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The Ourobos, an enigmatic symbol

- Categories : All about symbols

The circle and the serpent are both powerful symbols with mystical meaning, and they come together in the ouroboros. They are found in many human cultures around the world.

The constantly spinning snake, swallowing the tip of its own tail, most often forms the circular or oval shape of the ouroboros. Sometimes, however, the symbol consists of a dragon (e.g. the dragons of Chinese culture) rather than a snake, or a pair of snakes swallowing each other's tails. Dragons and snakes are closely related.

The ouroboros is a primordial symbol of great antiquity. Although it first appeared in ancient Egypt around 1600 B.C. J.-C., it is likely to be even older than that. The ouroboros was named by the Greeks and means "self-devourer".

Ouroboros speaks of movement, continuity and self-fertilization.

Although the name is Greek, ouroboros as a concept appears elsewhere; for example, in Norse myth, the great serpent Jormungandr is so large that he can embrace the planet and still be able to grasp the tip of his tail between his teeth. He also appears in Hindu myth as the serpent goddess, Nahusha, who creates the world. It also alludes to the image of the cosmic egg, which is encircled by the spiral snake.

The most obvious explanation for the ouroboros is that it symbolizes not only the cyclical nature of time and the seasons, but also the eternal cycle of rebirth. This idea seems logical, as the snake's habit of shedding its old skin makes it an ideal symbol of rebirth and renewal.

For the Gnostics, the ouroboros is linked to the cycle of evolution and the concept of eternity. At the same time, it serves as a reminder of the limits of the material world, and yet aspires to a higher state of being.

The serpent is a creature of the Earth, close to the ground. The circle is a symbol of completion and spiritual perfection, and in this sense, the ouroboros demonstrates a union of opposites, Heaven and Earth working in harmony.

There is also a double ouroboros, where the serpent twists in the symbol of infinity.

In alchemy, the symbol speaks of purity, plenitude and infinity.

It is sometimes considered a divinity: King Ouroboros founds the universe. Through his open mouth, he creates himself and unfolds all things.

But should we stop there?

In reality, the ouroboros refers us to an initiatory science that is seldom spoken of.

The ouroboros is a circle

In the past, the universe was represented by a circle. The circle begins with a point that spreads, bursts and extends in all directions. All the points originating from the point of origin, and located at the same distance from their origin, form the circumference that produces the circle.

The point, the unit, contains within itself all the potentialities of the circle, which at once exceeds this point but continues to ensure its coherence.

Ouro is close to another Greek word, "ouros", the guardian of treasures. In many legends, this is the role attributed to the dragon - which is nothing other than a kind of snake. All sorts of things can be placed inside this circle. In Norse mythology, for example, the serpent Jörmungand has grown so large that it encircles the universe. By biting its tail, it holds the oceans in place.

The snake that bites its own tail through tradition

In many civilizations, there are teachings about the snake that lives inside the human spine. In India, they speak of the Kundalini, in South America of the feathered serpent and so on. In the middle of the 20th century, even scientists spoke of this energy snaking through man, through their discovery of the double spiral of DNA.

But before we look at that, let's ask ourselves..

What does the word snake mean?

The word serpent means all living things. Ser comes from the triple root, sar, sor, sir which, in an original language, meant fire. In the sound ser, we can hear sacred fire. It can be a fire of temptation, a devouring fire or a fire of wisdom and love.

We find this idea of fire in the word sorcerer: one who knows fire, who casts spells. Sar referred to a magician in ancient Chaldean. It was the highest dignity a man could attain. The English used Sir to designate a man of honor, and the French called their king Sire, in the sense of Majesty. This term is found in the modern monsieur, whose origin is mon sieur, my sire, i.e. my lord.

The root pen designates the God Pan, the universal. The word serpent, ser-pen, phonetically designates the universal fire that fills everything: living life. We find this idea in the word viper: the life of the Father, who represents this serpent. This life is not known to us. We are in it and through it, but we don't grasp its essence. The serpent is that essence. Understanding this serpent is fundamental, for it is the key to initiation and fulfillment for man.

