Ouroboros meaning and symbol

Ouroboros also know as Uroboros is a figure depicting a snake devouring its own tail found in Gnosticism and alchemy representing cyclical natural life and the fusion of opposites. It also symbolizes the transcendence of duality. Term sometimes is written Uroboros.

Ouroboros Jewelry


Ouroboros is a symbol that shows an animal (usually a snake or a dragon) that swallow his own tail, making with his body a circular shape. Its meaning is also duality. And the cycle of life.  The word, ouroboro, comes from the Greek ουροβóρος (also known as uroboro) and it symbolizes the eternal cycle of things, also the eternal effort to stop life problems and the eternal struggle. Since the cycle begins again effort is useless.

snake eating its own tail

It also refers to the cyclical nature of things and the idea of a constant and eternal return.
Both interpretations, refer to the ideology that existence is like a cycle. The continuity of the circle consists in a constant rebirth. So there is not really dying. This is why there is the connection with the cyclical nature of time. There, the present is devoured by the future, creating an infinite chain of moments that die and are born again at each moment.
In some religions the ouroboro is used as a representation of the renaissance of things that never die. Only change eternally.



Its origin goes back to Ancient Egypt and Ancient Greece. Originally its first use was in the emblematic serpent. The serpent was found in the hieroglyphs that was in the sarcophagus chamber of the pyramid of Unis. It is also used in the Nordic mythology, as part of the concept of the story of the serpent Jörmundgander.

the ouroboros in a door

The essence of ouroboro is also seen in the Greek mythology. It is about the representation of the natural forces. Including the sun, the moon, the waves of the see, among others. And it is related to the solar myth of Sisyphus (Character doomed to the underworld) and Helium. In that myth Sisyphus was forced to push a stone up a steep slope. But before it reached the top of the hill, the stone rolled down again. Then, Sisyphus had to start again and again from the beginning every day for all the eternity.

the ouroboros symbol in alchemy

Besides its origins and the mythological uses there are others meanings. Different cultures, religions, and persons have given other meanings to this symbol
Alchemy: In the practice of alchemy, this symbol expresses the unity of all things, both material and spiritual. It says that these never disappear. Only change form in an eternal cycle of destruction and new creation. Just as it represents the infinitude. The oldest text where it appears is in an alchemical treatise of the second century. It was written by Cleopatra the Alchemist.
This writing shows the Greek inscription εν το παν, hen to pan, “everything is one”. And it appears half white, half black. In some representations the animal is shown with a clear half and a dark one. From this the researchers have conclude that this alchemy symbol teaches that inside everything the good there is something bad. Also that inside the bad there is something good. Also in alchemy, the uroboros symbolizes the work of the alchemist. This work unites the opposites: both the conscious and the unconscious.
Finally, it is also a symbol that represent purification, the eternal cycles of life and death.
Gnosticism: In Gnosticism, it symbolizes how the soul live all the eternity in the world. In a very known Gnostic text its describes the ouroboros as a part of a dragon that surrounds the world. In the old world of the India it has been used in the religion. According to a reference, the power (in this culture) it is represented with a serpent. The serpent wrapped around itself, while devour his own tail and rests in his body. One of the most known jungian psychologist compared ouroboros to an archetype. Another jungian psychologist wrote that is an example of the live of the mankind.
August Kekulé: He described the day when he makes one of his more important chemistry works, he says that he was working with his textbook. But due he couldn´t advance he went to sleep. In a dream he saw how the atoms changed before his eyes in the form of a serpent, in a circular shape. Which arouse him and encourage him to work the rest of the night in his hypothesis.
Classical Antiquity: In a story of Plato, there is a character that describes the perfection of the all universe. That can be compared to ouroboros. He describes the perfection of the created world and beings participating in creation by embodying some aspect of the Good. Each contributing to the perfection of the universe and its unity.


Drury, Nevil. The Watkins Dictionary of Magic. London. Watkins Publishing. 2005. p. 222

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