Limited Edition Hand Crafted Skulls
Although unsettlingly morbid, every culture around the world has since the beginning of time formed their own beliefs and attached traditions and symbolism to the human skull. Contrary to popular opinion, skulls are not just synonymous with death because they are a stark reminder of our mortality but have been used through the ages to symbolise both sides of the spectrum.
A symbol of vanity :
Nature morte au crane – Still life with skull by Paul Cézanne 1989
Vanitas, latin for Vanity, was a medieval still-life art style with a moral message. Artists used their symbolic works of art to depict the emptiness and the meaninglessness of earthly life. Paintings executed in the Vanitas style were meant to remind viewers of the transience of life, the futility of pleasure etc. Common Vanitas symbols include rotten fruit, which symbolize decay; bubbles, which symbolize the brevity of life and suddenness of death; smoke, watches, and hourglasses, which represent the passage of time etc. One of the more popular symbols was the skull – a reminder of the certainty of death.
A symbol of life after death:
In ancient Mexico, the Aztec culture believed that life on earth was sort of an illusion and that death was a positive step forward into a higher level of consciousness. For the Aztecs, skulls were a positive symbol, not only of death but also of rebirth.
Tzompantli or the Wall of Skulls at the Aztec captial city of the Tenochtitian.
In fact, skulls in eastern semiotics, are so important that they’ve been traced all the way back to the dawn of the Hindu civilization- over 5,000 years ago. Gods and Goddesses often adorned skulls as necklaces or bracelets to signify their ability to conquer death.
Tibetan Buddhism goes in a little deeper, with unique perspectives. Instead of representing death or loss, it represents the important Buddhist concept of emptiness – a quality of the universe that believes that anything that we experience has no inherent nature in itself and that we attach meaning to whatever we experience. Although gruesome, they have been used as a reminder that life is transitory.
A symbol of change and good luck :
The skull is the remnant of the human body that is least susceptible to decay – a sign of strength. Many primitive cultures hence believed that wearing skulls ensured protection and well-being. In Celtic culture, considered to be the seat of power and the house of the soul, the skull is also believed to drive away illness and negative energy.
A symbol of non – conformity and machismo :
Musical genres like heavy metal, punk rock and alternative rock generously use the skull to endorse their free-thinking spirit and rebellion. Biker and gang culture have also embraced this symbol with open arms symbolising commitment until death and used both to attract people who identify with the culture and drive away those who don’t.
To evoke caution or fear :
SS Visor Cap Skull
Slapped across bottles of poison as a visual reminder of danger and used in horror books and movies to create an atmosphere of fear, the skull combined with crossbones is most commonly associated with flags flown on pirate ships – an unwelcome sight that once terrorised the seas. But perhaps the most spine-chilling usage of this symbol till date has nothing to do with the super-natural or myths and legends but with a real-life event in history – the holocaust. The Nazi SS incorporated the skull on to the uniforms of their concentration camp guards in a symbol that probably still invokes fear today.
Although the current trend of embracing skulls only resurfaced recently, one should move away from the macabre and realise that not only do they remind us that none of us live forever but conversely, that each of our lives are that much more important because of it. A skull crowned by a wreath of roses is referred to as a ‘carpe diem’, a reference to the Latin phrase in a poem by Horace, which is generally translated as ‘seize the day.’ For Horace, mindfulness of our own mortality is key in making us realize the importance of the moment:
“Remember that you are mortal, so seize the day.”
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