Those looking into the mystery of the Ouroboros symbol meaning and history will certainly find themselves delving into the ancient past and secret knowledge.  Humans have been using the symbol of a snake biting its own tail for more than 3000 years.  Here, I will exploring some of the history of the symbol, what it means, and take you into my studio during the creation of my own ouroboros design.

Designing my own Ouroboros

As part of an ongoing series paying homage to old alchemical and gnostic illustrations, I did my own ouroboros symbol.  I decided to base the design on the knotted patter from the very first memory I have of the symbol.  It was the Auryn from the “Never Ending Story” where I first saw the ouroboros.  It was one of those symbols I just understood by looking at it even as a child.  In the following video, you can watch the inking process in awesome time lapse video with some questionable commentary.

History and use of the Ouroboros

The use of the Ouroboros symbol spans many cultures throughout history.  Although the first image of a snake biting its tail comes from Egypt, we can find the symbol being used by a number of cultures all over the world.  I have complied several historical cultural examples of the use of the symbol.

Ouroboros in Egypt

The Ouroboros symbol’s oldest appearance was found in Egypt in the tomb of King Tutankhamun from 1323 BCE.  Within the bounty that was plundered from the tomb of King Tut was a gilded shrine.  Upon the shrine is a unique type of book called an “Amduat” which means it deals with the Netherworld.  This book is written mostly in code and is yet to be cracked so we can only know a small amount of what the text is all about.

ouroboros symbol from king tut's tomb
Detail of Ouroboros from Enigmatic Book of the Netherworld discovered in the tomb of King Tut.

Scholars have dubbed the book “The Enigmatic Book of the Netherworld” as it speaks of the journey of the sun through the underworld and the creation of a sun disc.  The section including the ouroboros symbol involves a pair of them.  In the center of a panel is a large figure (some say Osiris, some say Tutankhamun) with a snake biting its tail around his head and another around his feet.  It is theorized that this was a way to depict Mehen, the serpent protector deity of the sun god Re.

The Papyrus of Dama Heroub from the 11th-10th centuries BCE has an illustration in which Horus the child god rides the sun disc surrounded by the ouroboros and riding on the backs of lions.  Not only is he the crowned and conquering child, but Horus knows how to ride in style.  Most likely, the ouroboros symbol used here is also meant to represent Mehen.

Ouroboros symbol surrounding Horus
The Papyrus of Dama Heroub Ouroboros

Next, we find the symbol used in a work coming from a 3rd century alchemical text known as the Crysopoea of Cleopatra.  The ouroboros symbol is found surrounding the greek word “ἕν τὸ πᾶν”, (hen to pān) which means “one is the all”.  The other illustrations from Cleopatra’s Crysopoea (which means “lead into gold,” by the way) are a set of cryptographs which appear to be about distillation and astrological dating, in my opinion.  It is said that Cleopatra the Alchemist actually knew how to create the legendary Philosopher’s Stone.

Ouroboros symbol from Chrysopoea of Cleopatra
Chrysopoea of Cleopatra Egyptian alchemy text containing Ouroboros symbol.

The use of the serpent biting its tail as a symbolic image must have been in somewhat common use during the times before and after King Tut.  If the first use was sealed into King Tut’s tomb, it would not have been seen by humans again until 1928 and therefore could not be copied from that source.

Ancient Greece and the Ouroboros

In the land in which we get the word “ouroboros” meaning “tail-devouring”, we find more of an allegorical ouroboros within the writings of none other than Plato.  In his Timaeus, 33, Plato describes a universal animal that encompasses the concept of the ouroboros.  He writes:

“Now of the four elements the construction of the Cosmos had taken up the whole of every one. For its Constructor had constructed it of all the fire and water and air and earth that existed, leaving over, outside it, no single particle or potency of any one of these elements.

