Ouroboros: Symbol and Meaning

by | Sep 8, 2021 | Symbolisms | 0 comments

In mythology, the snake has many meanings that vary according to its species, shape, and danger.

In particular, the Ouroboros which is a very significant sign in ancient mythologies. It is about a very particular motif, whether it is an object or a drawing, which is represented by a dragon or a snake which bites its tail and by this very particular shape, it has many meanings. . The interest of this article is to know these meanings of Ouroboros.

All the meanings of Ouroboros are different, but their ideas are all quite similar. Indeed, it represents profound ideas: the world’s origin, the hidden faces of cycles, chaos, order, life, and death.

1) Ouroboros and its Meaning

A) Ouroboros: Definition

Ouroboros is a symbol representing a dragon or a snake that eats its tail. It usually forms a circle called Ouroboros, Oroborus, Uroboros, Uroborus, or “an Ouroboros.”

Ouroboros and its etymology are very old. The origin of the word Ouroboros comes from the Greek ουροβóρος. ” Oura ” meaning “tail,” and ” Boros ” meaning “to eat.”

So literally, to the question ” what does Ouroboros mean in French? “, The correct answer is: “the one who eats his tail.” The Ouroboros is thus explaining the expression “it is the serpent which bites its tail.”

Ouroboros meaning

B) Ouroboros: a timeless symbol

It is one of the oldest mystical symbols in the world. It is most often represented by a snake that bites its tail. But it happens that the Ouroboros is imaged by a simple serpent or dragon of circular shape.

He is sometimes depicted as an Ouroboros Lemniscate. The lemniscate designates the famous “infinite” symbol; an 8 flipped horizontally. It is also found in two snakes coiled between them, as we will see a little below.

The serpent biting its tail is a representative symbol of many philosophical, spiritual, and mythological concepts.

Ouroboros

Ouroboros Necklace

C) Meaning of Ouroboros

What does the Ouroboros symbolize?

The Ouroboros represents the infinite cyclical nature of the universe: the eternal cycle of life and death, of creation and destruction… It eats its own tail in eternal renewal. What Ouroboros means is the concept of eternity and that of perpetual change. Ouroboros symbolizes a cycle.

This symbol refers to the ideology that existence is a cycle of constant rebirth. So there is no real death but a continuity of life. This is why there is a connection with the cyclical nature of time: the future devours the present to create an endless chain of moments that die and are reborn every moment.

Ouroboros also symbolizes balance. It is the key to the harmony of the cosmos. A symbol of the primitive and anarchic dynamism which precedes its creation and the emergence of order. It is comparable to Chinese yin and yang, representing the balance of opposing forces: fire and water, light and darkness, good and evil, …

It is essential in the religious and mythological symbolism of many civilizations. Ouroboros is also an alchemical symbol. It represents the circular nature of the alchemist’s work. Its meaning is also often associated with Gnosticism and Hermeticism.

ouroboros

2) The Infinite Ouroboros

The Ouroboros serpent has the meaning of infinity. It represents the reincarnation of things that never die but change eternally. Time, the beginning and the cycle of life, the completion, the repetition of history, the self-sufficiency of nature, and the rebirth of the Earth are also meanings attached.

Therefore, it is not surprising that the Ouroboros serpent is the current mathematical symbol of infinity in its lemniscate form. These representations of the double curl, like a snake eating its tail, are also common today in fantasy art and literature.

3) The Double Ouroboros

The double Ouroboros is a separate symbol from that of the single Ouroboros. It is a more complex acronym because it is composed of two tangled snakes that eat their tails.

Also called Ouroboros Auryn, it is not known exactly who invented this symbol, nor when. But the symbols forming the royal cartouche of Pharaoh Ramses III already contained double ouroboros.

Some researchers suggest that the infinite sign (the mathematical lemniscate) is derived from the double Ouroboros. The ancient alchemists also took it up, and some used it to symbolize the alchemical volatility of an element.

The Ouroboros of Neverending History is also a double. This “amulet of the dawn” is also at the center of the film’s plot. Following the film’s popularity in 1984, the two snakes that eat each other’s tails became a symbol in great demand among tattoo artists.

