Remember the Death In This Life With A Skull Tattoo (100+ Ideas)

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For those looking for a skull tattoo there is definitely no shortage of tattoo ideas online.

It’s a tattoo symbol that’s been around and used extensively since the mass popularization of tattoos through the Jerry Sailor tattoos.

Skull tattoo designs usually mean the inherent fragility of all living beings, but depending on the other elements around them, or the tattoo style, it serves as a nuance to a bigger story.

The inclusion of the skull represents the brevity of human life (and especially the fact that death will touch us all, whether you are rich or poor) and its knowledge (compared to divine omniscience),

Varieties are great – do you want a wicked skull tattoo, full of macabre aesthetic?
Or you want something with flowers or even a cute look.?

In this guide we go deep into all kinds of skull tattoos – animal skull tattoos, historical skull tattoos, the cute, the small and big.

Let’s dive in!

Every Tattoo Has A Story – Skull Tattoo Meaning

Many people have preconceived notions of what can the skull tattoo meaning be, but here we go into the history of art, mythologies and symbolism from around the world.

Most important meaning of skulls is death, and with it our mortality.

The fear of death and the desire to see/understand its mystery, have always stimulated human thought and actions and are actually at the origin of the culture.

However, this is a very narrow interpretation of the skull symbolism, given that it is one of the most powerful symbols on the planet.

People began displaying skulls on benches,on floors, and on shelves as early as 7,200 B.C., in the Middle East.

The skull crept into European decorative art in the mid-1300s, after the bubonic plague killed a quarter of the population. It served as a memento mori, symbolizing both mortality and celebration.

If it embellished a drinking cup, for example, that meant:

“Live it up! Life is short.”

Skull can also be interpreted as a part of art interpeting vanitas.

Vanitas are closely related to memento mori still lifes which are artworks that remind the viewer of the shortness and fragility of life, and include symbols such as skulls and extinguished candles.

Memento mori is a Latin phrase meaning ‘remember you must die, which is why the skull clock tattoos are also commonly popular.

And of course, skulls adorned the flags of pirate ships, and are commonly used in pirate ship tattoos.

In the 1700s, pirates flew flags with skulls and crossbones to indicate a rogue identity.

These skull adorned flags showed that the crew didn’t follow the rules of any country, and would stop at nothing to win a fight.

It’s not a surprise that across the globe, death isn’t the end of life.

In fact, it is merely the next step in the story, after which there are numerous other paths to take.

For example, in tarot, the Death card actually signifies a pinnacle turning point in the narrative of life.

In some places, skulls represent:

  • transformation,
  • change,
  • wealth,
  • warning sign,
  • celebration of the dead,
  • macabre aesthetic,
  • power,
  • strength
  • and protection.

You can also mix the skull with other symbols – crosses, snakes, roses, daggers, etc – to add more meaning to your skull tattoo.

Skull Hand Tattoo

Just like the skull, the skeleton hand tattoo is tightly connected to the meaning of life’s passing and death.

With it you can say that you are reaching into the after life, or that you have changed and have gone through a transformation.

Mortality in itself means that all things will come to an end and they will have to change.

To be humans means that we are always trying to overcome the limits of our own mortality.

Even though we can never stand to win against our inevitable fate of death.

For this reason a skull hand tattoo becomes an exercise of freedom.

The skull hand tattoo covering the face has been circulating social media for years.

It started by Jared Leto’s Joker in 2016’s Suicide Squad.

A skeleton hand tattoo is also meaningful design that symbolizes courage or paying tribute to lost loved ones.

Sugar Skull Tattoo Ideas

Sugar skulls (calaveras) are a globally known symbol of the Day of the Dead.

These colorful skull designs are used originally to make ornate edible decorations, but then transpired into jewelry, tattoos and face paint.

Each sugar skull is decorated with lively colored stripes, dots, and swirls of decorative icing. In addition, feathers, beads or colored foils are glued onto the skull for that added flair.

The roots of Dia de los Muertos go back some 3,000 years.

This Mexican holiday, observed Nov. 1-2, is a happy celebration of the lives of family and friends who have passed away to commemorate families’ ancestors’ lives and impacts they had upon them.

In pre-Columbian times, skulls and skeletons frequented painting and pottery in Latin America.

The symbolism was the rebirth into the next stage of life.

Importantly, different colors in sugar skulls have different meanings:

  • Red – Blood
  • Orange – Sun
  • Yellow – Marigold
  • Purple – Pain
  • Black – Land of the Dead
  • Pink – Hope, purity, and celebration

Animal Skull Tattoos

Besides the human skulls being used in art and subsequently in tattoos, there is a whole palette of animal skull tattoos, as well.

With animal skull meanings, the symbolism shifts depending on the animal whose skull it is.

The mankind has been surrounded by animals their whole existence, and contact could include domestic stock, wild animals man hunted or we held as pet.

The early skulls kept as decoration or ritual practices were to show both strength of overcoming obstacles or of accepting of life’s natural cycles.

When it comes no aesthetic use of skulls, Georgia O’Keeffe experimented and had a whole phase where she produced  paintings of animal skulls.