And these were his intentions: [32d] first, that it might be, so far as possible, a Living Creature, perfect and whole, with all its parts perfect; and next, that it might be One, inasmuch as there was nothing left over out of which another like Creature might come into existence; and further, that it might be secure from age and ailment, since He perceived that when heat and cold, and all things which have violent potencies, surround a composite body from without and collide with it they dissolve it unduly and make it to waste away by bringing upon it ailments and age. Wherefore, because of this reasoning, He fashioned it to be One single Whole, compounded of all wholes, perfect and ageless and unailing. [33b] And he bestowed on it the shape which was befitting and akin.

Now for that Living Creature which is designed to embrace within itself all living creatures the fitting shape will be that which comprises within itself all the shapes there are; wherefore He wrought it into a round, in the shape of a sphere, equidistant in all directions from the center to the extremities, which of all shapes is the most perfect and the most self-similar, since He deemed that the similar is infinitely fairer than the dissimilar. And on the outside round about, it was all made smooth with great exactness, and that for many reasons. [33c] For of eyes it had no need, since outside of it there was nothing visible left over; nor yet of hearing, since neither was there anything audible; nor was there any air surrounding it which called for respiration; nor, again, did it need any organ whereby it might receive the food that entered and evacuate what remained undigested. For nothing went out from it or came into it from any side, since nothing existed; for it was so designed as to supply its own wastage as food for itself, [33d] and to experience by its own agency and within itself all actions and passions, since He that had constructed it deemed that it would be better if it were self-sufficing rather than in need of other things. Hands, too, He thought He ought not to attach unto it uselessly, seeing they were not required either for grasping or for repelling anyone; nor yet feet, nor any instruments of locomotion whatsoever.  For movement He assigned unto it that which is proper to its body, namely, that one of the seven motions1 which specially belongs to reason and intelligence; wherefore He spun it round uniformly in the same spot and within itself and made it move revolving in a circle; and all the other six motions He took away and fashioned it free from their aberrations. And seeing that for this revolving motion it had no need of feet, He begat it legless and footless.”

Despite the greek origins of the etymology of the word ouroboros, I was unable to find any further example from ancient Greece.  It seems that the concept survived through Greek culture to some extent to carry on to other cultures.

The Jörmungandr, a Norse ouroboros

In Norse mythology, the Ouroboros appears as the serpent Jörmungandr.  The mighty beast was so large that it wrapped around the entire sphere of the Earth and bite its own tail.  It seems that the tail biting serpent of the Norse ends it similarities to the other cultural uses of the ouroboros in form alone.  The great and terrible beast was attributed with all sorts of maleficent deeds and was enemy to Thor.  According to the Norse, when the Jörmungandr releases its tail, the Ragnarök will begin. The Ragnarök is a time in which the current world is submerged and a new one arises from the waters.

Jörmungandr Norse ouroboros symbol etched in rune stone
Many Rune Stones found around Europe depict Jörmungandr, the Norse ouroboros.

Ouroboros Symbol use by European Alchemists

Around the 8th Century AD, the arrival of Islam into Spain brought with it the ancient secret knowledge of alchemy and hermeticism.  The knowledge of alchemy had been carried through all of the major ancient cultures since Egypt (and maybe before?).  It was in Medieval Europe that the use of the ouroboros symbol really blew up.  I would be hard pressed to even begin to scratch the surface of the numerous uses since its arrival into the West.   Alchemy brought the rise in western secret societies who continue to use the ouroboros symbol to this day.

Ouroboros symbol

Ouroboros symbol Sacra exequialia in funere Jacobi II (1702)
Sacra exequialia in funere Jacobi II (1702)

 

Ouroboros Symbol. Devises royales di Adrian d’Amboise (1621)
Devises royales di Adrian d’Amboise (1621)

What does the Ouroboros symbol mean?

Double ouroboros symbol

Lastly, I will discuss the mystery of the ouroboros symbol meaning.  The fact that the symbol is sometimes called the infinity snake reveals part of the meaning to us.  In short, we can say that the symbol means endless return or rejuvenation.  There is more to it than just that.

