Have you ever heard someone say, or has anyone ever said to you, “you must have a hole in your head”? If so, it’s likely they didn’t mean it as a compliment. However, drilling a hole in someone’s skull has been practiced as far back as 5000 BCE, and possibly before that. A skull found in France with a hole deliberately made in it was dated to then.
The practice is called trepanation, named after the device used to drill the hole, a trepan. Trepanation is the oldest surgical practice and is still performed ceremonially by some African tribes. About 1,000 trepanned skulls from Peru and Bolivia date from 500 BCE to the 16th century.
So why on earth would someone have a hole drilled in their head, other than being held down and having it forced on them? In the past, trepanation was used either to relieve pressure on the brain caused by disease or trauma, or to release evil spirits. The former is still an accepted medical procedure. The latter has died out in those parts of the world where scientific understanding has replaced belief in invading demons.
During the Middle Ages and the Renaissance, trepanation was practiced as a cure for various ailments, including seizures and skull fractures. Out of eight skulls with trepanations from the 6th-8th centuries in south-western Germany, seven skulls show clear evidence of healing and survival after trepanation suggesting that the survival rate of the operations was high and the infection rate was low.
In the modern world, trepanation is practiced for other purported medical benefits. The most prominent explanation for these benefits is offered by Dutchman Bart Huges (alternatively spelled Bart Hughes). He is sometimes called Dr. Bart Hughes although he did not complete his medical degree. Hughes claims that trepanation increases “brain blood volume” and thereby enhances cerebral metabolism in a manner similar to cerebral vasodilators such as ginkgo biloba. No published results have supported these claims.
There is a movement that’s been around since the early 60’s that advocates self-trepanation. In a chapter of his book, Eccentric Lives & Peculiar Notions, John Michell describes a British group that advocates self-trepanation to allow the brain access to more space and oxygen. The chapter is called “The People With Holes in their Heads”. Michell cites Bart Huges as pioneering the idea of trepanation, specifically his 1962 monograph, Homo Sapiens Correctus, as the most cited by advocates of self-trepanation. Among other arguments, he contends that children have a higher state of consciousness and since children’s skulls are not fully closed one can return to an earlier, childlike state of consciousness by self-trepanation. Further, by allowing the brain to freely pulsate Huges argues that a number of benefits will accrue.
What amazes me about this idea is that he somehow decided evolution has gotten it wrong, having the skull close up as we age. It simply doesn’t seem likely. There are many reasons not to drill a hole in one’s skull. Sanity comes to mind, for one. It should be noted that the medical and legal authorities reacted to Huges’s discovery with horror and rewarded him with a spell in a Dutch lunatic asylum.
He had his admirers, however. Joseph Mellen met Bart Huges in 1965 in Ibiza and quickly became his leading, or rather one and only, disciple. He went back to London and found a trepan for sale and attempted to perform the operation on himself. After taking a tab of LSD. He failed. Imagine that.
Anyway, my advice is that if anyone ever offers to show you the way to higher consciousness by drilling a hole in your head, politely inform that they, in fact, are the one that has one, and walk, or run away as fast as you can.