As we shall see later in this article, this serpent has a double manifestation: that of the tempting serpent, of the outer light, and that of the serpent of wisdom, of the inner light. These two snakes have the same origin and are both magical representations of life.

The serpent in Genesis

Genesis tells us the story of the serpent who, in part, is represented as Eve's tempter. The serpent, whose nature and function is to separate, told Eve that if she ate the fruit of the tree of knowledge, she would be able to discern between good and evil and awaken to conscience.

Eve had this discernment, and it was at that moment that she saw that the serpent was double, like her tongue. On the one hand, there was the serpent of wisdom, which led to love, and on the other, the tempting serpent, which led to suffering.

Eve let the tempting serpent slip into her and look through her eye. In the serpent's gaze was the desire to take in order to live for herself. It was in this choice that Eve allowed herself to be impregnated by the serpent of suffering and lost the path to wisdom.

Thus, the tempting serpent won and, in his victory, he hid the path that awakens interiority in man and in nature.

The serpent in ancient Egypt

The serpent surrounding Pharaoh's head is the secret of the initiates.

Through this serpent, man is a creator who can engender good or evil.

In ancient Egypt, the Ouroboros was often associated with the serpent god Atum, symbolizing continuous creation and the eternal cycle of life and death.

The serpent Atum, also known as the serpent Nehebu-Kau, is a serpent god of Egyptian mythology. He is closely associated with the solar god Atum-Ra and embodies several symbolic meanings in Egyptian cosmogony.

Atum-Ra is a composite deity combining the attributes of Atum, the creator god of the universe, and Ra, the solar god. Atum is often represented as a man wearing a double crown surmounted by a cobra. This cobra is the serpent Atum, a divine form of snake that plays a crucial role in Egyptian mythology.

The Atum serpent is associated with several aspects and interpretations:

- Creation and Renewal: In Egyptian mythology, the serpent Atum is often depicted wrapped around the primordial egg. This image symbolizes Atum's creative role in the formation of the universe from primordial chaos. The serpent surrounding the egg also evokes the concept of renewal, where creation is continually regenerated.

- Eternal Cycle: The Atum serpent can also be interpreted as a symbol of the eternal cycle of life, death and rebirth. His image wrapped around the egg, which represents the cosmos, recalls the cyclical concept of Egyptian nature, where natural phenomena and world events follow an endless cycle.

- Creative power: As a serpent deity, Atum also embodies creative power and regeneration. Snakes, with their ability to shed their old skin and be reborn, were often seen as symbols of transformation and renewal.

- Duality: The double crown worn by Atum in some representations symbolizes the duality and unity of Egypt, linking Upper and Lower Egypt. The serpent wrapped around the crown reinforces this duality, being both distinct from and integrated into the overall image of the god.

The Atum serpent played an important role in Egyptian religious rituals, where it was venerated as a creative and regenerative power. Its iconography has evolved over dynasties and eras, but its symbolic essence of creation and renewal has remained constant.

Overall, the Atum serpent is a fascinating element of Egyptian mythology, bringing layers of profound meaning to the Egyptian understanding of creation, the cycle of life and the cyclical nature of the universe.

In ancient Egypt, there was also another serpent: Apophis (ancient Greek: Apopis or Apofis, Egyptian: Apep or Apepi or Aapep or Aapef) is an Egyptian mythological god of evil forces and night, the personification of chaos, evil and darkness, seeking to destroy divine creation. His name Aapep or Aapef (in ancient Egyptian) meant "giant" or "giant snake".

Apophis is depicted as a great snake, most often with a gigantic, supernatural size. He is the god of night, the adversary of light and the forces of day. He embodies the nocturnal forces of evil.

In most representations, he is subdued, beaten or killed, to represent the triumph of good. One of the most common representations is found in the Book of the Dead. The Cat of Ra (Ra being the sun-god, symbol of life), personification of the goddess Bastet, also known as the Cat of Heliopolis, kills and mutilates the serpent with a knife. In some temple scenes, the king or pharaoh in battle is depicted with a round object symbolizing the eye of Apophis.

Every day, he attacks the boat of Ra sailing on the River Noun, in order to put an end to the process of creation, but is defeated each time. Each sunrise thus marked Ra's victory over Apophis.

