Snake Symbolism and the Serpent Ouroboros
Did you know that outside of Judeo-Christianity the snake or serpent was in most every religion and mythology used to represent positive cosmic energies as opposed to negative or evil ones? In ancient civilizations, the serpent was the symbol of rebirth, protection, divine power and so on. Only in Judeo-Christian myth did it become the treacherous spirit that tempted Adam and Eve to defy the will of God.
The ancient Egyptian hieroglyph for goddess is a snake. The goddess Buto was in ancient Egypt depicted as a cobra. Buto's role in mythology is to protect Horus, the Sun god, and his mother Isis. But it didn't stop there, as it is well-known that every individual in Egypt was protected by a personal snake-spirit that symbolized their lifetime and their survival into the afterlife.
Buto was present in most every pharaoh’s crown in the form of the uraeus that was the symbol of the pharaoh’s divine power. Remember the snake on the pharaoh's crown? Now, that's Buto weaving her body around a solar disk that represents the Sun’s orbit and the cyclic nature of eternal life.
Pelasgian, the earliest known Greek creation myth tells that Eurynome, the goddess of all, surfaced from the ocean of Chaos, while, at the same time, the north wind created Ophion, a great snake. After mating with Ophion, Eurynome turned into a bird and created the world egg, which Ophion encircled seven times. Out of this egg were all things in creation hatched.
In the classical period, the Greeks held that Chronos, the god of time was like a river that encircles the earth. Oceanos was like a serpent that encircled the universe bearing the zodiac on its back.
In Hellenistic Egypt arose an old-new philosophy called the Hermetic tradition named after the Greek god Hermes. In its symbolism the serpent bit its own tail and thus became a symbol of the unity of spirit, soul and body - ouroboros One the All. It was also the symbol of the never-ending cycle of life, death and rebirth. From the tomb of Seti I comes the first known depiction of ouroborus. In order to ensure the immortality of the diseased pharaoh into the lid of his sarcophagus was carved the Sun god encircled by the snake ouroboros.
Since according to the beliefs of people at the time the earth was in the center of the universe, the Gnostics believed that the ouroboros, also called world serpent, indicated the boundary between the world and the pleroma of heaven. Influenced by the Old Testament some Gnostics believed the world serpent was the evil demiurge that created the world and guards the gateway of escape. Other Gnostic sects, such as the Naassenes and Ophite Gnostics, believed that the ouroboros was the serpent in the Garden of Eden, but rather than an evil villain, the serpent was really the helper of Adam and Eve to obtain the first knowledge by eating the fruit from the Tree of Knowledge.
Similar to the Hellenic myth, in Roman mythology, the serpent was identified as the god of time, Saturn, joining together the months of the year like the serpent swallowing its tail. Having swallowed his children, Saturn, with his scythe in hand, represented the end or devouring of mortal life and the beginning of a new cycle - rebirth. This figure of Saturn continued to be identified as ouroboros in Renaissance Europe holding his scythe, the symbol of death.
Throughout the Middle Ages, ouroboros, in hermetico-alchemical tradition, symbolized the very first principle of the hermetic teaching - the oneness of all. The alchemical ideogram of ouroboros is a circle, a line that encloses within itself and contains within itself both its end and beginning. Oftentimes, as in the Chrysopoeia of Cleopatra, the circle is replaced by a snake biting its own tail. The importance of the serpent symbol in alchemical teaching is that it represents something that is both itself and the overcoming of itself. It has the capacity to alter and dissolve and as such is both dominating and dominated principle. "Nature rejoices in Nature, Nature triumphs over Nature, Nature dominates Nature."
The snake symbol throughout time sends the message that there are limits that we as humans cannot break, there is knowledge that we cannot grasp, that is beyond our levels of comprehension, yet within our own little pond of life we are the masters of our own destiny, we decide how we live our lives, what we make of it and how we make this earth into a happy place.
More by this Author
Did you know that there is a patron saint for everything. Animals, alcoholics, even serial killers have their patron saints in a system that originated in Roman times and is as old as Christianity.
In this project I'll show you how to design the ideal house according to feng shui rules. You can also reorganize your room using some of these ideas. Stairs should never face the front door. So, when you are...
In this article I collected in one place the most significant ancient Aztec festivals, holidays and celebrations. These traditional festivals were an important part of the everyday life of the Aztecs...