Notes on Ouroboros Serpent symbolism, and the Serpent Caduceus

Out of Africa serpents

Nigeria and the Congo have the rainbow serpent Aido-Hwedo who assisted in creation of the world

Australia also has its Rainbow Serpent myth

Australian Aboriginal rock painting of the “Rainbow Serpent”.
The Rainbow Serpent is seen as the inhabitant of permanent waterholes and is in control of life’s most precious resource, oils and waters. He is the sometimes unpredictable Rainbow Serpent, who vies with the ever-reliable Sun, that replenishes the stores of water, forming gullies and deep channels as he slithered across the landscape, allowing for the collection and distribution of water.

Dreamtime stories tell of the great spirits and totems during creation, in animal and human form they moulded the barren and featureless earth. The Rainbow Serpent came from beneath the ground and created huge ridges, mountains and gorges as it pushed upward. The Rainbow Serpent is known as Ngalyod by the Gunwinggu and Borlung by the Miali. He is a serpent of immense proportions which inhabits deep permanent waterholes.[1]

Serpent stories vary according to environmental differences. Tribes of the monsoonal areas depict an epic interaction of the Sun, Serpent and wind in their Dreamtime stories, whereas tribes of the central desert experience less drastic seasonal shifts and their stories reflect this.

It is known both as a benevolent protector of its people (the groups from the country around) and as a malevolent punisher of law breakers. The Rainbow Serpent’s mythology is closely linked to land, water, life, social relationships and fertility.

There are innumerable names and stories associated with the serpent, all of which communicate the significance and power of this being within Aboriginal traditions. Source: Wikipedia

The caduceus is from Greek κηρύκειον kērukeion “herald’s staff” carried by Hermes in Greek mythology.

Hermes hastens bearing his kerukeion, on an Attic lekythos, ca 480-470 BC, attributed to the Tithonos Painter Source: Wikimedia Commons.

Hermes Ingenui[1] carrying a winged kerykeion upright in his left hand, Roman copy reflecting an unknown Greek original of the 5th century BCE. (Museo Pio-Clementino, Rome)

The same staff was also borne by heralds in general, for example by Iris, the messenger of Hera.

Iris or Nike with the caduceus in detail from an Attic red-figure pelike, middle of 5th century BC – Agrigento, Sicilia Source: Wikimedia Commons

According to esoteric Buddhism, the wand of the caduceus corresponds to the axis of the world and the serpents refer to the force called Kundalini, which, in Tantrist teaching, sleeps coiled up at the base of the backbone – a symbol of the evolutive power of pure energy.

Ouroboros symbolism has been used to describe Kundalini energy. According to the second century Yoga Kundalini Upanishad, “The divine power, Kundalini, shines like the stem of a young lotus; like a snake, coiled round upon herself she holds her tail in her mouth and lies resting half asleep as the base of the body” (1.82). Another interpretation is that Kundalini equates to the entwined serpents of the caduceus, the entwined serpents representing medicine in the west or, esoterically, human DNA

A map from the late Tokugawa Era named “Jishin-no-ben” has an Ouroborous encircling an area of Japan to explain the cyclical nature of earthquakes.

The Meaning of the Winged Caduceus,  MES Newsletter 27 (4) Nov 2010 + 28 (1)  Feb 2011, Page 6 Reports of the Midwestern Epigraphic Society, Columbus, Ohio, USA ISSN 1942-504X (online): Vol. 27, No.4, Vol. 28, No. 1
By John J White, III

The Winged Caduceus is one of the ancient symbols that is familiar but hardly understood. It appears to be Eastern Mediterranean but either Greek or Near Eastern not Egyptian. The usage as a symbol of medicine makes it a friendly symbol, but the connection is weak. A more common version of it is shown below, and the slight variations portrayed seem to be of little significance. My
investigation of Sun religion has led to a better interpretation.
There are three distinct symbols that are presented frequently: the Staff of Aesklepios, the Staff of Hermes, and the Caduceus. Let us look at two of each from the Internet.
 The Staff of Aesklepios is shown in the top two images. Aesklepios was the Greek God of medicine and
was alleged to be a son of Apollo.
 The middle two images are called the Staff of Hermes. He is an older god, presumably a version of the Earth God.

Hermes Ingenui[1] carrying a winged kerykeion upright in his left hand, Roman copy reflecting an unknown Greek original of the 5th century BCE. (Museo Pio-Clementino, Rome). Source: Wikimedia Commons

 The lower two images are examples of the Caduceus. We can see from the fifth image that the Wings are a symbol of the Sun God. There is no suggestion of a Symbol
of Medicine; that is likely a modern world association.

