Friday, February 26, 2016

Hole in the Head Gang

Hole In The Head Gang 
(c) 1993, 2016.

I wrote the following article in 1993. At the time it was one of few sources of information about self-trepanning.  Trepanning means making a hole in the skull of a living person.

 I was published in a Canadian Body-Piercing/Modern Primitives fanzine. This was a time when self-published zines were printed on the office photo-copier on the sly and the Internet was just beginning. This article lived on on the pre-Internet computer BBS system and then on the Internet were it can still be found.  Strangely, the editor of the Canadian zine posted this claiming she was the copyright holder. Nope. This is mine.  I republish it here pretty much as it was written, with the exception of a few spelling corrections and some additional information afterwards.

 I am obligated to say that I do not advocate anyone drilling a hole in their own skull even though in some parts of this article it appears that I do.

Trepananation display at The Science Museum in London. Items are from the Wellcome Collection.

By Timothy Colin Cridland

What's the next big thing in body modification?  Remember when you got that funny hair cut, that tattoo or face piercing? Remember thinking- what will my mom say when she sees this? Well, she'll wish it was just a mohawk when you come home after trepanning yourself at the rave last night.

What is trepanation? Well, you may have seen National Geographic Special showing skulls that have been found with holes chiseled out of them. The narrator of whatever science show you may be watching inevitably points out that some of the skulls show signs of multiple operations with evidence of healing in between them, showing that this was a survivable operation, even with the primitive medical techniques that must have been used. Some would have you believe that these operations could only have been performed with the aid of a technology provided by space-beings; this is the claim of Eric Von Daniken in one of the Chariots of the Gods films.

 In my research into the world of weirdness, I came across references to acts of self-trepanation that had been performed in the 20th Century. This form of body altering is so extreme that I figured the exploits of these people would be well- known to more knowledgeable "Modern Primitives". When I finally got to meet a man who is considered one of the most learned body modifiers in the US, I had to ask him what he knew about this. To my surprise, he knew almost nothing about it. In fact, I ended up sending him information on this. In Seattle, when I told a major figure in the body altering scene that I located someone who had located a hole in their head with an electric drill, he asked me if they were in a mental hospital. I told him they ran an art gallery.

 Here is the story, in a nutshell. The founder of modern trepanation is a Dutch man by the name of Dr. Bart Hughes. In 1962 he became convinced that one’s degree and state of consciousness is controlled by the volume of blood in the brain. Humans have been robbed of a high range of consciousness because we began to walk upright, putting the heart below the brain. This state of affairs could be corrected by standing on one’s head, jumping from hot water into cold water, or taking various drugs. He noted that when we are born, our heads are unsealed. We have all heard of the "soft spot" on top of a baby's head.

 He became convinced that the way to gain back the state of imagination and perception that one experiences as a child was to open a hole in the now-sealed adult skull. He did this to himself with an electric drill. This must have been the first intentional trepanation in hundreds of years. I do not have any account of the specifics of this operation, but it could not have been too bad because he immediately began preaching the benefits of his new state of consciousness, achieved, he claimed, by restoring the natural pulsations of the brain in response to the heart beat. It is said that this did land him in the loony bin in Holland.

 Joseph Mellen met Bart Hughes in Abase in 1965 and became a convert to his teachings of trepanation and also his doctrine of "brainbloodvolume", that, in order to avoid a bad LSD trip, one should take sugar with your dose. Or drill a hole in the skull.  Mellen gave lectures on the importance of Brainbloodvolume and sent out an open letter to LSD dealers about advice that they should give their customers on how to take acid. In London Mellen met a well-known eccentric named Michael Holingshead, who had given Timothy Leary his first acid trip. Holingshead had assumed his name in reference to the mystical third eye. Mellen told Holingshead about Bart Hughes and his discoveries, but Holingshead seemed to prefer to have the third eye be only symbolic and wasn't too keen on having a real hole in his skull, but was won over on the sugar part of it.

 Here I am reminded of the book The Third Eye by L. Lobsang Rampa. In it the author claimed to have been initiated into a Tibetan monastery. Part of the initiation consisted of having a hole drilled into his skull and a splinter of wood inserted into the brain to activate the third eye. Alas, the author turned out not to be a Tibetan, but an Englishman by the name of Cyril Henry Hoskins. He showed no sign of trepanation, making it almost certain his whole account was fraudulent.

 In 1966 money was raised to bring Bart Hughes to London. He was housed in a Chelsea flat. Bart and Joey gave lectures around London, riding the popularity of LSD. The Sunday press caught wind of Mellen and Hughes' teachings and called for them to be thrown out of the country. Julie Felix, a well-known English folk-singer, was more impressed. She recorded songs about the joys of trepanation and Brainbloodvolume, composed by Mellen himself.

