Ouroboros Snake eating itself its own tail Meaning and Symbol

The Ouroboros is a symbol that has been used for centuries by philosophers, artists, and mystics. It is a serpent or dragon that is eating its own tail. It is a symbol of infinity, cyclicality, and self-renewal. It is also a symbol of the unconscious mind, the depths of the psyche, and the hidden forces that shape our lives.

The Ouroboros, is a powerful and ancient symbol with rich meanings and interpretations. Its depiction as a serpent or dragon consuming its own tail serves as a visual metaphor for several profound concepts:

  • Infinity and Cyclicality: The circular nature of the Ouroboros symbolizes the endless cycle of life, death, and rebirth, suggesting that life and existence are not linear but cyclical.
  • Self-Renewal: The act of the serpent eating its own tail represents the idea of something constantly recreating itself, symbolizing the concepts of growth, renewal, and the eternal return.
  • Unconscious Mind: In psychological and mystical interpretations, the Ouroboros is often seen as a representation of the unconscious mind, encompassing the depths of the psyche and the inner workings that are not immediately visible or understood.
  • Hidden Forces: It also symbolizes the unseen forces that shape our lives, indicating a deeper understanding of the universe and the mysteries that lie within.

Throughout history, philosophers, alchemists, and artists have used the Ouroboros to convey these profound truths, making it a symbol rich in both visual and metaphorical significance.

What does a Snake eating itself mean

The Ouroboros also know as Uroboros is a figure depicting a snake devouring its own tail. This symbol is found in Gnosticism and alchemy.

The snake eating its own tail, symbolizes various deep concepts. Commonly, it represents infinity, cyclicality, and self-renewal. This cycle of consumption reflects life’s unending nature.

Additionally, the Ouroboros signifies the unconscious mind, the psyche’s depths, and life’s hidden forces. It shows how the unconscious (the snake) influences our conscious world (the tail).

The symbol also embodies transformation and rebirth. Like a snake shedding its skin, it parallels our continual self-renewal.

Interpreting the Ouroboros is highly personal and varies widely. However, it remains a potent symbol for understanding our universe and life’s dynamics.

Further interpretations include:

  • Ego vs. Id: The snake (ego) attempting to control, yet being consumed by, the tail (id).
  • Physical and Soul: The snake (physical body) consuming the material world to sustain the soul (tail).
  • Individual and Collective: The snake (individual) connected to the tail (collective unconscious), symbolizing our deep interconnectedness.

 

What does it symbolize

Ouroboros represents cyclical natural life and the fusion of opposites. It also symbolizes the transcendence of duality.

 

Meaning and symbolism of the Ouroboros

The Ouroboros is a symbol that shows an animal (usually a snake or a dragon) that swallow his own tail. It is making with his body a circular shape. It also mean duality. And the cycle of life.

The word, ouroboro, comes from the Greek ουροβóρος (also known as uroboro).

The ouroboros 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

The ouroboros 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 dying.

This is why there is the connection with the cyclical nature of time. There, the present is devoured by the future. It creates an infinite chain of moments that die and are born again at each moment.

In some religions the ouroboros represents the renaissance of things that never die. Only the change is eternal.

 

Origin of the snake eating itself its own tail

The Ouroboros symbol, depicting a snake eating its own tail, has ancient roots:

  1. Ancient Egypt: Earliest known in Egypt, from the 14th century BCE. It symbolized life-death cycles, the sun’s journey, and Nile flooding.
  2. Ancient Greece: The term «Ouroboros» is Greek, meaning «tail devourer.» It symbolized eternal unity, life-death cycles, and harmony in Greek mythology.
  3. Gnosticism and Alchemy: In these traditions, it represented the cycle of creation and destruction, and spiritual enlightenment.
  4. Other Cultures: Variants appear in Norse mythology, Hinduism, and indigenous traditions globally, often symbolizing immortality and cosmic cycles.

The Ouroboros thus represents a universal concept, embodying ideas of immortality, cyclical nature, and spiritual beliefs across various cultures.

 

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. It is part of the concept of the story of the serpent Jörmundgander.

the ouroboros in a door

 

The Ouroboros In Greek mythology

The essence of ouroboros 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 significance to this symbol
 

Alchemy spiritual significance of the ouroboros

In the practice of alchemy, the ouroboros 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. The writer was 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. Researchers conclude that alchemy symbol teaches something. 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, the ouroboros is also a symbol that represent purification, the eternal cycles of life and death.

 

In Gnosticism

In Gnosticism, it symbolizes how the soul live all the eternity in the world. It is in a very famous Gnostic text. It 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, an ouroboros. 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.

Sources references and further reading

Websites

  • The Louvre Museum: The museum’s collection includes ancient Egyptian artifacts like the statue of Mehen, representing the Ouroboros. More information can be found on Encyclopedia Britannica.
  • The Jung Society of London: This society offers insights into Carl Jung’s work on the Ouroboros. Details are available on Dellfina Art.
  • The Encyclopedia of Symbolism: An online resource providing information about the symbolism of various symbols, including the Ouroboros, available at Google Books.
  • The Symbolism Project: A website offering information on the symbolism of different religious, cultural, and philosophical traditions, including the Ouroboros, can be found at Infinite Scales Info.
  • The Ouroboros Society: A non-profit organization promoting the study of the Ouroboros symbol. Their website, with a library of articles and resources, is available at Cassandra Featherstone.

 

Source

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

 

References

  • Egyptian Mythology: As the serpent Mehen, it protected the sun god Ra, symbolizing protection against chaos.
  • Gnosticism: Represents the divine self and the cyclical nature of creation, destruction, and rebirth.
  • Hermeticism: Symbolizes alchemical transformation, from base to divine nature.
  • Carl Jung: Jung saw it as a symbol of the unconscious mind, influencing our conscious thoughts and actions.
  • Literature and Art: Featured in works by Dante, Shakespeare, Coleridge, and artists like Dalí and Magritte, the Ouroboros symbolizes eternal cycles and deep psychological concepts.
  • Modern Culture: Continues as a symbol in jewelry, tattoos, and art. It’s in the Novartis logo and the Python programming language, reflecting its enduring symbolism and appeal.