The Ouroboros is an ancient symbol of a serpent devouring its own tail, the word being of Greek origin meaning ‘tail devourer’. This symbol has its birth in several ancient cultures nameably in the Egyptian book of the dead, the Silk Road & even a mention by Shakespeare. There is reference in the America’s, Europe & West Africa.
Ouroboros is seen in several ways, one being the uniting of the conscious mind with the subconscious. Jung held the view that Ouroboros was hermaphroditic, compounded of opposites, & at the same time a unifying force…something akin to the Yin & Yang. In Celtic mythology, the wyrm (serpent) symbolizes continuity or infinity. And, a circle of protection. Certain philosophies hold that it is a dynamic, evolving process leading towards a higher level of existence…our beginning & ending. Two most diametrically opposed destinies spiralling, meeting & fusing. Alchemy? Definitely points to ponder on in this year of the snake, from beginning to end.
The Aboriginal culture has their Rainbow Serpent, which participates in the creation of the world in their myths of the Dreamtime. Named for the snake-like meanderings of water across a landscape. In these myths, the serpent is female & called the creation into being from the Dreamtime. Most fitting for this year of the Water Snake.
Then there is the Cadaceus, often confused with the Rod of Asclepius. The cadaceus, or herald’s staff represents Hermes or Mercury, symbolic of commerce & negotiation. In his article ‘On Tradesmen’s signs of London’, A.H Burkitt notes that among the very old symbols still used at that time, which were based on associations between pagan gods & professions ‘we find Mercury, or his cadaceus, appropriate in trade, as indicating expedition & Esculapius, his serpent or staff for professors of the healing arts’.
The Rod of Asclepius, most well known symbol of medicine (the cadaceus has 2 winged serpents entwined around a staff) is a combination of the snake, held to symbolize rebirth, fertility & rejuvenation with it’s ability to shed skin & the staff, symbolic of resurrection & healing. Asclepius, another deity of Greek origin was specifically associated with the medicinal arts.
– a through or dramatic change in form or appearance
– a metamorphosis during the life cycle of an animal
So many more snakes pop up in myth & culture…right back to the original Garden. To this day there are cults built around faith healing & the handling of snakes…so we share a long history. Frankly, I like the Ouroboros & Rainbow Serpent for what they symbolize.