You probably know the circled snake eating its own tail ? It is one of the oldest mystical symbols in the world, dating back to 1600 BC. Originating in Egypt, it was later used in Greece and can be found in old Viking, Aztec, Hindu and Chinese tales.
You will also see it in many alchemical illustrations, where it symbolizes the circular nature of the alchemist's opus. It is also often associated with Gnosticism and Hermetic science. Sometimes drawn half dark and half light, it shows not only the dualism of things, but also that these dualities can work together: "All is one".
In alchemy, it also represents Mercury, the vital process of constant renewal, just as a snake throws off its skin for a new one. In Hindu traditions, there is also a similar dragon surrounding the turtle and the 4 elephants carrying the world.
The Ouroboros worn as a ring, pendant or earrings symbolizes the infinite unity with the universe and how all beings are one. It allows the wearer to be one with what is happening around them and to be able to handle change. This dragon or snake is one of the most popular designs in meaningful costume jewelry. You'll be impressed when you see what it says about it !
The Ouroboros, Meanings of this Original Form Symbol
The Ouroboros is a Greek word that means "tail devourer", it is one of the oldest mystical symbols in the world. You can perceive it enveloping itself, while its tail considered as the past seems to disappear. But this part of time moves into an inner realm or reality, and although invisible, it is still there.
1. The ancient meanings
The Ouroboros can be linked to the cyclical nature of the universe, to the lunar cult, to the galaxy, to the fusion of opposites, and to the mercury spirit.
- A creature biting its own tail
The ouroboros has many meanings locked up in it. The most important is the symbolism of the serpent biting, devouring or eating its own tail. This symbolizes the cyclical nature of the universe: creation out of destruction, life out of death. This creature indeed eats its own tail to sustain its life, in a cycle of eternal renewal. It is also sometimes represented in a lemniscate or figure eight form.
The snake biting its own tail was first seen as early as 1600 BC in Egypt as a symbol of the sun. From there, it seems to have moved to the Phoenicians and then to the Greeks, who gave it its name "Ouroboros", which means devouring its tail.
- An ancient lunar cult
The origins of ouroboros go back to ancient lunar cults. The Moon served as a timekeeper especially of the eternal and cyclical nature of time, and as fertilizer for life on Earth. Having waxed and waned, it became a symbol of birth, death and regeneration.
Also, lunar deities were often associated with a devouring serpent or dragon that after swallowing the Moon, became the origin of the Moon's rebirth.
- The symbol of the galaxy
In mythology, the Ouroboros is a figure representing the Milky Way galaxy. Residing in the heavens the myth refers to a serpent of light. The Milky Way is this serpent, and seen from the galactic center point near Sagittarius, it eats its own tail. By the way, many ancients used the galaxy to calculate cosmic and terrestrial cycles.
- The fusion of opposites
The symbol Ouroboros is found in Gnosticism and alchemy, representing then the cyclic natural life and the fusion of opposites. It also symbolizes the transcendence of duality and was linked to the solar God Abraxas, signifying eternity and the soul of the world.
Cleopatra's alchemical manual, Chrysopoeia Goldmaking, contains a drawing of the ouroboros depicting the serpent as half light and half dark. This refers to symbols such as yin yang, which illustrate the dual nature of all things. But more importantly, these opposites are not in conflict. The book is primarily focused on the idea of "One is All," a concept related to Hermetic wisdom.
- The Mercury spirit
In alchemy, the Ouroboros represents the spirit of Mercury, the substance that permeates all matter. It symbolizes continuous renewal. Indeed, a snake is often a symbol of resurrection, as it seems to be continually reborn by shedding its skin. From an alchemical perspective, the Ouroboros is also used as a purifying glyph. It is the symbol of the eternal unity of all things, the cycle of birth and death from which the alchemist sought liberation.
2. A symbol of personal development
As represented, the Ouroboros would have for goal to create in every man a perpetual questioning of the purpose of life. This is the message that emerges if you compare this symbol to the Enso of the Zen monks, the wheel of Samsara or the labyrinth of Jorge Luis Borges.
