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Occult Anatomy: The Forehead and Identity

In one of my first drawing classes in high school, one of our very first projects was a portrait of a classmate. Our wonderful art teacher, Gloria Bass, went to great lengths to take us out of our "canned" way of seeing and representation. We did the compulsory Drawing on the Right Side of the Brain upside down drawing Stravinsky exercise (if you haven't tried it, it's really worth your time—time which may well become Missing Time if done properly) and others of probably her own brilliant invention.

The one that impressed me the most was a lesson essentially about the forehead. Ms. Bass had us take a few minutes to render our neighbor's face on sketch paper, then she walked around the room collecting most of the sketches. In her huge stack of sketches, she good-naturedly showed us example after example of weirdly misplaced eyes, wrong hairlines, and incorrect proportions all around. Then, explaining our mistakes, she said something that I had never thought of or realized outright: the eyes are fairly in the exact center of the head.

I suppose what it meant is that we weren't so consciously aware of our foreheads—the area that takes up fairly half the space of what we all see in the mirror every day. The irony is that the forehead, symbolically, tends to generally represent identity. Obviously my 9th grade class was a small sample of very young people, but this same artistic overlooking/misjudging-of-the-forehead phenomena is common.

Recall the now-tattooed woman who infamously sold her forehead space for $15,000 to goldenpalace.com. The casino did not seek out a forehead—the forehead (Miss Karolyne Smith, single Utah mom) was up for sale on eBay. The side lying assumption here is that the forehead is or can be innately a canvas of sorts, in this case, a billboard—a space just screamin' ripe for a message; and that the result will be so outrageous, such a most grotesque defiling, bordering on blasphemous, that someone would pay for it.

Because, traditionally, if there are markings on the forehead, it had better be all about God with no fooling around. Remember the controversy and outrages over Madonna's appropriation of a Hindu bindi? It's simply sacred space. This is also evidenced in contemporary, grandiose self-inflicted martyrdom. Recall the hoopla around sad sack Morton Downey Jr.'s false skinhead bathroom attack, in which a swastika was carved (backward) on his forehead. And there's the recent pathetic "backward B" big-bad-black-men-for-Obama-attacked-me farce.

Note how a lot of forehead-related news is race and/or religion oriented. Interestingly, the forehead is likewise used as a metaphor for racial and identity type issues in science fiction. Trekkers refer to "forehead aliens"—meaning aliens who look pretty much human save for anatomical forehead embellishments. The ubiquitous alien forehead even inspired an Onion story with the headline, Star Trek Introduces Alien Character with Totally Different Forehead Wrinkles.

There are some pretty cool foreheads too—notably the Klingons' ridges and the Cardassians' spoon-inspired fancy. Is a crazy forehead just an established code that makes a character very not-human—a fairly simple way to denote a unique alien race? Maybe, but the forehead thing does take center in a lot of the stories.

The rise and fall of the great Klingon ridges get their own episode in Enterprise, and B'Elanna Torres goes positively crazed when she sees four Klingon ridges on a computer image of her unborn quarter-Klingon daughter. Those ridges had vexed B'Elanna's own childhood; she felt like an outcast surrounded by smooth headed humans. It's not all about aliens, either. Harry Potter's lightning bolt mark upon his forehead is infused with meaning and it sets him apart as especially spiritual and strong among even his subculture of wizarding peers.

Esoterically, the forehead is the place of the third eye, the brow chakra; it is Descartes' 'seat of the soul,'(pineal gland) and the so-called Lantern of Osiris. According to phrenology charts, certain areas of the forehead correspond to individuality, inhabitiveness, coloring, locality, and eventuality (factual memory.) The forehead has a fabulous, central place in occult anatomy that usually seems to be associated with ideas of the individual self.

Still, it seems we might have we have this powerful symbol that is largely overlooked by our conscious notions of our anatomical self. Could it be precisely because the forehead is so humble--plain and not as variant across gender and race as other facial features and qualities? Perhaps the forehead's trans-boundary uniformity the reason for all the symbolism—a secret tabula rasa of sorts onto which we place our ideas of identity.

Sources and further reading:


Star Trek Introduces Alien Character With Totally Different Forehead Wrinkles (The Onion)

THE LIVES THEY LIVED: MORTON DOWNEY JR., B. 1933; Pants on Fire (NY Times)

Online casino tattoos woman's face (The Register)

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