Skulls, Scales, Cups and Shells

Jolly Roger
Jolly Roger

Everyone is aware of the use of the skull and crossbones symbol by pirates (irrespective of how many pirates actually flew it).   Fewer know that it is an important symbol in Freemasonry as well, and even fewer are probably aware that both pirates and Freemasons inherited the symbol from the same place … the Templar Knights.  The "Jolly Roger" is said to have been named after Roger II of Sicily, who was a Templar.

The Templar legend of the skull and crossbones goes something like this – Roger II and his father each were rulers of Sicily following the Norman invasion of southern Italy in the 10th century.  Roger I (the father)'s wife Adelaide survived her husband and remarried, this time to Baldwin I.  Baldwin was the King of Jerusalem and brother of one of the primary leaders of the First Crusade, Godfrey Bouillon.  Under the terms of Baldwin's marraige to Adelaide, if their union was childless his kingdom would pass to Adelaide's son, Roger II.

Baldwin I
Baldwin I

Baldwin had previously been married to an Armenian princess of royal Khazar blood (not so unlike Melissena!), unnamed in contemporary sources but commonly known as Arda.  In the mythical account, Arda died young, and upon her death Baldwin violated the corpse, returning to Arda's grave 9 months later to find her skull moved and placed atop her femur bones which had been crossed.  This skull he was to "guard well, for it would be the giver of all good things".

Make note of the fertility/rebirth theme woven into this myth, the significance of that will become clear later.

Baldwin and Adelaide were indeed childless, and as per the terms of the marital agreement Baldwin's possessions passed to his wife's son, Roger II. (That's historical … in the myth the skull assumedly passed to Roger as well).  In another version of the myth, Balwin is an unidentified "Lord of Sidon" while his deceased wife is a "Lady of Maraclea".

Certainly this is all (or mostly) made up, Arda didn't die while Baldwin was alive, he stuck her in a monestary so he could marry Adelaide.  However Roger II was a Templar, did harrass the coasts of Greece and north Africa, and apparently did fly the skull and crossbones symbol on his ships.  The myth was called into evidence at the Templar's trial when they were charged with heresy in France in the early 14th century.  (Possibly not only because of the story's "morbidity", but also because Arda was an Armenian and the Armenian Paulicians were Gnostic "heretics".)

Between the forming of the order of the Templar Knights at the end of the 1st Crusade and their banning in 1312, the Templars came to operate a great commercial empire (in addition to a huge banking network) across the Christian world, and when the Templars were finally attacked by Philip "the Fair" and charged with heresy many Templars appear to have jumped onto their great fleet of ships harbored at La Rochelle on the west coast of France and fled, thereafter adopting a life of piracy.  Most however went underground in places like Scotland, Spain and Portugal and probably Switzerland, and a few centuries later the Order re-emerged in new clothing as Freemasonry.  This is how both pirates and freemasons came to inherit the skull and crossbones symbol.

… So how curious that in 1832 William H. Russell co-founded a secretive fraternity at Yale University, a fraternity that would produce many captains of industry, successful politicians, banking executives, intelligence spooks and even three US presidents (two of whom were named Bush) and called it, the 'Skull and Bones' fraternity.  Yoww.  The Russells are one of those wealthy and influential families that keep popping up … Samuel Russell made his fortune much like the Freemasonic-run British East India Company … by selling opium to the Chinese.  The family is rooted in Normandy, a Russell fought on the battlefield of Hastings with William the Conqueror, and one of the original Templar knights, recorded as 'Rozel', was an ancestor.

Cathedral of Our Lady of Amiens
Cathedral of Our Lady of Amiens 

The Templar preocupation with skulls seems to have extended beyond just Arda's head … they also claimed to possess the skull of the beheaded John the Baptist, in fact they built the largest cathedral of its time, the Cathedral of Our Lady of Amiens to house it.  (John's reputed head had been brought back to France in 1206 after the looting of Constantinople during the 4th Crusade … it was later lost.)

The Templars' veneration of John the Baptist is one of the things that got them into trouble with the Church, and in that and other respects their beliefs are suspected to have paralleled those of the Cathars and other "Gnostic sects" of the period, i.e. the Manichaeans of Persia and the Paulicians of Armenia.  John the Baptist, as I have mentioned, was known to the Nazareens as the "Great Nazar", was blood related to Jesus and Mary Magdalene, and thus was a priest of the dragon bloodline.  'Dragon', or 'Nazar' in this context doesn't suggest any negative connotation, it simply meant a priest-king of the ancient line (tracing back to the Pharaohs, Kings of Ugarit and ultimately the Sumerian kings).  According to Theosophy founder Helena Blavatsky, the Nazarenes considered Jesus a false prophet and John the true one … and it's a good guess that the beliefs of the Templars and Cathars were along the same lines.  (It's impossible to be certain, the Templars were very secretive and Cathar documents were destroyed along with the sect by the Catholic Church during the Albigensian Crusade.)

Isis with horns of Taurus
Virgin Mary with crescent moon
Virgin Mary

One last thing related to John the Baptist and the skull and crossbones symbol … Freemasonic teachings center on Hiram Abiff, the apocryphal builder of Solomon's Temple who is, according to Freemasonic sources, an allegory for the Egyptian god Osiris.  Osiris "resided" in the constellation Orion, which was very important to the Egyptians.  Egyptian civilization developed in the precessional age of Taurus, and Orion in fact "hunts" Taurus the bull.  Taurus really should be thought of as female, and this came about because its 'U' or 'V' shaped horns resemble both the female uterus and the crescent moon.  This is why Isis, the Egyptian mother goddess wears the horns of Taurus on her headress while her husband Osiris resides in Orion "the hunter".  This is clearly the aligning of these dieties, constellations and symbols into male and female … Osiris, the Sun and Orion being male, Isis, the moon and Taurus being female.  This symbology even made its way into the Christian religion, at the feet of the Virgin Mary in almost any medieval painting you will find a crescent moon at her feet, while Jesus is always painted with the halo of the "sun" about his head.