- The Enso of Zen monks
The Ouroboros bears a particular resemblance to Enso, a circular ink line usually practiced by Zen monks. In light of this analogy, it is possible that it also hides part of its meaning in the empty space delimited by its body. Exactly as it happens with Enso, the snake seems to grasp emptiness with its body and form.
This denotes the essential emptiness in all reality, just as Bodhidharma, the mythical founder of Zen, promulgated the nonexistence of the mind. Ouroboros would become, from this point of view, like that circle described by the Shin Jin Mei: a vast space that lacks nothing and has not too much.
- The Wheel of Samsara
The circle has always been present in all civilizations. The Samsara or cycle of birth, life, death and reincarnation in the Eastern tradition tends to be represented in this way. It is also often a wheel with a large number of symbols illustrating the perpetual flow of existence. That is, everything comes back, all that is required, the beginning and the end are confused.
And as if trapped in the perpetual shape of the circle, men return to the first line of East Coker which says, "In my beginning is my end."
- An eternal punishment
As for the mythological allusions, there are also several "ouroborian" episodes. In the tale of Sisyphus, the man condemned to Tartarus must repeat ad nauseam the absurd task of endlessly rolling a rock to the top of a mountain. The symbol is then represented by the same obsession with circularity, here tinged with condemnation.
Something similar happens with the myth of Ixion, bound to an enormous wheel and condemned to turn forever. This testifies to the troubling nature of the reversibility of time.
- The human labyrinth
Jorge Luis Borges imagined an irresolvable labyrinth that consisted of a straight line. Perhaps, Ouroboros represents something similar: the personal human labyrinth stripped of zigzag corridors. Where the only impenetrable mystery would be to find yourself before you even set out on the path.
Ouroboros in Manga and Anime
In the manga universe, you will notice the presence of the Ouroboros in the famous Fullmetal Alchemist series. All the seven main Homunculus are supposed to have the mark located somewhere on them as a kind of tattoo. The only exception is Pride in the manga and the anime of 2009.
This particular Ouroboros comes in the form of a dragon with its tail in its mouth, creating a circle with its body. Encircled inside is a hexagram, a symbol often associated with alchemy as well as human creation. This symbolism could be seen as a kind of basis for the transmutation circles used in the series. It is possible that this animal also symbolizes a solar eclipse in some beliefs.
1. The Ouroboros tattoo in the two animated series
Prior to learning their identity as Homunculus, Edward referred to the individuals behind Amestris' strange circumstances as "members of the Ouroboros". Lust, for example, has said tattoo on her upper sternum, just above her breasts. While Gluttony, Envy and Greed have it on their tongue, left thigh and the back of their left hand respectively.
Limiting ourselves to the Fullmetal Alchemist anime of 2009, the character of Wrath has a tattoo located on his left eye. It should be noted that this tattoo is identical to Pride in the 2003 anime. Sloth has one on the back of his right shoulder. Pride is the only Homunculus without Ouroboros, having instead a circular mark on his forehead.
Now, if we limit ourselves only to the 2003 anime, Wrath's circular snake tattoo is on the sole of his right foot. Sloth's is above his left breast, presumably at the heart. Finally, Pride has one on his left eye. As mentioned above, he is identical to Wrath in the 2009 manga and anime.
2. Meaning of the symbol in Fullmetal Alchemist
As you'll see from the Fullmetal Alchemist images, the manga version of the Ouroboros is slightly different from the animated versions. The hexagram that occupies the center is changed to a more stylized design. Presumably to avoid any kind of religious references.
In the first anime, the Homunculus can be reduced to a state where he is completely dominated by his sin, should his tattoo be removed. This is seen with Gluttony when his snake is removed and he becomes a stupid machine. There is also a change in the final episode of the 2003 animated series and movie. The shape of Envy's dragon actually refers to the ouroboros symbol tattooed on the homunculi, as well as being the personification of his sin.
Ironically, the meaning of an Ouroboros uses magic or alchemy, which the Homunculus cannot do. The same is true of Wrath. Because this mark symbolizes continuous reconstruction, i.e. the ability to regenerate, which his character is also incapable of.