In order to better understand the ouroboros, it is helpful to consider the hermetic principle of correspondence.  The phrase “As above, so below” is most commonly associated with this idea.  If we look at Plato’s description of the universe as a living animal that sustains itself, it provides an illustration of the concept very nicely.  The same idea can then be applied to other studies.

In alchemy, the ouroboros is a symbol of the relationship between the science and the scientist.  The purpose in creating the philosopher’s stone, other than to turn base metals into gold, is to make the elixir of life.  The elixir is a distilled substance in which the alchemist extracts pure life energy.  This elixir of life can supposedly be consumed to regenerate the body of the alchemist.  The base material to create the elixir is made from the alchemist’s own body fluids.  The ouroboros symbol is used to indicate the self generation and purification of alchemy.

The process of distillation itself used by alchemists also relates to the ouroboros symbol.  For this reason, we see the increase in popularity of the dual snake or dragon ouroboros.  The use of the two serpents better illustrates opposing forces.  In the alchemical process, the elixir is distilled by heating and cooling to various degrees of intensity over a long period of time.  The opposition of the forces of hot and cold drive the cycle central to the distillation process.

In later years, the ouroboros symbol is used by psychologist Carl Jung to illustrate the relationship of a person with their shadow.

“The Ouroboros is a dramatic symbol for the integration and assimilation of the opposite, i.e. of the shadow. This ‘feed-back’ process is at the same time a symbol of immortality, since it is said of the Ouroboros that he slays himself and brings himself to life, fertilizes himself and gives birth to himself.”

– Carl Jung

That’s it yo.

With understanding, we can see how and why the ouroboros symbol has endured the ages.  In many ways, it relates to all of us as modern people using our life energy to sustain ourselves.  Just by living our lives, we emulate the universal model.  On a personal note, I feel life becomes more perfect the closer we each get to true self sufficiency.  The ouroboros is the perfect symbol for how humans should be living in the future.

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Ladies' ouroberos shirt design by Closet of Mysteries Ouroboros original screen print shirt design on Grey by Closet of Mysteries


	
pen and ink drawing artwork in progress

As the new year began, I felt the old pull to embark on some new art projects.  I will post updates as I work on this set more.  Here are my latest artwork in progress.  Keep in mind some are just begun and will change drastically before they are finished.  I thought it would be interesting to post them at this early stage to see how far they change…pen and ink drawing in progress

New artwork in progress New work in progress New work in progress New work in progress New work in progress - esoteric art New work in progress - esoteric art

 

Thank you for stopping by to check out my latest artworks in progress.  I will be posting new pictures as the work develops.  Check back in to watch evolution in progress.

Support an artist, buy my t shirts:

screen print alchemy poster from Closet of Mysteries "Solve et Coagula" design

Today I ran an experiment on a whim.  I am not sure why I had never tried it before.  I was already going to print off a few posters of the Solve et Coagula design.  It popped into my mind while staring at the stack of blank, grey poster paper.  Why not see what happens if I try something different?  Today I also made a screen print poster of my Hand of Mysteries Design with discharge.

First, I printed my Solve et Coagula design.  The test was short and I only made 3 of these posters.  I think I will end up offering them as a limited edition shirt combo…

screen print poster alchemical diagram from Closet of Mysteries "Solve et Coagula" design
Solve et Coagula printed on 13 x 19 French paper Test run 3 prints

It seemed an obvious enough idea since paper is made from natural fiber which is dyed.  As long as the dye in the paper is reactive type which makes up most all of them, it should (and did) discharge.  Neat!

I only printed one of these posters since I was really just testing to see if it worked.  There may be some other source that already had this information but it seemed more fun to try it out than to Google it.

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Hand of Mysteries screen print poster in discharge on 13 x 19 French Paper.
screen print poster from Closet of Mysteries "Hand of Mysteries" design
The Hand of Mysteries is also known as the Philosopher’s Hand.

