Ouroboros Symbol Meaning and History of the Snake Eating Its Tail featured image

Ouroboros Symbol Meaning and History of the Snake Eating Its Tail

The ouroboros symbol, the image of the snake eating its own tail, is probably one of the most ancient symbols we have in human history. Here, I will discuss the Ouroboros Symbol Meaning and History.  

The exact origins of this symbol aren’t well known, but we do know that it was used throughout Egypt and Greece, likely as far back as 2,000 BC or earlier. Later on it became heavily associated with alchemy as well as other forms of mysticism and religion like Gnosticism, Hermeticism and others. But where did this symbol originate? What does it represent? Where did the name ouroboros even come from?

Historical Origins of the Name Ouroboros

The word ouroboros originates in ancient Greece and means “tail-devourer.”  It is a two-part word from ourá, meaning “tail”, and bóros, “devouring”.  Bóros, in fact, comes from another word bibrṓskō, which means “to eat up.” Yum!

Origins in Ancient Egypt

The earliest known depiction of an ouroboros was found in the Ancient Egyptian tomb of Tutankhamun from around the 14th Century BCE.  Within the gilded shrine called “Enigmatic Book of the Netherworld” (which would make a great album title), the image of the pharaoh has the head and feet both encircled by ouroboroses.  

The Ouroboros in Alchemy

The ouroboros in alchemy depicts the process of distillation which is sort of the engine for alchemy.  By vaporizing a substance and then condensing it again, the cycle is self-contained.  It becomes purified with each cycle until it forms the elixir.

 “In the age-old image of the Ouroboros lies the thought of devouring one’s self and turning oneself into a circulatory process, for it was clear to the more astute alchemists that the prima materia of the art was man himself.”
– Carl Jung

The Ouroboros in Western Esoteric Traditions

In Western Esoteric Traditions, the ouroboros is a snake or dragon that eats its own tail. It can be seen as a symbol of eternity and life-death-life cycles.   it symbolized introspection and renewal and is often depicted with its body coiled into a circle.  

The symbol takes on meaning in the concept of spiritual alchemy in which the prima materia is the spirit or consciousness.  The practitioner undergoes a process of destruction and rebirth to purify the consciousness.  

The Modern Use of the Ouroboros

Today, the ouroboros is probably a more widespread symbol than ever.  It appears over and over throughout pop culture. 

In the Never Ending Story, the AURYN is a double, knotted ouroboros medallion. It is an amulet of protection worn around the neck of Atreyu.  

Ouroboroses appear in Pathfinder Adventure Card Game as immortal entities. They behave just like you would expect, with a couple of exceptions.  The body of the snake is made of many smaller snakes, and they are hostile.  

The 2017 film “Ouroboros” applies the concept of constant cycles to one man’s life.  It’s about a journey through pain and rebirth while paying homage to the Gaza Strip.

My Ouroboros Drawing and Shirt Design

One of the more popular designs in my shop is my hand-drawn ouroboros.  Watch while I draw it!

If you like my shirt design, I screen print each one by hand, to order.  I would love to print you one!

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