Places with the Sign of the Ouroboros
For every ending, there is a beginning ! This is just one of the many positive and powerful meanings of the ouroboros, which is among the oldest symbols known to man. This snake eating its own tail is according to psychologist Jung an archetype.
He best describes it as a kind of primitive mental image inherited from early human ancestors and supposedly presented in the collective unconscious. The proof is that there are a variety of places around the world where you will find it.
1. The cemeteries
The ouroboros appears in Victorian cemeteries as a symbol of resurrection. This beautiful example of the snake being reborn by shedding its skin is atop the columns of the imposing entrance to Nunhead Cemetery in London. It is engraved on all 4 sides. It seems that Victorian visitors understood its meaning.
As an image of resurrection, it can be very positive, as some of its other attributes are immortality, eternity and wisdom. Although as with most symbols, it can have several meanings.
There is also a beautiful Ouroboros at the gates of Sheffield General Cemetery and another at Highgate West Cemetery at the gates of a mausoleum. It has also inspired tattoos proudly worn by some cemetery enthusiasts.
2. The churches
Although the ouroboros is usually represented as a complete circle, in some churches its shape is particular. One engraved around the name Harriet and dating from 1815 is in the form of 2 snakes entwined, each biting its own tail.
This image is often used as a memorial to those who have suffered "the most acute and persistent pain". It would therefore be a powerful reminder of the resurrection.
History and Origins of the Ouroboros
The ouroboros is one of the most intriguing and interesting symbols, a universal image of rebirth and hope. Its history is full of surprising facts from Egypt, Greece, Rome and the Hermetic sciences.
A. Symbolism in Egypt
In Egypt, the ouroboros appears for the first time in the 14th century BC in the tomb of Tutenkhamen on an ancient funerary text.
- The Sun God Ra
The Ouroboros represents the Sun God Ra and his union with Osiris in the underworld. The illustration is of two snakes, holding their tails in their mouths, wrapped around the hands and feet. This may be a representation of the unified Ra-Osiris.
The two snakes are said to be the manifestation of the god Mehen, who in other funerary texts protects Ra during his journey into the underworld.
- The protective goddess Buto
The ancient Egyptians represented the goddess Buto as a cobra. In fact, this is her hieroglyph. Buto protected ISIS and her son Horus, the sun god. Likewise, each individual in Egypt was preserved by an individual serpent spirit that symbolized his or her life and survival in the afterlife.
In its form as a pharaoh's crown, Buto was called the Uraeus and was the symbol of the pharaoh's power. It was most often represented by the Egyptians as a snake surrounding a sun disk.
- The symbol of eternal life
Buto was also represented with the hieroglyph shen, a circle resting on a line that represents the orbit of the Sun, and thus eternal life. Perhaps the first true Egyptian representation of this symbol comes from the tomb of Seti I. There is a sculpture showing the sun god lying on his back in a house surrounded by an Ouroboros. Such art was intended to ensure the immortality of the deceased.
B. Symbolism in Greece
The oldest Greek creation myth, the Pelasgian, says that Eurynome, the goddess of all things, came out of Chaos. And the north wind created Ophion, the great serpent. Mating with Ophion, Eurynome then took the form of a dove and created the world EGG, which Ophion encircled seven times and which hatched everything in creation.
Also, the Orphics, who believed in reincarnation, had different versions of the myth of the Orphic egg. The Orphic cult, which strove to free the divine aspect of the soul imprisoned in the body, later paved the way for the Western mystery cults.
Similarly, in classical times, the Greeks identified Chronos, or Time, with the river that surrounds the Earth, or Oceanos. This also encircled the universe in the form of a serpent with the zodiac on its back.
C. Meaning in the hermetic sciences
According to the Hermetic philosophy born in Hellenistic Egypt, the Ouroboros became a symbol of the fundamental unity of the spirit. The Gnostics, for whom the world was at the center of the universe, believed that the ouroboros, or world serpent, marked the border with the pleroma of heaven. Some also equated this serpent with the evil demiurge or Satan, who created the world and guards the door to escape.
