Necklace of Skulls

His lived a difficult life, his background sad: a childhood bipolar diagnosis, severe parental abuse, and every day a rough time in school. Now almost 18 years old, this young man asked me what I thought about reincarnation. While I stammered to produce an ambiguous response, he removed a necklace and handed it to me.

The beaded necklace surprised me, each bead a carved human skull. I told him I never saw anything like it before. He shared that when he bought it, the woman from the store explained to him that it was tantric, and it represented the cycle of life. Our conversation ended with him stating he was unsure if he believed in reincarnation or not.

Necklace of Skulls
A different sort of rosary

When time afforded, I researched the image of a necklace with skulls. Fascinating images of Hindu gods and goddesses wearing similar jewelry soon emerged. The implication in these mythological renderings do not depict crafted beads, but gruesome specter of actual human skulls. Mundamala symbolically resonates with the meaning the shopkeeper attributed to them, the cycle of life and death. Also, as worn by the gods in the iconography, these garlands of skulls highlight the omnipotence of the divine.

I found a quote accompanying one of the images from Ego and Archetype by Edward Edinger. It highlighted the hazard of identification with an omnipotent perspective.

“Power motivation of all kinds is symptomatic of inflation.  Whenever one operates out of a power motive omnipotence is implied.  But omnipotence is an attribute only of God.  Intellectual rigidity which attempts to equate its own private truth or opinion with universal truth is also inflation.”

Ego and Archetype

The next time we met, I shared copies of the images I had discovered. He took his time to examine them carefully. Surprised to see Shiva wearing the necklace, he questioned whether he should be wearing his necklace of skulls or not.  

While I did not offer an opinion on the matter, I came to develop a deep respect for the balancing act this young man navigated between inflation, especially evident during his manic phases, and meaninglessness.