4) Ouroboros: Animal… or Animals?

A) The Most Famous Ouroboros Serpent

The representation of the snake, which is eaten by itself, comes to us from the Greek and Egyptian cultures. This animal-totem symbolizing cyclical rebirth because of its ability to molt; it is not surprising that the Ouroboros is represented in the guise of a snake.

There are many instances of actual snakes eating their own tails. And this is for two reasons :

Snakes have small brains and are more reactive than proactive. Thus, they sometimes confuse the rapid movements of their own tail with prey.
Snakes are poikilothermic; their body temperature varies with their environment. If they are too hot, they can be confused. They mistakenly think that they are hungry and start to want to eat at all costs. They can start to swallow their own tail.
Unfortunately, once the snake bites its tail, it cannot stop. Although he cannot eat himself whole, he can die trying. And to form a real and macabre Ouroboros serpent.

ouroboros snake

B) The Ouroboros Dragon, a Mythological Creature

In some cultures, the Ouroboros is depicted as a dragon. Often this creature takes the form of a dragon-serpent. It, therefore, has a rather slender shape and does not resemble the massive European dragons with large wings, such as wyverns and wyverns.

In Norse mythology, in particular, the dragon Ouroboros Jörmungand is represented as encircling the world by biting its tail.

C) A Ouroboros Lizard?

The Ouroborus Cataphractus, also called Armadillus lizard or Cordylus Cataphract, is a species of saurians from the South African desert. Its particularity is its scale armor which covers it entirely—this reptile curls upon itself when it feels threatened, recalling an Ouroboros.

Once he is in this position, the other parts of his body protect his vulnerable tummy. The Ouroboros lizard can stay in this position for up to an hour. This unique defense protects it from predators such as snakes and mongooses.

Even if it can look dangerous, this Ouroboros reptile is completely harmless to humans apart from its formidable scales. It is, however, threatened by poaching and illegal trade.

5) Origins of Ouroboros

A) Tutankhamun’s Ouroboros

The oldest traces of Ouroboros and their origin having been discovered date back to 1600 BC in Egypt. The symbol would have been transmitted to the Phoenicians and the Greeks, who gave it its name.

The oldest known symbol of Ouroboros appears on a golden shrine in Tutankhamun’s tomb ⚰️. It was found in hieroglyphics in the sarcophagus chamber. The mythical serpent surrounded the feet and head of the pharaoh, symbolizing his status as an eternal deity in the afterlife.

B) Ouroboros, a Universal Legend

Civilizations throughout history have their Ouroboros. Even those who had no common bond!

This symbol was seen in ancient Egypt, Japan, India, in Greek alchemical texts, European woodcuts, Native American tribes, and pre-Columbian temples.

The Ouroboros has sometimes been directly associated with symbols as diverse as the Roman god Janus, the Chinese Ying Yang, and the biblical serpent in the Garden of Eden. There is even an Ouroboros on the Declaration of the Rights of Man and the Citizen of 1789!

6) Ouroboros in Mythology

A) Ouroboros in Egypt: the Serpent of Atum

The Ouroboros appears in the Egyptian Book of the Other World, also called the Book of the Dead. The Egyptian Ouroboros was popular after the Amarna period.

In the Book of the Dead, it is said that the sun god Atum came out of the waters of chaos with a serpent. The animal was immortal because it renewed itself every morning. Ouroboros symbolized repetition, renewal, the eternal cycle of time, and sometimes even the sun itself in its original Egyptian context.

The symbol refers to the ” mystery of cyclic time. ” The ancient Egyptians understood time as a series of repeating cycles instead of something linear in constant flux. Central to this idea was the flooding of the Nile and the sun’s journey.

A famous drawing of the Ouroboros also appears in the alchemical text La Chrysopée, from “Cleopatra the Alchemist ” (an Egyptian, different from the queen-goddess Cleopatra). It is an ancient alchemy treatise dating from the 2nd century in Alexandria, which addresses the Philosopher’s Stone. We will come back to this point in the section on alchemy.

