The image of a snake weaving through the eye socket is very popular with artists in particular tattoo artists. However, it’s meaning is not as dark as it may seem. The snake is symbolic of renewal perhaps because of its ability to shed its skin. When combined with a skull it indicates that there is rebirth and resurrection.
In Aztec culture, a goddess who was also Queen of the Underworld was responsible for watching over the bones of the dead. Día de Muertos, derived from this belief, is a festival celebrated throughout Mexico and other Hispanic countries to celebrate family and to pray for their spiritual journey.
It is celebrated on October 31st in the belief that the veil separating the deceased and the living is removed to allow deceased children to visit the earth for 24 hours. It is known as Dia de Los Angelitos, “Day of the little Angels”. Adult spirits join the festivities on November 1st and are welcomed with food and drink.
Altars to the dead are erected in homes and the cemeteries where their loved ones are buried.
Lighted by a multitude of candles as part of the vigil.
Orange marigolds (Flor de Muerto) believed to attract souls are used in in the decoration of these altars and cemeteries.
Preparation for the festival begins weeks in advance where sugar art, introduced to Mexico by the European missionaries, is widespread in the stores. Sugar decorations of skulls, coffins and skeletons are created in remembrance of departed love ones. The skull is decorated with symbols representative of the departed soul with the name written on the forehead. Always cheerful and colorful to capture the memory of the loved one, they are placed on the gravestone to welcome the soul.
Calaveros is a Spanish word meaning skull that has also become known as a satirical poem during the festival. Fake obituaries are written in poetic form to make fun of people and are often slightly insulting.
The time had finally come Don Hugo was taken away The skinny one named “Death” just had her way.
A piece of cake went down his throat That made him sound just like a goat There was no milk at hand you see So blue and purple he came to be.
Don’t cry Hugo dear For in our hearts we will still hear The goatly sounds that you did make And in your name, we’ll have some cake.
City newspapers publish these poems in a special section. Writers are also hired by the newspaper to mock famous people and politicians.
A frequent feature on gravestones, the skull is a symbol of death, mortality, penitence, and sin. It appears in several formats.
SKULL & CROSSED BONES
Symbolic of crucifixion, death, and mortality.
The fear which this ancient symbol of death inspires led pirates to adopt it as an emblem upon their black flags and chemists to use it to denote poison. The combination when it appears on tombstones means, “He is dead.”
See yonder flower that scents the air How sweet it blooms How swift it fades! Just such is man in youth how fair How chang’d his form when death invades! Yet fades the flower to bloom again And we shall rise with Christ to reign.
As measured notes of set music we pass in fast or slow marches to the grave.
Gently this spot in solemn silence tread Let none disturb the relics of these dead Their souls have waft themselves to God on high But here all round this stone their bodies lie.
In my Father’s house are many mansions.
It is interesting to note that this skull is accompanied with only one bone. Curious and puzzling.
Lo! Lost remembrance drops a pious tear And holy friendship stands a mourner here.
This sculptured panel contains only the crossbones, and they are intersected with workman’s tools; a pick, a shovel, and a spade.
Blessed are the dead which die in the Lord They rest from their labours and their works do follow them.
The skull represented here also displays crossed arrows and an hourglass, both of which symbolize mortality.
I am the Resurrection and the Life He that believeth in me though he were dead yet shall he live.
The badly eroded stone displays a dove flying above a skull and represents the resurrection of the soul.
A winged skull symbolizes the ascension into heaven, and the flight of the soul from mortal man.
Sometimes called death’s heads or winged death, it represents the fleeting nature of life and impending death. It was once a common motif on New England tombstones.
80% of the carvings on gravestones in Copps Hill Cemetery, Boston, bear the winged skull symbol.
No flat ring marble rules the traveler here The spot is sacred to affections dear He was in life what artful men pretend Companion, parent, neighbour, Christian, friend. 1802
Hail sweet repose not shall we rest No more with sickness be distressed Here from all sorrows find release Our souls shall dwell in endless peace. 1789
No longer was my life No longer was my breath God called me home in early life Because he thought it best. 1805
Though far from home in distant land My flesh returns to dust In hopes to rise when Jesus calls And dwell among the just. 1808
Life’s painful toils are over Its pilgrimage is ended And to a purer happier shore Her spirit hath ascended. 1808