Ra was helped to repel Apophis by other deities: Set was appointed by Ra to defend the divine bark with a harpoon, Isis, at the bow of the solar bark, used her powers to deprive Apophis of his senses in order to disorient him, allowing Ra's cat, personification of the goddess Bastet, to decapitate the serpent. In rites designed to repel Apophis and other harmful powers, small figurines engraved with the name of Apophis were thrown into the fire. Images of Apophis bound and pierced with arrows are commonplace.

Apophis attacking Ra's bark
Apophis killed by Ra's cat

This symbol is also found in Tutankhamun's tomb.

The Viking ouroboros

Jörmungand, sometimes written Jörmungandr or Iormungandr, is a gigantic sea serpent in Norse mythology, attested to in scaldic poems and the Eddas written between the 9th and 13th centuries.

Jörmungandr is composed of the Old Icelandic jörmun-, "immense", and gandr, meaning "monster", so the name means "immense monster".

Only in Snorri's Edda is it named Miðgarðsormr, which in Old Icelandic means "serpent-world", or "Midgard serpent", with ormr meaning "serpent". He is sometimes only called Ormr, or Naðr, "serpent, dragon".

According to Snorri's Edda, he is the son of the evil god Loki and the giantess Angrboda, and the brother of the wolf Fenrir and the goddess of the underworld Hel. Shortly after his birth, the god Odin throws Jörmungand into the sea that encircles Midgard, since prophecies foretell that he will cause great damage to the gods during Ragnarök. But he grows so big that he ends up surrounding the world and biting his own tail, hence his other name, Midgardsorm (Miðgarðsormr), " snake of Midgard ".

In several myths, Jörmungand appears as the rival of the god Thor, whom he meets during a famous fishing party, described in six texts and pictorially reproduced on four known runic stones. At the end of the prophetic world, the Ragnarök, Jörmungand provokes tidal waves by rising from the seas to fight the gods alongside the giants. He was eventually killed by Thor, but the god in turn succumbed after nine steps, poisoned by the snake's venom.

The Vikings saw Jörmungand as the link between the world of the living and the invisible worlds, notably the world of the gods and the world of the dead. For the Norse, Ouroboros represented the balance between the nine realms. It ensured the harmony of this universe. Hence their belief that the world will come to an end when this serpent drops its tail.

Usually found on tombs, particularly during the Viking Age, rune stones are stones engraved with inscriptions composed of runic letters, the oldest alphabet known in Scandinavia. You can admire the snake biting its own tail.

The ouroboros in alchemy

In alchemy, the ouroboros is a purifying seal. It symbolizes the eternal unity of all things, embodying the cycle of life (birth) and death.

The ouroboros becomes the guardian of the infinite, the image of the universe that contains all the works of divinity. This is one of the meanings given to it by Alchemy. All-in-One". And here we plunge into esotericism.

All-in-One", or to be more precise, "One-the-All", is the expression that describes the principle of the unity of the world. In Hermes Trismegistus' Emerald Table, we read: " And as all things were, and came from one, through the mediation of one: so things were born from this one thing, by adaptation ". We have a creation with two aspects, both creator and creation. A living creation, always in the process of becoming, but coherent within itself.

The One is the creative principle, and the All is the universe, nature, in the broadest sense. This is not the expression of a Creator God, superior to all things, but a transcending of these notions: being/non-being, matter/spirit, visible/invisible, chaos/order, inside/outside... One-the-All bears this dual characteristic of being both itself and the transcendence of itself: being and the cause of being.

This sums up the mystery of the world, and the mystery of life. Understanding the One-All is the basis of Alchemy and the foundation of the Royal Art: it's what enables us to begin the real work on ourselves. The One-the-All takes us back to the cosmic egg, the image of the world in its potential for perfection and organization of primordial chaos. If Order emerges from Chaos, it's because the whole contains within itself all the potentialities contained in the unity and coherence of the One.

The ouroboros is the symbol of unity and stability (the circle closes in on itself) and transformation (regeneration of life), i.e. Continuity. Both transcendent (the One) and immanent (the All, the serpent creates itself)

"The active principle seeks the passive principle,

the full is in love with the empty.

