The human skull speaks to the imagination, as does the skull tattoo. What does it mean when somebody has a skull tattooed on his or her skin? The answer is that you would have to ask the person himself, because a skull tattoo can signify lots of different things. The skull tattoo is one of the most famous tattoos, it’s a classic.
Worldwide, the most common association with the skull is death. In Greek and Roman history the skull was symbolic for memento mori: remember human mortality. This connotation persisted throughout the Christian tradition and strengthened the power of the church by causing fear amongst its followers and by doing so, urging Christians to pursue a humble lifestyle: for remember that you will die, and upon death you will be weighed.
Historically, the skull is also understood as a symbol of victory. The skull symbolized the defeat of the enemy, causing fear amongst the defeated and exposing the pride of the victorious. Kings used to drink their wine out of skulls to celebrate yet another victory. In Shakespeare’s play Hamlet, Hamlet discovers Yorick’s skull, recognizing it immediately. Shakespeare used the skull as a clever symbol of the theme in the play, having the skull to symbolize mortality of man and the inevitability of death even for kings.
Also in other religions than the Christian, the skull has great symbolic value. In Buddhist and Hindu religion, the skull is present in their religious arts. Yama, the Buddhist lord of the dead, has five skulls around its head, symbolizing the victory over anger, greed, pride, envy and ignorance. The Hindu goddess of death, Kali, wears a necklace of skulls.
The skull tattoo is almost as old as the tattoo itself. It is a classic tattoo design, and has been popular among tattoo aficionados for generations. The skull tattoo can be found in all tattoo schools, from Old School tattoos to New School and Biochemical tattoos, and from Nautical tattoos with the Jolly Roger to tattoos with the pirate’s flag of a skull with crossed bones.
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