In my medieval fantasy world, I'd like a tribe of warriors to have a rather sick ritual.

When a man becomes a warrior he wears a red-hot helmet. This is supposed to become merged with his skin. This helmet is not supposed to give protection but to show the status of the warrior.

How feasible would it be? More specifically:

  • Is it possible to do this ritual without dying? And without major losses (such as his eyes)?

  • Would the helmet be really "glued" to his head? Or after some time he could easily take it off?

  • Would there be a different way to get the same effect more efficiently?

Edited due to comments

  • 1
    $\begingroup$ Possibly instead could barbs be driven into the scalp that the skin could heal around? ...This being said, it would likely offer less protection than not wearing a helmet, as it would be actively harmful for it to receive blows. $\endgroup$
    – Ranger
    Commented Jan 18, 2017 at 17:03
  • 10
    $\begingroup$ I cannot back this up by data but I am pretty sure you would instantly blackout from the pain and then die. $\endgroup$
    – Secespitus
    Commented Jan 18, 2017 at 17:10
  • 7
    $\begingroup$ Your tribe won't survive very long with a ritual like that... Darwin will select them out pretty fast. $\endgroup$
    – Mermaker
    Commented Jan 18, 2017 at 19:07
  • 8
    $\begingroup$ Helmets can be used as symbols of status, but really, they're pieces of armor vital in combat. They get damaged. They become obsolete. The pretty ones are not typically all that useful, and the useful ones are rarely pretty. The wounds of attaching this scorching piece of metal to the victim (yes, victim) would most likely turn gangrenous! Furthermore, even if they survived, never taking it off again is insanely unhygienic (more infections, most likely resulting in a slow and terrible death). My skin is crawling just thinking about it. $\endgroup$
    – AndreiROM
    Commented Jan 18, 2017 at 22:38
  • 1
    $\begingroup$ I hope we're not talking about full helmets, as having that on permanently would make eating rather annoying. And if the helmet is very heavy, your neck may not thank you for it. As for securing it permanently, I think it'd be far more beneficial to the wearer to have the helmet make use of the decrease in circumference that is the neck. If the "hole at the bottom" is too small for the head to fit through, it's "permanent". So basically, add a neck piece. $\endgroup$
    – Iter
    Commented Jan 19, 2017 at 4:56

11 Answers 11


It would burn. It would create oozing wound. Skin would separate and go, and the fluid that is secreted by burnt skin would make taking helmet off easy.

Of course, this wouldn't really matter. Your helmet is tight fit, right? So either you let it cool slowly, cooking your warrior's brain to death, or you pour water on it, make steel shrink, and shatter warrior's skull - he's dead.

This method is beautiful, can be good for narrative purposes, but it is really far from reality.

  • 7
    $\begingroup$ For the water cooling, couldn't the helmet simply be measured that when the steel contracts it contracts to an appropriate size? It still should be pretty hot (read: hot enough to burn the skin) as it is cooling. $\endgroup$
    – Ranger
    Commented Jan 18, 2017 at 17:09
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    $\begingroup$ @NexTerren If permanently welding a helmet to a victim's head sounds like a good idea in this Medieval fantasy world then I highly doubt their IQ is high enough to even fathom that the metal would shrink. It would just be an act of [insert religious figure] that the victim did not survive. $\endgroup$
    – MonkeyZeus
    Commented Jan 19, 2017 at 16:50
  • $\begingroup$ @NexTerren this might work, but then they would have to put it on just right. Hard to do with hot metal. If it's skewed a bit, it'll crush anyway. $\endgroup$
    – Mołot
    Commented Jan 19, 2017 at 16:59
  • $\begingroup$ @MonkeyZeus Perhaps that's part of the ritual. If the "gods" kill you, you weren't meant to be a warrior. If you survive, you've past the highest test. $\endgroup$
    – SnakeDoc
    Commented Jan 19, 2017 at 18:57

It is basically a brand where you leave the branding iron on. The metal will stick because of dead skin and fluids produced by the burn. It will not stick indefinitely but the person could leave it on indefinitely because it is a helmet.

The nice thing about this method is that because of the helmet, no-one can see the terrible burn scars underneath and no-one can expect that I will take it off to show them. Which means I can just slip on this helmet while it is cool and then soak up all that fine status. Did I mention my helmet has a sweet red crest made of feathers? That is so you know how hot it was. And everyone knows that chicks dig a dude in a feather-crested status helmet who does not stink of festering burns.