 The seventh image is a Roman Caduceus owned by the Minneapolis Institute of Art. Here we see an additional Turtle, which is a traditional symbol of the Earth Mother. We thus conclude that the Caduceus is a symbol of the majority Sun religion as practiced by the Egyptians, Ptolemaic Greeks, and the Ancient Mexicans. The Caduceus spelling appears to be Roman.
Our final choice of images is taken from the collection of ancient Mexican sellos (stamps) published by Jorge Encisco.5
We have no names or purposes for this art. It is merely the combination of Sun and Serpent indications in the same figure that suggests a resemblance to the caduceus. It is our view that the Mexican Sun religion has the same conceptual basis as the Egyptian, which we call the majority Sun religion

1. JJ White, ―Symbolism Observed at the Pueblo Indian Cultural Center‖, Midwestern Epigraphic Newsletter 25(1), 1p (2008).
2. JJ White, ―Identification of Sun-Swastikas in the New  World‖, Midwestern Epigraphic Newsletter 27(1), 10-11 (2009).
3. JJ White, ―The Sun Worship Mural At Cahokia‖, Midwestern Epigraphic Newsletter 27(2), 4 (2010).
4. JJ White, ―Sun-Serpent Images of Ancient Mexico‖, Midwestern Epigraphic Newsletter 27(3), 8-9 (2010).
5. Jorge Encisco, Design Motifs of Ancient Mexico, Dover Publications, New York, 1953, 153p.

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Caduceus – Rod of Hermes – DNA

For the Romans, the caduceus served as a symbol of moral equilibrium and of good conduct. The wand represents power; the two snakes wisdom; the wings diligence; and the helmet is the emblem of lofty thoughts.

According to esoteric Buddhism, the wand of the caduceus corresponds to the axis of the world and the serpents refer to the force called Kundalini, which, in Tantrist teaching, sleeps coiled up at the base of the backbone – a symbol of the evolutive power of pure energy.

The caduceus (or magic wand) that Mercury carries consists of three elements: a rod, a pair of wings and two intertwined serpents. The rod is emblematic of power and authority. In the hands of primitive man, the largest club and the power to wield it were mighty persuaders as to just who was the leader of the tribe. The caduceus was reported to have the power of producing sleep.

As a symbol for medicine, the caduceus is often used interchangeably with the Rod of Asclepius (single snake, no wings), although learned opinion prefers the Rod of Asclepius, reserving the caduceus for representing commerce.

The symbol’s origins are thought to date to as early as 2600 BC in Mesopotamia, and there are several references to a caduceus-like symbol in the Bible, namely in Numbers 21:4­9, and 2 Kings 18:4. During the Exodus, Moses was instructed by God to fashion a pole upon which he was to position a serpent made of bronze; when looked upon, this Nehushtan, as it was called in Hebrew, would spare the lives of the Israelites stricken by venomous snake bites.

The intent was that people would look upward and be reminded to pray to God, but eventually the meaning was forgotten and this symbol was apparently worshiped by the Hebrew people until the reign of Hezekiah as described in 2 Kings 18:4.Walter Burkert has two figures in his book which show a rod with two intertwined snakes winding around a central axis from Mesopotamia in 2200 BC, and a similar image from Crete in 700 BC.

It was used by the astrologer priests in the Eleusinian Mysteries of ancient Greece, and has been associated with the Gnostic Corpus Hermeticum andKundalini Yoga, where it is thought to be a symbolic representation of the “subtle” nerve channels the “ida”, “pingala”, and “sushumna” described in yogic kundalini physiology.

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Friedlander, Walter J. The Golden Wand of Medicine: A History of the Caduceus Symbol in Medicine.” New York, Greenwood, 1992

General Permission: The information on this site has been researched from many open “public domain” sources and so may be used freely by anyone, providing any significant copying or use of the concepts I have proposed is acknowledged and cited as:

reproduced from/according to/cited from/courtesy of/with permission from: www.drblayney.com/Asclepius.html

The Caduceus vs the Staff of Asclepius (Asklepian 03)
Keith Blayney Sept 2002, revised Oct 2005

Mercury (Hermes) & merchant approach disapproving Asclepius (Physician) and the naked Graces (Meditrine, Hygeia and Panacea)
[Engraved from an original in the then Museum Pio Clemens in Rome
Galerie Mythologique, Recueil de Monuments by Aubin Louis Millin, Paris 1811.]

The link between the caduceus of Hermes (Mercury) and medicine seems to have arisen by the seventh century A.D., when Hermes had come to be linked with alchemy. Alchemists were referred to as the sons of Hermes, as Hermetists or Hermeticists and as “practitioners of the hermetic arts”. There are clear occult associations with the caduceus.