The serpent's mouth attracts its tail, and, turning on itself, it flees and pursues."

Eliphas Lévy

The Great Symbol of Solomon by Eliphas Lévy.

It represents Solomon's double triangle, the great Kabbalistic pentacle made up of two inverted triangles represented by the two old men of the Kabbalah; THE MACROPROSOPE and THE MICROPROSOPE (the great and the small world; the God of light and the God of reflections; the merciful and the avenger; the white Jehovah and the black Jehovah.

The whole is embellished with an ouroboros and two Latin phrases: Quod superius macroprosopus sicut quod inferius microprosopus and Stola Dei.

Abraham Eleazar's double Ouroboros

This image appears in a book entitled Uraltes Chymisches Werck von Abraham Eleazar, or the age-old chemical work of Abraham Eleazar. It is also known as the Book of Abraham the Jew. It was published in the 18th century but claimed to be a copy of a much older document. The true author of the book is unknown.

This image depicts an ouroboros made up of two creatures. The upper creature is winged and wears a crown. The lower creature is much simpler. This probably represents opposing forces coming together to create a united whole. The two forces here may be superior, spiritual and intellectual forces versus inferior, more primal and physical forces.

Each corner of the illustration is dedicated to one of the four elements:

- Top left - "Aqua", meaning water, and the alchemical symbols for water and mercury. It also says "Spirit".
- Top right - Symbols of air and sulfur, plus "Soul".
- Bottom left - Symbols of fire and salt, plus "Lieb", meaning body or belly.
- Bottom right - Symbols of earth displayed twice, plus "Corpus", meaning body.

Water, air, fire and earth are the four Platonic elements of the ancient world. Mercury, sulfur and salt are the three principal alchemical elements.

In the vision of the three kingdoms of the universe, the microcosm can be divided into spirit, soul and body.

The ouroboros and Freemasonry

The ouroboros, the eternally regenerating serpent, has become the very symbol of Freemasonry. Masonic symbolism, on the seal of the Grand Orient de France (the Grand Orient de France is the oldest French Masonic obedience and the largest in continental Europe), is represented by the following ten figures: the square, the compass, the luminous delta, the eye, the globe, the laurel and acacia branches, the knotted rope, the 40 five-pointed stars, the Ouroboros serpent.

Photo credit: Grand Orient de France

In Freemasonry, the Ouroboros is a symbol of the work that has neither beginning nor end.

Everything eventually returns to its founding chaos, in an eternal repetition of all things.

The magicians of the occult sciences hid under jealously guarded ancient symbols the emblem of the ouroboros, which was the guardian of the temple of knowledge, as well as the emblem of the initiate in the image of the work.

Meaning of the Ouroboros or Uroboros symbol

If you meet a snake and it sticks out its tongue in front of you, you'll see 2 lines at the end of the tongue that separate. The message of this forked tongue is that, as human beings, we can only know divine unity through duality.

With its body, the serpent represents divine unity, which is why the Gnostics made it the representation of the absolute, the nothing-all in the image of the serpent biting its own tail.

With its forked tongue, the serpent shows man the path to awakening his consciousness, and also the 2 paths within this path: that of temptation and that of wisdom.

The serpent of wisdom is the great cosmic fluid, the universal Soul, the primordial ocean of energy from the divine Mother that bathes the worlds and leads them to the Father principle through the path, the river of wisdom. It is often depicted as a serpent of Light that stands behind the spine of all authentic Masters, because it wants to keep pure and alive this sacred link that unites the principles of Father and Mother.

The tempting serpent refers to the destructive force that lives within man. It is not negative in itself, as it is the same energy as the serpent of Wisdom. Simply, when man fell from the divine world, the primordial force that animated him and united him to the Source was confined to a single world: his physical body. Deprived of the purity of the divine world and the knowledge of its sacred laws, man was unable to transmute this force into the light of wisdom: it then became blind and destructive, seeking in every way to return to the Source. Thus were born all man's vices, like an unleashing of uncontrolled forces. Only the most cunning of men have learned to use them in deceptive guise for their own glory, crushing others in the process. This is why it is called "the tempter" or "the destroyer".

