What is Ouroboros?
Ouroboros is the depiction of a serpent with its tail in its mouth, continually eating itself and being reborn. The origin of the word comes from the Greek words oura, meaning tail and boros, meaning eating. So, the word quite literally means self-devouring.
Whilst the image in your head of the word probably isn’t the most pleasant, the symbolism is truly special with differentiations of the meaning in each era and culture.
Historical and Cultural representations
The first known representation of the Ouroboros symbol was in Ancient Egypt in the 13th Century BC, on the shrine of Tutankhamen, symbolizing his life, death and rebirth. Ouroboros was often used in the Egyptian era to represent their views of immortality and cycles of nature. For example, they believed the rising and setting of the sun to be the source of cyclical time and Ra (God of Sun) was born every morning as the sun rose.
Ouroboros then shortly reached the shores of Greece, with a different meaning. To the famous philosopher Plato, the symbol represented self-reliance and self-destruction, harnessing a darker meaning to this symbol. However, for the Greek Alchemists the symbol stood for ‘One is All’, meaning eternity and unity of time’s beginning and end, which is definitely less bleak than Plato’s depiction!
During the Ancient Roman era, the Ouroboros was associated with the God Saturn, who ruled time and the cycles of the year. They believed that Saturn connected each year to the next in an infinite cycle. Therefore, representing eternity.
In China, the symbol is often portrayed with a dragon as opposed to a snake and represents unity in Chinese culture. It is sometimes compared to the Ying and Yang symbol, where two contrary forces interconnect.
In modern times and cultures, the symbol generally represents the constant cycle of creation, destruction and recreation and good things eventually come in to one’s life.
Similar to Plato and the Chinese interpretation of the Ouroboros, (in the sense of viewing the good and the bad), psychologist Carl Jung viewed the symbol as human’s ability to regenerate or rebirth ourselves through self-reflection. The self-reflection of our conscious and un-conscious selves would create wholeness and unity.
Ouroboros jewellery was first worn and produced during the Egyptian era but surged during the Georgian and Victorian eras due to popularity of snake and mourning jewellery in the 1800s. The powerful ouroboros symbol poetically being used commemorate the dead and celebrate the living in beautiful pieces of solid gold and silver. Today Ouroboros jewellery continues to represent the cycles in life and the potential to re-create yourself at a time where you feel you have been reborn.