The caduceus was the magic staff of Hermes (Mercury), the god of commerce, eloquence, invention, travel and theft, and so was a symbol of heralds and commerce, not medicine. The words caduity & caducous imply temporality, perishableness and senility, while the medical profession espouses renewal, vitality and health.

[2] The Staff of Asclepius (Æsclepius, Asklepios)
[Personification of Medical or healing Art and its ideals]

Professional and patient centred organisations (such as the NZMA, in fact most medical Associations around the world including the World Health Organization) use the “correct” and traditional symbol of medicine, the staff of Asclepius with a single serpent encircling a staff, classically a rough-hewn knotty tree limb. Asclepius (an ancient greek physician deified as the god of medicine) is traditionally depicted as a bearded man wearing a robe that leaves his chest uncovered and holding a staff with his sacred single serpent coiled around it, (example right) symbolizing renewal of youth as the serpent casts off its skin.

Asclepius and his staff /

Statue of Askleppios

at Guys Hospital

The single serpent staff also appears on a Sumerian vase of c. 2000 B.C. representing the healing god Ningishita, the prototype of the Greek Asklepios. However, there is a more practical origin postulated which makes sense [See Dracunculus medinensis].
Who was Asclepius? Asclepius was most probably a skilled physician who practised in Greece around 1200BC (and described in Homer’s Iliad). Eventually through myth and legend he came to be worshipped as Asclepius, the (Greek) god of Healing. [See BBC reference]

Medical schools developed, which were usually connected to temples or shrines called Asclepions (Asclepieia) dedicated to Asclepius. The Asclepion became very important in Greek society. Patients believed they could be cured by sleeping in them. They would visit, offering gifts and sacrifices to the god, and be treated by priest healers (called the Asclepiadae). The worship of Asclepius spread to Rome and continued as late as the sixth century.

The Asclepiadae were a large order of priest physicians who controlled the sacred secrets of healing, which were passed from father to son. Harmless Aesculapian snakes were kept in the combination hospital-temples built by the ancient Greeks and, later, by the Romans in honor of the god. The snakes are found not only in their original range of southern Europe, but also in the various places in Germany and Austria where Roman temples had been established. Escaped snakes survived and flourished.

Smooth, glossy, and slender, the snake has a uniformly brown back with a streak of darker color behind the eyes. The snake’s belly is yellowish or whitish and has ridged scales that catch easily on rough surfaces, making it especially adapted for climbing trees. Scientific classification: The Aesculapian snake belongs to the family Colubridae. It is classified as Elaphe longissima.

The Myth: Asclepius is the god of Healing. He is the son of Apollo and the nymph, Coronis. While pregnant with Asclepius, Coronis secretly took a second, mortal lover. When Apollo found out, he sent Artemis to kill her. While burning on the funeral pyre, Apollo felt pity and rescued the unborn child from the corpse. Asclepius was taught about medicine and healing by the wise centaur, Cheiron, and became so skilled in it that he succeeded in bringing one of his patients back from the dead. Zeus felt that the immortality of the Gods was threatened and killed the healer with a thunderbolt. At Apollo’s request, Asclepius was placed among the stars as Ophiuchus, the serpent-bearer.

Meditrine, Hygeia and Panacea: The children of Asclepius included his daughters Meditrina, Hygeia and Panacea who were symbols of medicine, hygiene and healing (literally, “all healing”) respectively. Two of the sons of Asclepius appeared in Homer’s Illiad as physicians in the Greek army (Machaon and Podalirius).

Note that the classic Hippocratice Oath is sworn “by Apollo the physician, by ニsculapius, Hygeia, and Panacea, …..”

The probable medical origin of the single serpent around a rod: In ancient times infection by parasitic worms was common. The filarial worm Dracunculus medinensis aka “the fiery serpent”, aka “the dragon of Medina” aka “the guinea worm” crawled around the victim’s body, just under the skin. Physicians treated this infection by cutting a slit in the patient’s skin, just in front of the worm’s path. As the worm crawled out the cut, the physician carefully wound the pest around a stick until the entire animal had been removed. It is believed that because this type of infection was so common, physicians advertised their services by displaying a sign with the worm on a stick. [See graphic photos -not for the faint-hearted or Benjamin.]

The staff as a Medical symbol: From the early 16th century onwards, the staff of Asclepius and the caduceus of Hermes were widely used as printers marks especially as frontispieces to pharmacopoeias in the 17th and 18th centuries. Over time the rod and serpent (the Asclepian staff) emerged as an independent symbol of medicine.

