from Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia
“The past bites the tail of everything that is to come” - the Eternal Second Coming ( Friedrich Nietzsche ) is illustrated with the Ouroboros and similar symbols
Illustration from "Chrysopoeia of Cleopatra ". Text: Ἓν τὸ πᾶν One is All (hen to pan)

The Ouroboros or uroboros ( Greek  Οὐροβόρος "self-consumer", literally "tail consumptive", from the Greek οὐρά ( Oura ) "tail" and Boros "consuming"; plural Ouroboroi or Uroboroi ) is already in the iconography of ancient Egypt occupied icon of a snake that bites its own tail and forms a closed circle with its body.


Ouroboros. Drawing by Theodoros Pelecanos from Synosius , an alchemical treatise (1648)
Engraving by Lucas Jennis from De Lapide Philosophico

In his dialogue Timaeus, Plato describes the first form of life on earth to be a spherical being "a circular shape that is equally distant from the center to all endpoints, the most perfect form" - what modern mystics would like to reinterpret as Ouroboros, who would thus be described as an autarkic being: autark therefore because it was presented as self-contained, without reference to or need for an outside or another. Ouroboros does not need any perception, as nothing exists outside of him; no nutrition, since his food is his own excretions, and he does not need any organs of locomotion, since outside of him there is no place to which he could go. It circles in and around itself and forms the circle as the most perfect of all forms.

In alchemical symbolism, the ouroboros is the image symbol of a self-contained and repeated process of transformation of matter, which is supposed to serve to refine substances in the heating, evaporation, cooling and condensation of a liquid. In this case, the closed circle to the snake is often replaced by two entities, and connecting the tail end, the upper as a sign of volatility (the jaw volatility ) than a winged dragon is reproduced.


First representation of Ouroboros on the second sarcophagus shrine of Tutankhamun ("Änigmatic Book of the Underworld")

The oldest known Ouroboros appears on one of the shrines that surrounded the sarcophagus of Tutankhamun . Later he can be seen several times in the magic papyri of Hellenistic Egypt. It is a symbol of cosmic unity, which is expressed in the formula ἕν τὸ πᾶν hen to pan (“One is all”), and in particular the correspondence between micro- and macrocosms . This is how the formula appears in Cleopatra's Chrysopoeia , an ancient alchemical text, where it is enclosed in the form of Ouroboros.


Amphisbaena in Ouroborospose

The Ouroboros does not only appear in ancient mythology and philosophy: The global Midgard serpent in Nordic mythology also bites its own tail, according to Gylfaginning , part of the Snorra Edda , and thus forms a world circle, and in " Yoga Kundalini " The Upanishad is also told by the Kundalini serpent to put its tail in its mouth.

Similar to the Ouroboros (tail in the mouth), the Amphisbaena is also shown. Nevertheless, it is another mythical creature . An amphisbaena is a snake or a dragon that has a second head at the end of its tail. While with the Ouroboros the focus is on being practically self-sufficient, with the Amphisbaena it is on the fact that it is practically invincible, as it can look backwards as well as forwards and escape.

Illustration in Johann Michael Faust Compendium Alchymist 1702

The legend of the origin of the Indian and Southeast Asian kirtimukhas or kalas also speaks of a self-devouring monster creature .

Aurora consurgens


Jorge Luis Borges deals with the Ouroboros in his collection Unicorn, Sphinx and Salamander - A Handbook of Fantastic Zoology and quotes his colleague Martinez Estrada who describes the Ouroboros as a snake that begins at the end of its tail . According to Borges, the Ouroboros owes its fame to Scandinavian cosmogony and there the Prose Edda.

Joh. Michaelis Faustij Compendium alchymist. Pandora the noblest gift of God. Hermes follows
Ibn Umail's description

The Kunstmuseum Wolfsburg negotiated in the exhibition NEVER ENDING STORIES. The loop in art, film, architecture, music, literature and cultural history from October 29, 2017 to February 18, 2018 the Ouroboros as a symbol of the circling infinity and eternity through the centuries and world cultures. As an example u. a. an illustration from the Aurora Consurgens , a medieval manuscript in the Zurich Central Library. The show brought together the alchemy of the Middle Ages, the book scholarship of the Renaissance, Buddhism, Germanic mythology, Western Christianity and atheistic philosophy.

Three flowers with a common root spring from the hermetic egg in which the ouroboros lies: the red flower of gold, the white one of silver and between these two the blue flower of wisdom (flos sapientum). From Hieronymus Reussner's alchemical writing “Pandora” (1582).


  • Jan Assmann : Ouroboros. The ancient Egyptian myth of the course of the sun. In: Ralf Beil (Ed.): Never ending stories. The loop in art, film, architecture, music, literature and art history. Berlin 2017, pp. 58-63. Second publication: PropyleumDOK on September 18, 2019, online .
  • Norbert Bischof : The force field of myths. Signals from the time in which we created the world (= Piper 2655). Piper, Munich / Zurich 1998, ISBN 3-492-22655-8 (esp. Second part: Das Chos. Chapter 6: The cosmogonic incest pp. 191-224.)
  • HB de Groot: The Ouroboros and the romantic poets: a renaissance emblem in Blake, Coleridge and Shelley. In: English studies. A journal of English language and literature. Vol. 50, 1969, ISSN  0013-838X , pp. 553-564, doi: 10.1080 / 00138386908597350 .
  • Bernhard Dietrich Haage: The Ouroboros symbol in the 'Parzival'. In: Würzburger medical historical reports 1, 1983, pp. 5–22.
  • Bernhard Dietrich Haage: Ouroboros - and no end. In: Josef Domes et al. (Ed.): Light of nature. Medicine in specialist literature and poetry. Festschrift for Gundolf Keil on his 60th birthday (= Göppingen works on German studies , 585). Kümmerle, Göppingen 1994, ISBN 3-87452-829-4 , pp. 149-169.
  • Lutz Käppel : Uroboros. In: The New Pauly (DNP). Volume 12, Metzler, Stuttgart 2002, ISBN 3-476-01470-3 , Sp. 1053.
  • Karl Preisendanz : From the history of the Uroboros. In: Ferdinand Herrmann, Wolfgang Treutlein (Ed.): Customs and symbols. Eugen Fehrle on his 60th birthday. Südwestdeutsche Druck- und Verlagsgesellschaft, Karlsruhe 1940, pp. 194–209.

Web links

Commons : Ouroboros  - collection of images, videos and audio files

Individual evidence

  1. Alexandre Piankoff: The Shrines of Tut-Ankh-Amon (= Bollingen Series 40, 2, ZDB -ID 844375-0 = Egyptian religious Texts and Representations 2). Pantheon Books, New York NY 1955, plate 48.
  2. Plato: Timaeus 33.
  3. ^ Karl Preisendanz (ed.): Papyri Graecae magicae. = The Greek magic papyri. 2 volumes. 2nd, improved edition, reviewed by Albert Henrichs . Teubner, Stuttgart 1973-1974, see there 7, col. 17 and 1, 145 f .; 12, 203 f .; 12, 274 f .; 36, 184.
  4. ^ Gylfaginning 34
  5. Yoga Kundalini Upanishad 1.82-84 engl. translation
  6. Jorge Luis Borges: "Unicorn, Sphinx and Salamander" - A manual of fantastic zoology, with the collaboration of Margarita Guerrero, from the Spanish by Ulla de Herrera; Carl Hanser Verlag, Munich 1964