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A preserved head or skull that can speak on its own, usually to answer questions of a divinatory nature.

As a trope, it is at least Older Than Feudalism — it goes back to the Greek myth of Orpheus's singing head.

A common variation in medieval lore was the Brazen Head, which could answer any question and make oracular pronouncements. The Brazen Head crops up in the stories surrounding many medieval magicians, including Roger Bacon and Faust.

See also Losing Your Head and Brain in a Jar for other cases of living beheaded creatures. If it comes down to just being a skull, it starts to overlap with Dem Bones.


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Examples:

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    Anime & Manga 
  • In Tengen Toppa Gurren Lagann, Lordgenome gets his head resurrected and hooked to life support by post-Time Skip Rossiu, who wants to regain full access to his knowledge this way.
  • Subverted in Texhnolyze with Ran who ends up in this state but refuses to divine anything to Kano.

     Comic Books 
  • Clea brings the heroes Doctor Strange's severed head in a brandy barrel in Marvel 1602. As is typical of the trope, being dead means that Strange can now tell our heroes stuff that he couldn't while alive.
  • The Invisibles also has Ragged Robin stumble across a group of Conspiracy members who receive orders from the head of John the Baptist. Subverted in that Robin just hears the head talking nonsense, and realizes that the head's speaking in tongues; the only reason the Conspiracy members hear orders is because they've been so thoroughly conditioned to follow orders.
  • Marvel Zombies Deadpool has been reduced to a Headpool, who is now the regular Deadpool's sidekick.
  • The Sandman has Orpheus, Morpheus' son, an oracle and disembodied head.
  • In Valhalla, the decapitated but still-living head of Mimir is a recurring side character; he's a bit of a grouch and Odin's eternal chess partner. In most of the stories he tends to win the chess games (or is about to), although Odin frequently cheats.
  • Kingdom Come. Deadman has a talking skull head.
  • In Azrael, the Order of St Dumas had a brazen head that was supposedly St Dumas himself, preserved to share his wisdom. Which was mostly spewing misogyny at Sister Lilhy and telling Az how useless he was. A marginally more useful version appears in the Legends of the Dead Earth Elseworld annual, where it's just called the Oracle.

    Film 
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    Literature 
  • Bob in The Dresden Files. In the books, Bob is an air spirit bound into a skull, while in the TV series, he is a human ghost who "lives" there and comes out when Harry needs his services... or whenever he feels like it.
  • In The Last Unicorn, a skull tells the main characters how to find the Red Bull's lair. This was changed to an entire skeleton for the movie, probably to make for more interesting animation.
  • In Terry Pratchett's Soul Music, a talking skull appeared in a minor scene taking place in a wizard's workshop.
  • Subverted in Don Quixote, where Don Antonio Moreno tricks Quixote into thinking he has one of these, when really it's just his nephew speaking through a tube that leads into the head.
  • Alexander Beliaev's sci-fi novel Professor Dowell's Head is entirely about this.
  • Inverted in William Gibson's Neuromancer. The ornate head inside the Tessier-Ashpool complex, to which the password needs to be spoken to allow Neuromancer and Wintermute to merge into the first true AI. And also a reference to the Brazen head.
  • In the novella The Magic Goes Away, the necromancer Wavyhill has cast immortality spells on himself. However, that backfires when his body is hacked up and all that is left is his skull, which due to his magic, he is trapped in and can talk.
  • In The Skull of Truth by Bruce Coville, the protagonist finds an oracular skull named Yorick in The Little Shop That Wasn't There Yesterday.
  • The NICE in That Hideous Strength by C. S. Lewis have the severed head of an executed criminal attached to a machine that keeps it alive and lets it speak. But it turns out it's not the original owner who's using it....
  • In Robert A. Heinlein's Magic, Inc., an African sorcerer consults the Shrunken Head of his grandfather.
  • In Tom Deitz's Soulsmith Trilogy, Ronny Dillon creates a Brazen Head through a combination of mechanics and magic.
  • In The Shattered World, Pandrogas has a talking brazen head mounted over his laboratory's door as a security device.
  • The villains in John Masefield's The Midnight Folk and The Box Of Delights make use of a Brazen Head.
  • In the Choose Your Own Adventure book Return to Brookmere, the protagonist has a necklace with a talking amulet in the form of a dragon's head.
  • There's a little-known medical horror novel, Heads, in which disembodied heads are kept alive against their will for use as living computers.
  • The Brazen Head is mentioned in The Iron Dragon's Daughter.
  • In Myth Fortunes, the sentient crystal ball of the Golden Hoard manifests as a female head of whatever species she's currently addressing, much like the Haunted Mansion example under 'Theme Parks'.
  • The title character of Judith Merkle Riley's The Master of All Desires is one of these - it's a severed head in an ornate box that has the ability to see the future (making later historical references that mystify the other characters, it being set in the 16th century).
  • Journey to Chaos: Eric finds a talking skull while raiding the lair of an ancient mage. It is the animated remains of his fellow Dengel Disciple, an otherworlder nicknamed "Asuna" who remembers all of Dengel's research.
  • In Orson Scott Card's book, "Wyrms," this can be the fate of anyone who dies while part of the royal court to preserve their ability to give advice. Their heads are removed upon death and placed in a preservative solution similar to the Futurama example, along with small insectoids that latch on to the head's severed nerve endings, along with an air bladder to facilitate speech. The insectoids are able to stimulate the brain, inducing anything from pain, to pleasure, to an intense need to go to the bathroom, providing incentive to speak the truth to those who ask questions of the head. This happens to the protagonist's father and is how she forces him to finally disclose the secrets he's kept from her all his life. Tellingly, its said that a former Emperor used to subject his ex-concumbines to this and put them in his bedroom.

