Skullduggery, Freemasonry and a Danake

A strange and unusual item this time – and I don’t mean the skull but its amalgamation with the coin shown below. For the purpose of this blog, the skull is a representation, a look-a-like. The coin is genuine.

Eight years ago I was contacted by a FLO who related an intriguing story about a coin that had been handed in for recording and identification.

Freemason Link?

There was nothing unusual about the Edward IV half groat apart from the fact that it had been broken in half at some point and had been soldered together. What was more interesting was its provenance.

Silver hammered half groat of Edward IV. First reign, light coinage (1464-1470). The unique ID for the coin on the PAS database is NARC-03B111.

The coin was originally discovered in 1899 inside the mouth of a skull during the excavation for the foundations of masonic buildings in Northampton. It was then kept inside the building accompanied by a hand-written notice telling of its discovery.

This skull was discovered when excavating for the foundations of the Masonic Buildings, Northampton. Br0: E Archer Builder. AD 1889. This coin was found in the mouth of the skull.

The freemasons were keen to know more about the coin and I also wondered about the significance and symbolism of the find. I can only guess. 

Was it just coincidence that the skull was found in those strange circumstances? Does it have anything to do with the fraternity? Maybe there is somebody out there who can tell me more.

An Explanation?

I’ve written on a previous occasion about villagers in the North East of the UK and their customs. You must be familiar with the phrase a coin for the ferryman which I explained in a long lost post. In this instance the coins were placed over the eyes of a recently deceased person and had a purpose. And that was to allow the dead to pay for their passage to the Otherworld.

Gustave Doré; DanteCharon, illustration by Gustave Doré for an 1861 edition of Dante’s Inferno (The Divine Comedy). © Wikipedia Commons

Ancient Greece was the realm of Hades, separated from the land of the living by five rivers. It was a perilous journey, and there was only one guide to take the recently departed to their final destination. His name was Charon, and he demanded payment.

Poppycock! As a kid I was always told that the coins -always pennies – were placed over the eyelids to keep them closed. For young children, seeing a dead person with bulging pop eyes was the stuff of nightmares I believe in that explanation!

Charon’s Obol and the Danake

The coin placed in the mouth s conventionally referred to in Greek literature as an obolos one of the basic denominations of ancient Greek coinage, worth one-sixth of a drachma but not standardised. The coin shown is a small silver coin of the Persian Empire called a Danake. A single coin buried with the dead and made of silver or gold is often referred to as a danake and presumed to be a form of Charon’s obol

The Gorgon‘s head is a frequent numismatic icon (here with anchor on reverse) that may appear on a danake. See

Charon’s obol is a term for a coin the placed in or on the mouth of a dead person before burial. Greek and Latin specify the coin as an obol, and explain it as a payment or bribe for Charon, the ferryman who conveyed souls across the river that divided the world of the living from the world of the dead. Archaeological examples of these coins, of various denominations in practice, have been called “the most famous grave goods from antiquity”.

Rating: 5 out of 5.

On January 6th I organised a Detectorist’s Trivia Quiz and invited you to take part. I wasn’t exactly inundated with entries but after sorting them from both the three of you (thanks), I am keeping the challenge open for a few more days. The winners will be announced in my next blog post, due in 5 or 6 days time. Bet you can’t wait!

Rating: 5 out of 5.

7 thoughts on “Skullduggery, Freemasonry and a Danake”

  1. Interesting read I’ve heard of money for the ferryman .. But not heard of Charon Obol …. When my dad died I put a few polish coins in the coffin .. Knowing dad he most properly spend the money on a glass of wine ….

    Liked by 1 person

  2. I am sure that if you look hard enough you may find a Mason or two. But then they would probably keep the information a secret.

    Liked by 1 person

  3. It’s interesting on how these things come about, and how they can be interpreted John.

    I too have heard of the pennies on the eyes and coins in the mouth, but don’t know which is the true reason why it started happening…….and suspect never will. I’ve heard the story to pay the ferryman, or because so many drunks were buried alive that they used to splay them out on a table with coins on their eyes. Then if they blinked they would fall off, the person would stand up and another big drinkfest would start all over again. And loads of other strange ones.

    Today I would imagine that due to inflation rates, taxes and other add ons that pennies just wouldn’t cut it anymore. Plus with the coins slowly being phased out, I think we are going to have to start leaving credit cards on peoples eyes or in their mouths. LOL…..

    Great read and cool skull pictures too.

    Liked by 1 person

  4. I have heard , like you and many others, that the penny [or other coin] was used to pay Charon for the trip to the underworld. I have also heard other postulations ; like you and many others..LOL. I prefer the Charon explanation.
    There were so many gods back in the day that is is easy to see how the dues for the ferryman could easily be believed..And who are we to say that they are incorrect, John.. [Smile]
    A fascinating story of this particular coin though..
    Thank you for another great read


    Liked by 1 person

Please Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Google photo

You are commenting using your Google account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.