The most common symbolic use of the skull is as a representation of death and mortality, but this has changed more recently. With the popular use of skull motifs in clothing and decor for example, skulls are now a fashion statement rather than making reference to historical symbolism.
There are many examples of skull use throughout time. Although tattoos are popular throughout our society, in the past, when a skull was tattooed on a forearm, its power was thought to help a biker cheat death. A skull and crossbones symbol on a glass bottle is a warning, meaning its contents are poisonous. The same icon had a different meaning when it flew high above the deck of a pirate ship, where it represented the pirates’ ruthlessness and despair; as rebels and criminals with nothing left to lose. Pirates took the symbol from ship captains who used the skull as a sign in their logs to record a death.
A serpent crawling through the eyes of a skull is a familiar image that continues in contemporary Goth subculture. The serpent represents the Greek god of the underworld, Hades, who symbolizes knowledge and immortality. This is because the snake sloughs off its skin. The serpent also guards the Tree of Knowledge in the Garden of Eden. The serpent in the skull, making its way through the eye socket, is a reminder for us that knowledge persists beyond death.
Historian, Harley Owners Club, Kingwood, Texas Chapter
Carlos Miller, The Arizona Republic
Gerald Erichsen, About.com