The demiurge as for him was assimilated to the God of the Old Testament, the Alpha and the Omega. Indeed, the letter omega is similar in shape to the Egyptian hieroglyph shen. For the Gnostic sects Naassenes and Ophites, the Ouroboros was assimilated to the serpent in the Garden of Eden. Heroic and far from being evil, the latter helped Adam and Eve to defy the demiurge Jehovah and to obtain the first gnosis knowledge.
This happened when they were able to eat from the fruit of the tree of knowledge. Later, the serpent came to represent the guardian of the Tree of Life and thus the guardian of immortality.
D. Ouroboros in Rome
In Roman mythology, the ouroboros was associated with Saturn, the god of time. The latter brought together the first and last months of the year like a snake swallowing its tail. Saturn would have swallowed his children and with his scythe, symbolized the devouring of life or mortality.
In Renaissance Europe, Saturn continued to be associated with the ouroboros and his scythe became the symbol of death. This association continued into more modern times where this symbol came to decorate many Art Nouveau calendars.
E. In other cultures
The Ouroboros also appears in many other cultures and contexts. We can cite the example of the serpent Jormungand from the Nordic legend, one of the three children of Loki and Angrboda. The latter became so big that he could encircle the world and grasp its tail between his teeth. He guards the Tree of Life and is often depicted as an Ouroboros.
Then, the Aztec serpent god Queztacoatl was depicted in the same way. Chinese alchemical dragons also have similar shapes and meaning. Finally, among the Hindus, you have the dragon encircling the turtle that supports the four elephants carrying the world.
The Ouroboros, a Fundamental Symbol in Alchemy and Magic
You only have to read the previous lines about the Ouroboros tattoo in the Full Metal Alchemist to understand that this symbol has a special place in alchemy. It is indeed the fundamental message of the change of one thing into another.
1. A symbol found in a very ancient alchemical text
One of the oldest alchemical texts created in Hellenistic Egypt and included in the 11th century Codex Marcianus contains an image of the Ouroboros. This symbolizes the underlying unity of the elusive Prima Materia. Existing in all matter, it is both the beginning and the goal of the Great Work. It is the Philosopher's Stone, the vehicle for obtaining immortality.
It also represents the cyclical nature of the alchemical process: the union of the masculine and feminine principles, their destruction, their resurrection and their reunification. The Codex Marcianus ouroboros is half black and half white, like the symbol of yin and yang in Taoism.
Later alchemical images show the ouroboros as two snakes devouring each other's tails, reinforcing the sexual symbolism. Another representation is that of two dragons fighting at the throat. The male and female principles are then united in their shared blood.
2. The mystery of the Ouroboros revealed
An ancient Greek alchemical text reveals the mystery behind the dragon Ouroboros. It says that this serpent is the composition in which the alchemist's Work is devoured and melted, dissolved and transformed. It becomes dark green, and from there derives the golden color. While its belly and back are saffron colored, its head is dark green.
Similarly, the four legs of the dragon are the four imperfect metals : lead, copper, tin and iron. Its three ears are the three sublimated vapors sulfur, mercury and salt. While one gives its blood to the other, one begets the other. It is nature rejoicing in nature, nature charming, triumphing and mastering nature. Also, it is far from being one nature opposed to another, but it is one and only. Everything must be done through the alchemical process which requires great care and effort.
At a higher level of the Great Work, the Ouroboros represents the indistinguishable and eternal flow of sulfur and mercury into each other. And from the permanent fusion of the two is born the Philosopher's Stone.
3. The experience of the chemist August Kekule
One of the most fascinating myths surrounding the Ouroboros is the experiment of the chemist August Kekule. He was trying to discover the structure of benzene. He says that during his Eureka moment, he sits writing in his notebook. Except that the work is not progressing, because his thoughts are elsewhere. He then turns to the fire and begins to doze. Here again, atoms gambol before his eyes, but small groups remain modestly in the background.
