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Ouroboros

ouroboros

The Ouroboros, also spelled Ourorboros, Oroborus, Uroboros or Uroborus (pronounced /?j??ro??b?r?s/ or /??r?b?r?s/), is an ancient symbol depicting a serpent or dragon swallowing its own tail and forming a circle.

 It has been used to represent many things over the ages, but it most generally symbolizes ideas of cyclicality, unity, or infinity. The ouroboros has been important in religious and mythological symbolism, but has also been frequently used in alchemical illustrations. More recently, it has been interpreted by psychologists, such as Carl Jung, as having an archetypical significance to the human psyche.

The name ouroboros (or, in Latinized form, uroborus) is Greek ?????????, "tail-devourer". The depiction of the serpent is believed to have been inspired by the Milky Way, as some ancient texts refer to a serpent of light residing in the heavens.

 

Overview

Engraving by Lucas Jennis, in alchemical tract titled De Lapide Philisophico.Plato described a self-eating, circular being as the first living thing in the universe — an immortal, perfectly constructed animal.

"The living being had no need of eyes when there was nothing remaining outside him to be seen; nor of ears when there was nothing to be heard; and there was no surrounding atmosphere to be breathed; nor would there have been any use of organs by the help of which he might receive his food or get rid of what he had already digested, since there was nothing which went from him or came into him: for there was nothing beside him. Of design he was created thus, his own waste providing his own food, and all that he did or suffered taking place in and by himself. For the Creator conceived that a being which was self-sufficient would be far more excellent than one which lacked anything; and, as he had no need to take anything or defend himself against any one, the Creator did not think it necessary to bestow upon him hands: nor had he any need of feet, nor of the whole apparatus of walking; but the movement suited to his spherical form was assigned to him, being of all the seven that which is most appropriate to mind and intelligence; and he was made to move in the same manner and on the same spot, within his own limits revolving in a circle. All the other six motions were taken away from him, and he was made not to partake of their deviations. And as this circular movement required no feet, the universe was created without legs and without feet."

This, however, probably refers to the outermost planetary sphere rather than to any form of serpent.

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. In alchemy, the ouroboros symbolises the circular nature of the alchemist's opus, which unites the opposites: the conscious and unconscious mind. It is also often associated with Gnosticism, and Hermeticism.

The Ouroboros often represents self-reflexivity or cyclicality, especially in the sense of something constantly re-creating itself, the eternal return, and other things perceived as cycles that begin anew as soon as they end (See Phoenix (mythology)). It can also represent the idea of primordial unity. The Jungian psychologist Erich Neumann writes of it as a representation of the pre-ego "dawn state", depicting the undifferentiated infancy experience of both mankind and the individual child.

The ouroboros has several meanings interwoven into it. Foremost is the symbolism of the serpent biting, devouring, eating its own tail. This symbolises 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.

The Ouroboros could very well be used to symbolize the closed-system model of the universe of some physicists. The organic chemist August Kekulé claimed that a ring in the shape of Ouroboros that he saw in a dream inspired him in his discovery of the structure of benzene. As noted by Carl Jung, this might be an instance of cryptomnesia.

ouroboros

Historical representations

The Ouroboros is one of the oldest mystical symbols in the world. The serpent or dragon appears in Aztec, Middle East, and Native American mythologies, among others.

 

Antiquity

"Coiled dragon" forms have been attributed to the Hongshan culture (4700 BC to 2900 BC). One in particular, in the shape of a complete circle, was found on the chest of the deceased.

The notion of a serpent or dragon eating its own tail can be traced back to Ancient Egypt, circa 1600 BC. From ancient Egypt it passed to Phoenicia and then to the Greek philosophers, who gave it the name Ouroboros ("tail-devourer").

 

Norse mythology

In Norse mythology, it appears as the serpent J?rmungandr, one of the three children of Loki and Angrboda, who grew so large that it could encircle the world and grasp its tail in its teeth. In the legends of Ragnar Lodbrok, such as Ragnarssona ??ttr, the Geatish king Herraud gives a small lindorm as a gift to his daughter ??ra Town-Hart after which it grows into a large serpent which encircles the girl's bower and bites itself in the tail. The serpent is slain by Ragnar Lodbrok who marries ??ra. Ragnar later has a son with another woman named Kr?ka and this son is born with the image of a white snake in one eye. This snake encircled the iris and bit itself in the tail, and the son was named Sigurd Snake-in-the-Eye.

 

Gnosticism

In Gnosticism, this serpent symbolized eternity and the soul of the world.

 

Christianity

Christianity adopted the ouroboros as a symbol of the limited confines of the material world (that there is an "outside" being implied by the demarcation of an inside), and the self-consuming transitory nature of a mere "worldly existence" of this world, following in the footsteps of the preacher in Ecclesiastes 3:9-14. G. K. Chesterton, in The Everlasting Man, uses it as a symbol of the circular and self-defeating nature of pantheistic mysticism and of most modern philosophy.

Additionally, the ouroboros has been incorporated into the crests of the Hungarian and Romanian Unitarian churches.

 

Hinduism

It is also present in some Hindu folk-myths, as the snake (Adisesha) circling the tortoise Maha kurma that supports the eight elephants which support the world on their backs.

 

African regions

Snakes are sacred animals in many West African religions. The demi-god Aidophedo uses the image of a serpent biting its own tail. The ouroboros is also seen in fon or dahomean iconography as well as in yoruba imagery as Oshunmare.

 

Aztec religion

The god Quetzalcoatl is sometimes portrayed as an ouroboros on Aztec and Toltec ruins.

 

National flags

The flag of the short-lived Italian Regency of Carnaro featured the Ouroboros on it.

AlchemyIn alchemy, the ouroboros is a purifying sigil. Swiss psychologist Carl Jung saw the ouroboros as an archetype and the basic mandala of alchemy. Jung also defined the relationship of the ouroboros to alchemy:[4]

Source: encyclopedia.thefreedictionary.com


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