     Live Action TV 
  • Power Rangers:
    • Zordon, the franchise's original mentor figure. He's actually a humanoid being communicating from a pocket dimension Rita stuck him in, but we only ever see him outside his prison in the Non-Serial Movie. When he's released from the prison at the beginning of Turbo, he apparently becomes the floating head for real. Unfortunately, this makes it easier for the bad guys to imprison him during Space.
    • Zordon's pupil from Megaforce, Gosei, is this also but has taken the form of a Tiki head.
  • Doctor Who:
    • The Face of Boe, a billions-year old giant-head-in-a-jar. No one knows how he's lived so long - unless he really is Captain Jack Harkness - but he's had a very long time to gather knowledge and wisdom.
    • Additionally, the head of Dorium technically fits this, although he doesn't exactly have much of the characterization (i.e., he has his head wired to surf the internet, and complains of boredom the instant you remove him from a wifi hot-spot).
    • In "The Time of the Doctor", the Doctor has obtained the head of a Cyberman which he uses as a databank.
  • The Night Gallery episode "Logoda's Heads" featured as its antagonist the witch doctor Logoda who had the power to make a bunch of Shrunken Heads tell him their secrets. British authorities accuse him of murdering an explorer but are unable to find enough evidence against him. A local young woman who knows that he is guilty takes matters into her own hands by revealing that she is an even more powerful witch doctor who can make the shrunken heads kill, after Logoda's body was torn apart off-screen. The episode ends with the camera zooming in on the heads and the traces of blood and flesh on their teeth...

    Mythology & Religion 
  • The Celtic god-hero Bran the Blessed (no relation, probably), whose severed head continued to speak after his death and, according to one legend, is still buried under the Tower of London.
  • Orpheus from Greek Mythology lost his head to a ravening pack of Maenads, and continued to sing for a while afterwards.
  • The Head of Mimir from Norse Mythology. Mimir was originally the guardian of the Well of Knowledge, and supposedly all-knowing - after he got himself decapitated, Odin had his head preserved with special herbs and rune-magic, to serve as his adviser. Unfortunately, he's a bit of a prick and makes Odin pull one of his own eyes out.
  • The head of Baphomet, supposedly "worshipped" by the Knights Templar following various satanic rites of sodomy (or sodomitic rites of satanism, either way). Usually described as the Brazen Head variant of this trope. Note the word's Arabic origin, probably intended to make the supposed worship extra-scary. The rumor of Baphomet worship may be in part from torture-induced "confessions" (since the Templars were up against a real kangaroo court), and in part because the Templars dealt in some degree of non-Church-approved heresy. Since the Church has multiple skulls and mummified heads of saints around as relics (St. Lawrence the Librarian to name one), the Templars likely had at least one in their possession.

     Newspaper Comics 
  • In one strip, Calvin pretends to have one of these in a paper bag for Show and Tell. He uses it as a vehicle for teasing Susie Derkins.
    'Head': Soooosie is a Booooger Braaiin!
    Calvin: It speaks the truth!

    Pinball 

     Tabletop Games 
  • Call of Cthulhu supplement The Asylum and Other Tales, adventure "The Auction". A magical Brass Head could animate and answer questions if it were covered with burning blood. It was a trap: it contained a Servitor of the Outer Gods which would try to trick the user into releasing it.
  • Dungeons & Dragons:
    • The Planescape campaign setting features Mimir: 'Living' encyclopaedias that take the form of floating, animate skulls and recite any knowledge they contain on demand. Mimirs are magical constructs and typically not sentient in and by themselves (this varies depending on the creator and the Mimir's intended use, however, and sentient Mimir do exist).
    • The bugbear deity Hruggek sends omens to his followers via this trope, and is known to keep a large collection of severed heads that plead endlessly for mercy. Rumor has it that each head can also mentally influence members of its original race via suggestion, or utter power word spells, if Hruggek commands it.
    • A demilich is a lich that has grown so powerful and ancient, and spent so much time mentally exploring other worlds rather than within its body, that its remains have dwindled and decayed to nothing but a skull. Which eats souls.
    • One type of druj, a powerful class of undead creatures from CD&D, takes the form of a skull.
  • GURPS: Fantasy features the mythological Orpheus, who still has access to powerful magic.
  • Hunter: The Vigil gives us the Aegis Kai Doru and their most prized possession, the living head of John the Baptist.
  • Ironclaw:
    • The announcement for the Second Edition directly mentions "the brazen head" towards the end, referring to the designer/publisher.
    • In-universe, Phelan legend has Finias (presumably a lupine fusion of Orpheus and Bran the Blessed), a bard who was decapitated by a gang of his paramours' jealous husbands and whose severed head continued to sing. The people took this as an omen and built a city on the location, burying his head under the royal hall. Sometime later a queen of the tribe they founded famously sought counsel from the head.
  • An artifact of this type from Rifts is called Poor Yorick.