The way you originally described will not work, as described by Molot. However, you could use different ways of (semi)permanently adding this helmet to one's head. Think about the way how African tribes punch a hole in their lip and insert a ring there, slowly putting larger rings in there, or another form with rings around their neck, adding more to push the shoulders down, therefore creating a longer neck.

In the case of an helmet, you could extend it down to the neck and put a ring around the neck, making it impossible to remove like that. Seeing as it's the medievals, I cannot quickly think of another method to permanently "glue" something to the skull without creating a high risk of permanent disfigurement.

  • $\begingroup$ I like the example you give from African cultures, it doesn't necessary have to be a helmet. If it's about a status symbol, any object will do! If the tribe chooses a ring through your lip, ear or something else, if there is a certain status connected with it, it would do the trick. $\endgroup$ Commented Jan 19, 2017 at 10:31
  • 4
    $\begingroup$ note: with "long neck" tribes, of which there are suprisingly many, their nexks are not elongated. Instead, their shoulders are pushed downwards by the weight of the rings, so the rings sit lower than would be possible on someone without the rings. That they add the rings one at a time (typically one a year after age 14 - at least in the tribes I know of) allows the body to shift with the additional weight over time. $\endgroup$
    – Baldrickk
    Commented Jan 19, 2017 at 11:33
  • $\begingroup$ @Baldrickk I did not know that, actually, always nice to learn things. $\endgroup$ Commented Jan 19, 2017 at 15:31

A different way to make an irremovable helmet, would be to let your warriors grow into it.

Step 1: Make a helmet.
Step 2: Give the helmet to a kid.
Step 3: Make a rule that forbids the kid from removing the helmet.
Step 4: Wait for the kid to grow.

There a 2 possible outcomes to this method:

The helmet fits
You warrior might end up with a deformed skull, but since you're not supposed to remove it, who cares? It's also much less dangerous than trying to burn, screw, or otherwise attach the helmet.

The helmet doesn't fit
It either wobbles or can be removed easily. Make that person a social outcast! Someone who cannot become a warrior will have little to no rights. You can also expel them from the tribe if needed.

If a ritual is needed, you can always choose to brand your warriors once you've ascertained that they've become adults (the helmet no longer moves). You could also brand your non-warriors with a different seal to shame them for not being warriors.

  • 1
    $\begingroup$ Disclaimer: I do not condone or support the act of shaming or branding others. Also, no warriors or social outcasts were harmed during the making of this answer. $\endgroup$
    – Nolonar
    Commented Jan 19, 2017 at 14:06
  • $\begingroup$ An advantage of this method is it can rely on how the neck/chin expands during maturation to make the helmet irremovable, rather than having it cling tightly to the skull. Thus space can be allowed between the metal and the skull for the padding needed to make the helmet defensively practical. The same space can be used to access the scalp for shaving or medical care (in private of course) $\endgroup$
    – Daron
    Commented Jan 19, 2017 at 15:28
  • $\begingroup$ The wearer doesn't even need to be a kid for this to work. Have the helmet installed when they reach 5 foot tall say. They helmet is sized so the average 6 foot warrior cannot remove it. Now if the wearer never grows to 6 feet in the first place there is the risk the ritual will be a failure. Then the wearer is deemed too small to join the warrior caste, and be given some other less glamorous job. $\endgroup$
    – Daron
    Commented Jan 19, 2017 at 15:33
  • $\begingroup$ Your skin under the helmet still secretes various substances. You definitely won't smell nice. This might not kill you, but you will catch some diseases. It's still a lot better than OP's method. $\endgroup$
    – user31389
    Commented Jan 19, 2017 at 21:38
  • $\begingroup$ With this method heating the helmet is not even necessary. Or you could pack the inside of the helmet or outside of the head with asbestos or similar before putting on the red-hot piece of metal. That way you still get the symbolic effect of the red metal, and it might still get painfully hot, but without actively burning the scalp. $\endgroup$
    – Daron
    Commented Jan 20, 2017 at 14:32

I would advice to screw or nail it to the skull. This would be quite dangerous too, (Infections, hurting the brain if screwed too deep, etc...) especially when performed in unsterile, tribal environment, but could be survived more likely.

