Death's Head
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Death's Head

Death's Head, the skull, has been given strong religious connotations in several cultures. Among the people of India and neighboring regions, the skull necklace is an iconographic‘ memento mori’ (meaning ‘remember that you must die’) worn by certain gods and goddesses, most notably Siva in his ascetic form and Kali in her wrathful form. Skull necklaces are also worn by the wrathful aspects of Tibetan and Nepalese deities such as Kurukulla. Necklaces and prayer beads carved from animal or human bones in the form of skulls are popular with their devotees.

The skull and crossbones symbol is also used in initiation rituals as a symbol of rebirth. It symbolizes the ‘sephirah daath’ on the Kabbalistic tree of life, the gateway to the higher realms of understanding only achievable through spiritual death and rebirth. A skull symbolized the promise of a new life.

In Pre-Columbian America, the skull was given an honoured place in the religious iconography of the Aztecs and related tribes of Mexico. It is still venerated during the national ‘Day of the Dead’ ceremonies, when skulls made of sugar are eaten and offerings are placed on the graves of deceased relatives and friends.

The skull as an emblem occurs frequently in Christianity, inspired by Golgotha, the place of the skull, where Christ was crucified. Adam's skull lay directly under the cross so the blood of Jesus could drip on it, thus washing away the original sin. Skulls are associated with such penitent saints as St. Francis of Assisi, St. Jerome and St Mary Magdalene.

The skull and crossbones symbolizes the danger of poisonous substances. It is displayed on a black cloth back ground make up the pirate's flag, those who attacked and looted ships.

The skull and crossbones and a crossed hoe and sceptre (symbols of sovereignty) with a skull above them, are important emblems in masonry, where it symbolizes the hierarchic structure and the transience of the material world.

The death’s head was the symbol of the ‘SS-totenkopf verband’ (one of the original three branches of the SS, along with the allgemeine SS and the waffen SS), whose purpose was to guard the concentration camps. Most of the original members of this organization were later transferred into and became the core of a waffen SS division, the Death’s Head division.

Bikers and low-riders, as well as some members of the military, utilize the skull as a significator of reckless machismo and bravery that accepts its fate.

According to subculture mythology the skull is a symbol of defiance, teen violence, drug abuse and sexual promiscuity.

The skull at Halloween is a popular item in haunted houses and a favorite design theme for masks, costumes, lanterns, candies and Halloween decorations.

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