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"One Is All" — the Ouroboros from the alchemical text Chrysopoeia of Cleopatra
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The symbol of a serpent eating its own tail, making a circle.

Dating back to 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 other's 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.

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See also Serpent of Immortality.


Examples:

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    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.
  • In Gunnm, Desty Nova has a Lotus-Eater Machine he has named the Ouroboros program.
  • High School DXD gives us Orphis, the God of Dragons and living embodiment of the trope.
  • Kenichi: The Mightiest Disciple: The Eight Deadly Fists of Ragnarok have Ouroboros surrounding the Roman Numerals on their gloves.
  • 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.
  • Noein: This motif crops up a lot, 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.
  • Ouroboros: The two main characters are in a team named Ouroboros, whose symbol is two dragons that bite each others' tails to form an infinity sign. This can also be found in one of Tatsuma's one-liners: "There are two dragons in Ouroboros".
  • Tiger & Bunny: A crime syndicate calls itself 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. While it seems like it is unrelated to the motif of the Ouroboros, Ouroboros is in fact 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.
  • Souten Kouro, and adaptation of Romance of the Three Kingdoms 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.

    Comic Books 
  • Bone: Mim, the queen of the dragons and creator of the living and dreaming worlds, is based on the Ouroboros. As long as her tail remains in her mouth, the world is held in balance. When she gets possessed by the Lord of the Locusts, she lets go of her tail and the world is no longer safe.
  • G.I. Joe (Devil's Due): In the G.I. Joe Reloaded Alternate Continuity, an ouroboros is the symbol Cobra carve in the place of one of their first attacks.
  • Grant Morrison's Batman: Ouroboros is one of the themes of Dr. Dedalus and Leviathan and therefore of Talia al-Ghul in Batman Inc.
  • Mickey Mouse Comic Universe: In "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; they cross through and find out that their arrival caused a Stable Time Loop which made them go on their journey in the first place.
  • Thorgal: In "The Lord of the Mountains", 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.
  • Tintin: In Tintin in the Congo, Tintin makes a real life snake swallow its own tail and eventually eat himself.

    Fan Works 
  • Past Sins: In The Road Home, Shining Armor, Cadence and Twilight are attacked by a lake serpent with A Head at Each End that Twilight identifies as an ouroboros.
  • In Soul Eater: Troubled Souls, Medusa creates a curse called Ouroboros. Vector snakes bites someone and strips him or her of an ability or personality trait that defines him or her as a fighter. The snakes are actually wrapped around a limb, biting its own tail to create the image of ouroboros.
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    Film — Animated 

    Film — Live-Action 
  • The Ferryman involves an evil spirit which manages 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 Chrysopoeaia of Cleopatra, which provides the page picture, is an alchemical text that 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.
  • Conan the Barbarian: In The Phoenix on the Sword, Thoth-amon's Ring of Power is shaped like a serpent coiled three times and holding its tail in its mouth.
    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.
  • 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 may be a reference or either the Norse mythology of Jörmungandr or, due to it also appearing in connection to the turtles-elephants-world model, 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.
  • Incarnations of Immortality: Sning the magical ring . It can come to life and it can answer yes or no questions by squeezing its wearer's finger.
  • The Neverending Story: AURYN takes the shape of a two-serpent ouroboros, one black and one white. Inside it is a pocket dimension where the Water of Life is guarded by the actual two giant serpents, whose strength would destroy the world if they let go of each other's tails. In the film, the two snakes also intertwine in the centre to make the infinity symbol variation.
  • Redwork is about alchemy, and there's a ring in the shape of a serpent eating its own tail.
  • In Septimus Heap, Septimus's Dragon Ring is an Ouroboros.
  • In Spiral Arm, the Ouroboros Circuit, a pre-human artifact, looks like this. Vaguely.
  • 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 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.
  • World Without End has it, not in the narrative itself, but rather in the cover (actually, it looks more like a basilisk).
  • 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!.

    Live-Action TV 
  • In Altered Carbon the Quellists, an anti-immortality extremist group in this adaptation, combine an ouroboros with a caduceus and an infinity symbol. A pair of fighting serpents entwined in a figure eight formation.
  • Doctor Who: A Time Lord called the Corsair has an Ouroboros emblem tattooed on his (or sometimes her) body after every regeneration.
  • The Good Wife: Alluded to with regard to a convoluted piece of legislation based upon circular logic.
    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?
  • In The Heart She Holler, Meemaw creates a Recursive Reality by telling a story to Hambrosia about herself telling a story to Hambrosia. In the appropriately-titled "Oralboros" Cutter the Vet dies from a Visual Pun the full effects of this Recursive Reality when he makes an Ouroboros out of himself.
  • The Invisible Man: Early on, 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.
  • In Millennium, members of the Millennium group are identified by the Ouroboros symbol.
  • On The Pretender, it is the symbol of a sect that practices cannibalism. Later, it's revealed that Mr. Lyle is a member.
  • On Red Dwarf, the episode "Ouroboros" reveals that Lister was discovered as a Doorstop Baby 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.
  • 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.

    Music 
  • The Alan Parsons Project's 1985 album, Vulture Culture, has one of these on the cover.
  • Crass' logo is meant to draw from the swastika, the Ouroboros, a cross, and the Union Jack, suggesting that power will eventually destroy itself.
  • Dir en grey's album Uroboros.
  • Gojira: The way of all flesh, the fourth album, 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 Mars Volta: The Bedlam in Goliath, the fourth full-length 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.
  • mothy: In the Vocaloid song "The Escape of Salmhofer the Witch" in the Evillious Chronicles, 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.
  • Taylor Swift: The lyric video for "Look What You Made Me Do" features an ouroboros during the chorus.
  • They Might Be Giants: "I Palindrome I" features the chorus: "And I am a snake head eating the head on the opposite side", in keeping with the song's theme of repetition and symmetry.
  • Trobar De Morte's album Ouroboros.
  • Woven Hand has ouroboros artwork, from an Albrecht Dürer engraving, on the final page of Black of the Ink.

