The Universal Ouroboros

This was one of the first sites I returned to again and again in the early days of the net.

I haven’t revisited it for years, but came across the link in one of my old blogs, and realised I’d been lucky to find these reference to the Ouroboros in the years before the net became deluged with New Age/New Thought/Christian Science reinventions.


“The word ‘Ouroboros’ is really a term that describes a similar symbol which has been cross-pollinated from many different cultures. From “Ouroboros,” there is the serpent or dragon gnawing at its own tail. The 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 Androgyne (see below); the primaeval 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.

It 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.

Born from this symbolic notion, there are many different cultures which share this great dragon-serpent symbol

[…] 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.

[…]There is another mention of the Ouroboros laying at the edge of “the sea which surrounds the world,” called Pontus.

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 gave it the name “Ouroboros.”

The Greek translation means, “tail eater.” It has a strong relation to what is known as the Androgyne. The androgyne 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.”

The third [image of those pictured above] is apparently an Aztec Ouroboros (with proportions that even Hermes would have found pleasing) originally from: Project Ouroborus at the University of Minnesota, which has a large and diverse selection of these impressive archtypes. 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 principals 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).

[Further on the page we read:]

The sixth, a more ornate dragon-like example, is one of twelve emblems discussed in detail by Adam Mclean in terms of psychological and alchemical symbolism. (A Threefold Alchemical Journey Through the Book of Lambspring).

Emblem 6 from the Book of Lambspring is a clear statement of the Ouroborus, the serpent dragon that siezes its own tail and unites these polarities in forming its circle in the Soul.

As Mclean leads up to the latter example, he explains that:

The first layer of five emblems deal with the different facets of polarities in our inner world.
The second emblem shows a different aspect to polarities in the fight between the inner dragon and an armed knight (a St George figure) in the Forest of the Soul. In this emblem there is a sense that the polarities must struggle to overcome each other.
Next in Emblem 3 we have the beautiful picture of the meeting in a clearing in the forest of a magnificent Stag and a graceful Unicorn. The Stag as a symbol is often associated with the Sun and the Unicorn is usually linked with the Moon. These polarities are to be coupled together through the alchemist’s work.
Next, in Emblem 4, the polarities are seen in their manifestation as masculine and feminine, pictured here in the meeting of Lion and Lioness. We note how they raise their opposite paws (Lion – right, Lioness – left) mirroring the posture of the Stag and Unicorn in the previous emblem.
The fifth emblem, which completes this part of the sequence shows the wild Wolf and the tamed Dog fighting for supremacy. These polarities are further linked in the verse with the directions West (Dog) and East (Wolf). Thus we can see that the first five emblems show us different ways in which the polarities appear in our inner world. The dynamically opposed though balanced way of the two fishes, the battling of the Dragon and Knight elements, or Wolf and Dog, and the meeting and relationship indicated in the Stag-Unicorn and Lion-Lioness emblems.
The next five emblems seem to indicate different ways in which we must inwardly work to unite these polarities in our beings.
Emblem 6 is a clear statement of the Ouroborus, the serpent dragon that siezes its own tail and unites these polarities in forming its circle in the Soul.

These are but a few representations of the Ouroboros; there are many others, some more ornate, some less, and many in more complex configurations, especially in the alchemical context. Moreover, as Jack Lindsay explains in The Origins of Alchemy in Græco-Roman Egypt, (1970, pp.267-268):1

Ideas about the Ouroboros found their way into the literary world, e.g., in Artemidoros and Acrobius. The former, in his dream-book, remarks that ‘the dragon also signifies Time because it is long and undulant.’ The latter declares the two-headed Roman god Janus is the world:
‘that is, the heavens, and his name Janus comes from eundo [by going] since the world always goes rolling on itself in its globe-form … So the Phoenicians have represented it in their temples as a dragon curled in a circle and devouring its tail, to denote the way in which the world feeds on itself and returns on itself …

“It is also clear that it’s the Sun honoured under the name of Mercurius [Hermes] according to the cadeuceus that the Egyptians have consecrated to the god in the figure of the Two Serpents, male and female, interlaced. Their upper extremities bend round together, and, embracing one another, form a circle, while the tails, after forming a knot, come together at the haft of the caduceus and are provided with wings that start off at this point.

Even more interesting is the passage that ends the second book of Claudian’s poem, On the Consulship of Stilicho. Claudian came from Egypt and his imagery shows the Egyptian idea of the night-journey of the sun through the cave or tunnel in the earth. But the introduction of the Ouroboros in association with Natura (Physis), the various metals, and the Aged Seer strongly suggests one of the alchemic visions of revelation or initiation:

Far off, unknown, beyond the range of thought,
scarce reached by gods, the years’ rough haggard mother,
stands a primeval Cave in whose vast breast,
is Time’s cradle and womb. A Serpent encloses,
the Cave, consuming all things with slow power,
and green scales always glinting. Its mouth devours,
the backbent tail as with mute motion it traces,
its beginning. At the entrance Nature sits,
the threshold-guardian, aged and yet lovely,
and round her gather and flit on every side
Spirits. A Venerable Man writes down
immutable laws. He fixes the number of stars
in every constellation, makes some of them move and others hang at rest.
So all things live or die by predetermined laws…
When the Sun rested on the cave’s wide threshold,
Nature ran in her might to meet him; the Old Man bent
grey hairs to the proud rays. Of its own accord
the admantine door swung open, revealing
the huge interior, displaying the House
the Secrets of Time. Here in appointed places
the Ages dwell, with varying Metals marking
their aspect. Those of brass are there upheaped,
there stiff the iron, there the silver gleaming;
shy of earth-contacts, in a distinguished section,
is set the flock of golden years.”

From the above descriptions and the widespread occurrence of this Jungian archtype in both time and place it is also apparent that the Ouroboros embraces cyclic regeneration, rebirth, and the very foundations of life itself.


There is still much MUCH more on the Ouroboros at the link below

Source: Spira Solaris and the Universal Ouroboros

One thought on “The Universal Ouroboros

  1. This is by far my favorite symbol! I think Jung and after him Cambell deserve a great deal of credit for elaborating on the meaning of this symbol. You don’t have to turn lead into gold (Jung extensively studied alchemical texts which the symbol is associated with) he realized the gold was the result of integrating the shadow. The mysterious Ouroboros is simple, yet the most difficult task anyone can undergo, love your shadow. As easy as it sounds it is the hardest thing to do because it requires integrating everything rejected back into the whole. Often the mind is left with no certainty to cling to and the ego must surrender to the heart, a terrifying notion to a materialistic world. I have heard it described as the most painful thing anyone can face. Jung, Cambell, and I’m sure many others consider it the key to the liberation of mankind and a more peaceful world!


Leave a Reply

Please log in using one of these methods to post your comment: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Google photo

You are commenting using your Google account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.