Where have they gone, those victims of the scaffold who once walked through historic houses, carrying their own heads? They were the genteel version of a goblin deformity found in the woman who ran through a Yorkshire barn, holding her head before her with light streaming out of the eyes and mouth, or the headless bear which bounded into a Puritan's bedroom in Somerset. In Tudor times, visitors to Man could see the headless spectres that filled the island, as long as they put their foot on the foot of a native. Decapitation was no impediment to the headless and dismembered Wild Hunt seen by the Shaman of Oberstdorf, or to the cephalophoric saints. St. Denis walked six miles through Paris after his decapitation. "It's easy", he told the crowd, "once you get started". Jeremy Harte looks at a 2,000-year old motif and offers some explanations.
Jeremy Harte is a researcher into the overlap between folklore and archaeology, with a particular interest in sacred space, tales of encounters with the supernatural, and the traditions of Dorset, where he grew up. He has published widely in academic and alternative journals, and is co-editor of the magazine Time & Mind. His books include Cuckoo Pounds and Singing Barrows, The Green Man, English Holy Wells and the award-winning Explore Fairy Traditions. He trained as a museum professional, and is curator of the Bourne Hall Museum at Ewell in Surrey.