It would be more easy to take it off, but I agree with Mołot, that melting it on the head is fatal.

But they could have experts, knowing how to perform the Nailing correctly from their lore and traditions, which could even include disinfection.


Perhaps something like head binding where the skull grows into the shape of the helmet, which is reentrant, and so can't be removed?

There might still be infection problems, but maybe a bathing ritual that forces water under the surface, or a silver helmet, would solve that?

  • 2
    $\begingroup$ This is gruesome, but what if you removed all the skin where the helmet would be (like to the skull). You then apply the helmet and let the skull grow directly into it. Doubt anyone would survive this though. $\endgroup$
    – Lu22
    Commented Jan 19, 2017 at 13:56

The explanation can be quite simple - nobody dares to remove helmet from your tribesman, so, nobody sees how actually the helmet attached to the head of your tribesman (if attached at all!).

I think they fake the Ritual of Merging of Helmet with Warrior - they burn red the hemlet, and than show neophytes without helmets to everybody, than, they move the neophytes behind the curtains, bring the helmet here, then neophyte screams, and than goes out with helmet on his head. And helmet is really hard to remove, because it has straps below the jaw, that cannot be detached - so, there is no means of removing helmet without ruining either it, or warriors head.

Nobody of visitors never sees what happens behind the curtain. And, the neophyte firstly screams because he have to take glowing red helmet with callipers (but without gloves) - and it burns hands quite painfully, but not dangerous, and than neophyte screams loudly, because he needs to silence the sound of boiling water, when his helmet is being cooled in bucket with water. Than, helmet is placed on Neophytes head and blacksmith meld the straps - so there is no way to remove the helmet.

Of course this ritual attracts a lot of people, and, while there was no youtube, no zoom cameras, and nobody is allowed to be below 100 steps to the Ritual site, nobody sees exactly what is happening. And everybody uses their imagination and believes, so everybody things that burning red helmet is actually melded into warriors head.


Probably the best way to do this is by making the merging more...symbolic. It can still be pretty nasty, with a correspondingly high chance of infection, death, chance to show off manly scars, but it might be somewhat survivable, whereas yours is...less so, and will quickly die out with any tribe that adopted it.

So how it would work is, you would have each helmet crafted to the specifications of the person coming of age - possibly by them, or with their involvement, maybe with a ritual purification, a blessing, certain rituals, etc. This is going to be their helmet, forever - it should show status, it may have ways to add later acquired symbols of status (prowess in battle or the like), it may be heavily decorated, engraved, and symbolic.

For the actual ritual, you may want your warriors to have their heads shaved, or maybe (increasing survivability again) have them shaved a set amount of time before the ritual, so there's an even stubble of hair at the time, since some heat would be spent burning the hair rather than flesh. There will likely be ritual cleansing, maybe fasting or in the other direction, feasting (with lots of alcohol), or other religious/social rituals surrounding the day. As their initiation, each warrior will be branded on their heads by a red-hot helmet (possibly in privacy). They may or may not have rough medical treatment before putting on their helmet, and going out to display their new status symbol.

Practically, it would make sense to have a specific helmet just for branding, it would be easier to make to spec, to replace when damaged, and less problematic if the branding helmet cracked under thermal stress (likely, over time, to happen to someone). Symbolically, this would be about marking them as equals, branding them as warriors of the tribe first and foremost, and only later given their individual status as the helmets they display. On the other hand, you might want to play up the "merging" of warrior and helmet, if so then it would be their own helmet they were branded with, to closely link themselves, flesh and bone, to the metal of the helmet and symbolically "imprint" them to their warrior (though in this case the helmet must be cooled before being worn for display).

Anyway, they would display themselves wearing their new helmets, and some time afterwards (how long depends on all sorts of things) they would go home and be given proper medical treatment, including bandages. Their scalps would be given a chance to heal before they must wear the helmets into battle - though perhaps they may be required to wear them in public for a time/forever to further the symbolic merging - and the time to heal and access for treatment would reduce the likelihood of infections and other nasty consequences.

