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forehead The forehead, or brow, has been seen, literally and figuratively, as a place of expression. As Lord Byron remarked, ‘Thy calm clear brow, Wherein is glass'd serenity of soul …’ Ancient Egyptian women traced designs in henna on their temples. A furrowed brow marks distress or concern; being beetle-browed means one is of bad temper and surly, and a modest or meek person is ‘tender-foreheaded’.

The form of the forehead is also believed to reflect the character of a person. A high brow, or being ‘high-brow (ed)’, indicates a superior intellect and sophistication; a low brow or prominent ridge above the eyes, on the other hand, is associated with primitive species of humanity, like the Neanderthal, and hence is a sign of primitivism and ignorance.

The forehead or brow is also a significant location in Christianity. Being cast from the Garden of Eden, Adam was to earn his living ‘by the sweat of his brow’. Baptism, one of the sacraments of the Christian Church, may involve either total submersion, or simply the pouring of baptismal water over the forehead. In early Christianity, grievous sinners wore sackcloths and were covered with ashes during Lent as a sign of their penitence; around the ninth century, faithful Christians in general began to put ashes on their foreheads on the first day of Lent, Ash Wednesday, as a reminder of their need for penitence. These ashes came from the burned palm leaves from the previous Palm Sunday. Today, Roman Catholics receive the mark of a cross of their foreheads on Ash Wednesday.

The forehead is a site of spirituality in other religions, too. The centre of the forehead in Hindu tradition is the location of a third eye, a location of spiritual insight. Hindu gods are also frequently represented with a third eye in the middle of their foreheads, representing their divinity. Muslims touch their foreheads to the floor when bowing toward Mecca, and some Tibetan meditation practices focus on the centre of the forehead.

Anatomically, the forehead is formed by part of the frontal bone of the skull, whose shape is likened by Gray's Anatomy to that of a cockle-shell — rounded rim above; below, a central projection forming the bony basis of the root of the nose, and low arches at each side over the eyes; the smooth convexity accommodating the frontal lobes of the underlying brain. The bone of the forehead is covered by a continuation of the layers of the scalp: a sheet of muscle under the forehead skin is joined above to a fibrous sheet which covers the skull and is in turn connected to muscle at the back of the head. Thus the scalp can be shifted back and forth, the brow furrowed, the eyebrows raised and lowered — contributing to a whole range of facial expression. The paired frontal sinuses are cavities in the frontal bone which drain down into the nose, and draw unwelcome attention to one's forehead if afflicted by sinusitis.

Sarah Goodfellow, and Sheila Jennett

See also face; skull.
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fore·head / ˈfôrəd; ˈfôrˌhed/ • n. the part of the face above the eyebrows.