Why are Skulls everywhere in popular culture? – Lethal Threat
Since I was a kid, I always thought skulls were cool. I don’t know what attracted me to skulls but to this day I still love skulls and images of skulls. I have a room in my house with nothing but skull paintings and skull sculptures. My brand, Lethal Threat, is built around my passions for all things skulls. I know I am not the only one into skulls, so got to thinking why skulls are so popular. Once associated with only Outlaw Bikers, Nazi symbolism and pirates, skulls can now be found on kids clothes to shower curtains. I decided to do some digging into the past history of skulls and how the image is so widely accepted today.
Throughout history, skulls have been particularly multi-purpose symbols. Want to honor the dead? A skull was used. Warn against danger? A skull was used. The story of how the flesh stripped head went from a serious symbol of mortality to a pop icon image decorating t-shirts, lamps, motorcycles, to just about every product you can think of.
History tells us that as far as 7200 BC, people in the Middle East would display the skulls of dead ancestors in their homes on shelves in their home. Skull icons have a long history in Latin America. Starting around 1200 AD, The Aztecs built skull racks to display the heads of warriors defeated in battle. Around 300 AD, skull imagery became synonymous with Mexico’s Day of the Dead ceremony, in which it continues to play a prominent role to this current time period.
The skull crept into European decorative art in the mid 1300’s. After the bubonic plague killed a quarter of the population, the skull symbolized both mortality and celebration. The skull was depicted on drinking goblets to remind us, Drink up, life is short, celebrate life. The practice of decorating European churches with bones and skulls started in the 15th century. With so many people dying from the black plague, bodies were dropped off at churches for burial. Running out of burial space, the bones and skulls of the dead were piling up on the grounds of the churches, thus the practice of decorating the churches with skulls started out of necessity. Churches in Poland, France, Portugal and Czech Republic to this day are decorated with century’s old skulls and bones. Last year I visited the Sedlec Ossuary Church in the Czech Republic. Also known as the “Bone Church”, a place where I have never seen so many real human skulls, decorating every part of the church.
In the 1700’s, skulls and crossbones adorned the flags of pirate ships to indicate a rogue identity. This was the start of the skull being identified with a law breaker, an outsider, a rebel who did not follow the rules of society. A new symbol of death and destruction. This was an identity for the skull icon that did not exist before the pirates started to use it on their ship flags.
So when did skulls come to the United States? It all started in the 1920’s and 30’s, when American artists began to experiment with mural-making and looked to Mexico for inspiration. Mural culture in Mexico was already well developed and riff with skull imagery drawn from the Day of the Dead tradition. American artists started to introduce the skull design into their works of art. Spooky actor, Vincent Price, collected Mexican Art, which may have contributed to the skull and death imagery that began to dominate Hollywood Horror films.
Pop influenced visual artists, such as Andy Warhol, helped transform the skull from a serious artistic symbol to a more colorful decorative image. The Grateful Dead and Heavy Metal bands deserve some credit for bringing the skull into pop culture. So the image of the skull will always be popular in most cultures around the world.
You will never find a shortage of skull designs and products at Lethal Threat. It is who we are and we are about.