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Ouroboros
"One Is All" - The Ouroboros from the alchemical text Chrysopoeia of Cleopatra

The symbol of a serpent eating its own tail, making a circle.

Dating back from Ancient Egypt, the Ouroboros is a symbol of eternity and the cyclical nature of time and the universe. The fact that the serpent is eating itself is also indicative of the idea of self-consumption in the way we live. Sometime it may even be two serpents each eating the others tail, taking on similarities with the Yin Yang symbol. Another, more modern common variation is for the snake or snakes to have an additional knot which forms the infinity symbol, ∞.

The Motif gains a lot of a secondary tier of association with alchemy and Time Travel. Note the connection to The Phoenix and also the serpent as the shedder of skin and rejuvenator which acts much like The Phoenix motif.

In some versions, the serpent encircles the world or the Tree Of Life, and is tied to its fate.

See also Serpent of Immortality.


Examples:

    open/close all folders 

    Anime & Manga 
  • In Fullmetal Alchemist, all of the homunculi are marked for what they are by a tattoo of a serpent eating its tail somewhere on their bodies. Also interesting, is that "One is all, all is one" is sort of Arc Words for the series.
  • Crops up a lot in Noein, usually signaling that the amount of crazy quantum time travel hax is about to get even worse. The giant one that occasionally appears by a nearby island even serves as a portal to (effectively) The Legions of Hell near the end of the series.
  • In Mon Colle Knights, Oroboros is the master of the seventh realm, time, and as such it is an inorganic lifeform. It "appears" through the center of a gate that is the mathematical infinity symbol, and the Big Bad intends to use it to make everything one.
  • Tiger & Bunny features a crime syndicate called Ouroboros; members can be identified by ouroboros-symbol tattoos. For a while, Barnaby believed they were responsible for his parents' deaths, but they turned out to be a red herring.
    • And while it seems like it is unrelated to the motif of the Ouroboros, in fact Ouroboros is fed by Maverick, who essentially leads the heroes. His actions cause Ouroboros to become a real shadowy organization as well, and they are essentially unstoppable, vowing to return at the end of the series.
  • The anime Souten Kouro —adaptation of Romance Of Three Kingdoms, but instead focusing on Cao Cao— starts with depiction of the Ton, a mega-massive grotesque snake-like/dragon-like/crocodile-like beast that eats the world. When it runs out of things to eat, it begins devouring itself starting from the tail, and eventually it itself ceases to exist along with all that it ate.
  • In Gunnm, Desty Nova has a Lotus-Eater Machine he has named the Ouroboros program.
  • The Eight Deadly Fists of Ragnarok from Kenichi: The Mightiest Disciple have Ouroboros surrounding the Roman Numerals on their gloves.
  • In the manga of the same name, the two main characters together are in the team "Ouroboros", but it have a different depiction: two dragons that bite each others' tails to form an Infinity symbol. This can also be found in one of Tak's one-liner: "There are two dragons in Ouroboros".

    Comic Books 
  • In "The Lord of the Mountains", an issue of Thorgal, a ring that allows time travel takes the form of an Ouroboros. It happens to represent the Stable Time Loop that will happen/has happened to one of the characters.
  • In the G.I. Joe Reloaded short Alternate Continuity, an ouroboros is the symbol Cobra carve in the place of one of their first attacks.
  • Mim, the queen of the dragons and creator of the living and dreaming worlds in the Bone mythos, is based on the Ouroboros. As long as her tail remains in her mouth, the world is safe. Then she gets possessed by the Lord of the Locusts...
  • Ouroboros is one of the themes of Dr. Dedalus and Leviathan and therefore Talia al-Ghul in Batman Inc.
  • The Mickey Mouse comic "The Dragon That Swallows Its Tail". The protagonists, during their journey, end up going to the past, and find the eponymous dragon, which is actually a cave formation. At its end turns out to be a portal to the modern day; the protagonist cross through and find out that their arrival caused a Stable Time Loop which made them go on their journey in the first place.
  • Tintin: In Tintin in the Congo, Tintin makes a real life snake swallow its own tail and eventually eat himself.

    Film 
  • The Ferryman: Cheap horror flick involving an evil spirit which managed to escape death by possessing the bodies of the people on board a pleasure cruise. Every body it currently possesses bears a tattoo on their back depicting a snake biting its tail in figure of eight, an obvious symbol of eternity and immortality.