B) The Greek Ouroboros: the Primordial Being

It is the Greeks who gave its name to Ouroboros. The Greek philosopher Plato described a circular and autophagic being as the first divine beings in the universe. As he was absolutely alone in the cosmos, this primordial being had some peculiarities:

  • He had no eyes because there was nothing to see outside of him
  • No ears because there was nothing to hear
  • No lungs because there was no atmosphere to breathe
  • No organs to eat or drink because there was no food and no water
  • No limbs because there was nowhere to go, no one to defend against, and nothing to catch
    greek ouroboros

This is how the Ouroboros of Greek Philosophy was created: its own waste providing its food. Everything that influenced his existence having been caused by himself. The Alpha and the Omega of the Cosmos, the beginning and the end of all things.

Given his condition, the creators gave him a spherical shape to perform an infinite circular movement on himself. The Greek Ouroboros thus symbolized eternity and the soul of the world.

The essence of Ouroboros is also present on another level in Greek mythology. This is the representation of natural forces. Like the sun, the moon, the waves of the sea, …

This serpent is also linked to the myth of Sisyphus and Helium. In this legend, Sisyphus is forced to push a heavy, perfectly round stone up a steep slope. But before reaching the top of the hill, the stone rolls all the way down. Sisyphus is therefore condemned to start over every day from the bottom of the hill, and this for eternity.

Contrary to popular belief, the snakes of escapes wrapping around the caduceus of Hermes are not related to the symbol of Ouroboros but symbolize trade. The same goes for the Rod of Asclepius with a serpent coiled around, a symbol of medicine.

C) Jörmungand: Ouroboros Viking and its Meaning

In Scandinavian culture, the SerpentJörmungand (or Jormungandr) is one of the three children of the deities Loki and Angrboda. This titanic monster is so large that it can encircle Midgard, the mortal world, by gripping its tail between its teeth.

Jörmungand the Ouroboros is guarding Yggdrasil. Moreover, he is often represented as the Ouroboros of the Tree of Life.

According to legend, when the Ouroboros Jormungandr lets go of its tail, it will come to destroy the world during Ragnarok.

Thor himself fought against the Norse Ouroboros but failed to kill him.

In the Scandinavian legends of Ragnar Lodbrok, a king gives a gift to his daughter Pora Town-Hart. After which, he changes into a large snake and surrounds the girl’s tent, biting his tail. Ragnar Lodbrok then kills him and marries Pora. Ragnar later has a son with another woman named Kraka. This son was born with a white snake biting his tail in one of his eyes named Sigurd Serpent-Eye.

Today it is common to combine the Ouroboros with a Viking or Celtic rune. This trend is rather modern, as these symbols were only rarely merged during the days of the proud Vikings and Celts.

The Ouroboros vegvisir and Ouroboros Valknut are very successful among snake tattoo enthusiasts and jewelry Vikings. The rune Vegvisir symbolizing guidance and protection, and the Valknut or “Knot of the Fallen” referring to the proud warriors of Odin fallen in battle.

Ouroboros Stainless Steel Mythology Ring

Ouroboros Ring

D) Asian Ouroboros: Yin-Yang

The Ouroboros in Buddhism and Chinese mythology are equated with the symbol of Yin-Yang and the binding of opposites. The universe has been divided between Earth (bottom) and Heaven (top) in Chinese culture. These gave the idea of ​​opposites forming a unit.

Each of the opposites is powerful, and so is their final unity. For the creation of the universe, the creators imagined reproduction to design new things. Today, reproduction results in the union of two opposites: the man and the woman.

The Chinese believed that Light and Dark, as ideal opposites, produced creative energy when united. The two opposites were Yin and Yang, and their unity was called Chi. The Chinese Ouroboros symbolizes this unity.

Yin-Yang was probably transformed into a symbol called Ouroboros when Chinese alchemy reached Alexandria. It is a snake, so it is the symbol of the soul. The head and the anterior part of this Ouroboros Yin Yang are clear as the soul. Its tail and hind part are dark, representing the body. The soul and the body being two opposites uniting to form a whole: Man.