Now that I have seen that the process works, it is time to think of designs that integrate the technique in some creative ways.  I will need to make a screen print poster design with some discharge elements.  It shall be an interesting experiment.

Both designs are also available on t Shirts on my Etsy shop:
Closet of Mysteries on Etsy

Alchemical dragon shirt design from Closet of Mysteries

The alchemical dragon has been a symbol used by mystics for ages.  The most iconic of these illustrations from the Theatrum chemicum Britannicum is the two headed dragon facing the sun and moon.  It comes from page 212 at the end of the chapter called Liber Patris Sapientiae.

This Robert Vaughan illustration is one of many that were commissioned for the book.  In it, we have a two headed dragon with its necks entangled but heading out in opposite directions.  One head faces the sun while the other faces the moon.  The dragon represents the process of alchemy.  Symbolically, the dragon is action – making “it” happen.  His drawing is masterfully executed earning it a place amongst the greatest alchemical illustrations.

alcheical dragon by Robert Vaughan

This alchemical process is an action that is influenced by the opposing forces in nature.  The Sun and the moon represent the opposing forces of heating and cooling.  During the alchemical process, a substance is heated and cooled many times producing evaporation and condensation.

The sphere at the bottom is the elixir it stirs.  It represents the cycle of transmutation in progress.  The dragon sits atop it like a mother hen on an egg.  This can also be seen as the world and the alchemical process transpiring within it.

I like to ponder the idea that the universe is an alchemical experiment.  The intended outcome is pretty reliable.  As parts of the experiment, we have a tendency to buy into the idea that the time we live in currently is the only one that matters and that we must be the culmination of the intentions of history.  This could not be so based on the evidence of the culture around us.  I find it helpful to think of the world as an alchemical process that is ever changing toward a positive outcome.  The alchemical dragon serves as a reminder to me.

By the way, it also makes for a good t shirt:

Dragon of the Stone - Alchemical Dragon shirt from Closet of Mysteries
Ladies’ Dragon of the Stone T Shirt from Closet of Mysteries
dragon of the stone - alchemical dragon t shirt from Closet of Mysteries
Men’s Dragon of the Stone T Shirt from Closet of Mysteries

 

looking beyond - A Magical Grackle ink drawing by Scott Myst

I thought I would share the stages of progress of my most recently completed original magical grackle ink drawing.  I called this piece “Looking Beyond”.  Grackles are abundant in my area and I have been fascinated with these birds for a long time.  The males sport flashy black feathers that shine in iridescent colors of blue and green around their heads.  They have appeared to me in dreams a number of times and I always have seen them as a messenger from beyond and a sort of spirit animal.  Let’s take a look at this magical drawing in progress.

This is a detail of the completed artwork:

Detail of magical grackle drawing by Scott Myst

The process

I began with a pencil drawing which is my typical approach.

Work in Progress magical grackle drawing by Scott Myst

I recently purchased a new calligraphy pen for drawing.  It will never look this clean again…

Calligraphy pen

I commence the work by following along the original drawing for the most part but add a lot of detail as I see fit.  I like the way the trees are coming a long at this stage.  This new pen pleases me.

Work in Progress magical grackle drawing by Scott Myst

Once the pen work is done, I add in the tones with a watercolor brush.

Work in Progress magical grackle drawing by Scott Myst Completed magical grackle drawing by Scott Myst

Here is a detail of the eye at the bottom.

Detail of magical grackle drawing by Scott Myst

Final artwork

Here is the final magical grackle ink drawing scanned and made pretty:

looking beyond - A Magical Grackle ink drawing by Scott Myst

Two random side notes about my experiences with grackles:

I once observed a small group of these clever guys ripping into packets of sweetener and gobbling up the powdery content at an outdoor coffee shop.  The method was quite clever; nap packet from table and take it to the grass, stab beak into paper packet then open beak to make a nice sized hole, then feast on contents.  On a side note, these were the worst looking grackles I had ever seen.  Their shabby appliance reminded me of Gollum (artificial sweeteners turned them in to the bird equivalent of tweekers).

