Sunday, 27 September 2015

Skull Symbolism

"Young Woman Holding A Skull", drawing by Sarah "Sallie" Thayer, 2015

The human skull is a powerful symbol used by all cultures, from pre-history onward, to symbolize both death and life, good as well as evil, power, strength and even fearlessness. 

The human mind has assigned these various meanings over the centuries and many of them are still valid even today. The meanings, of course, vary from culture to culture; although, in all societies, the skull is seen as representative of our own mortality and death.  In particular, let me give the following examples of the use of  the skull as:  a)symbol of human sinfulness; b)symbol of loyalty and power; c)symbol of the briefness of life versus eternity; d)symbol for honouring the dead; and, e)symbol of the "house of the soul". 

"Icon -- The Crucifixion of Christ",
by the hand of Sarah "Sallie"
Thayer, rev. 2015
a)I have been fascinated for years by the various uses mankind has made of the human skull. I recall the first time I noticed the skull, along with a few other bones, at the foot of the cross in many crucifixion icons. After research, I learned that it symbolized the skull of Adam through whom Christians believe sin first entered the world making the sacrifice of Christ a necessity in order to provide all people with the means of salvation.

b)On the other hand, I had a dear friend who was fascinated with the various insignia used by the military during the Third Reich in Germany. When he showed me his collection, I was particularly struck by the use of the skull in Nazi SS insignia. It was called the Totenkopf (death’s-head) and represented loyalty unto death.  It also, I think, represented the frightening aspect of power.

c)During the years when I was very involved with religious communities, I saw many paintings of various saints sitting next to a table or desk on which rested a human skull. This, I was told, was to remind them of their mortality – that we are all in the process of dying from the day we are born. The skull was an aid to help them focus on the things of eternity and not the things of this world. 

"Day of the Dead" Procession
Photo copied from Wikipedia
d)As well, skulls are very evident is the Mexican (Latin American) holiday known as the “Day of the Dead” (Dia de los Muertos) — a holiday celebrated starting October 31 - November 2 (All Hallows Eve, All Saints Day and All Souls Day). These are days for praying for the dead, visiting and cleaning their graves and honouring them with processions of skeletons and skulls designed of coloured sugar (see photo).

e)The skull was also a pervasive and powerful symbol to the ancient Celts. Celtic culture viewed the head or skull to be the seat of power. Some texts point to the skull as the house of the soul. Archaeological findings show us the Celts tossed skulls into sacred wells as offerings. Celts were very interested in openings such as doors, windows and so-called “thin places” and appear to have seen the openings in a skull, particularly the round eye sockets, as possible portals to another dimension.
"Young Woman Holding a Skull",
(black and white version by
Sarah "Sallie" Thayer, 2015)

As for today's drawing itself, I attempted to make it as stark as possible.  At one point, I tried doing it totally in black and white. However, after originally editing the colour out of the drawing, I finally ended up, as you can see above, retaining some colour.  

As usual, I am far from satisfied with the results so don't be surprised if I end up posting a revision before too long! 

Some details included in the above information were taken from various Internet sources.


"Suki with a Friend", drawing by
Sarah "Sallie" Thayer, 2015

Suki has been well behaved for another week -- I am amazed and just a bit frightened!  

I mean, what if she is sick or depressed? I keep obsessing over whether to take her to the vet for a checkup, but, thus far, I have chosen the "wait and see" option.  

I mean, she could have finally decided not to be so demanding about food and about requiring-my-complete-attention-numerous-times-a-day-so-that-her-ears-and-chin-may-be-scratched-properly, couldn't she?  It is possible, isn't it?

Meanwhile, I am just trying not to obsess too much and to just enjoy the more relaxed atmosphere in my home -- especially since I am having more difficulty than ever in managing my pain problems.

I saw the doctor at the pain clinic this past week and he agreed that we need to do something more about the pain.  He said that with all the various forms of pain management available to the medical profession today, we should be able to find some combination that works for me.  So the experiments have begun!

The first item we decided to try was lab-created THC.  It comes in capsule form so the dosage can be carefully controlled (unlike what happens when you are smoking a joint!).  I saw the doctor on Monday and received the medication from the pharmacy on Tuesday.  I tried the new medication for the next three nights only to discover that it left me feeling light-headed and very weak in the knees. Most importantly, it didn't seem to have any noticeable effect on the pain. 

So we can cross THC off the list. I wonder what he will decide to try next? Wish me luck! 



"If any of you put a stumbling block before one of these little ones who believe in me, 
it would be better for you if a great millstone were hung around your neck and 
you were thrown into the sea."  Mk. 9:42-43
(Photo of Pope Francis with children at Vatican, December, 2014)

"Whoever causes one of these little ones, who believe in me, to sin, it would be better for him if a great millstone were put around his neck and he were thrown into the sea. If your hand causes you to sin, cut it off. It is better for you to enter into life maimed than with two hands to go into Gehenna, into the unquenchable fire. And if your foot causes you to sin, cut if off. It is better for you to enter into life crippled than with two feet to be thrown into Gehenna. And if your eye causes you to sin, pluck it out. Better for you to enter into the kingdom of God with one eye than with two eyes to be thrown into Gehenna, where 'their worm does not die, and the fire is not quenched.' "   
Mk 9:42-43, 45, 47-48

This passage terrified me as a child.  I was told so often that I was a very naughty girl that I had images of myself ending up without feet, hands and eyes!  

Thankfully, in time, I learned about such things as symbolism, allegory, metaphors, etc. This knowledge, in turn, enabled me to understand that we are not being asked to chop off body parts or gouge out eyes, but, rather, we are asked to take the whole business of right and wrong very seriously. 

Since this passage begins with the powerful statement regarding children being led astray, it is obvious that Christ is telling us that our right or wrong choices regarding the care and protection of young children are some of the most important we can make.

So, let us pray that we may have the wisdom to always know what is the most loving choice and the courage to choose it.  


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