    Theatre 
  • The witches use an apparition of an armed head to tell the future to Macbeth.
  • Robert Greene's play Friar Bacon and Friar Bungay dramatizes the legend of the Brazen Head.

     Theme Parks 
  • Madame Leota, of The Haunted Mansion at the Disney parks, is a particularly ironic case, as she's a ghostly spirit medium who appears as a head inside her own crystal ball, rather than a human gazing into it to see.

     Video Games 
  • Monkey Island:
  • Postie Pete in RuneScape, a talking skull that delivers letters to NPCs. Also one of the Holiday items was a severed Zombie head that you could hold and talk to.
  • Avernum had the Xian Skull, a skull that would randomly talk while carried around in the party's inventory.
  • Bonehead, one of the most memorable characters in the Quest for Glory series (and that's saying something), was - as his name suggests - a skull of this nature, one of many skulls surrounding the hut of Baba Yaga. One of the few things he doesn't complain about is not having Eye Beams like his boneheaded kinsmen, apparently considering sentience a valid trade-off.
  • Subverted in Nox. Talking to a recently-deceased mook's skull results in the skull responding, "I'm dead, I can't hear you."
  • Urien's ending in Street Fighter III 3rd Strike has this with Urien looking down at the head of Gill, the series' Big Bad and his older brother.
  • Myth The Fallen Lords had a talking, severed head show up in the cutscenes, serving as an adviser to the sorcerer-generals in charge of the war against Balor. Turns out that the head is more interested in sowing chaos and discord among the good guys then actually helping them win. Given the amount of stuff that was based on Celtic lore, he's probably based on the aforementioned Bran. The prequel established that the head is actually from a previous incarnation of the Big Bad.
  • In The Elder Scrolls III: Morrowind expansion, Bloodmoon, a guy sends you to find his friend, who's an oracle. The friend, it turns out, is a skull.
  • The Brazen Head of the Vault Dweller appears in a humorous Easter Egg in Fallout 2. It's a huge stone head like the ones at the village. You have to "argue" with him (read say "are to" to his "are not") for twleve hours for him to concede that you are the Chosen One. He gives you a chunk of rock as a parting gift and tells you to get lost. If your Steal skill is less than 95% and you try to snag a few more he dishes out 14,000 hit points of damage and instantly vaporizes you.
    "Damn tourists..."
  • Morte the sentient Mimir from Planescape: Torment (see Tabletop Games), who looks even more skull-like than other Mimir. Mainly, this is because Morte ultimately turns out not to be a Mimir, but a piece of the Pillar of Skulls from the first layer of Hell. Morte doesn't just talk, he snarks and jibes and is pretty much 'alive' in every sense of the world but the purely physical one.
  • Too Human, being a Cyberpunk adaptation of Norse Mythology has Mimir as the Aesir corporation's data decryption and information specialist, he's not much for field work though seeing how last time only his head came back.
  • Wolfenstein II: The New Colossus contains one prime example where William Blazkowicz's head is kept preserved in a jar developed by Set. It remains there a short time until it can be reattached to the headless body of a captured Nazi.
  • Kingdom of Loathing has a number of examples:
    • The Detective Skull is an off-hand item that gives a vague estimate of the remaining HP of a monster. There's also a joke item called the Defective Skull, which gives useless "information" like "I deduce that this monster is one jive turkey" or "I deduce that this monster has approximately eleventy-seven hojillion hit points."
    • A side quest in Little Canadia has a Shrunken Head that guides you through a maze in a direct Shout-Out to Secret of Monkey Island.
    • A revamp of the Naughty Sorceress quest in January 2015 included a floating skull named Frank who gave adventurers advice on how to get through the many tricks and traps of the Sorceress's tower; the Tower had previously been a serious case of Guide Dang It! for new players.
  • Gerry of Graveyard Keeper is this as a talking skull, though he's a particularly ineffective one as he barely has any useful information due to having amnesia, sends you off on trips to get alcohol for him, and drives you to do terrible things like cutting off flesh from the corpses you autopsy and selling it for money.

    Webcomics 
  • In the "Rise of the Funsnake" story arc of Oglaf Morag The Immortal gets her head bitten off by the Funsnake. She can still talk, but only if somebody blows air up her neck.

     Western Animation 
  • The Party God from Adventure Time.
  • Futurama is known for having contemporary celebrities appear in the show as heads preserved in jars and fully animated.
  • Tarakudo, the Big Bad of Jackie Chan Adventures season 4 until he gets a body in the season finale.
  • Transformers Animated: Megatron spends all of Season 1 as one due to damage sustained in the pilot movie. He gets his body back in the season finale.
  • This is how Moses is portrayed in South Park, parodying the design of the MCP from TRON. A Running Gag is Moses stammering at a question he doesn't know the answer to.


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