Ouroboros is shown here in white and black. It is the cosmic soul, the source of all creation. We find this symbolism of what is similar to the Ouroboros of Japan in Japanese mythology and Reiki.

E) Mesoamerica: Ouroboros Maya and Aztec

Pre-Columbian civilizations had similar gods. For example, the serpent god Quetzalcóatl was probably revered by the Aztecs, and Toltecsweres revered by the Mayas under the name of Kukulkan.

This Kukulkan Ouroboros is sometimes depicted biting his tail on Mayan ruins.

Quetzalcóatl was a good God who brought knowledge to his people. An Aztec Ouroboros Quetzalcóatl is carved on the base of the Feathered Serpent Pyramid dating from 650 in Xochicalco, Mexico.

The meaning of the Ouroboros is not clear regarding Aztec society. But the practice of human sacrifice in Quetzalcóatl indicates that it was probably to symbolize the link between the world of the living and that of the gods and/or the dead.

Mayan ouroboros Quetzalcóatl

F) Ouroboros in Yoga and Hinduism

In Sanskrit Indian mythology, a dragon surrounds the turtle, which carries the four elephants supporting the world on its back. It is sometimes found artistically illustrated as Ouroboros Mandala.

In Yoga, the snake that eats its tail has two meanings:

  1. Kundalini’s Ouroboros symbolizes the concentration of spiritual energy in the lower spine and influence the Chakras. This is how Buddha describes the Kundalini in the sacred Hindu texts: ” The Kundalini shines like the stem of a young lotus; like a serpent, coiled on itself, it holds its tail in its mouth and rests half asleep. as the basis of the body “.
  2. The Ouroboros of Karma in Sanskrit symbolizes the endless cycle of causes and consequences of the acts of Buddhists. And the consequences of that on his reincarnation cycle.
    ouroboros yoga Hinduism

G) Ouroboros in Islam and the Zoroastrian Farvahar

The Albigensians (followers of Catharism, not to be confused with the Albigensians, who are the inhabitants of Albi in France) came from Armenia. Zoroastrianism (a monotheistic religion of ancient Iran) and representations of the Iranian god Mithras were common in this region. It may be that the Ouroboros entered their iconography by the emblem of the Zoroastrian Farvahar, which in some versions clearly features an Ouroboros at waist level rather than a single disc. Mithras

being reborn in cults is sometimes depicted wrapped in an Ouroboros, indicating its eternal and cyclical nature. Even references that do not mention these creatures attest to this circular shape as a symbol of the soul’s immortality or the cyclical nature of karma.

H) Ouroboros in European Astrology

In ancient European mythologies, the Ouroboros is also an astrological symbol representing the Milky Way. The myth refers to a ” Constellation Ouroboros, “a serpent of light residing in the heavens between the stars. According to cosmic legends, this snake would eat its own tail.

It is, in fact, the constellation of Ophiuchus, also called Serpentarius or Serpentarius, located between the constellation of Scorpio and that of Sagittarius. This constellation is inscribed in the Almagest of Ptolemy and is visible between 80 ° North and 80 ° South. It represents a man who holds a snake in his hand.

I) Ouroboros in the Christian Religion and the Bible

Christians have adopted the Ouroboros in the Bible as a symbol of the difference between the inside and the outside of the world, according to the closed system view of the universe. In Genesis, the spiritual symbol of Ouroboros also personifies the transitory and self-consuming nature of a simple existence, following in the footsteps of the preacher in Ecclesiastes (book of the Hebrew Bible).

J) The African Ouroboros: Aido Hwedo

Snakes are sacred in many West African religions. The demigod Aido Hwedo is often represented by the image of a python biting its tail. He would be at the origin of the creation of the world.

The Ouroboros is also present in the iconography of the Fon people of the Dahomey people and Yoruba imagery like Oshunmare.

K) Ouroboros in Gnosticism

G Gnosticism is thought taking up movement in the 2nd and 3rd century in the Roman Empire. According to Gnostic philosophy, humans are divine souls locked in mortal bodies by a malevolent god.

