William-Adolphe Bouguereau, The Evening Mood, 1882
The Ouroboros or Uroboros is an extremely ancient symbol generally depicting as a serpent or dragon devouring its own tail, usually associated with some religious groups or old age practices such as alchemy. It was said the symbol was dicovered on the Silk Road and was named by Greek travelers. It was frequently used in alchemical illustrations to symbolize the circular nature of the alchemist’s opus. Often represents self-reflexitivity or cyclicality, especially in the sense of something constantly recreating itself thus illustrating the Nietzschean concept of eternal recurrence*.
It is also often associated with Gnosticism and Hermaticism. Carl Jung interpreted the Ouroboros as having an archetypal significance to the human psyche. 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.
*Eternal return (also known as “eternal recurrence”) is a concept that depict the universe has been recurring and thus will continue to recur, in a self-similar form an infinite number of times across infinite time or space.
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Photo by Ellen Von Unwerth
Art by Ida Rentoul Outhwaite.