“When you come to know what ‘head’ means, and that prophecy issues from the head, (then) understand the meaning of ‘Its head was removed.’”
— The Apocryphon of James
The following is an excerpt from Baphomet: The Temple Mystery Unveiled by Tracy R. Twyman and Alexander Rivera
For rather obvious reasons, heads have been considered symbols of wisdom, intelligence, and the mind by pretty much every culture ever. This includes the emblem of a disembodied head, and that of a skull. In fact it used to be traditional to keep a human skull in one’s study as a paperweight and memento mori (“reminder of death”). In the Holy Land in the time of Jesus and John, it was a common belief that the mummified heads or skulls of prophets, magicians and wonder-workers held a particular power. Egyptian, Jewish, and Arab magicians have written of the custom of using mummified heads as oracles. The talking severed head of the giant Bran in Celtic lore (believed to have magically protected London from French invasion), the singing head of poet Orpheus in Greek stories, and the prophetic skull of Adam in Judeo-Christian apocrypha are examples of mythical disembodied heads that have been linked with prophecy.
The Knights Templar, in their confessions, also claimed that their Baphomet head could “prophesy” to them. They symbolized their love of their talking head by choosing the skull and crossbones as one of their most famous and omnipresent insignias, giving birth to an icon that would later be used by Europeans pirates on their menacing “Jolly Roger” flags (often accompanied by the number 13 for some occult reason). According to a story associated with the Templars, the head acquired its magic through an act of necrophilia. From Freemasonry and the Ancient Gods by JMS Ward:
A great lady of Maraclea was loved by a Templar, a Lord of Sidon; but she died in her youth, and on the night of her burial, this wicked lover crept to the grave, dug up her body and violated it. Then a voice from the void bade him return in nine months time for he would find a son. He obeyed the injunction and at the appointed time opened the grave again and found a head on the leg bones of the skeleton (skull and crossbones).
The same voice bade him, “guard it well, for it would be the giver of all good things,” and so he carried it away with him. It became his protecting genius, and he was able to defeat his enemies by merely showing them the magic head. In due course, it passed into the possession of the Order.
The authors of Holy Blood, Holy Grail (Michael Baigent, Richard Leigh and Henry Lincoln) have noted that other versions of this story they found included the young woman’s name, “Yse,” and that this sounds a bit like “Isis.” Of course, it was the husband of Isis, Osiris, who was dead when she had sex with him to conceive their son Horus. However, Isis, and her counterpart, the Greek Aphrodite (or the Roman Venus), are traditionally depicted with alabaster skin, sleeping naked in a hidden tomb. It was said that anyone who would witnessed her nakedness, even accidentally, would be cursed. A skeleton could be thought of as symbolically a “naked” and “white” body, so perhaps the description of Venus was meant to be taken as a metaphor for this. If the Templars believed they had the skull of Isis, this would fit the lore, as she is a goddess of prophecy, wisdom, and magic, which are exactly the benefits that the Templars allegedly derived from the Baphomet head.
But whether it was John’s head, Isis’ head, or someone else’s, the idea that heads could be used as oracles is deeply-rooted, particularly in the Middle East and Northern Africa. Called teraphim in Hebrew, Athanasius Kirscher depicted, in his 1652 book Oedipus Aegyptiacus, the Egyptian magical practice of making a sort of robot from a mummified head, often of the firstborn son of the magician, which could be used for divination purposes. The head would be mounted on a wall or a golden plate and would supposedly deliver prophecies when questioned. In 620 BC, they were classified as a form of idol and banned by the Hebrew prophets. They were also used, apparently, by the Sabians of Harran. Kevin van Bladel’s The Arabic Hermes describes a festival that included “a ritual involving a decapitated boy whose head is placed on an altar where it howls; its howls were used to predict the future of the Sabian people.” At this rite the pagan god Mara Samya, “the Blind Lord,” was invoked, perhaps equivalent to the demon Samael, whose name means the same thing.
So, it seems, belief that a magical ceremony could make a severed head talk was widespread in the ancient Middle East. There is an interesting account of how the effect of such a thing could be created through trickery. From the 1961 classic A History of Secret Societies by “Arkon Daraul” (a.k.a. Idries Shah, the Sufi writer), quoting The Art of Imposture, by Abdel-Rahman of Damascus, we read about how Hassan-i Sabbah, “the Old Man of the Mountains,” founder of the Order of Assassins in eleventh-century Persia, initiated his mujahadeen recruits into his war cult:
He had a deep, narrow pit sunk into the floor of his audience-chamber. One of his disciples stood in this, in such a way that his head and neck alone were visible above the floor. Around the neck was placed a circular dish in two pieces which fitted together, with a hole in the middle. This gave the impression that there was a severed head on a metal plate standing on the floor. In order to make the scene more plausible (if that is the word) Hasan had some fresh blood poured around the head, on the plate.
Now certain recruits were brought in. “Tell them,” commanded the chief, “what thou hast seen.” The disciple then described the delights of Paradise. “You have seen the head of a man who died, whom you all knew. I have reanimated him to speak with his own tongue.”
Later, the head was treacherously severed in real earnest, and stuck for some time somewhere that the faithful would see it. The effect of this conjuring trick plus murder increased the enthusiasm for martyrdom to the required degree.
A similar story is told by James Wasserman in his 2001 book The Templars and the Assassins, only he claims that it was done by Rashid Al-Din Sinan, a later Assassin chief. It seems likely that if there is any truth to the story, it was probably the standard Assassin initiation ritual throughout their existence.
Now in the case of the head of John the Baptist, it was purportedly put “on a platter,” which we all universally imagine to be a dinner service. But wouldn’t it make more sense that Salome, as a member of the formerly “Idumean” or Edomite Herodian dynasty (forced to convert to Judaism in the second century), was practicing an old family tradition and requesting the sacrifice of a prophet whose head could be mummified, mounted on a plate and used as a teraph for prophecy? Hasn’t anyone ever wondered what her mother Herodias intended to do with such a grisly prize? There is no description of what was done with the head afterwards, so it is left to our imagination, but this makes more sense to us than anything.