Halloween is known everywhere as the time that kids dress up and ask for candy. It is also known as a time that our world and the spirit world open up to one another and spectral beings have reign over the night hours. Of course not all beings are simply here for a walk, so protection is needed, like a shrunken head!
History of the Shrunken Head
If you never thought a shrunken head would be a symbol for protection, guess again. Shrunken heads are originally a custom of the Jivaro clan of the Ecuadorian and Peruvian Amazon, most notably the Shuar clan, a sub-tribe of the Jivaro. Translated from “tsansta” from the Jivaro language, the shrunken head is best seen as a trophy for warriors after their victory against their enemies.
Shrunken heads are idols for the Shuar in regards to good fortune, pleasing their ancestors, as well as making sure that their enemy’s soul could not seek revenge against them or ancestral souls in the spirit world. The shrunken head is said to paralyze the enemy’s soul so that it won’t cause trouble and give its power to the enemy’s captor, strengthening not only him, but his clan as well.
Making these shrunken heads, however, won’t hurt anyone and can be used in many different crafts, like Halloween wreathes mobiles, jewelry, general decoration, or gifts for friends. It’s great for a continued project through a Halloween party.
The original idea for these comes from my middle school days with clay. Remembering it, I sought out an inexpensive medium to do the same, and salt dough was the winner!
Salt Dough (see my recipe)
Fine Sand Paper or Emery Board
Hot Glue Gun / Stick Glue
First, make salt dough with the recipe provided on my page and as an extra resource for this how-to. It’s very simple to make, a very inexpensive for a clay substitute, and will dry fast enough for kids and adults alike to start painting. Making it the night before may be a benefit, since it is firmer and not as messy.
To make a shrunken head, shape the salt dough into a rough rectangle, circle, or skull shape as a base. Don’t make it too thick if you want it to dry completely in a half hour time span (since they will raise a little) – one-fourth to one-half inch should do it.
Next, shape the surface of the base to make eyes, a mouth, a nose, and even heavy eyebrows if you want. A toothpick might be handy for nostrils or making skull-like teeth though carving. Don’t press anything in too deep, or the dough will be too thin and break apart as it dries. You can also make different types of impressions in the dough to paint in later for decoration. If you intend for the shrunken head to be worn or hung up, make holes at the top (but not too close to the edge) with a toothpick. The holes should be big enough that when they shrink as the dough expands, ribbon or yarn can still fit through.
When the shrunken heads are done and are able to maintain their shape (the dough isn’t sticky or watery), place them on a piece of tin foil on a cookie sheet. This way, it won’t be like trying to get cookies off a cookie sheet and having them break apart. As in my instructions for the salt dough, cook them at 375 degrees for half an hour, checking every now and then as they rise so they don’t burn.
When the heads are done baking, take them out and place them on a cool piece of aluminum foil so that they don’t accidentally continue cooking to a breaking point. Allow them to cool for a minimum of 10 to 15 minutes.
Since the heads are now completely cooled, take some fine sand paper or a small emery board and begin to sand away any rough spots, including the edges of the cracks in the dough from its expansion in drying. You wouldn’t want them to snag on any loose fabric or sweaters while wearing or hanging them. Don’t sand them too hard, in case they break, unlike normal clay. They can crumble easily if too thin in places. Once you’re done sanding, tap the head against a hard surface to get rid of the powder, else it will make painting difficult.
Now, the heads are ready to be painted. If you have a certain base colour in mind, paint that first so that you can add onto it. Accentuate the eyes, nose, mouth, and whatever other markings you’ve made on the skull, or paint dots or other patterns, too. If there are cracks or holes, make sure you paint these in, too!
Once both sides of the head are painted, let them dry. From here, you can either hot glue feathers, plastic jewels, rub on glitter, or anything else that might make it unique.
To make a necklace out of the head, make sure that yarn or ribbon are able to get through the holes at the top. Add some beads or other items, tie it up and wear it around. If you want to add it to a Halloween wreath, do the same and tie or hang it on.
Shrunken heads made in this fashion will last a lot longer than other “recipes” online that use apples. This way, children and adults can make whatever appeals to them the most. Have fun!
Homemade Salt Dough Recipe – http://www.associatedcontent.com/article/5708638/very_simple_salt_dough_recipe_.html?cat=24History of Shrunken Heads – http://www.head-hunter.com/headhunter.html