    Literature 
  • The Worm Ouroboros is a High Fantasy novel by Eric Rucker Eddison. The book is a story that is taken to be part of a wider conflict with an ill defined beginning or end which casts an interesting light on the heroics of the main characters. To reflect this they have the name and also the Book Ends of Here We Go Again.
  • The Wheel of Time series: Aes Sedai wear a ring shaped as the Great Serpent eating its tail. The most prominent symbol of the series is the Great Serpent looped in the shape of infinity, intertwined with the titular Wheel.
  • Discworld: Tethys, the water troll, landed on the Disc after falling off another world. One of the worlds he passed had a giant serpent eating its own tail around the disc, instead of the turtle/elephant arrangement of Discworld itself.
    • This can be a reference or either the Norse mythology of Jörmungandr or, quite likely due to it also appearing in connection to the turtles-elephants-world model is Adisesha of Hindu tradition.
    • In Pyramids, Dios carries a staff tipped with a pair of carved serpents. He doesn't actually notice that each one has its tail in its mouth until after he's flung 7000 years into the past, making him a Stable Time Loop.
  • The Auryn in The Neverending Story is based on the two-serpent version.
    • In the film, they make the specific addition of having the two snakes also intertwine in the centre to make the other common variation of having the infinity symbol in the centre.
  • This is mentioned in a children's book called Redwork. It's about alchemy, and there's a ring in the shape of a serpent eating its own tail.
  • The above picture comes from the early alchemists' text The Chrysopoeaia of Cleopatra which dates all the way back to 2nd century Alexandria. "Chrysopoeaia" means rather literally "Making Gold" or basically, since you're dealing with alchemists here, transmutation into gold i.e. a Philosopher's Stone. You can also see from the light dark comparisons the similarity to the Taijitu.
  • In Robert E. Howard's Conan the Barbarian story "The Phoenix on the Sword", Thoth-amon's Ring of Power.
    He triumphantly lifted a ring of curious make. It was of a metal like copper, and was made in the form of a scaled serpent, coiled in three loops, with its tail in its mouth. Its eyes were yellow gems which glittered balefully.
  • The ouroboros is an important recurring symbol in Wyrm.
  • In That Is All, John Hodgman explains that the ouroboros is not a symbol of eternity after all, but rather just a dumb snake that bit its own tail. Then it crushes Los Angeles. See also below under "Real Life."
  • The magical ring "Sning" in Incarnations of Immortality. It can come to life and it can answer yes or no questions by squeezing its wearer's finger.
  • In Septimus Heap, Septimus's Dragon Ring is an Ouroboros.
  • In Michael Flynn's Spiral Arm, the Ouroboros Circuit, a pre-human artifact, looks like this. Vaguely.
  • World Without End has it, not in the narrative itself, but rather in the cover (actually, it looks more like a basilisk).

    Live Action TV 
  • In Millennium, members of the Millennium group are identified by the Ouroboros symbol.
  • The X-Files "Never Again": Scully got an Ouroboros tattoo. Then she did or did not hook up with a guy with a tattoo that talked to him. It's one of several hints from the series that Scully might be somehow immortal.
  • On Red Dwarf, the episode "Ouroboros" reveals that Lister was discovered in a box with the word 'Ouroboros' on it (originally misread as 'Our Rob or Ross'). This turns out to be significant as Lister is his own father. The box originally contained Ouroboros-brand everlasting batteries.
  • Early on in The Invisible Man, Darien Fawkes gets a special Ouroboros tattoo that monitors the amount of counteragent in his blood via sections of the tattoo turning green or red. Once the entire tattoo turns red, Quicksilver Madness sets in.
  • LOST: In Mrs. Hawking's first appearance, she is wearing a brooch in the shape of an ouroboros. Appropriately enough, her role is to tell Desmond (who is in the past, but with memories of his future), to not deviate from the timeline he remembers. In Season Six, when Desmond meets her, she's wearing a different brooch that has two parallel lines on it.
  • On Doctor Who, the Doctor talks with Amy and Rory about a Time Lord colleague of his called the Corsair, who had an Ouroboros emblem tattooed on his (or sometimes her) body after every regeneration.
  • On The Pretender, it is the symbol of a sect that practices cannibalism. Later, it's revealed that Mr. Lyle is a member.
  • Alluded to in The Good Wife with regard to a convoluted piece of legislation:
    Elsbeth: So let me get this straight - it allows for hearsay as long as a murder is established, and a murder is established here because there's a hearsay statement that establishes it? I mean, tell me when the snake actually devours its tail, okay?

    Music 
  • In mothy's vocaloid song The Escape of Salmhofer the Witch, two ouroboros symbols are seen at the end, probably representing the "Twin Gods" of the series.
  • The Smashing Pumpkins' fifth album Machina featured a lot of artwork from Vasily Kafanov and a lot of other alchemy inspired artwork. Yo can see quite a lot of it here and amongst the number, lies several of the Ouroboros.
  • The Alan Parsons Project's 1985 album, Vulture Culture, has one of these on the cover.
  • The Bedlam in Goliath, the fourth full-length The Mars Volta album, contains a track named "Ouroborous" that loops back onto a pair of choruses and a series of guitar riffs that Word of God has declared to be a reference to this motif. Also fits in with the various weirdness that permeates the album, being as it is based around sayings and events that the band encountered while using an old ouija board they found in Jerusalem, and the string of unpleasant events that they thought were due to a curse from the board.
  • The way of all flesh, the the fourth album from French Metal band Gojira, opens with the track "Oroborus" which describes the motif and its relationship with life and death. The album itself is about coming to terms with mortality and dying.
  • The anarcho-punk band Crass had an Ouroboros and a cross in their symbol.
  • Woven Hand has ouroboros artwork, from an Albrecht Dürer engraving, on the final page of Black of the Ink.
  • The japanese metal band Dir en grey's album Uroboros