 Joey decided to take the trepanation plunge. Bart had become friends with Amanda Feilding who was sharing an apartment with Mellen. One day, when Amanda had traveled to Amsterdam to spend some time with Hughes, Joey decided it was time to do it. Joey went to a surgical store and bought a trepan instrument, kind of like a big corkscrew, designed to be worked by hand. A spike was meant to be driven into the skull to hold the instrument steady, while the revolving saw made a circle around it, removing a circle of bone much like a glass-cutter removes a disc of glass.
 After getting the right needles to administer local anesthesia, Joey took some LSD and tried to trepannate himself. He could not do it. After baring the skull, he was unable to drive the spike in. He phoned Hughes in Amsterdam for help. He tried to return to London to assist in the next operation, but was not allowed into England, being listed as an undesirable. Amanda came in his place. With her help, the spike was driven into Mellen's skull. Mellen turned the crank on the saw. Just as he was about to break through, he fainted. He was taken to a hospital, where he was told if he had gone a fraction of an inch further he would be dead.

 After spending a week on jail on unrelated marijuana possession charges, and getting the attention of a group of psychiatrists, Joey was ready to try the operation for a third time. With Amanda present, he followed the old groove, trying to break through the thin layer of bone that was left. Proving the Doctors wrong, when he broke through he found not death but "An ominous sounding schlurp and the sound of bubbling." Upon withdrawing the trepan, there was a piece of bone in it, but it was apparent that the cut had been uneven, and that part of the bone had snapped off. "At the time I thought that any hole would do, no matter what size. I bandaged my head and cleared away the mess."

In the spring of 1970, to make sure the hole was of sufficient size, he decided to make another one, this time with an electric drill. Amanda was not in town, so he did it alone. He selected a spot above the hairline and applied the drill. After half an hour, the drill burned out. He had it repaired, and tried again the next day. "This time there was no doubt. The drill went at least an inch deep through the hole. A great gush of blood followed my withdrawal of the drill. In the mirror I could see the blood in the hole rising and falling with the pulsation of the brain."

 He claimed that the operation that the operation had produced the desired effects. He claimed that he had achieved the permanent high that he had sought for so long.

 When Amanda returned, she immediately noticed the change in Joey and was apparently so impressed that she decided to drill a hole in her skull with an electric drill as well.

 This time the operation was recorded on film. Joey operated the camera while Amanda trepannated herself. She shaves her hair, makes an incision in the scalp with a scalpel, and drills through the skull, causing blood to flow.

 After breaking through, Amanda experienced a slow change of consciousness. "Over the next four hours I had a kind of feeling like the tide coming in, a soft flowing feeling. ... the ego had stopped talking". As to how it feels today Amanda has said, "It's not an ecstatic feeling at all, but it's very slight rise in the level of the floor of the psyche to the floor of childhood." and "If one puts the adult norm of consciousness at zero and the LSD users at one hundred, then the childhood level and that attained by trepanation is thirty, and the level of cannabis is around fifty to sixty."

 Joey Mellen wrote a book about his experiences, entitled Bore Hole. The film was edited with together the films of Amanda's pet pigeon (to represent peace and wisdom) and music was added. It was released under the title Heart Beat in the Brain, and was played in lectures that they gave around Europe and the US. Many attending these lectures were known to faint when the film was shown. Amanda has written a pamphlet on the subject, titled Blood and Consciousness and has run for Parliament twice on the platform of trepanation for natural health. She admits, however, that she did this in order to publicize trepanation and did not expect to win. To this day Amanda and Joey run the Pigeon Hole Gallery in Chelsea, UK. Yes, they are alive and healthy.

That is the story of the modern pioneers of trepanation. Is it still going on today? According to Amanda there are others, but not many. They have a hard time having Doctors giving them any public support, for the obvious reason that it might endanger their practice. But I can see a day, not far away, where all the kids at the rave, high on LSD and sugary Smart Drinks, will have inserted candles in their trepanation holes just like that one guy you always see at the Ripley's Believe It Or Not Museum. It would look really neat.

 When researching trepanation, I am always reminded of the bad guy from the David Cronenberg film Scanners. In the movie, he is said to have trepanated himself with an electric drill "to let the voices out". If we are to believe Hughes, Mellen and Feilding, it is not voices, but the ego that get out through that hole.

This article is actually incomplete. Most everything I have read on self-trepanation has been a rewrite of the chapter People with holes in their heads from the book Eccentric Lives and Peculiar Notions by John Michell. This article also relies heavily on that excellent source, but the additional information taken from a recent issue of Fortean Times, which included an interview with Amanda Feilding, as well as an outstanding article on trepanation. Information on self-trepanation seems very hard to get. Recently, I was given the phone number of Ms. Feilding. By the time this article is printed I probably will be in England, where I plan to conduct my own interview, hopefully answering the many questions that are still lingering in my mind. An update of this article will be published in the near future.


I did find and interview Amanda Feilding in London. The interview was published in AMOK Journal Sensurround Edition (1995). Part of my interest in publicizing the history of modern day self-trepanation was to see if it would create a revival. There were news reports suggesting that there was a resurgence of sorts but it never became anywhere as popular as other body modifications. Amanda Feildings film of her self-trepanation was finally re-released as part of a 1998 documentary A Hole in The Head. As I am writing this (Feb. 2016) a British publisher has just re-issued Joey Mellens Bore Hole.
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