A Symbol for Luck
Skulls were often used by ancient cultures to ward off any type of evil influence or illness. Remarkably, the skull is the part of the skeleton that is least susceptible to decay, which may help to explain its power as a symbol. Many aboriginal cultures wore skulls and used them in rituals to ensure protection and well-being.
A Symbol for Machismo
The skull has been used in the military and in biker culture for as long as there have been bikers. There is some overlap between skull use in these two groups, especially regarding situations where skulls are used to invoke fear. Hell’s Angels, perhaps the most well-known American biker gang, has a notorious history on American highways. Much information concerning their origins is hazy due to their code of secrecy.
Sometime during the 1940’s or 1950’s in California, the Hell’s Angels motorcycle club was formed. Their insignia is the “death’s head” logo which is copied from the insignia of the 85th Fighter Squadron and the 552nd Medium Bomber Squadron. Red lettering over white backgrounds stands for the club’s colors. With great popularity, Hell’s Angels chapters have sprung up across the United States, Russia, New Zealand and the continents of North America, South America, Europe and Australia.
The Hell’s Angels gained notoriety in the U.S. due in part to their involvement in highly publicized run-ins with the law and rival biker gangs. Not all bikers are gang members, but they are generally into skulls.
The skull is often used as a symbol of nonconformity, free-thinking and rebelliousness, as evidenced in many heavy metal, punk and alternative album covers. This is probably part of its use in biker culture as well.
Historian, Harley Owners Club, Kingwood, Texas Chapter
Carlos Miller, The Arizona Republic
Gerald Erichsen, About.com