A Search for More Light in the Symbolism of

The Skull and Crossbones

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

By

Matthew C. Pelham, Sr.

©2006

 

 

The skull and crossbones conjoined is a symbol that is commonly used on the packaging of poisons and other dangerous materials to serve as a warning to use caution, lest one could lose his life. It is a symbol that causes the observer to give pause. The symbol itself can be disturbing to some; possibly because today many people who display this image are seemingly trying to say, “Look out for me, I’m a tough guy.” Or something along the lines of, “You could die if you mess with me.” This symbol is often associated with pirates, and more recently with gangs and criminals. The skull and crossbones that some have called the “Jolly Roger” was once a much more thought provoking image. And in certain appendant bodies of Freemasonry, the symbol has a completely different message than that of modern profane users.

 

It is also a symbol long associated with Freemasonry and the Knights Templar.[1] Much is said about the symbolism of the skull, and what it should make us remember. It is a symbol of mortality. It is a cold and inanimate vessel that at one time contained the mind of a living soul. We are instructed that we can never too often consider our own mortality. And with that instruction we should be reminded that there is never any certainty that we can correct our mistakes of today by any action we will have the opportunity to perform tomorrow. Golgotha, the site where our Redeemer was crucified, and possibly entombed, was known as “a place of a skull.”[2] We know through the lessons of Masonry, that the symbol of the skull has a very different meaning, and provokes a very different thought than the interpretations of the profane.

 

There are many varied explanations of the significance of the skull, but I have never read nor heard any explanations of the significance of the crossbones. During this brief essay, I intend to address certain questions specifically focused on the crossbones and the meaning they impart to the conjoined symbolism.

 

Arranged in the X-sign, the crossbones are always the thigh (femur) bones. Why is that? Why not the arm bones, or rib bones? What do they (the femur bones) represent? Why are they added to the symbol of the skull? Isn’t the skull enough by itself?

 

Although there is no way to ever prove my speculation, I still would like to address the crossbones and see if I can find some compelling argument for why they would be enjoined with the symbol of the skull.

 

When one considers the design and shape of the femur, there is a long and strong bone (among the strongest bones in the body) with a sphere at the top. Without this design, we would be immobile. But with this design, we as humans, better than any other animal on earth can walk on two legs, one foot after the other; and one step at a time. The ability to walk upright on two legs has become a standard in archeology and anthropology to link humans with apes in the attempt to find a “missing link.” It is indeed a unique design.

 

It is interesting to note that certain scholars believe that the position of our thumbs in relation to our fingers is what separated us from apes, yet it is not the hands that are studied to determine man’s ancestors, it is the thigh bones.[3]  Although arguments are made that the development of the hands enabled man to use tools, and that led to the development of the brain, and so on, it should be noted that even the four toed sloth, and the raccoon have hands shaped in similar fashion to humans, yet, they have not developed or “evolved” into anything close to man. So, when anthropologists discover bone fossils they quickly examine the femur to determine if the animal could have walked upright like humans. This is a seeming contradiction in the logic of Darwinian Evolutionists. According to their own deductive reasoning, it is the shape of the hand that led to the development of the brain. However, knowing that the shape of the hand is not unique to humans, they must fall back on the features that separate man from all other species; that being the subtle differences in the femur that require man to walk upright. (There seems to me to be a spiritual significance to that one point.)

Comparison of chimp, A. africanus and human[4]

 

My conclusion searching the realm of “science” is that even after over a hundred years of searching for ever illusive evidence of a “missing link” to plug into the obviously nefarious theory of Darwinian Evolution, the answer to the question “What separates humanity from all other animal species?” is to be found in the simplistic symbol of the skull and crossbones. The answer, even according to “science,” is very simple. The two things that truly make us unique, and separate humanity from all other animal species by an impassible gulf, are our brains (minds), and our thigh bones. (The inherent requirement to walk upright.) The skull and thigh bones hold the answer.

Now that we have briefly touched on the importance of the thigh bones to those in the field of anthropology and evolution, I feel it necessary to shift the focus to the importance placed on the thigh bones as given in the Bible.

 

Often when searching for light and insight in the many mysteries of Freemasonry, I am reminded that we have the greatest Light available to us. As an Entered Apprentice being brought to light for the first time, I was told that the greatest light of Freemasonry was the vessel of sacred law, upon which I had just taken my obligation. In our lodge, that VSL was none other than the Holy Bible.

