urban 2014). It is interesting to note that also that evening there was an apparent prank involving a drunk who had stolen a sheep’s carcass and was staggering down the road Dodd lived on, carrying the thing on his shoulders (Ferrol 2012, Urban 2014). Dodd also claims the same night, she heard a scream next door and the sound of something breaking (Andrew 2012). The Robsons claim the noises had to do with a werewolf sighting in their side of the house (Andrew 2012).
The heads themselves look like petrified apple-doll heads. They are made out of what turned out to be cement, and were carved as toys by Des Craigie, a former resident at the duplex that Robson and Dodd shared (Ferrol 2012, Urban 2014). He made them for his children to play with back in the 1950’s, and reproduced them on the spot when asked (Ferrol 2012, Urban 2014). So case closed right? Well…
‘I really don’t think it matters too much when the heads were made, or who made them, the things worked and that’s what matters.’ (Clarke 2012)
The story of the Hexham heads really doesn’t take off until Dr. Anne Ross becomes involved. Ross was a well known expert on Celtic culture. Unfortunately, the heads appeared to have confounded her. Ross erroneously dated the heads to be about 1800 years old and said that they were originally used during Celtic head-rituals (Andrew 2012). Ross kept the heads with her in her home for some time to study them, and during that time, she experienced paranormal phenomena of her own, including a visit from a werewolf (Andrew 2012, Clarke 2012, Ferrol 2012, Urban 2014).
Dr Ross, in whose home the stones were temporarily stored. When I interviewed Ross in 1994 she told me the stones brought an “evil presence” with them: “There was no doubt the haunting was that of a werewolf,” she told me. “The thing took form very gradually, and when it actually became not just audible and hinted at but tangible and visible, something had to be done, because it was definitely growing…” (the house was subsequently exorcised, but that’s another story….) Clarke 2011
The Heads change hands a few more times after Ross is done studying them, and like all good paranormal artifacts, they vanish. The current location of the heads is not known.
The Heads are an interesting tail for other reasons though, and most of that stems from the hype that formed around them. Jeb and I talk about this in the podcast episode. Like the quote above says, despite the Heads being confirmed as non-paranormal in origin, there is still a belief that they possess paranormal powers, this time brought on by the mere belief that they should possess such powers.
The reasoning behind this is akin to the ideas in the 1972 movie by Nigel Kneal called The Stone Tapes. In the movie, the team is studying stones that apper to have recorded paranormal phenomena cause by the strong emotions felt by the victims at the time of their demise (its a decent movie, go watch it). Ross and others make a similar plea here, that since so many people experienced what they thought was paranormal activity in the presence of the Heads, the Heads now actually possess paranormal powers similar to those originally experienced.
Can this really happen? Well, it is certainly well documented that if someone believes something strongly enough, their minds will create the desired effect. There are enough placebo studies to prove that, not to mention studies on superstition and witchcraft. So, do I think the Heads now possess supernatural powers that they didn’t before? No. Do I think that people believe that they do? Yes.
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2012 The Curse Of The Hexham Heads? April 20, 2012 http://www.paranormal-encounters.com/wp/the-curse-of-the-hexham-heads/. Accessed 9/10/2016
2011 Celtic curse tested? www.drdavidclarke.co.uk May 4, 2011. https://drdavidclarke.co.uk/2011/05/04/update-on-campaign-to-protect-celtic-shrine/ Accessed 9/10/2016
2012 Heads and Tales. www.drdavidclarke.co.uk. December 22, 2012. https://drdavidclarke.co.uk/2012/12/22/heads-and-tales/ Accessed 9/10/2016
2012 “In Search of the Hexham Heads, part one”. Fortean Times (294). pp. 42–7 (November 2012). Accessed 9/10/201
2012 Quest for the Hexham Heads. https://www.amazon.com/Quest-Hexham-Heads-Paul-Screeton/dp/1905723946
The Urban Prehistorian
2014 The Hexham Heads part 1 – the discovery. The Urban Prehistorian blog. Jan 27 2014. https://theurbanprehistorian.wordpress.com/2014/01/27/the-hexham-heads-part-1-the-discovery/. Accessed 9/10/2016