Despite the unequivocal claim of the staff of Asclepius to represent medicine (and healing), the caduceus, a rod with two entwined serpents topped by a pair of wings appears to be the more popular symbol of medicine in the United States, probably due to simple confusion between the caduceus and the staff of Asclepius, the true symbol of medicine. Many people use the word caduceus to mean both of these emblems.

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Pharmakeia” (Eng., pharmacy etc.) primarily signified the use of medicine, DRUGS, SPELLS; then, POISONING; then, SORCERY, Galatians 5:20, R.V., “sorcery” (A.V., “witchcraft”), mentioned as one of “the works of the flesh.” See also Rev. 9:21; 18:23
In the Septuagint (the Greek translation of the Old Testament ca. 200 B.C.), Ex. 7:11,22; 8:7, 18; Isa. 47:9,12
In sorcery, the use of DRUGS, whether simple or potent, was generally accompanied by INCANTATIONS and appeals to OCCULT powers, with the provision of various charms, amulets, etc., professedly designed to keep the applicant or patient from the attention and power of demons, but actually to impress the applicant with the mysterious resources and powers of the sorcerer.

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The Serpent in the Sky

Persia has the great sky serpent Azhi Dahaka, creator of all the planets.


Azhi Dahaka is described as a three-headed, dragon-like monster. He is said to have a thousand senses, and to bleed snakes, scorpions, and other venomous creatures. He also is said to bring or control storms and disease. This dragon was defeated by the hero Thraetaona or Feridun, but could not be killed; instead, he was imprisoned by being chained to the mountain Damavand.
Or as Azhi Dahaka, the three-headed dragon of Persian myth, who struggled with Atar, son of Ahura Mazdah, who finally bound it with strong chains on a high mountain. Dahaka was however destined to escape near the end of the world, and destroy a third of the world before he was slain. It is further prophesized that Azhi Dahaka will break free of this prison as part of the Zoroastrian apocalypse, and will kill one-third of humanity before finally being slain by Keresaspa.

Azhi Dahaka (Avestan Great Snake) is a demonic figure in the texts and mythology of Zoroastrian Persia, where he is one of the subordinates of Angra Mainyu. Alternate names include Azi Dahak, Dahaka, Dahaka. DAHAKA An ancient Persian god of death and demon of deceit and mendacity. He loves destroying life. Dahaka is usually depicted with three heads, while scorpions and lizards crawl all over his body.

In the Shahnameh written around 1000 AD, Azhi Dahaka was semi-anthropomorphosized as Zahak or Zohak, though many of the older characteristics were retained in the new version. Persian mythology developed in what is now Iran after about 1500 B . C . About a thousand years later, a religion known as Zoroastrianism emerged in the region. It held on to many of the earlier beliefs but added new themes, deities, and myths. The result was a mythology based on a dualistic vision: a cosmic conflict between good and evil.

Background and Sources. The roots of Persian mythology lie in the steppes of southern Russia and Central Asia. Between 1500 and 1000 B . C ., Indo-European peoples migrated south from the steppes into the regions now known as Turkey, Iran, and northern India. Those who settled in Iran became the Persians. Their mythology had much in common with that of the early Hindus and probably developed from a common Indo-European source. In time, the Persians also absorbed influences from Mesopotamia * on their western border.

The religious reformer and prophet Zoroaster (probably born around 628 B . C .) founded the faith that dominated Persia until the arrival of Islam in the A . D . 600S. Apart from somewhat unreliable accounts by ancient Greek historians, the earliest information about Persian mythology comes from Zoroastrianism’s sacred book, the Zend-Avesta or Avesta. Much of the original Zend-Avesta was lost after Alexander the Great conquered Persia in 334 B . C . What survives is a set of writings gathered and arranged between A . D . 200 and 600. One section, the Gathas, consists of songs believed to have been composed by Zoroaster. Much mythological material can be found in another section containing Yashts, hymns addressed to angels and heroes. Source: Persian Mythology – Myth Encyclopedia

The Ouroboros (source) is an ancient symbol depicting a serpent or dragon eating its own tail. The name originates from within Greek language; (oura) meaning “tail” and (boros) meaning “eating”, thus “he who eats the tail”.

The Ouroboros represents the perpetual cyclic renewal of life and infinity, the concept of eternity and the eternal return, and represents the cycle of life, death and rebirth, leading to immortality, as in the Phoenix.

The current mathematical symbol for infinity – may be derived from a variant on the classic Ouroboros with the snake looped once before eating its own tail, and such depictions of the double loop as a snake eating its own tail are common today in fantasy art and fantasy literature, though other conjectures also exist.

