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The Ouroboros

Cremisi's picture
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    Though this is a bit delayed, (I've finally learned how to post the video I wanted to post) I wanted to have a quick discussion on the Ouroboros. I've been rather curious about it even since we briefly discussed it in class earlier. When I think of the ouroboros, the ouroboros seems like an ominous symbol used by cults where the members, shrouded in dark cloaks, stand around a pit of fire and chant songs in Latin. I've become especially interested in the history of the ouroboros to see where it came from and what it even means. 


Thanks to The Circle of the Dragon website, I was able to find a good amount of information relating to this topic..

The first thing I was wondering about is why is it a snake? What is the significance of that? At first I thought it must indicate something vile--snakes, starting all the way back in biblical times, have often been seen as grotesque, untrustworthy creatures. Could the Ouroboros then perhaps indicate something repulsive, or seen in a bad light? I Thought about the cyclical aspect of the ouroboros and came to the conclusion that if it is supposed to be vile, then the ouroboros is a bit depressing--it could indicate that we often make our own mistakes, and it is an unending, perhaps pointless struggle in life to try to rectify them--we are destined to keep starting over and over and ending in the same linear place. According to this website however, the ouroboros actually first began as a dragon, and is seen as either a dragon or a snake. This probably has to do with the shape of the reptile (what are dragons classified as?). The ouroboros could also easily be a centipede..but a centipede doesn’t have near the amount of mystical allure that either the dragon or snake do. 

Upon further reading of the site, I came to a section that spoke about alchemy. The ouroboros actually started as a symbol used in alchemy to mean “purification” This reading makes me much more comfortable. That perhaps, an ouroboros is more akin to a phoenix (rising again out of its ashes)--that life starts afresh out of death. That even when all seems lost, one should remain hopeful--one should hold on (much like how the snake is holding onto its tail) because there is another beginning to look forward to. 

Another very interesting reading that i’ve come across is the ouroboros being a symbol for the universe itself. That the head biting its tail represents the beginning of time--chaos. As time continues on, the chaos subsides, and you find yourself traveling along the smooth, uninterrupted shaft of the snake. Then, it all comes to an end, and once again there is chaos. Once again, I find myself wishing I knew more about the universe in relation to physics. I wonder how many times I have said that in this class. After next year, hopefully I can understand physics a bit more. 

For me personally, I think that the ouroboros almost represents an existentialist view of life a little bit amongst other things. Life is futile, and it keeps going on in a circle it seems--we seem to end up in the same places, have the same heartbreaks, and experience the same problems all throughout human history, but we live, and struggle, and keep trying anyway hoping that the next time around, it won’t be as bad. The effort we put in, despite the fact that we (mostly) know where it will end, is what counts. In addition to this, when I picture the ouroboros, I picture it crying as it must devour its own tail to live. To me, this could mean that there often are things we must do in life to be able to thrive as best we can, even if it is uncomfortable for us at the moment. In the end, we will grow. I can relate this to my college experience; it has been difficult for me to leave home and be so far away from my family. I also feel so guilty at the large amount of money my parents are paying for my education. In the end, however, I know that being out East will give me a view of the world i’ve never seen before, and a Bryn Mawr education will hopefully give me knowledge to become more acquainted with life. My opinion of the ouroboros then is somewhere in the middle--neither terribly pessimistic and not completely hopeful...bittersweet, rather. 


I've attached a video of another, more mathematical look at the ouroboros...


Many thanks to Ann Dixon for all of her technical support! 





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