When I worked at ASU, I used to walk from a neighborhood across the street to avoid paying for parking on campus.  The road I walked down on campus had some very large trees along the sidewalk in which grackles would nest.  As I walked along that sidewalk during the spring when there were hatchlings in the nests, the males would dive bomb my head making a strange clicking sound.  The first time scared the hell out of me as I did not see them coming.  After a couple of times, I learned it was a better idea to walk on the opposite side of the street 🙂

Thank you for viewing!  I hope you enjoyed it.  Feel free to leave comments.  Sign up for updates with the form below to be notified when I post new content.

I recently completed my hand drawn “World Tree” t shirt design.  Here is the behind the scenes look at the design from beginning to end.

world tree muscle tank top from closet of mysteries
While reading Shamanism: Archaic Techniques of Ecstasy by Mircea Eliade, I was inspired to make a shirt design around the concept of the World Tree.  The tree is an archaic concept of a life force that penetrates all levels of existence; the underworld, our mundane or physical world, and above into the heavens.  This concept is present in most cultures from Siberia to the Norse traditions and are even the original basis for modern christmas trees.

The Drawing 

To begin my work, I pulled out my antique compass which was originally my father’s.  He bought the set brand new in the 1930’s.  It is a work of art in its own right.

Vintage compass set

I laid out a standard five pointed pentagram as the background and added the tree in the center.  Next, I added the alchemical elements around the outside.  Once the pencil work was complete, I began inking with illustration pens.

World Tree Original Drawing by Scott Myst World Tree Original Drawing by Scott Myst

World Tree Original Drawing by Scott Myst
World Tree Original Drawing by Scott Myst

World Tree Original Drawing by Scott Myst

The Screen print

Once the drawing was complete, it was scanned and prepared in for output onto shirts.  I removed any remaining pencil marks and made the artwork a solid color for the best screen print.  World Tree original art screen print from Closet of MysteriesThe image is printed large on the front of the t-shirt in a single color for a bold and unique shirt you can’t find anywhere else!
World Tree original art screen print from Closet of MysteriesWorld Tree black t shirt from Closet of Mysteriesworld tree tank w
I love creating unique graphics by hand since it always results in something that is a truly unique expression.  My two passions come together when I create artwork based on ideas I contemplate while studying the mysteries that intrigue me the most.  I hope you enjoyed this look into my process of creating this hand drawn “World Tree” t shirt design.  Feel free to leave comments and suggestions for future projects.

I also welcome discussion about the mystery schools, shamanism, magick, and spirituality 🙂

Sketchbook magick drawing eye of providence in pentagram drawing by Scott Myst of Closet of Mysteries

I have a pretty nifty sketchbook that I purchased while a student in Florence, Italy in 2003.  I could not bring myself to draw in it for the longest time.  I broke out of that a couple of years ago and now it is my go-to sketchbook where I hash out most of my ideas and studies.  Here are some of the magick drawings I have been working on lately….
Scott Mytst's sketchbook for magickal drawings

Pentagram Drawing

This is a basic experiment with in sacred geometry originally drawn with a compass and pencil.  Other elements from hermetic and alchemical illustrations are added with my own personal twist of course.IMG_2245

eye in pentagram magical alchemy  IMG_2246

Ouroboros

I have long admired the ouroboros symbol for its deep meaning and overall aesthetic appeal.  Do not be surprised to see a new design featuring the twin snakes consuming themselves in my shop in the near future.

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Hand of Mysteries

This magick drawing a sort of self portrait with the hand of mysteries or philosopher’s hand but I think I lost my likeness when I inked the drawing.  I expect a larger version would be more successful in capturing facial features…

IMG_2249

IMG_2248

Thank you for checking out my sketchbook and magick drawings!  If you enjoy this sort of content, leave a comment and share this on your social media.