It can also represent the idea of primordial unity related to something existing in or persisting before any 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. It is also often associated with Gnosticism and Hermeticism.

Symbolic representation of coming full circle (cycle)

The Ouroboros is an ancient symbol depicting a serpent or dragon eating its own tail. The name originates from within Greek language; (oura) meaning “tail” and (boros) meaning “eating”, thus “he who eats the tail”.

The Ouroboros represents the perpetual cyclic renewal of life and infinity, the concept of eternity and the eternal return, and represents the cycle of life, death and rebirth, leading to immortality, as in the Phoenix.

The current mathematical symbol for infinity – may be derived from a variant on the classic Ouroboros with the snake looped once before eating its own tail, and such depictions of the double loop as a snake eating its own tail are common modern-day interpretations.
The Ouroboros is believed to have been inspired by the Milky Way.

Ancient texts (??) refer to a serpent of light residing in the heavens

Mythology: The Milky Way galaxy keeps a time cycle that ends in catastrophic change when the serpent eats its tail (at the end of the tale of this reality.) Suntelia Aion is the sun rising out of the mouth of the ouroboros, which allegedly occurs December 21, 2012 – representing the evolution of consciousness in the alchemy of time

***

According to another theory, the Ouroboros may have originated in Egypt as a symbol of the sun … you have the story out of Egypt of Moses’ staff that turns into a serpent swallowing the other serpent staffs of the Egyptians.

In Egyptian mythology the world rests on the divine serpent Nehebu-Kau.

The emblem is then borrowed by Greece – Ouroboros “tail swallower” the Greek symbol of eternity, consists of a snake curled into a circle or hoop, biting its own tail.

The Ouroboros grew out of the belief that serpents eat themselves and are reborn from themselves in an endless cycle of destruction and creation.

Ancient Greeks considered snakes sacred to Asclepius, the god of medicine. He carried the caduceus: symbol of modern physicians. Snakes entwined the staffs of Hermes and Asclepius. On Hermes’ caduceus, wings represent Hermes’ role as escort of souls to the afterlife.

Zeus became the father of the gods by his conquest of Typhon, the serpent of the cosmic sea. Zeus immortalized the Dragon by placing him as the constellation Draco.

In Greek mythology the great snake Python lived at the center of the world holding it together. Python guarded and controlled the shrine of the oracle Gaia at Delphos. Apollo came down from Mount Olympus and killed Python, becoming known as the Pythian Apollo. The sibyl or Pythia told prophecies by inhaling volcanic fumes from the center of the world guarded by the divine Python. The Snake in Inanna and the Huluppu Tree is a python. In the ancient divinatory art of herpetomancy seers use a live snake to foretell the future.

In Greek mythology, a great and wise serpent called Ladon guards the tree of the golden apples of the Hesperides

The Ouroboros originated in Egypt as a symbol of the sun … you have the story out of Egypt of Moses’ staff that turns into a serpent swallowing the other serpent staffs of the Egyptians

The emblem is then borrowed by Greece – Ouroboros “tail swallower” the Greek symbol of eternity, consists of a snake curled into a circle or hoop, biting its own tail.
The Ouroboros grew out of the belief that serpents eat themselves and are reborn from themselves in an endless cycle of destruction and creation.

Ancient Greeks considered snakes sacred to Asclepius, the god of medicine. He carried the caduceus: symbol of modern physicians. Snakes entwined the staffs of Hermes and Asclepius. On Hermes’ caduceus, wings represent Hermes’ role as escort of souls to the afterlife.

Zeus became the father of the gods by his conquest of Typhon, the serpent of the cosmic sea. Zeus immortalized the Dragon by placing him as the constellation Draco.

In Greek mythology the great snake Python lived at the center of the world holding it together. Python guarded and controlled the shrine of the oracle Gaia at Delphos. Apollo came down from Mount Olympus and killed Python, becoming known as the Pythian Apollo. The sibyl or Pythia told prophecies by inhaling volcanic fumes from the center of the world guarded by the divine Python. The Snake in Inanna and the Huluppu Tree is a python. In the ancient divinatory art of herpetomancy seers use a live snake to foretell the future.

Herakles and Ladon guarding the tree of life, Roman relief plate late era. Loeb collection Source: Wikimedia Commons

In Greek mythology, a great and wise serpent called Ladon guards the tree of the golden apples of the Hesperides.

