Crystal Skulls

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Speculations of the origins of crystal skulls run the range from outer space aliens to the advanced society of Atlantis. However, in the case of this pictured skull, once displayed at the British Museum, the supposed origin was not the ancient Aztec civilization but rather an attempted fraud. AFP/Getty Images.

Crystal Skulls

(religion, spiritualism, and occult)

The term crystal skull refers to a set of stone artifacts carved in the shape of a human skull. The oldest were carved in ancient Central America by the Aztecs and related peoples. However, these are of far less interest as religious phenomena than the small number of skulls, most of clear quartz, that have been proposed to originate in ancient Atlantis or outer space. Various paranormal phenomena are associated with these skulls that have made them objects of veneration and awe by contemporary Esoteric believers.

The first of these latter skulls appeared in the 1940s. F. A. “Mike” Mitchell-Hedges (1882–1959) claimed that in 1923 he was in British Honduras (now Belize) with his seventeen-year-old daughter, Anna Mitchell-Hedges, excavating Lubaantun, an ancient Mayan city. He believed that Lubaantun held the secret of the ancient Atlantis. The skull, about five inches high and weighing about eleven pounds, resembled the earlier Aztec skulls but had a detachable jaw.

In describing the skull in later years, Mitchell-Hedges labeled it the “skull of doom” and suggested it was more than 3,500 years old and was produced by a lengthy process of rubbing down a large crystal. It took its name from its associations with the High Priest, who could will the death of others with its use. The sinister story attracted attention to the crystal over the years.

The crystal received attention in 1970, when Anna Mitchell-Hedges, who had inherited the skull, allowed art conservator and restorer Frank Dorland to examine it. He added to the legend with his declaration that it originated in Atlantis and accompanied the Knights Templar on their crusades in the Holy Land. More importantly, however, he claimed the skulls had been examined in a laboratory of Hewlett-Packard, where researchers found a number of unique attributes verifying its ancient production, including an absence of the kinds of microscopic scratches that would indicate it was carved. The entire story was recounted in a 1973 book by Richard Garvin. The book drew the attention of members of the then-emerging New Age movement to the crystal skull, which was seen as a very special case of the crystals that would become so important to New Agers in the next two decades. Subsequently, attention was called to the existence of other crystal skulls. Most of these skulls were put forward with accounts that traced them to Mexico or Central America, suggested their ancient origin, and tied them to various psychic phenomena. Most often they were touted as catalysts capable of produc-ing various mental phenomena for the person owning or using them.

Unfortunately, the stories associated with the skulls have not been able to withstand critical scrutiny. The original Mitchell-Hedges skull, for example, appears to be the product of a hoax. Rather than collecting the skull in Belize in 1923, Mitchell-Hedges purchased the skull at an auction in 1943. There is no independent evidence to back up the claims of Frank Dorland, such as a crystal skull being with the Knights Templar during the Crusades. Other skulls that were examined during the 1990s were shown to be relatively modern productions, the close examination of their surfaces showing the marks of modern tools. In the mid-1990s, after receiving a crystal skull for the collection at the Smithsonian Institute, several scientists conducted an investigation of it and related skulls, all of which were tracked to rather mundane nineteenth-century origins.

While the crystal skulls attracted a modest amount of veneration, especially among people who had a prior interest in crystals in general, the negative connotations of the Mitchell-Hedges skull caused interest to wane. The primary exponent of the crystal skulls at present is New Age writer Joshua Shapiro.

If there was a claim about the skulls that was true, it was the assertion that they could be used for scrying, a form of clairvoyance generally associated with the use of crystal balls and magic mirrors. The skulls, in fact, resemble crystal balls, and it is this resemblance rather than any mysterious quality that accounts for their facilitation in scrying.


Bowen, Sandra, et al. Mysteries of the Crystal Skulls Revealed. Pacifica, CA: J & S Aquarian Networking, 1988.
Galde, Phylis, and Frank Dorland. Crystal Healing: The Next Step. St. Paul, MN: Llewellyn Publications, 1988.
Garvin, Richard M. The Crystal Skull: The Story of the Mystery, Myth and Magic of the Mitchell-Hedges Crystal Skull Discovered in a Lost Mayan City During a Search for Atlantis. Garden City, NY: Doubleday & Company, 1973.
Nickell, Joe. Secrets of the Supernatural: Investigating the World’s Occult Mysteries. Amherst, NY: Prometheus Books, 1991.
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