A beautiful blood stone skull is in my guardianship that I have lovingly named Prometheus. Being with him during a meditation the other day invoked a thoughtful process of the meaning of the human skull throughout the ages.
You often find it in ghoulish pictures of Gothic inspired imagery created to invoke mystery, but the human skull has held a far greater meaning one that is held in both reverence and fear.
One of the classical meanings of the human skull is that of “memento mori” that which means to remember your mortality. This expression is directed to remember your death or literally to die. The ancient Greek philosophers that practiced Stoicism, Neoplatonism and Epicurean philosophy often pondered on the meaning of death, a subject that has not been diluted over time. One that was most probably taken from the ancient Sanskrit of the Verdict system.
The idea of philosophy as the “Practice of Death” is central to the western philosophical tradition and the meditation of death is the meditation of life.
“The exercise of living well
And the exercise of dying well
Are one and the same”
It is through this practice that philosophers maintain tranquillity in the midst’s of the tumultuous circumstances of life therefore inward concentration can be thought of dying before you die. This will assist in living in the present and making the most of your life, it will assist you to live in whatever Nirvana you choose. It will encourage you to seize the day or “Carp Diem” usually represented as a skull with a red rose wreath.
Buddhism, Hinduism, Judaism and even Christianity all hold similar concepts, even in the macabre meaning of the Knights Templar that is associated with the Holy Grail all of which create a state of enlightenment akin to that spoken of by the Gnostics, alchemists and mystics.
For some, skulls can also symbolise protection, strength, power, fearlessness, wisdom, guidance, surviving through difficult times and immortality all of which lean towards the mysteries of dying before you die.
A beautiful poem by Rumi invokes feelings of the ancient translation of death one that reverberates till this day.
“Die! Die! Die in this love! If you die in this love, your soul will be renewed. Die! Die! Don’t fear the death of that which is known if you die to the temporal, you will become timeless.”
Halloween, All saints day, All souls day, The Day of the Dead in Mexico (Dia De Mouertos) all have similar meaning. These festivals are popular with the symbolism of the skull that is identified with death. This is the time where the veil between the worlds is thin and therefore a good time to communicate with those from the spirit world. They will hear your prayers, they will give you guidance, and they will even offer you protection. These festivals span thousands of years and in Mesoamerica were dedicated to the Lady of the dead.
Another image that you may be familiar is the serpent crawling through the eye sockets of the skull. The serpent is considered a Chthonic God of Knowledge and Immortality (God of the Underworld). The serpent is always making its way thought the skull, representing knowledge that persists beyond death. As the Serpent guards the tree in the Garden of Hesperides and in a familiar story thousands of years later in the Garden of Eden it holds the secrets to the cosmos. The eternal knowledge within, the Holy Grail, the Kapala (in Sanskrit) and all of infinity.