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The Ouroboros and the Tree of Life

Origins of the Ouroboros

The serpent or dragon eating its own tail has survived from antiquity and can be traced back to Ancient Egypt, circa 1600 B.C.E. It is contained in the Egyptian Book of the Netherworld. The Ouroboros was popular after the Amarna period.The first known appearance of the ouroboros motif is in the Enigmatic Book of the Netherworld, an ancient Egyptian funerary text in KV62, the tomb of Tutankhamun, in the 14th century BC. The text concerns the actions of the god Ra and his union with Osiris in the underworld. In an illustration from this text, two serpents, holding their tails in their mouths, coil around the head and feet of an enormous god, who may represent the unified Ra-Osiris. Both serpents are manifestations of the deity Mehen, who in other funerary texts protects Ra in his underworld journey. The whole divine figure represents the beginning and the end of time.Hornung, Erik. The Ancient Egyptian Books of the Afterlife. Cornell University Press, 1999. pp. 38, 77–78

The ouroboros appears elsewhere in Egyptian sources, where, like many Egyptian serpent deities, it represents the formless disorder that surrounds the orderly world and is involved in that world’s periodic renewal.[4Hornung, Erik. Conceptions of God in Egypt: The One and the Many. Cornell University Press, 2002. pp. 163–164] The symbol persisted in Egypt into Roman times, when it frequently appeared on magical talismans, sometimes in combination with other magical emblems.[5Hornung, Erik. The Secret Lore of Egypt: Its Impact on the West. Cornell University Press, 2002. p. 58] The 4th-century AD Latin commentator Servius was aware of the Egyptian use of the symbol, noting that the image of a snake biting its tail represents the cyclical nature of the year.Servius, note to Aeneid 5.85: “according to the Egyptians, before the invention of the alphabet the year was symbolized by a picture, a serpent biting its own tail, because it recurs on itself” (annus secundum Aegyptios indicabatur ante inventas litteras picto dracone caudam suam mordente, quia in se recurrit), as cited by Danuta Shanzer, A Philosophical and Literary Commentary on Martianus Capella’s De Nuptiis Philologiae et Mercurii Book 1 (University of California Press, 1986), p. 159.

Gnostic gem from Roman-era Egypt (1st century AD), with an ouroboros surrounding a scarab and voces magicae, characters representing magic words –
Egypt Source: Wikimedia Commons

Papyrus of Dama Heroub Egypt, 21st Dynasty

In the Book of the Dead, which was still current in the Graeco-Roman period, the self-begetting sun god Atum is said to have ascended from chaos-waters with the appearance of a snake, the animal renewing itself every morning, and the deceased wishes to turn into the shape of the snake Sato (“son of the earth”), the embodiment of Atum.

The famous Ouroboros drawing from the early alchemical text The Chrysopoeia of Cleopatra dating to 2nd century Alexandria encloses the words hen to pan, “one is the all”. Its black and white halves represent the Gnostic duality of existence. As such, the Ouroboros could be interpreted as the Western equivalent of the Taoist Yin-Yang symbol. The Chrysopoeia Ouroboros of Cleopatra is one of the oldest images of the Ouroboros to be linked with the legendary opus of the Alchemists, the Philosopher’s Stone.

Greece

Ancient Greeks considered snakes sacred to Asclepius, the god of medicine. He carried the caduceus: symbol of modern physicians. Snakes entwined the staffs of Hermes and Asclepius. On Hermes’ caduceus, wings represent Hermes’ role as escort of souls to the afterlife.

Zeus became the father of the gods by his conquest of Typhon, the serpent of the cosmic sea. Zeus immortalized the Dragon by placing him as the constellation Draco.

In Greek mythology the great snake Python lived at the center of the world holding it together. Python guarded and controlled the shrine of the oracle Gaia at Delphos. Apollo came down from Mount Olympus and killed Python, becoming known as the Pythian Apollo. The sibyl or Pythia told prophecies by inhaling volcanic fumes from the center of the world guarded by the divine Python.

Plato described a self-eating, circular being as the first living thing in the universe—an immortal, mythologically constructed entity.

The living being had no need of eyes because there was nothing outside of him to be seen; nor of ears because there was nothing to be heard; and there was no surrounding atmosphere to be breathed; nor would there have been any use of organs by the help of which he might receive his food or get rid of what he had already digested, since there was nothing which went from him or came into him: for there was nothing beside him. Of design he created thus; his own waste providing his own food, and all that he did or suffered taking place in and by himself. For the Creator conceived that a being which was self-sufficient would be far more excellent than one which lacked anything; and, as he had no need to take anything or defend himself against any one, the Creator did not think it necessary to bestow upon him hands: nor had he any need of feet, nor of the whole apparatus of walking; but the movement suited to his spherical form which was designed by him, being of all the seven that which is most appropriate to mind and intelligence; and he was made to move in the same manner and on the same spot, within his own limits revolving in a circle. All the other six motions were taken away from him, and he was made not to partake of their deviations. And as this circular movement required no feet, the universe was created without legs and without feet.[7]
In Gnosticism, this serpent symbolized eternity and the soul of the world. The Gnostic text Pistis Sophia describes the disc of the sun as a 12-part dragon with his tail in his mouth.[8]