Taurus and Orion

Having established the importance of Orion, have you ever noticed anything funny about him?   – He has no head!  (Or legs for that matter.)

Skulls apparently had a special place in the traditions of the Huns and the Vikings … they drank from the skulls of their conquered enemies!  This practice among the Vikings doesn't seem to be dutifuly documented but is legendary, and the Norse drinking cheer "Skoal!" allegedly derives from this practice.  Also, the Greek historians Herodotus and Strabo both recorded that the Scythians drank from skulls, and we know the Germanic tribes all migrated into northern Europe from Scythia.  We don't have any records of the Huns per se drinking from skulls, but their anscestors the Xiongnu did as noted in Chinese annals, and Krum, a 9th century Khan of the Bulgars, famously made a cup out of the skull of Byzantine emperor Nicephorus I.  The Bulgar Khans descended from Hun Kings and the tribes are closely related.


Many of these drinking vessels, called 'Kapala', were in fact beautifully crafted.  Their use in religious ceremonies across India and Tibet was wide spread, and the Sanskrit Dasha-Kumara-Carita text of the 6th century mentions "the use of skulls in Tantric rituals especially in connection with the cult of Shiva as Kapalabhrta … the Great Destroyer." (Broken link removed.)   This is convincing evidence that the practice was connected with Great Mother worship and that the similarity of the words Kapala and Kabbalah is no coincidence.  Kapala is also where we get our innocent sounding words 'cup' and 'cap'.

If you go to any etymological dictionary and look up the words 'skull' and 'scale' you will see that they share the same root.  When one considers that scales are the stuff of serpents, fish and dragons, the fact that all of these "dragon" groups are celebrating their victories by drinking from the skulls of their fallen foes makes one quite curious as to the connection between the two words.  There is a third word which shares roots with 'skull' and 'scale' … interestingly, 'scallop'.

Scallop!??  Yes, and here's why that is interesting.  If you are like me (and I assume and hope you're not!) and spend a fair amount of time looking up the family crests of elite families, you will have noticed that many important family coats of arms feature scallop shells, usually in threes.  Here are a few –


Russel family crest Graham family crest Spencer family crest Crest of Lady Diana
Russell Graham Spencer Lady Diana
Mitchel family crest Cowan family crest Wesley family crest Crest of Reading University
Mitchell Cowan Wesley Reading University


Traditionally, these shells in heraldry represented a pilgrimage in the family, notably to Spain, to the Cathedral of Santiago de Compostela in Galicia where the remains of Saint James the apostle are purportedly buried.  Scallop shells were prevalent on the beaches of Galicia, but later any pilgrimage came to be commemorated by a shell.

That's a nice story, and certainly may be true in some cases, but the fact remains that the families whose crests display these shells are elite ones.  Lady Diana is the best known Spencer but Winston Churchill was from the same family.  I have talked about the wealthy Russells and their Templar ancestor.  Cowan is obviously an alteration of Cohen (itself a variation of Kagan … or vise versa!??).  Mitchell is a common name, but a lofty one as well if you happen to be the right Mitchell, they connect to the Cooks and one John Michell was Lord Mayor of the City of London in the 15th century (not to mention several Mitchells who rose to prominance in American politics).  The Wesleys are also well connected, Richard Wesley was the 1st Baron of Mornington and a 6x great grandfather of the Queen, and don't miss the dragon atop the Wesley crest.

Shell Oil logo

As for the Graham name, many Earls and Dukes of Montrose were Grahams.  One Scottish Graham was an early investor and director of the the Shell Transport and Trading Company which became Royal Dutch Shell … and the "shell" logo undoubtedly came from Graham's family's crest.

I tend to entertain the notion that the use of shells on these crests is code – i.e. it was a way to advertise "dragon" roots subtly, that is without actually including dragons or skulls on the coat of arms (although some families do … dragons and griffins are fairly common and the saltire cross may well be shorthand for the skull and crossbones).  It is the common linguistic roots of 'scallop', 'scale' and 'skull' that gives away the secret IMO, and these symbols in the sense of their ancient usage and meaning all seem to be tied up with the worship of the Great Mother and the other dieties of the mysteries of antiquity.

One of these was Venus … sister of Saturn, harbinger of the sun.

Also known as Lucifer (that's a fact, just look up Venus in any dictionary).  

Please read my article on 'Pan's Labyritnth' to see how Venus (Aphrodite/Astarte) fits into the "creation myth" as was embraced by the mystery schools and secret societies.

Anyway, she is the goddess who tore the moon from the earth, hence associated forever with reflection (the moon only "reflects" light) and illumination (she precedes the rising sun, hence is the harbinger of the sunrise i.e. the goddess of illumination).

Here she is, famously rising out of the sea on a  scallop shell.

Botticelli's 'The Birth of Venus'
Botticelli's 'The Birth of Venus'


Copyright (c) 2015 Eric Westfall.
Original content may be quoted or replicated under the Fair Use doctrine. All other rights reserved.

3 Comments to 'Skulls, Scales, Cups and Shells'

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  1. Elreb said,

    I think you are on to something.
    I actually own a Skull cup just like the one you posted. 

  2. admin said,

    You own a skull cap??   (You don't drink out of it, I assume!).
    Yeah, apparently the scallop shell has long been a symbol of fertility and the mother-goddess – that's really where and how the three words are connected.  

  3. admin said,

    Hey, 'adult social networking' … hmmm, crazy handle.

    I'm an internet idiot.  If you want to read my stuff, come here and read it. 


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