Skull Tattoos : Meanings and examples


What does the skull symbolise when it is used for tattoos?


Not all skull tattoos are the same

In the past, tattoos were only seen on sailors and prisoners and later on certain gang members. They were signs of attitudes and affiliations. They had a rather bitter aftertaste, as their wearers often used adjectives like immoral, immoral, wicked, characterless and evil. Nowadays, the attribution of these characteristics is outdated. On the contrary, tattoos have become more and more popular in recent years - and that through all classes and ages. Many people are now tattooed; some even almost all over their body. It is almost "abnormal" not to have a tattoo.

Whereas tattoos once symbolised something like togetherness, nowadays people tend to get a tattoo for fashionable, aesthetic reasons. Also the choice of a coloured tattoo is more recent.

The tattoo motives have partly remained the same, but in general the repertoire has expanded. In principle there is nothing that does not exist.

Some customers get certain tattoos because they have a very personal, certain meaning for the person concerned. Others choose according to the principle "I like that".

No matter why you decide on a motif and whether it should be colourful or plain, it is important: Think about it carefully beforehand, because tattooing is quick, but removing the artwork on the skin is not so easy. You should also be aware that certain tattoo designs have an obvious symbolism. This applies for example to snakes, roses, butterflies, dragons and especially skulls.

In the following we want to take a closer look at skulls tattoos and their meanings.



The skull & its meaning(s)

Simply put, the skull is a skeletonised human skull. Subjectively, it has very different meanings depending on religion, culture or attitude to life.

In the western world, the skull is a symbol for various things or characteristics. However, it is always somehow connected with death. Sometimes it is in symbiosis with other things, such as two crossed thighbones.

In Christianity the skull is an expression of grief and a reminder of the transience of man. In other cultures and religions, on the other hand, rebirth - the fact that death is not something final - is emphasised. So here the skull can also be understood as a kind of antagonism: Yin & Yang, life & death, good & evil, beauty & decay

In everyday life, skulls also exist as pictograms: they stand for danger. It can be found in the chemistry of poisonous substances, in the seafaring past concerning pirate ships, as well as in various military situations as a sign of power and intrepidity and at the same time as a deterrent. In heraldry, there are numerous coats of arms with skulls; here they mean transitoriness. In the period between the late Middle Ages and the change from the 18th to the 19th century, the skull was the symbol of medical schools. Physicians, but also magicians and people of questionable sciences had a skull in their study.

In today's data work the symbol "skull with crossed bones" should not be missing. You can find it on your PC with the key combination Alt 9760. As a kind of trademark but also as a warning of the danger, the extreme climbers, the so-called "Lattice Climbers", have a skull with crossed lightning bolts on their logo.

In some youth cultures the skull is used as a kind of protest symbol against the prevailing norms of society. The gothic scene wears it as a fashion accessory that is meant to provoke. The skull is also very popular among fans of heavy metal music as a symbol.


What is the original meaning?

The motif of the skull as a tattoo is at home in the prison milieu. A skull with bones tattooed on the shoulders testifies that this is someone who has to serve a life sentence.

In Russia, for example, prisoners openly indicate that they have murdered someone.

Where is the tattoo worn?

In principle, the skull can be pierced almost anywhere on the body. Skulls on the upper or lower arm, on the back, on the calf or on the hand are particularly popular.

What symbolism is behind a skull tattoo?

In the past, people wanted to face their fears with the skull as a motif. It should protect from evil. Today, however, the skull tattoo meaning is individually different, depending on what the wearer associates with it. Among the most common meanings and intentions are :


  • Demonstration not to be afraid of death (and to enjoy life to the full)
  • Remembrance of a deceased friend or relative
  • positive change in life, for example after a serious illness or other significant life event
  • Belonging to a group and thus characteristic of a certain lifestyle (bikers, gothic scene, prisoners etc.)
  • Deterrence for others - avoidance strategy for too much social contact
  • Threat, reminder, pain

However, some people let themselves be engraved with this motif without attaching any significance to it. They just find it "cool". Colourful skull tattoos (see sugar skull) emphasize a rather artistic, almost cheerful aspect.

As you can see, this kind of tattoo does not only mean something scary, brutal. Some wearers even consider it a lucky charm, which is supposed to give them power and strength. It's all in the eye of the beholder...

A Few Skull Designs and Ideas: let us present you our selection of skulls tattoos.

Skull Tattoos are available in tens of different variations and combinations. Here are the most common ones including the skull tattoo meaning or their background:

Skull & Bones Tattoo

Pictograms of this kind stand for danger or poison. Wearers of such a tattoo want to signal that they have both feet on the ground, have their own rules and do not want to be told what to do.




Skull & Roses Tattoo

An almost graceful appearing picture is the tattoo skull with roses. The skull and crossbones are two contrasting motifs: the skull stands for horror, death, challenge and perhaps even mourning; the rose on the other hand symbolises beauty, love, nobility and passion. However, if the rose shows many thorns, it indicates a life full of troubles and adversity. With colour tattoos the different roses also have a differentiated symbolism:

Red: love and passion

White: Purity, innocence and fidelity

Pink: youth and beauty

Yellow: infidelity, envy and jealousy and the diminishing of feelings

Orange: Happiness and hope

The combination of tattoo skull and roses thus signals the mating of life and death, good and evil, joy and sorrow, beauty and horror. The wearer can thus indicate that he/she is facing the challenges and dares to make a new start in life. However, he can also use this motif to commemorate a friend or girlfriend who has left him or her in any way.



Skull & Clock Tattoo

The clock stands for time; the time that lies before or behind you as well as the present. The combination skull and clock stands for transience.


Skull & Cherry Tattoo

Cherries stand for sexuality and femininity and are motifs that are more likely to be chosen by women. Furthermore, the cherry is also associated with virtue, sweetness, purity, youth and morality. A double cherry is the symbol for a long partnership.

The skull and crossbones with cherry are again two contrasting things, pointing to joy and sorrow, to new beginnings and endings, i.e. to the fact that life is "no pony farm".



Skull & Snake Tattoo

The snake - borrowed from the Old Testament - stands for deceit, temptation and sin. At the same time, however, it also symbolises wisdom and protection. Thus, such a combination has the meaning of two strong, not everyday things; two things that scare many people but also fascinate them.



Skull & Writing Tattoo

This connection is a very individual one. Usually, it is name features or personal sayings that the tattooed person associates with a certain, often deceased person.



The Sugar Skull Tattoo

The colourful skull tattoos are based on the old Mexican tradition. Even today, from 31 October to 2 November in Mexico on the so-called Día de Muertos - the Day of the Dead - the dead are commemorated with a skull made of coloured sugar. Sugar skull tattoos are colourful and symbolise the spiritual reunion with the dead.

The list could be continued almost endlessly, there are no limits to the combination - as well as to the interpretation.

Skull tattoos are manifold and often meaningful for or about the person who wears the tattoo. Such tattoos are not always clear in their meaning, but often have a historical background. Tattoos with a skull can also be completely meaningless and just cool and beautiful. They do not necessarily have to be negative or monochrome. However, it is important that you inform yourself before you get a tattoo and think about why you choose this particular motif...