Archetype

The Ouroboros is an ancient symbol depicting a serpent or dragon swallowing its own tail and forming a circle. It often represents self-reflexivity or cyclicality, especially in the sense of something constantly re-creating itself, the eternal return, and other things perceived as cycles that begin anew as soon as they end.

It can also represent the idea of primordial unity related to something existing in or persisting from the beginning with such force or qualities it cannot be extinguished. The ouroboros has been important in religious and mythological symbolism, but has also been frequently used in alchemical illustrations, where it symbolizes the circular nature of the alchemist’s opus.

Carl Jung interpreted the Ouroboros as having an archetypal significance to the human psyche. The Jungian psychologist Erich Neumann writes of it as a representation of the pre-ego dawn state, depicting the undifferentiated infancy experience of both mankind and the individual child.

Snakes are sacred animals in many West African religions. The demi-god Aidophedo uses the image of a serpent biting its own tail. The Ouroboros is also seen in Fon or dahomean iconography as well as in Yoruba imagery as Oshunmare. The god Quetzalcoatl is sometimes portrayed biting its tail on Aztec and Toltec ruins.

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