    Religion and Mythology 
  • Hindu Mythology: Adisesha is a primordial being 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.)
  • Norse Mythology: Jörmungandr, the World Serpent, is the offspring of the giantess Angrboða 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.

    Tabletop Games 
  • Drop Mix: One of the rock playlists is called Ouroboros.
  • Iron Kingdoms: The druids of Circle Orboros are named after Ouroboros (minus one o). They worship the Devourer Wurm, the embodiment of chaos.
  • Magic: The Gathering: Eternal Dragon and Evershrike are a dragon and winged snake, respectively, show holding their tails in their mouths. Both can be returned to your hand from the graveyard for a price in mana, representing the ouroboros' association with immortality.
  • Pathfinder:
    • Stats for the ouroboros are included in Bestiary 6. They are described as being enormous serpents made from even tinier serpents (in turn made from even smaller ones, repeating to infinity) from the Astral Plane. Embodiments of the cycle of creation and destruction, they forever consume themselves and are reborn in an endless loop. They are among the most powerful beings in the cosmos, but are extremely aggressive and destructive, making them a favorite summon for extremely powerful but homicidally insane spellcasters.
    • Ragadahn, a demigod associated with dragons, secrets and eternity, is fond of using this symbol, and his holy sign is a serpent biting its tail while curved in the shape of an infinity symbol.
  • Tarot Cards: In some tarot decks, the World (XXI), the last of the Major Arcana, has an ouroboros surrounding the chick (or whatever is) present in the center of the card.
  • Warhammer 40,000: The symbol of the Thousand Sons Chaos Marines is an Ouroboros, in keeping with the motifs of the Marines themselves, and their cities.
  • The World of Darkness:
    • If you pay close attention, the symbols for both Worlds of Darkness are ouroboroi.
    • In Vampire: The Masquerade, the Tzimisce clan symbol is a sinister rendering of an ouroboros. Several theories abound as to the nature of this fact, but the best explanation is that the clan is very wise as to the cannibalistic nature of the Crapsack World they live in.
    • In Werewolf: The Apocalypse, Chronicles of the Black Labyrinth discusses the Ouroboros as a symbol of the Wyrm.

    Video Games 
  • BlazBlue: Hazama 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.
  • In Bravely Default, the Greater-Scope Villain and True Final Boss that Airy serves is called Ouroboros, and the ouroboros symbol appears around each world he consumes, allowing him to talk them into spiritually cannibalizing themselves.
  • Breath of Fire: Nina's strongest weapon in Breath of Fire III and Breath of Fire IV is called Ouroboros.
  • Brigandine: Ouroboros is the Sealed Evil in a Can.
  • In Broken Sword: The Serpent's Curse, the serpent eating its own tail is revealed to be a Gnostic symbol and forms part of the MacGuffin painting and also of the Tabula Veritatis.
  • 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.
  • Cookie Clicker: One of the upgrade for the Fractal Engine is the Chocolate Ouroboros. Fitting, since Fractal Engines are designed to create more cookies from other preexisting cookies, which would be consumed to make even more cookies, etc.
    "Forever eating its own tail and digesting itself, in a metabolically dubious tale of delicious tragedy."
  • Fallout: New Vegas: In the DLC 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).
  • Golden Sun: Dark Dawn has the Ouroboros Labyrinth. It's not as big a labyrinth as it sounds.
  • Groove Coaster: The track "ouroboros -twin stroke of the end-" features one in its background visuals. Furthermore, the intro of the track is repeated at the end, and yes, fans have looped it.
  • Hiveswap has recurring imagery of snakes and serpents (some of it borrowed from Homestuck, which can be found under Webcomics), and a mysterious achievement called "Boros", suggesting an ouroboros motif.
  • Trails Series: A shady conspiracy called Ouroboros is behind a big portion of the series, although their ultimate goals are still unknown. Their emblem has a serpent eatings it own tail.

    Webcomics 

    Web Original 
  • Homestar Runner: In the Strong Bad Email on mini-golf, the "Worm Hole" dodges Homestar's putt, after which the Worm himself pops up, shouts "Get Your Own!" and takes a bite out of the golf ball. Then another Worm pops out of the golf ball, bites the first Worm, and the two end up forming an endless loop.
  • Mortasheen:
    • The Grobbidile is a useless, wormlike by-product of monster creation most notable for a potent Healing Factor and insatiable hunger for the closest source of meat. As a result, most Grobbidiles spend their lives joyfully devouring their own tails.
    • Ourobbidile is a fanmade creature created when a Grobbidile consumes a growth serum. Their backs are lined with hard plates and they are far more aggressive than their previous forms, and attack prey by rolling at them like massive wheels and flattening them. When they lack other targets, they revert to idly chewing on their own regenerating tails.

    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. It's usually a result of heat delirium, where the snake can't tell that that tasty looking moving thing is a part of it.
  • Armadillo Lizard, a little lizard whose defense tactic involve curling up and biting its own tail, protecting its soft underbelly with its hard back, and as such it is given the scientific name Ouroboros.
  • A Stimson's Python in the Alice Springs Reptile Centre somehow shed its skin inside itself, with the shredded tail ending in the mouth. It broke itself free after 3 hours.

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