Skull Tattoos: Meanings and Interpretations
Skulls are one of the oldest and most common tattoo designs.
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For most people, skulls seem gruesome and they tend to have a negative connotation. But skulls actually have a variety of meanings.
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The first and most known meaning of skulls is that they symbolize death. Skulls are a representation of our own mortality.
But more importantly, skulls also symbolize life. In some cultures and religions, such as the Mexican ‘Day of the Dead’ and the Roman Catholic ‘All Souls Day’ decorated (and sometimes edible!) skulls are used to celebrate the life of loved ones who have passed away, wishing them a safe journey in the afterlife.
This is a great reminder that there is beauty in death as well. Life is a celebration, and our mortality is the very reason life has so much meaning.
Every moment is fleeting and every experience could be the last, so why not enjoy every bit of life while we have it?
Skulls remind us that death is inevitable and that life must be lived to the fullest and leave with no regrets.
In Celtic symbolism, skulls were the ‘seat of the soul‘ and the ‘motivation of the mind‘.
Skulls, thus, are a representation of our ability to create and power life.
In alchemy, skulls are a symbol of intelligence, higher consciousness, forethought, and judiciousness. In other words, skulls represent being wise and sensible.
Another important meaning for skulls is duality. While they already represent life and death, skulls are often paired with another design to expand on its meaning. A common design is a skull and a rose, to represent life and decay.
Skulls are also frequently paired with serpents, representing the cycle of death and rebirth.
One could also pair skulls with other designs for some rather unique meanings – such as preserving a skull in a jar, indicating trying to hold on to life and live for as long as one can.
Renaissance art often links skulls to Earth and the delicate, temporary nature of life. In most art from this time, skulls are used to represent how vices and greed can lead to an untimely death, thus using skulls as a cautionary tale.
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Skulls are also a popular nautical tattoo, particularly used to represent pirates, with crossbones being an easily recognizable symbol since pirate movies and art have them prominently featured. People often associate pirates in these stories with freedom, rebellion, triumph, wanderlust, power, strength, protection, and even humour.
But the same or similar symbols used to represent pirates are also found on hazardous waste or toxic chemicals, representing danger and death – which brings us back full circle!
With its diverse range of meanings, skulls are a design that can represent so many things. One meaning that is common, however, is that no matter what has happened before, all things come to an end. The old and the new come together to shape us, and we can make the most out of everything we experience.
Much like this gorgeous tattoo that brings the new and the old together in a glitch and blackwork silhouette piece.