    Religion And Myth 
  • As briefly mentioned above, Jörmungandr, the World Serpent, is the offspring of the giantess Angrboša and Loki who grew so large that he could encircle Midgard, the Earth, and grasp his own tail. When Jörmungandr lets go of his own tail, the world will end.
  • Adisesha is a primordial being in Hinduism who coils and forms the seat of Vishnu. Adisesha does not actually consume itself and it in fact has thousands of heads but still Adisesha forms a symbol for infiniteness and the endlessness of time.
  • Hoop snakes, which are part of folklore in both North America and Australia supposedly bite their tail and roll downhill to escape danger. (There aren't any snakes that actually do this.)

    Tabletop Games 

    Video Games 
  • City of Heroes has an organization called Ouroboros who seek to fix problems caused by people messing with time. In game terms, their facilities allow players to replay story arcs they have outleveled. Their symbol is a golden, angular ∞ version.
  • A recurring motif in Legacy of Kain which involves immortal consumers of blood and Time Travel.
  • Lost Kingdoms has one as a high level mon you can evolve one of your dragons into.
  • Ouroboros is the Sealed Evil in a Can in the game Brigandine
  • Hazama/Terumi (of BlazBlue fame) has a weapon called Ouroboros which grants him long range attack options. To further the thematic 'cycle' in Ouroboros, this guy is responsible for creating the time loop that plagues the first game. To further the thematic 'autoconsumptive' theme in Ouroboros, his weapon exacerbates emotional vulnerabilities in his enemies, sometimes allowing him to talk them into spiritually cannabalizing themselves.
  • Metal Gear Solid 2: Sons of Liberty has an Ouroboros appear in the map screen if you try to use it when GW is glitching. This hints at the purpose of the S3 program.
  • The apocalyptic Virus threat in Resident Evil 5 is named "Uroboros" (the Serbo-Croatian spelling), since it mutates its host into a giant mass of intertwining tentacles, slowly devouring the host so it must constantly seek more hosts to infect.
  • In Mega Man ZX Advent, the Ouroboros is a giant floating ring made up of all the Model Ws, which serves as the final level of the game.
  • The last boss fight of No More Heroes takes place in an arena surrounded by an energy dragon that eats its own tail. It constricts more tightly as the battle progresses, representing the self-destructive cycle of revenge.
  • The final boss of Xenogears is Ouroboros, and its defeat probably represents the end of the 10000-year cycle of death and rebirth Deus initiated in order to repair itself and fly off to destroy other planets.
  • In Shin Megami Tensei: Strange Journey, the boss of Sector Eridanus is Ouroboros. You have to fight her twice over, because at the first time, five demons are giving her energy to survive indefinitely. She's beaten at the second try, but who said that it'll be easy? Then it turns out that defeating Ouroboros doesn't actually enable the Red Sprite to escape the Schwartzwelt... She appears as a silver serpent, her body in a vertical infinity symbol, tail in her mouth.
  • In the Fallout: New Vegas add-on Old World Blues, all the Think Tanks have looping thought processes as a result of a limitation of their programming. To reflect this, they've all taken on names that represent some form of infinity, including Dr. Borous, shortened from Ouroboros. A smart character can call him on the misspelling, though he'll Handwave it. The other five are Doctors Klein (Klein bottle), 8 (infinity symbol on its side), Dala (short for "mandala," sanskrit for "circle"), 0 (a literal circle), and Mobius (Mobius strip).
  • Peggle Nights has an Ouroboros-themed level.
  • Golden Sun: Dark Dawn has the Ouroboros Labyrinth. It's not as big a labyrinth as it sounds.
  • Macross 30 The Voice That Connects The Galaxy takes place on a colony world called Ouroboros. Time Travel shenanigans occur.
  • In Bravely Default, the ouroboros symbol appears around each world the Bigger Bad and True Final Boss Ouroboros consumes.

    Webcomics 

    Web Original 

    Western Animation 

    Real Life 
  • Friedrich August Kekule von Stradonitz realized that the unusual properties of benzene could be explained if its carbon chain connected around in a hexagon. He claimed he got the idea after having a dream in which he saw a serpent eating its own tail.
  • Carl Jung, he of Jungian Archetypes, proto-troper, included this in his writings.
  • It is possible that the inspiration for the symbol is the view of the Milky Way in the night sky hence its appearances in astronomy focused cultures.
  • It's possible for real snakes to bite their own tails. Usually, the real-world ouroboros dies when this happens. This can happen if the snake is hungry and it smells the scent of some other creature on its tail. It will strike its own tail and attempt to devour itself - almost always with fatal results. Pythons, boas, rat snakes, king snakes and corn snakes have been photographed as ouroboroi.
  • Behold: Armadillo Lizard, a real-life Ouroboros. Even if the animal itself doesn't really symbolize anything.


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