Symbol of a serpent, dragon, or aquatic creature eating its own tail.
It [the uroboros] represents the first original condition of the totality, in that it is total and complete. As the alchemists say, it has everything it needs in itself. But it is, as things are in nature, an eternal circle that goes on forever without change. To quote (Psuedo) Demokritos: 'Nature rejoices in nature, nature subdues nature, nature rules over nature'. –Jung (1)
Nature is self-contained. If one aspect of nature becomes rampant, another moves in for balance. This is the story of the uroboros. It represents cyclical motion, a movement which corrects itself by gnawing off any extremities. Within the uroboros is contained a light and a dark aspect, feminine and masculine. Uroboros rejuvenates itself, uroboros is complete within itself.
Neumann discusses the uroboros as maternal and paternal aspects in The Origins and History of Consciousness:
“The uroboros of the maternal world is life and psyche in one; it gives nourishment and pleasure, protects and warms, comforts and forgives. It is the refuge for all suffering, the goal of all desire” (3, p. 15).
“The uroboros, being of itself a symbol of light and dark and the union of opposites, also contains a paternal aspect. Creativity and the ability to bring forth into the world is the chief characteristic of the paternal aspect of the uroboros” (3, pp. 21-22).
Plato also conceptualizes a uroboric entity in his colloquy on love, Symposium, where he presents a circular creature who is half male, half female, “the males were descended from the Sun, the females from the Earth” (6, p. 543). In Plato’s version, the uroboric couple was a threat to Zeus, who split them in two, making them like, “pieces of the coins that children break in half for keepsakes--- making two out of one… and each of us is forever seeking the half that will tally with himself” (6, p. 544).
Uroboros is also present in the Greek manuscript, Codex Marcianus, “which dates from the tenth or eleventh century, together with the legend 'the One, the All' " (2, par. 404).
Egyptian myth of the serpent Apophis and the sun god, Re, tells of Apophis, “endlessly at odds with the sun god, Re, to empty the Nile of the living water” (5, p. 39). Uroboric symbols are also found in the “bas relief in the Temple at Abydos” in Egypt, dated from “2000 to 1500 BC” (1).
"In India, in the Jaina religion and in some Hindu tantric cults, the motif expresses the fundamental philosophical concept of the two contrasting attributes of time-- ascending (utsarpini) and descending (avasarpini) epochs of rising hope in the world order and increasingly imminent annihilation following each other in ceaseless cyclicity, time itself being envisioned as a serpent commencing to swallow its tail” (4).
Jung speaks of the uroboros as a sort of alchemical epitome, in his own words, “the primal symbol of alchemical truth” (7, par. 102n). Jung speaks of the vibrating third space that can be created in the center of the uroboric circle:
“Vascillating between the opposites and being tossed back and forth means being contained in the opposites. They become a vessel in which what was previously now one thing and not another floats vibrating, so that the painful suspension between opposites gradually changes into the bilateral activity of the point in the centre.” (7, par. 296)
Jung sees the uroboros as “the goal of the process” (7, par. 718), and as, “a dramatic symbol of immortality, since it is said of the uroboros that he slays himself and gives birth to himself. He symbolizes the One, who proceeds from the clash of opposites, and he therefore constitutes the secret of the prima material which, as a projection, unquestionably stems from man’s unconscious.” (7, par. 513)
Neumann warns, however, that a psyche that becomes completely encapsulated within itself risks remaining unconscious. Neumann speaks that “the ascent towards consciousness is the ‘unnatural’ thing in nature” (3, p. 16). Man is commonly considered the only conscious organism in the natural world, and therefore man is the only organism capable of destroying the natural world. Neumann seems to say that the uroboros is helpful as a psychological metaphor when there is consideration that man can be transformed by what he ingests (3, p. 31-33).
One of the most intimate and communal aspects an individual can participate in, besides sex, is eating. The uroboros is self-contained, as it provides its own food by continually being fundamentally nourished by the assimilation of its own flesh. Metaphorical uroboros is helpful to whoever realizes that in order to be transformed, psychic feces must be processed.
Perhaps the contemporary uroboros should be made with a gap between the head of the snake and the tail. A small enough gap so that it can be jumped if the rhythmic pattern of snake eating tail is viewed as healthy from the position of the individual's watching consciousness. Like hymns that move from heart to lungs to lips to ears to heart to lungs to lips, ad infinitum. However, it will nonetheless be a gap which causes a pause--- a lull of consideration and a chance to end spins which are dangerous or not helpful.
1. Hannah, Barbara. (2006). The Archetypal Symbolism of Animals. Wilmette, Illinois: Chiron Publications.
2. Jung, C.G. (1953). The Collected Works of C.G. Jung, Volume 12. New York, NY: Pantheon Books.
3. Neumann, Erich. (1954). The Origins and History of Consciousness. New York, NY: Princeton University Press.
4. Mundkur, B. (1983). The Cult of the Serpent. Albany, NY: State University of New York Press.
5. Grimal, P. (Ed.) (1965). Larousse World Mythology. New York, NY: Excalibur Books.
6. Hamilton, E., & Cairns, H. (Eds.) (1961). The Collected Dialogues of Plato. New York, NY: Pantheon Books.