The Ouroboros was important to the Gnostics. The opposition between the head and the tail of the Ouroboros was interpreted as divine. They transposed this to the soul and the body in man. Two components a priori contrary, but which together formed a whole: Man. This Manichean view (the clear distinction between soul and body) echoes the Zoroastrian philosophy of the Farquhar.

7) Ouroboros in Alchemy

A) Origin of Ouroboros in Alchemy

The earliest occurrence of this symbol in alchemy is found in an alchemical treatise dating from the second century, written by Cleopatra the Alchemist.

The alchemical manual Chrysopoeia (the Chrysopée manufacturing gold by transmutation) Kleopatra contains a drawing representing the ouroboros serpent clear half dark and half. This sign illustrates the dual nature of things, but above all that, the opposites are not in conflict, quite the contrary. The book is mainly centered on the idea that ” one is all. ” A concept which is related to Hermetic wisdom, a concept belonging to the world of esotericism.

Like the sun, the Ouroboros made their own journey. From Egypt, he found his way to the Greek alchemists of Alexandria.

This treatise on chrysoprase having also reached us via Greek sources, we were able to discover on the parchments the famous Greek inscription εν το το παν: hen to pan, “one is all.” This well-known maxim in alchemy teaches that within all that is good, there is something bad. And inside evil, there is always something good.

B) Ouroboros as an Alchemical Symbol

In the esoteric practice of alchemy, this symbol expresses the unity of all things, material and spiritual. It expresses that these never disappear but change shape in continuous renewal and an eternal cycle of destruction and creation. A snake is often a symbol of resurrection, as it seems to be continually reborn by shedding its skin when it molts. This is increased tenfold with the Ouroboros going around in circles while eating their own tail!

Ouroboros in alchemy also symbolizes:

  • The spirit of Mercury, the substance that permeates all matter: the Prima Materia
  • The cycle of life and death
  • The conscious and the unconscious
  • The eternal unity of all things
  • The cycle of birth and death, the secrets of which the alchemist sought to unravel

Therefore, here again, we find this serpent’s universal significance: harmony and unity of opposites. In alchemy, the Ouroboros symbolize the work of the alchemist who unites opposites.
Alchemically, the serpent coiling on itself is also used as a purifying glyph.

C) Renaissance Alchemy

The Ouroboros continued to enjoy great popularity among Renaissance alchemists. Once again representing the infinity of time and eternity, this symbol of the serpent was considered in the eyes of alchemists as the ultimate obstacle to be overcome in Opus Magnum.

Because becoming immortal (their primary goal) meant breaking once and for all the incessant cycle of Ouroboros. Owning the precious philosopher’s stone, which would bring them incredible wealth, was just the icing on the cake.

Renaissance alchemists, therefore, saw the Ouroboros as a vision to be avoided. They were thus looking for a linear rather than a cyclical eternity.

8) Ouroboros in Secret Societies

A) Ouroboros and the Albigenses

The Ouroboros symbol appears in the 14th and 15th century Albigensian-printed watermarks and is also used in playing cards and tarot cards from the era. A commonly used ancient symbol: an ace of cups surrounded by an Ouroboros, frequently appears among the Albigensian watermarks. It is conceivable that this is the source of certain urban legends associating this symbol with secret societies. The Albigensians were closely associated with the humanist movement and the inquisition it sparked.

B) Ouroboros and Freemasonry

The Ouroboros is a Masonic symbol represented on many seals, frontispieces, and other images, especially during the 17th century. He is always represented in the company of other symbols of Freemasonry.

This sign is also present in the seal of the Theosophical Society, alongside other traditional and spiritual symbols.

C) An Ouroboros Illuminati?

The image of the serpent coiling on itself appeared centuries before the formal formation of the Illuminati.

In Illuminati initiation rituals, the Ouroboros represents the circle of life: the passage of humanity through the generations that begin and end in a constantly renewed cycle. It shows the path to physical mortality, the inescapable truth that all life begins with nothing and ends where it began. All humans are born from dust, and to dust, they will return …

D) Ouroboros, Satanists, and Occultism

Ouroboros is present in some satanist rituals. They hijack its primary meaning to make it an Ouroboros of Satan and derive its evil potential. Indeed, as a symbol of balance, this snake contains an occult part because it represents both good and evil.