As far as pre-initiates or outsiders are concerned, the helmets were (permanently) attached to the scalp via burning. If the helmets must be worn in public for some time, or ever, this would only reinforce the notion. And there are genuine burns under their helmets, which would only reinforce the idea if someone were to see a person without their helmet for whatever reason in private. These symbolic helmets may or may not be the same as the helmets they wear into battle. Status symbols are usually for show rather than use (since breaking them is bad), and you would need some ritual way of re-attuning a new helmet each time the old one is damaged or breaks past usefulness in battle. If the helmets are different, the status symbol can be kept, likely for life, and it can also be a great deal more ornate and symbolic - this would be the case if important thing was wearing a helmet, rather than the specific one. On the other hand, if you're playing up the symbolic merging, it could be that no other helmet will do because it is "mystically bonded" to its warrior, depends on how religious vs social the ritual is.

In any case, what the ritual would actually be doing is just branding the person - which will show off stoicism, strength and resistance to pain - which is a fine and survivable manhood ritual. Either they will be branded as warriors of the tribe, and later take up their individual status, or else they will mystically bond to their helmets through this ritual. It will also probably reduce or eliminate head hair (which may be desirable, as it "shows" that the warrior is always ready to wear their helmet and do battle, or else emphasizes that the head is not "complete" without its helmet). The conception that this merges the helmet to the head can be accomplished by having the new status symbol be mandatorily worn in public for some time, coupled with the scars if or when someone sees a person without their helmet. There would still be some losses to infection or other complications of the procedure, which would play into the seriousness of such a ritual and also the myth (since merging the helmet to one's head would also be expected to produce fatalities).


This sounds more like a punishment that you want to inflict on your enemies, than a reward for those deemed fit to be a warrior.

Switch your narrative slightly – give the warriors a permanent facial marking and use the helmets for punishment.

Or possibly use the helmets for judgement, where the gods spare the innocent and kill the guilty who are fitted with such a helmet as a trial.

See https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Trial_by_ordeal:

Ordeal of fire typically required that the accused walk a certain distance, usually 9 feet (2.7 metres) over red-hot ploughshares or holding a red-hot iron. Innocence was sometimes established by a complete lack of injury, but it was more common for the wound to be bandaged and re-examined three days later by a priest, who would pronounce that God had intervened to heal it, or that it was merely festering—in which case the suspect would be exiled or executed. One famous story about the ordeal of ploughshares concerns Edward the Confessor's mother, Emma of Normandy. According to legend, she was accused of adultery with Bishop Ælfwine of Winchester, but proved her innocence by walking barefoot unharmed over burning ploughshares.

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I met a guy at a concert, who had 'bolts' attached to his skull, this way he could 'screw on' appendages, such as horns, hair extensions, frankensteins monster 'comic sized bolts'.. maybe your warriors could have the bolts attached as their coming of age, then as adulthood, they then attached the helm and screw nuts into place to hold it on.. allows the warrior to take it off and clean it (cut their hair etc) but is still attached..

As to the "hot" aspect, plausibly if the head is covered in some protective covering/material/gel, then the helmet would be attached 'red-hot' and bolted into place, but would cool enough before the protective gel/material wore off.. not actually touching the skin until its cool enough to do so.. there would still be a LOT of pain involved.. so include alcohol or magic


With any degree of realism, this won't work with red hot metal, and metal doesn't merge with skin, hot or otherwise, it can only get embedded in skin.

Had any burns recently? Actual burns and not just touching a hot dish? I spilled a small amount of hot glue on my hand, thinly spread over about a square inch. It felt burning for hours and it took a week for the blister to heal.

Now make that red hot metal and over the area of a head.. If it doesn't kill the person immediately from pain or burns, you're certainly looking forward to a slow and painful death from infection of the burns - zero chance of survival. It's really a guaranteed execution with horrifying torture. Non-removable helmet doesn't do good things for hygiene even when it's burn-free, unless it's all washable.

Now, for an alternative.. just attach it by any reasonably permanent means requiring slightly more advanced tools.. it'll be non-removable without tools and/or help, and with tools / help it can be removed regardless. Riveting, forging, a good ol' lock..

  • $\begingroup$ p.s. and if the helmet is worth anything in thickness, it will burn what little skin there is on the head clean off, and leave a charred skull bone, and I have no idea what it'll be like but it won't be good either.. $\endgroup$
    – tools
    Commented Jan 20, 2017 at 6:41

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