Greece


Plato described a self-eating, circular being as the first living thing in the universe – an immortal, mythologically constructed beast. The living being had no need of eyes when there was nothing remaining outside him to be seen; nor of ears when there was nothing to be heard; and there was no surrounding atmosphere to be breathed; nor would there have been any use of organs by the help of which he might receive his food or get rid of what he had already digested, since there was nothing which went from him or came into him: for there was nothing beside him.

Of design he was created thus, his own waste providing his own food, and all that he did or suffered taking place in and by himself. For the Creator conceived that a being which was self-sufficient would be far more excellent than one which lacked anything; and, as he had no need to take anything or defend himself against any one, the Creator did not think it necessary to bestow upon him hands: nor had he any need of feet, nor of the whole apparatus of walking; but the movement suited to his spherical form was assigned to him, being of all the seven that which is most appropriate to mind and intelligence; and he was made to move in the same manner and on the same spot, within his own limits revolving in a circle.

All the other six motions were taken away from him, and he was made not to partake of their deviations. And as this circular movement required no feet, the universe was created without legs and without feet. In Gnosticism, this serpent symbolized eternity and the soul of the world.

Hecate, Greek goddess of the underworld is also associated with snakes. Hecate is sometimes depicted as being a triple formed goddess reflecting her rulership over earth, sea and sky, or in her triple roles She is variously associated with crossroads, entrance-ways, fire, light, the Moon, magic, witchcraft, knowledge of herbs and poisonous plants, necromancy and sorcery as well as a more universal role as Saviour (Soteira), Mother of Angels and the Cosmic World Soul.

The figure of Hecate can often be associated with the figure of Isis in Egyptian myth. Lucius Apuleius (c. 123—c. 170 CE) in his work “The Golden Ass” associates Hecate with Isis:

‘I am she that is the natural mother of all things, mistress and governess of all the elements, the initial progeny of worlds, chief of powers divine, Queen of heaven, the principal of the Gods celestial, the light of the goddesses: at my will the planets of the air, the wholesome winds of the Seas, and the silences of hell be disposed; my name, my divinity is adored throughout all the world in divers manners, in variable customs and in many names, […] Some call me Juno, others Bellona of the Battles, and still others Hecate. Principally the Ethiopians which dwell in the Orient, and the Egyptians which are excellent in all kind of ancient doctrine, and by their proper ceremonies accustomed to worship me, do call me Queen Isis.[…]'[85]

In the syncretism during Late Antiquity of Hellenistic and late Babylonian (“Chaldean”) elements, Hecate was identified with Ereshkigal, the underworld counterpart of Inanna in the Babylonian cosmography. In the Michigan magical papyrus (inv. 7), dated to the late 3rd or early 4th century CE, Hecate Ereschigal is invoked against fear of punishment in the afterlife. Before she became associated with Greek mythology, she had many similarities with Artemis (wilderness, and watching over wedding ceremonies).

Hecate is the primary feminine figure in the Chaldean Oracles (2nd-3rd century CE), where she is associated in fragment 194 with a strophalos (usually translated as a spinning top, or wheel, used in magic) “Labour thou around the Strophalos of Hecate.”[37] This appears to refer to a variant of the device mentioned by Psellus. Variations in interpretations of Hecate’s role or roles can be traced in 5th-century Athens. In two fragments of Aeschylus she appears as a great goddess. In Sophocles and Euripides she is characterized as the mistress of witchcraft and the Keres.  The word “jinx” might have originated in a cult object associated with Hecate. “The Byzantine polymath Michael Psellus […] speaks of a bullroarer, consisting of a golden sphere, decorated throughout with symbols and whirled on an oxhide thong. 

While the earliest depictions of Hecate were also single or single-headed not triple, cult images and altars of Hecate in her triplicate or trimorphic form were placed at three-way crossroads (though they also appeared before private homes and in front of city gates)In this form she came to be known as the goddess Trivia “the three ways” in Roman mythology. In what appears to be a 7th century indication of the survival of cult practices of this general sort, Saint Eligius, in his Sermo warns the sick among his recently converted flock in Flanders against putting “devilish charms at springs or trees or crossroads”,[48] and, according to Saint Ouen would urge them “No Christian should make or render any devotion to the deities of the trivium, where three roads meet…”

Dogs were sacred to Hecate and associated with roads, domestic spaces, purification, and spirits of the dead. They played a similar symbolic role in ancient China, where dogs were conceived as representative of the household sphere, and as protective spirits appropriate when transcending geographic and spatial boundaries. Dogs were also sacrificed to the road. As Roel Sterckx observes, “The use of dog sacrifices at the gates and doors of the living and the dead as well as its use in travel sacrifices suggest that dogs were perceived as daemonic animals operating in the liminal or transitory realm between the domestic and the unknown, danger-stricken outside world”.

