Tattoo Designs & Symbols

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Tattoo designs - S >> Skulls

Death's head tattoo design ideasSkull Tattoos - Skulls are represented in a number of tattoo design genres, and a classic tattoo design that has been popular for generations of tattoo enthusiasts. Nautical Tattoos with the Jolly Roger, or famed pirate's flag of Skull and Crossed Bones, Old School Tattoos, New School Tattoos, Bio-Mechanical and every School of Tattoos in between.

Skull symbolism is instinctive in human nature. The human mind is primed to recognize faces, and so eager to find them that it can see faces in a few dots and lines or punctuation marks; the face that looks back from a human skull cannot avoid recognition as having been once human. Moreover, a human skull, with its eyes much larger than in life, displays a degree of neoteny (think of kittens, puppies and babies, no, seriously), which humans often find visually appealing. Yet, a skull is obviously dead. As such, human skulls have a visual appeal beyond the other bones of the human skeleton, and can fascinate even as they repel.

One look at a skull and we can see death staring at us from those big empty sockets. It's not surprising then that the skull is known all over the world as a symbol of death. In many cultures, it is held up as a reminder of our own mortality or, in the universal Latin, a memento mori - a memento of mortality.

Skull photo for tattoo inspiration

In the play Hamlet, playwright William Shakespeare uses a skull to great effect. When Hamlet discovers Yorick's skull, the King's former Court Jester, in the graveyard in the first scene of Act V, he speaks directly to the skull as he fixates on death's inevitability and the disintegration of the body. The physical object of the skull is used to symbolize the themes of mortality and death presented in the play. In the end, none of us can escape death and even Kings are eaten by worms.

human skulls

Skull tattoo designIn Christian art and culture, the skull has been seen as a symbol of eternity, repentance, and human vanity and, therefore, a reminder to keep to the straight and narrow. It appears in medieval religious paintings as Adam's skull placed at the foot of the Cross and symbolizing the Redemption. An ancient symbol of the skull with a serpent crawling through the sockets was the symbol of knowledge and immortality. The serpent in the skull is also a favourite emblem denoting '"knowledge surviving death".Many great Renaissance masterpieces prominently feature skulls, and most portraits of Saints, Cardinals, Popes and Royalty contained a skull as a reminder of the importance of living a virtuous life.

Historically, the skull was a popular symbol of triumph over the enemy, and a warning to the people defeated in battle. Collections of skulls might be stacked by the victors in public places, as an obvious declaration of victory and grim reminder of the losses of the vanquished. It was also worn as a trophy and even drunk out of by conquering kings. Centuries ago, heads were stuck on pikes at Traitor's Gate in London, and left to rot -- a dire warning to all who walked by. The skull, or Totenkopf was the Nazi SS insignia in WW2, a symbol to be feared, but when tattooed on the arm of a biker outlaw, it is a death-defying symbol believed to cheat death. In New Guinea, skulls were placed in the rafters of the medicine house as a reminder of death always present in life. Ancient Pompeii came up with the image of the skull crowned with the spirit level, the carpenter's favorite tool, suggesting Death as the great leveller.

The skull could also get fancy. There are plenty of scenes of talking skulls in folk history, all carrying a message or reminder of death and bad behaviour. In Mexico you can see grinning skulls dressed up in feathers and hats, such as found in Mexican art. On the Day of the Dead, you might even be eating a skull made of sugar and chocolate. But skulls on gravestones are not as popular today as they were in Victorian times. Death was big business for sculptors and masons, and the skull in various combinations with crosses, roses, and wings were not only a reminder of mortality but also of the flight of the soul, resurrection and eternity.

In Buddhism and Hinduism, skulls can be seen in their religious art. The Buddhist Lord of the Dead, Yama, has five skulls around his head, signifying the conquest of anger, greed, pride, envy and ignorance. Kali, the Hindu Goddess of Death wears a necklace of skulls.

Skull Inspiration Gallery - Click here to get inspired!Today, the skull is as popular as it ever was. In movies, games, literature, comics, and of course, tattoos, the skull continues to gather different symbolic implications as the creative imagination of the artist lets loose. Some designs are humorous, some macabre and threatening, but always Death is part of the picture.

Get inspired by some really amazing images and photos of skulls in our Inspiration Gallery

See also Death's Head Skull Tattoos, and Jolly Roger Tattoos or Skull and Crossed Bones

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Tattoo designs - S >> Skulls

Tattoo Symbol Index - A B C D E F G H I J K L M N O P Q R S T U V W X Y Z

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