The Uroboros is one of the most ancient symbols mankind has ever used, the primal snake alone was present in the kneph of antiquity which is the most ancient deity of the prehistoric world, the uroboros can be traced back in the revelation of st. John, among the Gnostics, Romansyncretists, Navajo Indians, in Giotto, Africa, Egypt, Mexico, India, Gypsies used it as an amulet and alchemists used it as a symbol within alchemical texts, this symbol then is very much resides within the collective unconscious as its use expands across the world even in cultures that had no direct relations, in this video I am going to explain the meaning behind this symbol by using the works of Erich Neumann in what was his ground-breaking book: the origins and history of consciousness.
This symbol can be understood first hand by looking at its most basic structure, which is that of the circle, because of this, the symbol is very much pre-history & pre-worldly, it doesn’t represent any time or place, start or end, above or below, it doesn’t represent any shifting opposing poles of reality, it is simply just eternal. But, all such a thing comes with consciousness, therefore, this symbol represents the unconscious and this will make more sense in just a minute because anything symbolically that is circular, spherical or round explains the purpose of its geometry which is that of self containment which makes sense because anything that is preconscious or of an infantile form will reside within this containing structure.
This overall structure, this eternal circle which holds the unconscious, the precociousness of humanity explains why the tai chi symbol is circular and represents the opposites, because within this unconscious existence we have the perfect state where opposites are united but rise into consciousness when it moves onto the next mythological stage.
To quote Lao Tzu, this is what he said about the Tao or what you could call the Great Round:
“there was something formless yet complete, that existed before heaven and earth; without sound, without substance, dependant on nothing, unchanging, all pervading, unfailing. One may think of it as the mother of all things under heaven”
He mentions the mother in relation to the Tao but this relation to the mother is also isomorphic to the symbol of the uroboros, as said before, because it is circular, because it is self-containing, it is also a matriarchal symbol.
When we think of the Tao symbol of opposing opposites within the great round or the uroboros which is circular eternal and not yet conscious we need to think of another symbol which relates to this theme of the creation myth and what does come up is the great hermaphrodite or the Hindu Purusha who combines the poles, is not only all existing in one form but also represents the all masculine and feminine.
In the Sanskrit or Hindu philosophy we had the beginning which was called Atman (meaning inner self or soul) in the form of person which thus caused the self to fall into two: Pati and Patni, which means husband and wife.
Again, what we have here is this circular embodiment called Atman which is just like the Tao and uroboros but in the form of person which realises itself and falls into two.
This idea of Atman is relatable to so many other symbols around the world
the uroboros would appear as Aion which was the Hellenistic deity for time or orb which encompassed the universe, Oceanus father of the river gods who again encompassed the entire world via the great river, Leviathan and that which a primal being says: “I am alpha and omega”
from this understanding we now get to the point of ego, consciousness and evolution, the uroboros corresponds to an evolutionary stage in the psychic structure of every human being, and that is the transpersonal psychic stage of being before the formation of an ego, thus, it can be said that the embryonic ego consciousness slumbers in the perfect round, swimming in the ocean of the unborn, thus, the maternal womb. This really makes it obvious of how this symbol is deeply matriarchal because the womb is the place of immemorial experience, anything representing the deep, the abyss, valley, ground, sea, lake, pool, the underworld, the cave, house. anything embracing, that which enwraps, shelters and preserves resides in the matriarchal realm.
The initial stage when ego consciousness is still on the infantile level it is marked by the predominance of the maternal side of the uroboros, through this it gives nourishment, pleasure, protection, warmth, comfort and forgiveness, the place of being contained in the whole, being the refuge of humanity as it always will be, without responsibility or effort, no doubts or divisions: this is therefore the great mother archetype for this stage of ego consciousnesses because beyond this stage of ego development, one can never again see it realized in adult life and thus changes archetypically which would be dependant on neurosis.
It becomes easier to understand uroboric incest when we understand the symbol as a matriarchal figure in early preconscious life, but, at the end of consciousness or at the point of death one becomes again unified with the mother archetype for example: this is represented in the symbolic importance of tombs, sarcophagus and coffin which are all ritual processes which combine one with the mother once again, in the stone age one would be buried in the posture of an embryo, and of course you have cinerary erns which then are to be released on the earth to again be reunited with the mother.
Inward digestion is to possess and obtain power, thus, conscious realisation is called eating in this sense, when we talk about the conscious mind asimilating unconscious content it is no more implied in the symbol of eating and digesting which the uroboros partakes in, whereby digesting becomes assimilation of unconscious or newly found knowledge to develop consciousness and ego formation.
“the uroboros is appropriate as a symbol of origination. in creative phenomena, too, and not only in religious phenomena, the life spanning figure of the round signifies the regenerative sea and the source of higher life. it is however whose clinging embrace prevents the neurotic from being born into life. then it is no longer the primoridal figure of the uroborus, but in the case of a more developed ego, the indication that a further stage has been reached, namely the dominance of the uroborus over the ego, or the stage of the great mother.”
Obviously this symbol is relative to neuroticism from a psychological perspective, when ego development ceases and remains infantile the connotations of the matriarchal mother become more negative for the development of the individual.
The image of the mother goddess and divine child picture the relationship between the infantile ego and uroboros but this would only be healthy at the early stages of development otherwise it would be much more negative.
Neumann states that the serpent itself is a symbol of phallic fertility and this explains why the great mother is often connected with snakes, he points out this significance in credo Mycenaean culture and many others, also in relation to the bible story of paradise and how the snake is the companion of the woman, he also says that there are primitive representations uncovered by archaeologists of the mother goddess with her child having the heads of snakes.
One thought on “Uroboros // Ego | Eric Neumann and Carl Jung | Symbolism, Mythology and Psychology”
Very interesting in terms of origin.
I always think the uroboros symbol is perfect for the ego, as it is a snake eating itself, which summarises an unhealthy egotism of the self, of narcissism perfectly.