 

The thigh held a VERY special place in the Bible. The femur could be said to have represented the pillars at the outer court of Solomon’s Temple. Or better yet, vice versa. In Songs of Solomon, the beloved is describing Solomon’s legs as pillars.

 

Sgs 5:15  

His legs [are as] pillars of marble, set upon sockets of fine gold: his countenance [is] as Lebanon, excellent as the cedars.

 

While reflecting on the occasion of my obligation as an Entered Apprentice, and the position of my hands during that obligation, I also started to search out a few questions pertaining to this particular subject of the thigh bones. What is so special about the thigh bones in the Bible? I came to find that one of the first vows taken in the Bible was done with the obligator’s hand under Abraham’s thigh.

 

Gen 24:2  

And Abraham said unto his eldest servant of his house, that ruled over all that he had, Put, I pray thee, thy hand under my thigh:

Gen 24:3  

And I will make thee swear by the LORD, the God of heaven, and the God of the earth, that thou shalt not take a wife unto my son of the daughters of the Canaanites, among whom I dwell:

Gen 24:9  

And the servant put his hand under the thigh of Abraham his master, and sware to him concerning that matter.

 

We are not given the explanation of why the vow had to be taken with his hand under Abraham’s thigh, but it seems as though this was a customary practice, and that the thigh was a sacred place. This act was repeated by Israel and Joseph.[5] As suggested above, it was quite interesting to note the position of the hands during the EA obligation. Later we will see another scripture reference where the “word” and the “thigh” are shown to have another symbolic connection.

 

The next mention of the thigh in the Holy Bible was a most monumental event. Jacob had encountered the Angel of the Lord (possibly even God himself) and wrestled with him all night to attain a blessing from him. This was the night that Jacob’s name was changed to Israel. This name remains even until this day.

 

Gen 32:25  

And when he saw that he prevailed not against him, he touched the hollow of his thigh; and the hollow of Jacob's thigh was out of joint, as he wrestled with him.

Gen 32:26  

And he said, Let me go, for the day breaketh. And he said, I will not let thee go, except thou bless me.

Gen 32:27  

And he said unto him, What [is] thy name? And he said, Jacob.

Gen 32:28  

And he said, Thy name shall be called no more Jacob, but Israel: for as a prince hast thou power with God and with men, and hast prevailed.

Gen 32:29  

And Jacob asked [him], and said, Tell [me], I pray thee, thy name. And he said, Wherefore [is] it [that] thou dost ask after my name? And he blessed him there.

Gen 32:30  

And Jacob called the name of the place Peniel: for I have seen God face to face, and my life is preserved.

Gen 32:31  

And as he passed over Penuel the sun rose upon him, and he halted upon his thigh.

Gen 32:32  

Therefore the children of Israel eat not [of] the sinew which shrank, which [is] upon the hollow of the thigh, unto this day: because he touched the hollow of Jacob's thigh in the sinew that shrank.

 

So God blessed Jacob and changed his name to Israel, but it wasn’t without a price. God dislocated Jacob’s hip. It is unclear if Jacob (Israel) ever recovered from this injury, or whether he suffered a permanent limp from then on.

 

So far, we have one of the first obligations taken by placing a hand under the thigh, and one of the first blessings given when the Lord dislocated Jacob’s thigh.

 

Here it is interesting to note two more scriptures Num. 24:17, the “Star out of Jacob” which is obviously referring to Christ, and Rev. 19:16 which is talking about the second coming of Christ; where it says he will have his name “written on his thigh.” No one will know his name but he himself. This prophecy has yet to be fulfilled.

 

 

 

This is a symbol known as “Chi-Ro.” It is the Greek symbol for “Christ” and is a combination of the Greek letters Chi and Ro (CH and R) meaning Christ. This symbol has been used by Christians for well over 1600 years. However, the X-sign, according to Thiering[6] and Gardner, became hated by the Roman Church because it was used onwards from Old Testament times to identify the Zadok Priesthood. (The Priesthood of Melchizedek) Acknowledgement of such would place the Priesthood delineated from St. Peter in a subordinate position.[7]

 

At any rate, it is conjoined in a manner very similar to the Skull and Crossbones. And certainly the crossbones are placed under the skull in a similar manner as Chi.

 

If the thigh bones, the femur, are representative of the pillars, then the significance is understood by the initiate. Boaz and Jachin are crossed under the primary symbol of mortality, and represent the crossing of both of the bloodlines of Adam, making us all inter-related into a single brotherhood of humanity.