There is an analogy here with the tree of the knowledge of good and evil, of life and death.

Life and death are the serpent's mouth and tail. We live in this serpent in semi-consciousness. When he shows us his tongue, we have the opportunity to awaken to the mystery of divine unity and duality.

What is the body of the serpent? Divine unity, universal life, nothing containing everything, silence, the invisible.

What is the serpent's tongue? Duality, individualized life, realized form, speech, the visible.

The serpent's tongue says: "If there is speech, it is because it is placed on silence. If there is a visible form, it is because it is placed on the invisible. So the word reveals silence, and the visible form implies the invisible. He who sees only the visible cannot unite with the serpent of wisdom, for he has succumbed to the temptation to separate what cannot and must not be separated.

What does silence contain? It contains the nothing-all, the unmanifested of speech, all possible speech. So the nothingness of silence contains within it the everything of speech. This is divine unity. The nothingness of the invisible contains the allness of the world of manifested forms.

Man is like the serpent: through his body, he is in divine unity, in the unmanifested, and through his tongue, he makes speech appear: joy or sadness, wisdom or stupidity.

If man says "joy", it is joy that appears and manifests itself. Sadness remains in the unmanifested, in silence. If man says "sadness", it's joy that remains in silence.

When man is a liar, he is called a viper, but in truth the serpent is not a liar, but the perfect discerner and awakener of consciousness in both worlds. He is also the path that unites these two worlds. But he can also be the tempter who pushes us to identify with only one side of the truth.

Joy or sadness are two sides of the same reality. They are complementary and cannot exist without each other. The same is true of speech and silence, of the body and the non-body.

Man is in a situation where he can only acquire knowledge by comparing the two poles, the two sides of the same reality. This is the awakening of consciousness: " I am aware of being what I am in relation to what I am not. So, if I'm happy, I know I'm not sad.

Where to buy an Ouroboros?

Offering an Ouroboros on its own didn't make much sense to us. Combined with the Pentagram and Hexagram, it becomes a tool for awakening and inner transformation, and a powerful talisman that can balance the worlds.

The five-pointed star in the middle represents man, the creator with his five senses. The five-pointed star is the microcosm, and the six-pointed star is the macrocosm. These two symbols teach us that we are all interconnected.

The serpent is universal life, while the Pentagram is man's personal life.

In this symbol you find the totality of the worlds.

This symbol is a powerful magic talisman because it reveals and transmits directly to the soul, through its universal symbolism, the secrets of man's true power.

If man is one with the three kingdoms that form the Mother Earth triangle (bottom triangle in the hexagram) and the three kingdoms that form the Father Sky triangle (top triangle in the hexagram), he becomes the Pentagram of Light, the therapist. In this way, he can bring consolation to all beings trapped in darkness.

You can use our articles for your everyday life, but also to focus and radiate positive forces within and around you.

The final word

The symbol of the snake biting its own tail was very popular, appearing on the reverse of medals bearing the effigy of princes and lords, the image symbolizing their moral and intellectual qualities. The ouroboros represents cyclical time, moving forward in space and time. The Egyptians linked it to the celestial path of the stars that regulate our seasons, and so it joins that of the caduceus. All things are and come from One, through the mediation of One, all things are born of this one thing, and its symbol is the circle of One that ends in itself.

The image of the snake biting its own tail can be found in many traditions. I've tried to limit the length of this article, but if you'd like me to talk about the Ouroboros in other traditions, I'd be delighted to add to it.

There's even an Ouroboros on the Declaration of Human Rights. Under the title is painted an ouroboros, a snake biting its own tail, signifying the eternity of the inalienable rights enshrined in the Declaration. In the center of the Table, the spear is surrounded by the beams that lictors carried before a Roman magistrate to signify his power.

Had you noticed it before?

The Ouroboros appears as the great symbol of the totalization of opposites, the perpetual rhythm of alternately negative and positive phases. This double energy is reminiscent of the well-known Taoist Yin-Yang.

And like all esoteric symbols, it is a great source of inspiration, linking us to the great wisdom of life.

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