O’Keeffe was fascinated by the animal skulls that she encountered while exploring the southwest landscape.

She used the bones and skulls as an attempt to capture the inner essence and therefore true “reality” of the thing.

Her cow skulls and horse’s skulls simultaneously create an eerily calming effect that is subtly menacing.

The skull paintings can be seen to represent the death and destruction of the American landscape or they can be viewed as celebratory works that pay tribute to the animals that first inhabited the Western landscape.

In these animal flower skull paintings she was trying to portray self-empowerment, appropriation of the strength of the enemy or the prey.

Below we dive into what every animal skull tattoo means taking their meaning from the animal’s own symbolism or history in art.

Bull Skull Tattoo

Bulls tattoos are often connected with virility and abundance.

Sacred in a number of ancient cultures, bulls are majestic and masculine animals have been an important part of agricultural activities for centuries.

As such it was as a source of food, a father from which new generations of cattle are born, and a spiritual totem of strength.

This king of the livestock has been connected with male deities in ancient culture, and bull skulls were you used as tokens of it.

So, bull skull tattoo represents:

  • male fertility and potency
  • energy,
  • stamina,
  • endurance,
  • protection, and aggression.

The bull is also part of Celtic and Native American mythologies, where bull and bull skulls get mixed with other elements to portray larger scenes.

Cow Skull Tattoo

Just like the bull is connected to the masculinity and fertility, its counterpart the cow is connected to the nurturing femininity and fertility.

Basically, the cow skull tattoo can be connected to the concept of the Mother Earth, as it already is in many cultures.

An integral part of the livestock for centuries, cow is the symbol of provision and selfless acts of giving, nature and reproduction.

All that said, cow skull tattoos draw meaning from:

  • maternity,
  • nature, fertility, abundance,
  • new beginnings
  • pregnancy, giving birth,
  • taking care of offspring,
  • a medium for new life.

Deer Skull Tattoo

Deer skull tattoos are an artistic choice that can speak volumes.

These beautiful gentle but wild animals have been the hunter’s inspiration, feeding and challenging us for millennia.

Their energy and the spirit they carry with them gives independence, instict-driven thinking and regenerative properties.

In different cultures deer’s presence means different things:

The Celtic cultures and arts has seen deers as masters of the arts with their intelligence and creativity.

There were two aspects of the deer: the feminine element, called Eilid in Gaelic, the female red deer, symbolizing femininity, gentles and grace

As for the other cultures, like the native tribes of North America, the deer was a messenger, an animal of power, and a totem representing sensitivity, intuition and gentleness.

Historically deer would lead native tribes to herb patches that they found to be beneficial in their medicinal practices.

Here are some meanings of deer skull tattoos:

  • Instincts,
  • independence,
  • protection,
  • leadership,
  • regeneration,
  • adventure
  • symbol of gentleness passed,
  • abundance,
  • fertility,
  • humility,
  • and male virility.

Ram Skull Tattoo

Rams are male sheep, and their horns are one of their most distinguishing features, especially in the ram skull tattoos.

The ram has always enjoyed favor as a potent symbol because of the animal’s legendary strength and virility (and hence its creative powers), and its characteristics as a leader and protector of his flock.

In the ancient Near East, and from earliest times throughout the Mediterranean, the ram was associated with:

  • powerful divinities
  • heroic figures,
  • wealth
  • the elite,
  • sacrifice.

In many Native American cultures, the ram is seen as a sacred animal.

In some tribes, rams are associated with the sun and are seen as a symbol of power. In other tribes, rams represent wisdom and knowledge.

The Celts also revered the ram as a sacred animal. In Celtic mythology, the animal is often associated with the God of war, Cernunnos.

One of the most popular interpretations of ram skull tattoos is that they symbolize power and strength.

The ram is a very powerful animal and has been known to charge at full force into even the most formidable opponents.

Its skull can hint at a powerful person’s past, or taking that type of power into your new life.

This makes it a very popular choice for those looking for a tattoo representing strength and power.

Wolf Skull Tattoo

The wolf tattoo is not for those of light heart.

This animal-inspired ink is for powerful, strong and intelligent people who know what they want and how they want it to look like.

If you like skulls tattoos and their symbol, that the perfect tattoo for you.

The wolf skull symbolizes:

  • life after death,
  • the end of life.

In some mythologies, the wolf is the guide of man after his death.

Also, wolves are highly associated with familial feelings, and being family-oriented, making the wolf skull tattoo a great way to honor your family’s deceased leader.

Cat Skull Tattoo

Cats are effeminate creatures that have been mesmerizing humans for a very long time.

Naturally, the cat skulls have been used in rituals and decorations for just as long.

Cats are free-spirited animals that show a sense of independence and intellect that is rarely seen in the animal world that usually surrounds us in domestic environments.

As per usual interpretations, these feline creatures are symbolic of rebirth and resurrection, due to the myth of them having nine lives.

Being nocturnal creatures, they are also associated with darkness.

