Skull Tattoo Meanings
There’s no doubt that every culture on this earth has a meaning for the skull tattoo because no one in this life is untouched by death (it’s hard not to be morbid when we bring up the skull).
However, it’s not all doom and gloom for these tattoo meanings.
Skulls bring out meanings of courageousness and strength in the face of death, which are great themes for anyone’s next tattoo.
Here are the key meanings behind skull tattoos:
- Fearlessness of Death
If you’re wearing a skull tattoo, you most likely want to show people and yourself that you are not afraid of death.
The skull tattoo represents your relationship with death and wearing it on your arm, leg, or wherever you choose, can be a reminder every day that you have no fear of the beyond.
The skull tattoo also represents a new start to life: or a rebirth.
The skull represents how a near-death experience may have touched your life and made you feel reborn.
If you want to honor someone who has died in s symbolic way, the skull tattoo may be the way to go.
In this type of tattoo, you may want to add design elements that remind you of that loved one so that the skull can be tattooed in a way that honors their memory.
There may just be nothing more tough in life than death.
Not only that, but skulls have always been a symbol of courageousness and being rugged.
The skull tattoo symbolizes that you are a tough person who can handle pretty much anything.
Skull Tattoo Meanings Across Various Cultures
When one thinks of a skull tattoo, the first thing that comes to mind is death.
But there’s more to the skull tattoo than that: each one of these cultures has a unique perception of the meaning of the skull.
In tattoo form, the skull can represent a lot more than just death.
Here are some meanings of skull tattoos from around the world:
- Japanese Skull Tattoo Meanings
Japanese skull tattoos are all about the challenge it is to be alive and to fight another day.
Often part of a large tattoo that mixes a lot of different symbolism, you may use the Japanese skull tattoo as part of a greater meaning about your personal challenges in life.
The tattoo can represent the hopes you have for your life or your strength in fighting against an illness.
- Skull Tattoo Meaning in Prison
People in prison can use skulls everywhere– including the neck and face.
It’s typically meant to scare people and make people know that they are tough and could kill someone if they wanted to.
It’s a sign of dominance and power.
- Egyptian Skull Tattoo Meaning
It is believed that today’s skull and bone tattoo comes from the Egyptian pharaoh’s symbol on their tombs.
There would be two crossed scepters carved into the tomb, which is how most likely the skull and bones symbol came to be.
Since the pharaoh typical reminds one of death, the half pharaoh half skull tattoo also alludes to death, or everlasting life after death just as the Egyptians believed.
- Tibetan Skull Tattoo Meanings
Often decorated with gems or jewels, Tibetan skull tattoos are based on the kapala, which is a Buddhist or Hindu skull cup, the most elaborate of which are from Tibet.
Used to give offerings to deities, these cups often hold dessert or wine, and as tattoos, they symbolize spiritual intelligence and protection from evil spirits.
- Mexican Skull Tattoo Meanings
Mexican skull tattoos are often sugar skulls, which are used to decorate for the Day of the Dead.
Sugar skull tattoos are often done to honor the dead, just as the holiday celebrates.
This tattoo can also symbolize life after death and the connection between life and death.
- Pirates Skull Tattoo Meanings
The pirate is rogue living under their own rules.
When it comes to a pirate’s view of death, a pirate is reckless with death and they live their lives constantly being on the edge of getting killed.
The pirate skull tattoo means that this is your view of how to live life– on the edge.
- Skull Tattoo Meaning in Hindi
As we discussed, the skull refers to the kapala in both Hindu and Buddhist tantra.
Hindu deities that the kapala may involve are Durga, Kali, and Shiva.
Durga may be depicted as wearing a garland of skulls, while Kali may be shown using a kapala to catch blood draining out of a severed head.
This imagery represents the god it is depicting, and their relation to life and death.
- Native American Skull Tattoo Meaning
Native American skull tattoos have powerful symbolism.
Often designed wearing a feathered headdress, and sometimes with the addition of jewels or a rose in the eye of the skeleton, these tattoos mean wisdom, respect for your ancestors, peace for mankind, and power.
Many, of course, get this tattoo as an ode to their Native American ancestry.
However, the tattoo is not exclusive to any type of person.
- Gypsy Skull Tattoo Meaning
A gypsy symbolically represents freedom, individuality, and traveling.
When a gypsy tattoo has a face that is a skull, it means that you are honoring a past loved one who had some of these traits.
- Aztec Skull Tattoo Meaning
The Aztecs believed in sacrifice and kept the skulls of ceremonies on a rack in temples, called the “tzompantli”.
