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Symbols - What does heaven look like

Skull cap

A Kapala skull cup.

An alternative to the cup or chalice is the upturned skull, which was later to become a ‘skull cup’ and then finally a ‘skull cap’.  Rather oddly one would think that the ‘skull cap’ -  being upside down - would prevent heavenly input, but I suspect that by the time it became a cap a lot of the original spiritual significance had been lost.

We see the use of skull cups in the use of the upturned skulls of the Knights Templar. Many Tibetan deities and dignitaries, including several Dharmapala's, Dakinis, and Mahasiddhas, have also been depicted or described as carrying a a cup made from the upper part of a human skull. They may be empty or filled and are usually carried in the left hand; in some portrayals the deity in question is shown drinking from one that is filled with blood – this is of course symbolic blood as we have seen.

An example skull cup
showing the decoration

 The same sort of traditions also occur within Hindu traditions where skull cups are often shown with the deities Durga, Kali, and Shiva.

A photo of the interior of the cup

Many skull-cups, especially Tibetan ones, are elaborately designed, engraved, given silver rim linings (sometimes many small skulls) and covering lids. The Indian and Tibetan traditions always speak of the kapala as merely a symbolic and iconographic device, as is the use of blood.

We see the change to a cap in middle eastern tradition where the original cup, may have been translated as cap.  Some examples of skull caps used today are:

  • The Kippah or Yarmulke, the  skullcap worn by observant Jewish men and some Jewish women.
  • The Kufi -  a skullcap worn by men of African descent, also called a kofia.
  • The Taqiyah (cap), a skullcap worn by Muslim men.
  • The Tubeteika a Central Asian cap.
  • The Zucchetto, worn by Catholic clergy (including the Pope)

Observations

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