Tuesday, January 3, 2017

Consider the Ouroboros

I once posed to my subconscious at bedtime to experience a meaningful dream during the night. At some point I awakened with the vivid image of a dragon swallowing its tail imprinted on my mind. I figured that that had to be a mythological archetype, and soon discovered it is known as the Ouroboros (often shown with a snake not a dragon) and has appeared in every culture since the dawn of recorded history. This seems like a good time to consider this, since the Ouroboros encourages us to take the largest perspective possible, which is the direct antithesis to contemporary politics, which seems to encourage us to take the smallest perspective possible (especially through the emphasis on getting elected as opposed to actually governing). The Ouroboros symbolizes the eternal cosmic cycle of destruction and regeneration, and to my eyes, it communicates that life is at once infinite and paradoxically contained within itself.

Jung, naturally, had something to say about it. Let's give him the last word for now. He places it in the context of alchemical philosophy, which is the source for the two images I have chosen.
The alchemists, who in their own way knew more about the nature of the individuation process than we moderns do, expressed this paradox through the symbol of the Ouroboros, the snake that eats its own tail. The Ouroboros has been said to have a meaning of infinity or wholeness. In the age-old image of the Ouroboros lies the thought of devouring oneself and turning oneself into a circulatory process, for it was clear to the more astute alchemists that the prima materia of the art was man himself. The Ouroboros is a dramatic symbol for the integration and assimilation of the opposite, i.e. of the shadow. This 'feed-back' process is at the same time a symbol of immortality, since it is said of the Ouroboros that he slays himself and brings himself to life, fertilizes himself and gives birth to himself. He symbolizes the One, who proceeds from the clash of opposites, and he therefore constitutes the secret of the prima materia which [...] unquestionably stems from man's unconscious.

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