Today, we view human sacrifice as an evil occurrence but for them, it was all done for the Gods.
The Aztec skull tattoo meaning is that you are not to be messed with.
If you a tattoo referring to a “skull rack,” I wouldn’t mess with you, either.
Body Placement Meanings
Body placement is everything.
A skull is a very versatile symbol so it is able to be placed pretty much anywhere.
That’s the great part about the skull tattoo: it’s a classic.
The following are some bold places to place a skull tattoo and what they mean.
- Skull Tattoo Meaning on Hand
Skull tattoos on the hand are fun because you can hold your palm up to your face and make yourself look like a skeleton.
When you wear a tattoo on your hand, you want everyone to see it instantly.
Therefore, it symbolizes that you are a tough person who’s either been through a lot or will win in a fight (or both).
- Skull Tattoo Meaning on Finger
Much like the skull tattoo on a hand, the finger is a prevalent spot for a skull tattoo and you know that everyone will notice it.
The skull is one of the most popular images to get on the finger.
It tends to be a remembrance for the death of loved ones or the mark of a brush with death.
- Skull tattoo Meaning on Neck
The neck is one of the more bold placements for a tattoo.
Because of this, the skull neck tattoo means you are reckless to the point that you have either had a near-death experience because of it or are always ready for the next dangerous adventure.
Animal Skull Tattoo Meaning
Every animal has its distinct symbolism, and every animal faces death just like we do.
When animals’ faces are made in skeleton form or are posed with a skull they represent something to do with how you feel about death, your experiences with it, and more.
Here are some animal-related skull tattoos and their meanings:
- Ram Skull Tattoo Meaning
The ram skull tattoo is one of the most popular ram tattoos for a reason: it looks powerful and edgy.
It can symbolize leadership or mean you are determined towards your goals.
The ram skull is a fierce-looking image that undoubtedly means you are a strong person who will not give up.
- Deer Skull Tattoo Meaning
Deer antlers are extremely popular these days, and when added to a skull it creates a great aesthetic.
Deer often represent the movement between life and death.
Deer are calm and gentle creatures; the deer skull tattoo represents a sensitive side of death that is almost soothing by perhaps faith or the end of suffering.
- Cow Skull Tattoo Meaning
When we think of the cow skull tattoo, many themes come to mind such as the western united states, longhorns, and herding cattle.
However, cow skull tattoos are so much more than that.
They represent that you are not afraid of death and morality. Live for now, because there might not be a later.
- Bull Skull Tattoo Meaning
The bull skull tattoo is also popular in the western region of the United States among Native Americans, Mexicans, and all who wear a cowboy hat.
This tattoo can be for anyone, though, who wants to express fearlessness, strength, toughness, and protection.
- Owl Skull Tattoo Meaning
The owl represents being wise, and protection.
The owl often visually encapsulates the skull in the owl skull tattoo.
Therefore, its meaning is protection from death that is approaching.
In other words, it means that you believe a higher power will protect you and refers to the belief in an afterlife.
- Goat Skull Tattoo Meaning
If you have a goat skull tattoo, it means that you are fearless when it comes to death and courageous when facing it.
Male goats dominate with strong energy and are not to be messed with.
- Wolf Skull Tattoo Meaning
Since everyone has heard of the “lone wolf” it’s no wonder that the wolf skull tattoo means that you are an individual and it’s yourself against the world until death.
Its meaning is that you are taking on life full force with the spirit of the wolf and with no fear.
- Raven Skull Tattoo Meaning
In a raven skull tattoo, the raven typically sits on top of the skull as if it just ate its carcass.
It’s certainly an eerie and morbid tattoo to get, but that’s also what makes it so great.
Beyond aesthetics, this tattoo has to do with your connection to your mortality or your own experience with death.
- Elephant Skull Tattoo Meaning
Elephants symbolize strength and wisdom– they are truly one of the rulers of the animal kingdom.
The elephant skull tattoo means that you are wise beyond your years in the way of accepting your mortality.
- Snake Skull Tattoo Meaning
The snake skull tattoo has a lot of meaning behind it and this meaning isn’t one-sided.
For example, it can mean rebirth, such as overcoming an obstacle in life that could have killed you or a brush with death.
However, it can also mean eternal life, as the snake is considered a magical animal in many cultures.
- Crow Skull Tattoo Meaning
Crows are already associated with death, so when a skull is added to the tattoo it becomes very dark.
