‘The head that works for you: apotropaic vs show’
Carved heads are a familiar feature at windows, doorways and other threshold locations of buildings, as well as at other sites in the UK, such as wells. Although many may be judged as decorative rather than functional in a magical sense, they are all heirs to a tradition that can justifiably be termed ancient and apotropaic. This presentation suggests how typology can differentiate between decorative and apotropaic, and identifies the minimalist 'archaic head' as the vehicle of folk-magical intent in vernacular architecture from the 17th century. Further suggestions are made as to why this image may have been thought appropriate.
John Billingsley is author of ‘A Stony Gaze: Investigating Celtic & other stone heads’ (Capall Bann, 1998), ‘Folktales of Calderdale’ (Northern Earth Books, 2007), ‘Hood, Head & Hag: Further folk tales from Calderdale’ (Northern Earth Books, 2011) and ‘West Yorkshire Folk Tales’ (History Press, 2010), as well as numerous articles in antiquarian journals. He has been editor of Northern Earth magazine for 25 years, and previously taught Yorkshire Cultural Tradition on Bradford University’s regional studies courses.