Weird Norfolk: The mystery of the lost carved head of Field Dalling
- Credit: Archant Library/Local Recall
Carved from oak, adorned with bull’s horns inlaid with the symbols of the zodiac and inset with silver and jewels, the Head of Athos was said to be a powerful witchcraft talisman.
It was kept in a witchcraft exhibition above an antiques shop in Field Dalling in Norfolk and appeared in an Eastern Daily Press article in March 1967.
A month later, the head had been stolen. No one knows where it is now.
Owner Raymond Howard had a long association with white witchcraft and said the head had been left to him by a Romany from Swaffham, along with other artefacts.
In 1959, Howard had worked for the Cardells, who lived in Surrey, and ran Dumblecott Magick Productions, a company which produced all manner of exciting paraphernalia including Moon Magick Beauty Balm ‘made from a genuine old witch formula’.
Major Charles Cardell was born in 1892 and had served in India in the army. He was a conjurer and an unqualified psychologist who worked from ornate consulting rooms in London during the 1950s and 60s.
His ‘sister’ Mary – no relation, but they presented as siblings and it was rumoured the pair ran the Coven of Athos from their secret underground temple in an old air raid shelter.
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Within a year of starting work with the Cardells, Howard had fallen out with the pair and had alerted journalists to the witchcraft rituals happening at their home.
Shortly after the coverage, Cardell invited the press to take photographs at his house, including one of a ritual which included a circle drawn in sand on a stone altar, two large, fake spiders, a shrunken head, a bowl of water, a crystal ball and the word ‘Ramoh’, Howard’s magical name.
Just days later, Cardell was in court, charged with sending an effigy pierced with a needle and a mirror to Ray Howard who, by this time, had moved to Norfolk to set up his antiques shop.
In 1967, Howard was pictured in the EDP with the wooden head, said to represent the God of Atho – a word derived from the Welsh Arddhu, ‘the dark one’.
“Mr Howard is an expert on witchcraft and all the items on exhibition in his room have been used by witches, he says. His interest in witchcraft began as a child when he used to stay on a farm at Swaffham,” it read.
“An old Romany woman, who used to part her caravan on the farm, left her belongs, caravan included, to Mr Howard. Among these were several items which had witchcraft connections.
“Dominating the collection is a carved wooden head some 3ft high which has been proved by laboratory tests to be made of English oak and to be about 2,200 years old.
“This head of the horned God of witchcraft has been handed down through generations since pre-Christian times. It is hollow and has many witchcraft symbols carved on it.”
Howard had, he said, been given the head in Swaffham by a white witch called Alice Franch who he had been known since he was four. His son Peter later claimed his father had made the head himself.
“When a small crucible of water with a lighted candle under it is placed in the back of the head, the result is awe-inspiring. The red glass eyes of the head light up and steam emits from the tips of the horns,” the article continued.
“The late Donald Campbell, who used to visit Mr Howard when he lived in Norwood Hill, Surrey, was interested in the occult and touched the wooden head for luck before his successful attempt on the world land speed record.”
Mr Howard added that there were 10 white witch covens in England in 1967 including one in Norfolk.
“I have never been in a church which has given practical assurance of an afterlife. White witches, who know the old laws of nature, can do this by showing people an example of reincarnation or direct transference of thought from the dead.
“Far from being a dying art, witchcraft is flourishing.”
In addition to the head, the article also mentioned a “rune stick” which was “supposed to turn into a live snake and destroy the enemies of its owner’s cult”.
Within a month of the article appearing in the EDP, the Head of Atho had been stolen from Mr Howard’s shop: nothing else had been taken, just the head.
An earlier piece of writing from Mr Howard shed more light on Mrs Franch: “The last words written to me by my old benefactress were: ‘the time has come to bring our teaching into the open. The days of burning us at the stake are gone, and modern religions will eventually go to, because they are unnatural…Pass on the things I have told you to learn. It is my dying wish.’”
He added that she had also left him a deed box containing “teeth, nail parings and old parchments”.
There was a rumour that the head had been stolen by Cardell and buried in Surrey.
In addition to the lost Head of Atho, another similar relic is the Dorset Ooser, a hollow mask made of painted wood, trimmed with fur and crowned with bull’s horns which also went missing.
The original mask disappeared in 1897, although a modern replica made in 1975 is held at the Dorset County Museum where it is sometimes borrowed for May Day celebrations.