It is then that his mental eye, which has developed good skills over time, is able to distinguish larger structures. Long rows twist in a snake-like movement. And one of the reptiles after, grabbing its own tail like an Ouroboros turns mockingly before his eyes. And when the chemist suddenly wakes up, he spends the rest of the night working on the consequences of his hypothesis.
4. The dead Ouroboros of Dalí
Dalí's Ouroboros is more naturalistic than his other engravings in Alchimie des Philosophes. Also, its characteristics are similar to those of an eel or a sea serpent. The snake here is cut into several pieces, although the head biting the tail remains a single piece. It retains its circular shape, but the oozing pieces interrupt its sense of eternity.
The decaying pieces also represent the alchemical stage of putrefaction, when alchemical matter decays. These are arranged around a large circular jewel. Each facet of the set contains a different symbol, including keys and ants. Dalí frequently used ants as symbols of decomposition and temporality.
In this sense, the ants fit into their places around the dead Ouroboros, a symbol of an eternity now subject to the effects of time. The center presents an imbricated Yin and Yang. However, the forms look deliberately ambiguous, and resemble slices of meat. Like other works of art by this alchemist, the Ouroboros is adorned with semi-precious jewels.
The Ouroboros, a trend in costume jewelry
Symbols like the Ouroboros allow to identify with a social, cultural or religious group, even if it is not really an obligation in itself. This snake is very common in current fashion or in tattoos. In the world of costume jewelry for men and women, it has a strong meaning.
You can through these items wear on you the very idea of a way of thinking and living. Indeed, the multiple forms of the Ouroboros can be found today on bracelets, necklaces, rings and fancy earrings. Here are some of them that are blooming everywhere in your favorite jewelry stores or online stores.
1. The sign of the infinite
Impossible to miss this mythical and clearly legendary sign in the world of fashion and especially costume jewelry ! The sign of infinity is now part of the strongest symbols, worn and displayed on jewelry. In terms of meanings, it has several, some of which are similar to the Ouroboros, which often has this shape.
- Love without borders
In Latin, the figure of infinity literally means "without borders" and can therefore be taken up in many ways. It represents eternal affection and the power of reunion, which makes it clearly the symbol of "all love" in spirituality. You will therefore find this version of the Ouroboros on tattoos, clothes, but especially costume jewelry. It is part of a timeless fashion.
It is the sign of a community of fans attached to the concept of "fashion by aesthetic tastes", to that of world peace and eternal love.
- Personal expression
Often customizable, jewelry with the sign of infinity can express your own feelings about the situations in which you wear them or offer them. Thus, a ring with the Ouroboros in the shape of an 8 could very well be offered at the time of a reunion or an engagement. Do not hesitate to make it a gift on the occasion of a wedding anniversary for example.
Necklaces and/or bracelets with this snake can be worn in an even more personal way. Indeed, on some websites or in specialized stores, the Ouroboros can be engraved with the first name of your children or your spouse. This sign is ideal if you are looking for a unique and trendy piece of jewelry with a strong and generous symbolism.
2. Ouroboros surrounding the tree of life
Less famous by its name than by its image, the tree of life is a multi-faceted symbol. Sometimes religious, we find it in sacred texts dedicated to the Garden of Eden. It is then described as an emblem of immortality and eternal life. This is probably the reason why it is associated quite well with the Ouroboros on some costume jewelry.
Often represented within an Ouroboros circle, the tree of life is usually found linked to earrings. But you can also wear both shapes around your neck as a single pendant or as charms on your wrists. The ornament can have a thin metal chain as well as a colored fabric.
It is loved for its spiritual aspect, as it evokes happiness and renewal. A jewel with the snake insignia encircled with the tree of life gives your style a very trendy bohemian chic side and is as discreet as effective !
The Ouroboros, a form of choice in snake jewelry
Snakes are among the oldest and most widespread mythological symbols. That's why they are so often depicted in jewelry. In the form of a fascinating thin rope, the body of an Ouroboros fits perfectly into a spiral necklace, an elegant bracelet or a distinguished ring.
