The history and meaning of sugar skull tattoos

[fa icon="calendar"] Apr 14, 2016 5:08:31 AM / by Maximilian Wensbo

The history and meaning of sugar skull tattoos


Sugar Skulls are often used to decorate the ofrendas on Dia de los Muertos which is November 1st and 2nd. Smaller skulls are placed on the ofrenda on November 1st, All Saints Day, to represent the children who have deceased. On November 2nd, All Souls Day, they are replaced by larger, more ornate skulls which represent the adults. These decorative skulls have the name of the deceased on the forehead and are decorated with stripes, dots and swirls of icing to enhance the features of the skulls. These designs are usually whimsical and brightly colored, not morbid or scary. Feathers, beads or colored foils are "glued" on with the icing to create highly ornate skulls. 

The history and meaning of sugar skull tattoos


To fully understand the history and meaning of sugar skull tattoos, we need to go back to the culture in where it come from. The Sugar Skull is one of the main symbols or images seen during the Day of the Dead festivities and represents the past ancestors of Mexico. The reason they are called "sugar skulls" is because the authentic sugar skulls were made out of clay molded sugar. The Mexicans would also add the name of a departed soul to the forehead of the sugar skull and then "placed on the gravestone" of the departed loved one to encourage the return of that soul on the Day of the Dead (according to Wikipedia).Skulls were powerful symbols in both Spanish and Mexican Aztec culture in the Middle Ages.

In Spain, skulls were used to mark the entrance to graveyards. In fact, across medieval Europe most cemeteries did not have room to keep people permanently buried. Instead, people were buried for seven years and then their skeletons were dug up again, and their bones were placed in an ossory. You can still visit medieval cathedrals in Europe which have crypts full of skulls and bones.
In Aztec culture, like many ancient cultures, the head was believed to be a source of human power and energy. The Aztecs are recorded to have made human sacrifices to the gods, in order to make sure the sun would continue to rise each day. 
The history and meaning of sugar skull tattoos
The remains of these sacrificial victims were kept as relics - skulls and bones were bleached, painted and put on display.
Skulls were, therefore, part of both Spanish and Aztec beliefs about death and the afterlife. However the practice of decorating skulls and altars with marigolds and other flowers seems to have come purely from Aztec tradition, as do the skeleton figurines. 

Flowers Symbols are used in the history and meaning of the sugar skull tattoos and are also symbolically important part of day of the dead. The flower most associated with Dia de los Muertos in Mexico is the marigold, or Cempazúchitl which is known as the flower of the dead. In Aztec belief the marigold was sacred to Mictlantecuhtli, their god of the dead. According to Mexican belief, the souls of departed family and friends return to earth on the day of the dead, and it is believed the strong scent of marigold helps to guide them back.
Flowers are often incorporated into Dia de los Muertos skull designs. This mixing of the skull, associated with death with flowers, a symbol in western culture associated with life and love. The meaning of el Dia de los Muertos is not only to remember the dead, but also to overcome the fear of death and celebrate life!

In Mexico, the Aztec culture believed life on earth to be something of an illusion – death was a positive step forward into a higher level of conscience.

For the Aztecs skulls were a positive symbol, not only of death but also of rebirth.
People in Mexico wear traditional skull masks, and the tradition of painting faces to look like a skull has grown up as a variation to this. The wearing of masks has been a powerful symbol throughout traditional cultures, of the ability of humans to get in touch with their darker, chaotic side.
The history and meaning of sugar skull tattoos is an interesting story, and if you want to read more on our blog you can check that out here.
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Topics: tattoo designs

Maximilian Wensbo

Written by Maximilian Wensbo