It is therefore found in incantations to the glory of Satan and demons. Ouroboros Hexagram or Ouroboros Leviathan then represents the devil. It appears on pentagrams, Sigils, and pentacles believed to open passages to the underworld. But also in all kinds of magical, occult rituals.

9) Ouroboros in Psychology

The Swiss psychologist Carl Jung interpreted the Ouroboros as having a powerful meaning in the human psyche. This snake makes its way through our conscious mind time and time again, in various forms. Jung defined the relationship of the Ouroboros to alchemy: ” In the image of the Ouroboros is the idea of ​​devouring oneself and reincarnating psychically in a new light .”

Ouroboros symbolizes integration and assimilation of the opposite, that is to say, of the dark side. This process is simultaneously a symbol of immortality since the Ouroboros says that it kills and comes to life, fertilizes, and gives birth to itself. It symbolizes the Unique, which is born from the meeting of opposites. In this, this imaginary reptile constitutes the secret of prima materia. In psychology, the prima material refers to the unconscious.

Jungian psychologist Erich Neumann speaks of this snake as a representation of the Dawn State. For him, the Ouroboros links the childhood of humanity as a whole and the childhood of a single individual.

The cyclical symbolism of this serpent can also be interpreted in psychology as the eternal effort to end life’s problems. But since the cycle begins again, the effort is useless because the problems keep coming back.

10) Ouroboros in Chemistry

And yes, the Ouroboros symbol is present even in scientific spheres!

The German chemist of the 19th August Kekulé described the day when he carried out one of his most important chemistry works. He says he was working with his textbook, but he fell asleep since he couldn’t move forward. In a dream, he saw how the atoms were changing before his eyes in the form of a snake in the shape of a circle. When he wakes up, this vision encourages him to work on his hypothesis for the rest of the night.

His research focused on the molecular structure of benzene. Thanks to his dream, he understood that the structure of this molecule was a closed carbon ring. It was the breakthrough he needed. A chemist, therefore, discovered the benzene ring thanks to the illumination of Ouroboros!

11) Ouroboros, Tattoo, and Meaning

The Ouroboros is a very fashionable tattoo because of its deep symbolism. The meaning of an Ouroboros tattoo is infinity, the cycle of life and death, rebirth, duality, longevity, and wholeness. It is a retrospective tattoo inviting an introspection on oneself, one’s life, and spirituality.

Getting an Ouroboros tattoo means achieving a balance in your personal development. Most people get an Ouroboros tattoo because the meaning of this tattoo means something to them. But some may do so about their religion.

There are many forms of Ouroboros in tattoos:

  • Classic Ouroboros or lemniscate tattoo
  • Ouroboros Black or drawing
  • Tribal ouroboros with a warrior aspect on the forearm
  • Ouroboros tattoo for women
  • Ouroboros tattoo on the wrist
  • Infinity tattoo in the shape of ouroboros…

Dana Scully, in the X-Files series, has also chosen to have an Ouroboros tattooed.

12) Other Famous References to Ouroboros

Many Crop Circles (the shape of gigantic circles appearing in fields) are in the shape of Ouroboros.
” Ouroboros: the bloody imprint, “a novel by Franck Thilliez
Ouroboros Full Metal Alchemist: in this famous manga, the homunculi have a tattoo in the shape of Ouroboros

Conclusion: Ouroboros in Jewelry

Now you know all about the famous snake biting its tail! But do you know how to appropriate its symbolism?

Ouroboros is a timeless piece of jewelry. True figurative creations, Ouroboros serpent jewelry, combines deep meaning and majestic minimalism. Symbols of energy and balance, they are charming everyday companions.

The uniqueness of Ouroboros is suitable for the most daring jewelry boxes. The elegant circularity of this lucky totem mimics the continuous rhythm of the universe, its association with infinity, and therefore eternal love.

  • Wear an Ouroboros Bracelet and find your inner balance.
  • Express your self-confidence with an Ouroboros Ring for Men.
  • Materialize the liveliness of your mind with an Ouroboros Pendant in Silver.
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