You should know that there is a global meaning of snake-shaped jewelry. Nevertheless, it is possible to attach a particular symbolism to the three main types of Ouroboros jewelry: ring, bracelet and necklace or pendant.
1. Meaning of the Ouroboros ring
Putting on a simple ring is often already symbolic depending on the finger where you wear it. Throughout the ages and civilizations, all people who were skilled in forging have made snake-shaped rings. For a long time, these ornaments were made from precious materials such as gold and silver. They were therefore reserved for the richest and most powerful individuals.
A snake ring means eternal love. Queen Victoria, for example, gave one to her partner as a symbol of her affection for him. In the particular case of the Ouroboros, this jewel symbolizes the inner peace of the wearer: the unity of Body and Spirit. In Eastern and Egyptian Pharaoh cultures, these rings were usually made of solid gold, symbolizing the fearsome and dangerous aspect of their wearer.
2. Snake bracelets
Bracelets are timeless jewelry in human civilizations: there is not a single people who have never adorned them. Very early on, snake designs began to appear in history, inspired by the particular shape of this animal. The oldest traces of this style of adornment go back to ancient Egypt and even to the Mesopotamian civilization.
Unlike the ring and necklace, a snake bracelet with Ouroboros has much more physical than spiritual significance. It is a symbol of resistance and strength. It seems that people who had come close to death, illness, battle or snakebite, wore one symbolically. If you have experienced serious things in your life and have emerged transformed, you can also wear an Ouroboros bracelet. For the snake signifies transformation through the regular renewal of its skin.
Other meanings given to the Ouroboros bracelet are wisdom and strength. Since this ornament is worn around the wrist and therefore connected to the arm, it is the universal symbol of raw strength used in a fine and wise way. Finally, the hand is the reflection of the dexterity and the skill of a person. It was therefore not uncommon for Muslim archers to wear bracelets in the shape of a snake because of their skill with the bow.
3. The Ouroboros on a necklace or pendant
All peoples have made necklaces and pendants, but the snake motifs are less common on these jewels unlike rings and bracelets. Nevertheless, they retain a strong symbolism, especially in the Nordic countries.
- The snake necklace renewal
You will find for example the famous necklace inspired by the mythological creature Ouroboros. This esoteric jewel features the legendary snake that bites its own tail. Delicately forged in the manner of ancient ornaments, it is passed on only to the most valiant.
Its golden color ferociously accompanies your every move once you put it on. It is designed to evoke thousands of years of mystery and battles between legendary creatures.
- Protection, cunning and spiritual elevation
Snake necklaces were and still are worn as amulets to protect against bad omens. They also work well to attract the favors of a deity. Indeed, wearing a necklace with a snake biting its tail means that you have the ability to defend yourself and protect your loved ones. As you know, this animal is dangerous, so people think many times before provoking it.
Also, in the human imagination, the snake has always been the representation of cunning and deceit. Wearing an Ouroboros pendant symbolizes the cunning you can use to get your way. Finally, from a spiritual point of view, this creature is the universal symbol of the connection and balance between two opposites. Wearing this style of necklace means that you have found your balance in the Cosmos, and that your quest has been successful.
The Ouroboros, like a Poem to Life
"My beginning is my end." So begins "East Coker," one of the great TS Eliot's most memorable poems. Time makes its progress, the cycle of life and death occurs, you see the landscape change and generations come and go. Then one day, probably on the verge of your last breath, you realize that it was all there from the beginning. And that your life has been nothing more than a continuous circle.
It seems that everything returns irretrievably, so man has quickly found an image to convey this essential concern. It is the Ouroboros, a snake-like animal that twists in a circle, devours its own tail. This creature has been present for thousands of years in many cultures. In Egypt, for example, it appears in the Pyramid of Unas, which dates back to 2300 BC.
However, this symbol is mostly used in the art of alchemy, where it represents the cyclical birth and destruction of all things. And because it is so meaningful, the Ouroboros has not failed to stand out in the world of fashion and trends. So, you can choose from a range of costume jewelry to complement your look, while conveying a spiritual message in the most perfect aestheticism !