Trepanation is a surgical procedure in which a circular piece of bone is removed from the skull by a special saw-like instrument called a trephine or trepan. The operation is also known as trephination or trephining. The English word "trepan" comes from the Greek word trypanon, which means "auger" or "drill."
In standard medical practice, trepanation is occasionally performed by a neurosurgeon in order to relieve pressure on the brain caused by trauma, or to remove a blood clot from brain tissue. In recent years, however, trepanation has been touted by a small group of alternative practitioners as a way to expand one's consciousness through the increase of blood flow to the brain and opening the "third eye," also known as the inner eye or eye of the mind. Practitioners of kundalini yoga refer to the opening of the third eye, located in the middle of the forehead, as entry into a new and completely different dimension of reality.
Trepanation is the oldest surgical procedure known to humans; skulls of Cro-Magnon people estimated to be 40,000 years old have been discovered with circular holes as large as 2 in in diameter. The Incas of Peru are known to have performed trepanation as early as 2000 B.C. It is thought that these operations were performed to treat people suffering from psychotic disorders, epilepsy, or chronic migraine headaches by allowing demons to escape through the hole in the skull.
The oldest written reference to trepanation comes from Hippocrates (c. 400 B.C.), whose descriptions of head injuries refer to it as a necessary treatment for skull fractures with bone fragments pushed inward and compressing the brain. Celsus and Galen refer to Roman surgeons of the first century A.D. as performing trepanations with implements resembling carpenters' drills. Trephines were refined in various ways through the Middle Ages, the Renaissance, and the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries. It should be emphasized that trepanations were done by ancient, medieval, and early modern physicians to relieve pressure on brain tissue—not to perform surgery on the brain itself. Care was taken not to penetrate the dura mater, which is the outermost of the three meninges or membranes that lie beneath the skull and form a protective cover for the brain and spinal cord. Historians of medicine estimate, however, that as many as 40 percent of patients died from infections following the procedure rather than from the surgery itself.
Contemporary interest in trepanation as a path to expanded consciousness goes back only to the 1960s. Bart Huges, a Dutchman who was expelled from medical school in the early 1960s for failing his examinations and using marijuana, is generally considered the founder of alternative trepanation. Huges developed a theory that he called brainbloodvolume while he was smoking marijuana at a party on the island of Ibiza. He noticed another guest standing on his head to increase the intoxicating effects of the drug. Huges concluded that the expansion of consciousness associated with hallucinogens results from an increased volume of blood in the brain. He reasoned that the removal of a piece of the skull would allow an even larger amount of blood to enter the brain, speeding up the delivery of oxygen and glucose to the brain cells as well as the removal of toxins. Huges had also learned in medical school that infants are born with soft spots in the skull known as fontanelles, which are membrane-covered areas where the bone has not yet completely formed. He concluded that trepanation would help to return an adult's consciousness to the intense imagination and vivid dreams of a child.
Huges—who never obtained a medical degree—managed to convert several individuals to his brainbloodvolume theory—among them Peter Halvorson, who underwent trepanation and credits it with curing hisdepression, increasing his energy level, and giving him a permanent drug-free high. As of 2004, Halvorson is the head of the International Trepanation Advocacy Group (ITAG), headquartered in Wernersville, Pennsylvania. The ITAG web site includes accounts of a pilot study of six volunteers who were trepanned in June 2002 as well as personal testimonials from others who have undergone the procedure.
Rebecca J. Frey PhD, The Gale Group Inc., Gale, Detroit,