 

Boaz is the strength, partly because he was David’s grandfather and married Ruth, who was a Moabite woman. They became the ancestors of King David. It was one of many mergers of the lines of Seth and Cain, the only sons of Adam to have been specifically noted in the Bible as having a lineage.[8] Boaz descended from Seth, and Ruth descended from Cain. (This assumption is made due to the references to the Moabites being listed with the other groups of  Kenites.)[9] According to Gardner, this union was memorialized in the symbolism of the pillars at King Solomon’s Temple.[10]

 

It is interesting to study the etymology of the words “Jachin and Boaz.”

 

“Ja” = Jehovah = God.

“chin” = Cain=  Lance, or spear, or sword, or fixity

Therefore “Jachin” means God has established.(or God’s cain, or God’s sword, or spear)[11]

 

“Boaz”= Booze= Strength

Wine = Booze= the vine= divine= removal of fear.[12]

The study of the lexicology and etymology of words gives the student great insight of the true meaning of the words. Here we find veiled in the names of these two pillars references to a spear, and wine. Or, if the symbolism is applied to the medieval legends, it becomes a spear and a cup, or grail. The wine becomes representative of the blood, and the spear becomes representative of the bone, or bread, or more appropriately, the flesh.[13]

 

At this point it would be negligent to overlook the fulfillment of Biblical prophecy regarding the spear and the blood. While Jesus was hanging on the cross, the Jews were compelled to make appeals to the Romans to break the legs of those being crucified so as to hasten their deaths so their bodies could be removed from the “trees” before the Sabbath. However, before breaking the leg bones of Jesus, they found that he was already dead. To ensure that he was indeed dead, they pierced his side with a spear, and blood and water flowed from his side.[14] This was the fulfillment of at least two prophecies.[15] Not only was the Messiah to be pierced, but no bone of his body was to be broken.[16]

 

My conclusion studying the realm of scripture is that the thigh bones held a very special place in the Bible. They represented the sacred place of obligation and blessing. They represent the spear and the bone, the wine and blood, the bread and the flesh. Within a very simple symbol we find the meaning of the Eucharist, the lineage of David, the brotherhood and mortality of man, and the fulfillment of prophecy. The skull and thigh bones hold the answer.

 

Now that we have briefly touched on the importance of the thigh bones in the scripture, I feel it necessary to shift the focus to the importance placed on the thigh bones as given in the Templar legends.

 

The scholars of medieval times contemporary with the Knights Templar knew these veiled truths. In Grail lore poems and stories, there was a tale about the “Dolorous Stroke” which pierced the thighs of the Grail King, or the Fisher King.[17] It was a wound from which he did not heal until the Grail was brought to him.[18] The symbolism veiled in these stories is quite transparent. As pointed out by Sir Laurence Gardner, in Grail lore the Fisher Kings represented the Davidic bloodline; as truly benevolent Priest Kings.[19] These Kings were modeled after the original Priest King of the Bible, Melchizedek.[20] And, the High Priest of the Order of Melchizedek is none other than Jesus Christ.[21] Furthermore, Jesus Christ is both the beginning and the end of the Davidic lineage.[22]

 

The spear used to maim this Fisher King was said to have been the same spear or “lance” used to pierce the side of the Savior while on the cross. So again, the symbolism is quite transparent. The healing of the Fisher King’s thighs only occurred after the Holy Grail was returned to him. This represented the completion of the work, and the second coming of Christ. According to authors Knight and Lomas, “The legends of King Arthur and of the Holy Grail both sprang from different authors who can be linked to the Templars and the kings of Jerusalem[23]

 

The thigh bones were significant even to them. They understood the reason that Abraham required a vow to be taken on his thigh. They knew why Jacob’s thigh was dislocated at his blessing, and they knew why “His” name would be written on His thigh in Revelation. The thigh bones were not arbitrarily chosen without reason to be combined with the skull.

 

Now, pointing to the second advent of Christ, let’s question the nature of the prophecy given in Revelation regarding the “King of Kings, and Lord of Lords.” His name was written on his thigh in Rev. 19:16. What is on a man’s thigh? How would it be written?

Could it be a name written on a sword?

 

Sgs 3:8  

They all hold swords, [being] expert in war: every man [hath] his sword upon his thigh because of fear in the night.

