Ouroboros is an ancient alchemy symbol depicting a snake or dragon [DNA] swallowing its own tail, constantly creating itself and forming a circle. It is the Wheel of Time - The Alchemy Wheel - 12 Around 1 to manifest grid programs that give the illusion of linear time allowing souls to experience emotions.
Ouroboros is associated with Alchemy -- Gnosticism and Hermeticism. It represents the cyclical nature of things, eternal return, and other things perceived as cycles that begin anew as soon as they end.
In some representations the serpent is shown as half light and half dark, echoing symbols such as the Yin Yang, which illustrates the dual nature of all things, but more importantly, that these opposites are not in conflict. Origins of the Ouroboros
The serpent or dragon eating its own tail has survived from antiquity and can be traced back to Ancient Egypt, circa 1600 B.C.E.
From there it passed to Phoenicia and then to the Greek philosophers, who gave it the name Ouroboros
("the tail-devourer"). Norse Mythology
- the serpent Jormungand, one of the 3 children of Loki - the Trickster who grew so large that it could encircle the world and grasp its tail in its teeth. Hindu Mythology
- the dragon circling the tortoise which supports the four elephants that carry the world.
The serpent or dragon also appears in Aztec, Chinese, and Native American mythology.
Christians adopted the Ouroboros as a symbol of the limited confines of this world (that there is an "outside" being implied by the demarcation of an inside), and the self-consuming transitory nature of a mere this-worldly existence following in the footsteps of the Preacher in Ecclesiastes.
It could very well be used to symbolize the closed-system model of the universe of some physicists even today. Symbology behind the Ouroboros
The ouroboros has several meanings interwoven into it. Foremost is the symbolism of the serpent biting, devouring, eating its own tail. This symbolizes the cyclic Nature of the Universe: creation out of destruction, Life out of Death. The ouroboros eats its own tail to sustain its life, in an eternal cycle of renewal. In the above drawing, from a book by an early Alchemist, Cleopatra, the black half symbolizes the Night, Earth, and the destructive force of nature, yin. the light half represents Day, Heaven, the generative, creative force, yang. Alchemy
Alchemically, the ouroboros is also used as a purifying glyph. Ouroboros was and is the name for the Great World Serpent, encircling the Earth.
The word Ouroboros is really a term that describes a similar symbol which has been cross-pollinated from many different cultures. Its symbolic connotation from this owes to the returning cyclical nature of the seasons; the oscillations of the night sky; self-fecundation; disintegration and re-integration; truth and cognition complete; the Androgyny; the primeval waters; the potential before the spark of creation; the undifferentiated; the Totality; primordial unity; self-sufficiency, and the idea of the beginning and the end as being a continuous unending principle.
Ouroboros represents the conflict of life as well in that life comes out of life and death. 'My end is my beginning.' In a sense life feeds off itself, thus there are good and bad connotations which can be drawn. It is a single image with the entire actions of a life cycle - it begets, weds, impregnates, and slays itself, but in a cyclical sense, rather than linear.
Thus, it fashions our lives to a totality more towards what it may really be - a series of movements which repeat. "As Above, So Below" - we are born from nature, and we mirror it, because it is what man wholly is a part of. It is this symbolic rendition of the eternal principles that are presented in the Emerald Tablets of Thoth.
The Ouroboros connects the Above and Below
Born from this symbolic notion, there are many different cultures which share this great dragon-serpent symbol (the serpent Jormungandr, from the myth of Yggdrasil, is just one). There are some cultures that see the image as not being beneficial, but evil - like Satan. These more specific re-interpretations will be spoken of later.
It is of interest to mention that a symbol such as that of the Ouroboros is something which Carl Jung refers to as an archetype; it seems to makes its way into our conscious mind time and time again in varying forms. The 19th century German chemist named Kekule dreamed of a snake with its tail in its mouth one day after dosing off. He had been researching the molecular structure of benzene, and was at a stop point in his work until after waking up he interpreted the dream to mean that the structure was a closed carbon ring. This was the breakthrough he needed.
There is another mention of the Ouroboros laying at the edge of "the sea which surrounds the world," called Pontus. The Ouroboros encircles the Universe; everything known and unknown is encompassed in its embracing coils, supporting and maintaining the earthly balance. It injects life into death and death into budding life. Its form suggests immobility with its locked jaws upon itself, yet at the same time it pushes the insistent message of perpetual movement through its twined coils. The first clues to this symbol go back as far as 1600-1700 BC in Egypt. Through the years the serpent moved on to the Phoenicians and the Greeks-who were what gave it the name "Ouroboros." The Greek translation means, "tail eater."
"All is One!" cries this Ouroboros from Alexandrian Egypt.
"The Serpent Ouroboros" from ancient Egypt.
Papyrus of Dama Heroub Egypt, 21st Dynasty
The zodiac as a tail-eating snake (Ouroboros) symbolizes the eternity of Time and the boundary of the universe. Below it, the double lion Routi ('Yesterday and Tomorrow'), the agency of resurrection, supporting the newborn Sun God.
It has a strong relation to what is known as the Androgyny. The androgyny is the united male and female principles together. This is the prime primordial end to human endeavor, the reunion which births totality and creation. It is not unlike the idea of androgyny, which is a duality complete. "A return to wholeness."
Seven-segmented Aztec Ouroboros.
This is an Aztec Ouroboros (with proportions that even Hermes would have found pleasing) originally from: Project Ouroboros at the University of Minnesota, which has a large and diverse selection of these impressive archetypes. The following commentary from this source links with what has already been said and also adds further points of interest:
This symbol appears principally among the Gnostics and is depicted as a dragon, snake or serpent biting its own tail. In the broadest sense, it is symbolic of time and the continuity of life. It sometimes bears the caption Hen to pan - 'The One, the All', as in the Codex Marcianus, for instance, of the 2nd century A.D. It has also been explained as the union between the chthonian principle as represented by the serpent and the celestial principal as signified by the bird (a synthesis which can also be applied to the dragon).
Ruland contends this proves that it is a variant of the symbol for Mercury - the duplex god. In some versions of the Ouroboros, the body is half light and half dark, alluding in this way to the successive counterbalancing of opposing principles as illustrated in the Chinese Yin-Yang symbol for instance. Evola asserts that it represents the dissolution of the body, or the universal serpent which (to quote the Gnostic saying) 'passes through all things'.
Poison, the viper and the universal solvent are all symbols of the undifferentiated-of the 'unchanging law' which moves through all things, linking them by a common bond. Both the dragon and the bull are symbolic antagonists of the solar hero. The Ouroboros biting its own tail is symbolic of self-fecundation, or the primitive idea of a self-sufficient Nature - a Nature, that is which, à la Nietzsche, continually returns, within a cyclic pattern, to its own beginning. There is a Venetian manuscript on alchemy which depicts the Ouroboros with its body half-black (symbolizing earth and night) and half-white (denoting heaven and light).
As a symbol of the eternal unity of all things, the cycle of birth and death from which the alchemist sought release and liberation, it was familiar to the alchemist/physician Sir Thomas Browne. In his A letter to a friend,
a medical treatise full of case-histories and witty speculations upon the human condition, he wrote of it:
[...] that the first day should make the last, that the Tail of the Snake should return into its Mouth precisely at that time, and they should wind up upon the day of their Nativity, is indeed a remarkable Coincidence.