For many, the cat skull symbolizes:

  • death,
  • destruction,
  • disease,
  • end of cycle,
  • final transformation,
  • rebirth,
  • resurrection,
  • darkness,
  • mysticism and the underworld,
  • magic,
  • spirit realm.

Cat skull tattoos can beautifully display the resilience of the four-legged felines, feeding into the nine lives myth.

Goat Skull Tattoo

Historically seen as playful, intelligent, sensitive, and affectionate, goats have been valued as livestock since they were first domesticated 10,000 years ago.

Additionally, these animals are infamous for their tenacity and stubbornness.

When facing a goat’s horns, this trait may seem annoying or dangerous, but it is also a sign of great fortitude and perseverance – as is the goat skull tattoo usually portrayed to symbolize.

While initially a positive symbol, during the Christianization of Europe, goats have become associated with sinfulness and demonic forces.

Subsequently, the goat skull also became shunned as a positive symbol.

They became symbols of Satanic rituals or humanoid demons with goat horns.

From the positive meanings, from early evidence in the Middle East (place of their early domestication), we have:

  • fertility,
  • abundance,
  • intelligence,
  • craftiness,
  • tenacity,
  • stubborness,
  • playfulness,
  • affection

All of these positive symbolic meanings make sense if you’ve ever met a goat.

Given these associations with fertility and abundance, it comes as no surprise that goats started to appear in many sacrificial rituals that were performed in hopes of getting a god or spirit to make the coming harvest a bountiful one or to bless a couple with a safe, healthy pregnancy.

Raven Skull Tattoo

Raven tattoo  has been associated with many traits, characteristics and myths throughout history, so as a symbol it was able to provide prolific creative interpretations for each individual.

What raven means to you will be highly personal, but it will speak of you immensely as being:

  • intelligent,
  • resourceful,
  • adaptive,
  • death,
  • knowledge
  • insight,

So, mostly speaking, the raven skull tattoo symbolizes death and the painful reminder of the solitary.

In the Norse mythology, raven is connected with being the eyes of the god Odin, which makes raven skull the omen of all-knowing, knowledge and insights gained through the ultimate transformation of death.

Buffalo Skull Tattoo

The buffalo skull is a physical representation of the quality of this huge animal that weighs more than a thousand pounds (over 500 kilos).

With its gigantic frame, the buffalo’s mere presence is a sight to strike fear and awe.

Even this big, buffalo is a surprisingly fierce and agile animal, a great opponent to any attacker.

Their biggest strength consists in their persistence and their very existence today is a testament to their ability to adapt.

Buffalo has been a source of food, clothing, shelter, tools, and medicine. From this we derive the meaning of ultimate self-sacrifice for the well being of others.

The impressive skulls were (and still are) used for ceremonial purposes.

Having a buffalo skull in your home brings feelings of strength, perseverance and adaptability into your space.

Also known as the North American Bison and Tatanka, the buffalo is the most honored animal in Native American tribes within North America.

The buffalo skull tattoo meanings include:

  • abundance,
  • provision,
  • strength,
  • stability,
  • prosperity,
  • fierce opponent,
  • agility
  • persistence,
  • ultimate self-sacrifice for the well being of others

Elephant Skull Tattoo

Elephant tattoo is an excellent choice for many people that want to use this magnificent animal to convey a plethora of messages.

Many who have been through a long and hard journey, and came out as strong fighters can identify with the elephant symbol.

Drawing from the meaning of elephants, elephant skull are also a universal symbol of:

  • strength,
  • loyalty,
  • divinity
  • good luck
  • message of community,
  • memories,
  • family,
  • mercy,
  • healing,
  • love.

Elephant skull tattoo also sports a cool, intimidating, and masculine look, and can be surrounded by other decoration to give it an even more majestic look.

Best Skull Tattoo Placements

The skull hand tattoo is one that is very popular among women as well as men and, especially for those looking to finish their sleeve.

From the hand skull tattoo you can also build upwards to add roses, other animals, mandalas, and more.

Some also go for a small skull face tattoo, to solidify the meaning of immortality and the passing of life.

If you want to add a personal touch, and be able to see this reminder daily, consider doing it as a forearm tattoo.

You can also go for a skull neck tattoo, another placement that make a loud statement to what you believe in and how you want everyone to know of where you are in life.

For a larger piece, you can go for a skull chest tattoo, especially if you’re going for an animal skull such as a ram skull tattoo or buffalo skull tattoo.

Other Skull Tattoo Ideas

To help you with your research for your next tattoo design, we went on a hunt through Instagram to find the best elephant tattoo ideas.

Take a look below to check them out all:

Are you looking for a custom skull tattoo design? We got you.

Our expert tattoo artists will provide a quick initial draft to get you going.
Happy inking ❤

Milena Petrovic

Milena Petrovic

Co-founder of Tattoo Stylist

About the author

Milena has decided to start an organization that will create a safe environment for everybody to get their first, second or third tattoo and to encourage young people to transform their ideas into tattoos safely, with talent and vision.

You can find her writing about tattoos on Quora or updating our Pinterest profile with awesome tattoo ideas!

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