 

His name could very well be written upon his sword. His sword would normally be on his thigh. It would most likely be on His left thigh. (Here it should be noted that His sword is coming from His mouth, and represents “Truth.” His sword is the “word.”)[24]

 

There is a Messianic Psalm that describes the Messiah, and the “weakening” of His “Strength.”[25] As we know, the pillar on left hand side of King Solomon’s porch was known as Boaz.[26] The meaning of Boaz is given to us in the Bible as “Strength.” According to Ps. 102, the Messiah is, therefore, smitten on his left thigh. God has removed his strength. (He has weakened his left hip.) If applied to the first advent of Christ, this makes absolutely no sense whatsoever. There is no mention of Christ having any infirmity. Furthermore, it is assumed that he was a “perfect” human. However, there can appear to be many contradictions within the Messianic prophecies if the first and second advents of Christ are not rightly divided. Not only should they be divided by verse, but on some occasions, they should be separated even within a single verse.

 

For example, in Psalms 102, it says that the Messiah’s days are “shortened.”[27] That prophecy makes perfect sense in the context of the first advent. A man who is killed in his thirties would certainly be considered to have had his days shortened. This aspect of the verse gives us a certain amount of confidence that it is talking about Jesus Christ in spite of the fact that the first half of the verse refers to the “weakening of his strength” which, in context of symbolism in no way refers to the first advent.

 

Another example of Messianic prophecy that needs to be rightly divided is found in Psalms 91. Although we must attribute this prophetical Psalm to the Second Advent, it is certainly written about the Messiah. In verse 16, it says “with long life will I satisfy him.” Obviously, this cannot be describing Christ’s first advent. A man who is murdered in his thirties is not considered to have a “long life.” Evidence that this is indeed a messianic Psalm is found in the fact that Satan used this Psalm to tempt Christ to jump off of the temple stating that God’s angels would protect him if he were the true Messiah.[28]

 

It is not my intention to attempt to reveal all of the hidden mysteries of the symbolism of the skull and crossbones in this essay. Nor could I, even if given the opportunity to write a thousand page book on the subject. The point of this essay is to prick the interest of the reader to search out the deeper meanings of seemingly simple symbols that are utilized by our Craft. It is the intention of this essay to spark an interest in searching out meaning that can be applied to the heart, and enhance the spiritual life of the reader who is so inclined to undertake that search.

 

My final conclusions for the purposes of this essay are reduced to a very simple paragraph. Within the arcane symbolism of the skull and crossbones, one can find allusion to the two things that separate the highest form of beast from even the lowest form of man; that being our mind, and inherent requirement to walk upright. One can find allusion to the brotherhood of humanity, the mortality of the flesh, and the immortality of the soul. Within this symbolism, one can find allusion to the remission of sin paid in full by our Redeemer, as well as the promise of His return to Earth to reign as the “King of Kings, and Lord of Lords.”

 

The skull and crossbones contains the answers for those who seek.

 

 



[1] D. Beresniak, Symbols of Freemasonry, Assouline Publishing, 1997, p.22-24

[2] The Holy Bible. Matthew 27:33

[3] Shepley, The Opposable Thumb, Woodrow Wilson Biology Institute, 1991.

[4] Illustration from Humankind Emerging, edited by Campbell.

[5] The Holy Bible, Genesis 47:29

[6] Barbara Thiering, Jesus the Man, Appendix III, p. 351

[7] Laurence Gardner, Bloodline of the Holy Grail, Fair Winds Press. 1996, and 2002 p.247

[8] The Holy Bible, Genesis 4.

[9] The Holy Bible, Ezra 9:1

[10] Laurence Gardner, Bloodline of the Holy Grail, Fair Winds Press. 1996, and 2002 p.150

[11] Strong’s Exhaustive Concordance and Hebrew and Greek Dictionary.

[12] Ibid.

[13] The Holy Bible, Matthew 26:28

[14] The Holy Bible, John 19:34

[15] The Holy Bible, Zech. 12:10

[16] The Holy Bible, John 19:36; Psalms 34:20

[17] Cretien de Troyes , Perceval, ou Conte du Graal, circa 1180 AD

[18] Sir Thomas Mallory,  Le Morte d’Arthur, circa 1469 AD

[19] Laurence Gardner, Bloodline of the Holy Grail, Fair Winds Press. 1996, and 2002 p.150

[20] The Holy Bible, Genesis 14:18

[21] The Holy Bible, Hebrews 5:6-7

[22] Ibid.

[23] Knight and Lomas, The Second Messiah, Fair Winds Press, 1997 and 2001, p.115

[24] The Holy Bible, Rev. 1:16

[25] The Holy Bible, Psalms 102:23

[26] The Holy Bible, I Kings 7:21; II Chron. 3:17

[27] The Holy Bible, Psalms 102:23

[28] The Holy Bible, Psalms 91:12; Matthew 4:6

 

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