The crow skull tattoo means that you are not afraid of death and you are ready to face it when it comes.
- Cat Skull Tattoo Meaning
The cat skull tattoo is great to get in remembrance of a lost cat.
One of the symbols behind cats is good luck or fortune, so cat skull tattoos also mean that even when you are on death’s doorstep you escape it (perhaps for someone who feels they have nine lives).
Meanings of Different Skull Tattoo Designs
Skull tattoos rarely are on their own in design.
Many design elements may be added to the skull tattoo, sometimes to emphasize the darkness, or to lighten it up.
Here are some interesting skull tattoo design meanings to aid your search for the right skull tattoo:
- Meaning of Skull Tattoos with Flowers
The skull tattoo with flowers is very beautiful and meaningful.
Its symbolism lies in rebirth.
From all death comes new life, and this tattoo is a wonderful representation of that.
- Lotus Skull Tattoo Meanings
The lotus is an amazing flower.
It is the epitome of rebirth: it hides underwater each night and reemerges each morning.
The lotus skull tattoo symbolizes that birth and death are constantly happening and it is all part of the circle of life.
- Skull Tattoo with Rose Tattoo Meanings
One meaning love and one meaning death, the rose and skull tattoo is a tattoo of dualism.
In this tattoo, the rose represents the beauty of life while the skull represents the harshness of grief.
This would be a great tattoo to memorialize a loved one.
- Laughing Skull Tattoo Meanings
A laughing skull is a very morbid tattoo that symbolizes fearlessness in the face of death.
You may laugh at death; either you consider death a joke or you are astoundingly unafraid of dying– to the extreme.
- Skull Tattoo with Crown Tattoo Meanings
Crowns are typically thought of as carrying with them an air of authority.
They symbolize ultimate power.
The skull tattoo with a crown symbolizes the power that death holds over our lives.
Or, depending on your religious beliefs, the authority of the God or Gods that we may await as we are judged at our death.
- Skull and Dagger Tattoo Meanings
The skull and dagger tattoo means simply that you are not afraid of death.
The dagger shows that you may die painfully, but you are strong and will be able to face your death without fear.
- Skull Tattoo with Wings Tattoo Meanings
The skull tattoo with wings can have many meanings.
To start, it can represent how someone who has died has become an angel in heaven and you may want to get this tattoo to symbolize their eternal soul.
More meaning to this tattoo is the duality between life and death.
And last, it can symbolize rebirth.
You may have died and been revived, hence the wings that may have brought your soul back into your body.
- Skull and Cross Tattoo Meanings
If you are a Christian, this is a good tattoo for you.
The skull and cross tattoo represents eternal life with God in heaven and the hope that you will make it to heaven.
- Flaming Skull Tattoo Meanings
The flaming skull tattoo is a bold tattoo that shows you are a courageous and tough kind of person.
The flames adds danger to the skull and shows that anyone wearing this tattoo is not afraid to be a little reckless because they are not afraid of death.
- Clock and Skull Tattoo Meanings
Everyone’s time is ticking.
The clock and skull tattoo represents how every human only has a certain amount of time in their life to do everything they want to do, be the person they want to be, and do what’s morally right.
The tattoo means that you are aware of this, and trying as best as you can to make every second count.
- Skull and Butterfly Tattoo Meanings
The skull and butterfly tattoo symbolizes that death is only the beginning– it represents hope for the future.
It also symbolizes the hope that you will be taken away from suffering on this earth and end up in a better place.
- Skull and Moth Tattoo Meanings
The moth typically represents that you can go through tough times.
Therefore, the skull and moth tattoo can have many meanings, such as that you have gone through a near-death experience and it has made you a stronger person, or you are going through a difficult time grieving someone.
- Octoskull Tattoo Meaning
Since the octopus can regrow limbs, the octoskull tattoo symbolizes rebirth after near death from a heart attack, car crash, suicide attempt, etc.
This tattoo means that you can “regrow” or move on from your bad experience with death.
The skull tattoo is a tattoo for everyone because everyone has experience with it.
We all have grieved and we all will face death eventually.
Which skull tattoo idea you choose all depends on your experience with death and what it means to you.
Alyssa Renee Hardy is a writer, curator, and photographer who publishes articles on the topics of the arts, culture, and social justice. She graduated from the Fashion Institute of Technology with a degree in fashion business and art history and museum professions. Her experience working with a variety of art institutions, her world travel, and her inquisitive nature provides her with a unique insight. Check out her about page, she would love to connect with you!