Hecate also came to be associated with ghosts, infernal spirits, the dead and sorcery. Shrines to Hecate were placed at doorways to both homes and cities with the belief that it would protect from restless dead and other spirits. Likewise, shrines to Hecate at three way crossroads were created where food offerings were left at the new moon to protect those who did so from spirits and other evils

This can be compared to Pausanias’ report that in the Ionaian city of Colophon in Asia Minor a sacrifice of a black female puppy was made to Hecate as “the wayside goddess”, and Plutarch’s observation that in Boeotia dogs were killed in purificatory rites. Dogs, with puppies often mentioned, were offered to Hecate at crossroads, which were sacred to the goddess. 

In the mid-fifth century, iconography associated Hecate with keys, and her appearance with two torches, which when positioned on either side of a gate or door illuminated the immediate area and allowed visitors to be identified. “In Byzantium small temples in her honor were placed close to the gates of the city. Hecate’s importance to Byzantium was above all as a deity of protection. When Philip of Macedon was about to attack the city, according to the legend she alerted the townspeople with her ever present torches, and with her pack of dogs, which served as her constant companions.”[69] This suggests that Hecate’s close association with dogs derived in part from the use of watchdogs, who, particularly at night, raised an alarm when intruders approached. Watchdogs were used extensively by Greeks and Romans. Like Hecate, “[t]he dog is a creature of the threshold, the guardian of doors and portals, and so it is appropriately associated with the frontier between life and death, and with demons and ghosts which move across the frontier. The yawning gates of Hades were guarded by the monstrous watchdog Cerberus, whose function was to prevent the living from entering the underworld, and the dead from leaving it.” Hecate was worshipped by both the Greeks and the Romans who had their own festivals dedicated to her. According to Ruickbie (2004, p. 19) the Greeks observed two days sacred to Hecate, one on the 13th of August and one on the 30th of November, whilst the Romans observed the 29th of every month as her sacred day.

The sacrifice of dogs to Hecate is attested for Thrace, Samothrace, Colophon, and Athens.

The place of origin of her following is uncertain, but it is thought that she had popular followings in Thrace. Her most important sanctuary was Lagina, a theocratic city-state in which the goddess was served by eunuchs. Lagina, where the famous temple of Hecate drew great festal assemblies every year, lay close to the originally Macedonian colony of Stratonikeia, where she was the city’s patroness. In Thrace she played a role similar to that of lesser-Hermes, namely a governess of liminal regions (particularly gates) and the wilderness, bearing little resemblance to the night-walking crone some neo-pagans believe her to be.[neutrality is disputed] Additionally, this led to her role of aiding women in childbirth and the raising of young men.Hecate is also thought to have originated among the Carians of Anatolia, where variants of her name is found as a name given to children. Hecate possibly originated among the Carians of Anatolia, the region where most theophoric names invoking Hecate, such as Hecataeus or Hecatomnus, the father of Mausolus, are attested, and where Hecate remained a Great Goddess into historical times, at her unrivalled cult site in Lagina. While many researchers favor the idea that she has Anatolian origins, it has been argued that “Hecate must have been a Greek goddess.”[31] The monuments to Hecate in Phrygia and Caria are numerous but of late date.

[Who were the Thracians: The eastern stairs of the Apadana at Persepolis show a procession of people bringing tribute to the Achaemenid king, Darius the Great (r.522-486). The relief consists of three parts: the northern wall, with representations of Achaemenid dignitaries; the center, with eight soldiers; and the southern wall, showing representatives of all subject nations (picture above). The relief miraculously survived the sack of Persepolis by the soldiers of Alexander the Great in 330 BCE. The southernmost apart of the stairs contains five smaller reliefs, dedicated to people on the western periphery of the Achaemenid empire. These are Thracians, from what is now Bulgaria and north-eastern Greece. One of Darius’ generals subdued them in ca. 514. Together with the Macedonians, the Thracians were the only European nations that belonged to the Persian empire. Their tribute consists of two pairs of spears, two round (wicker?) shields, and a stallion.


This Thracian’s cap, made of felt, is also known from Greek representations. They are dressed in chitons, a garment well-known from Greece.

The Carians lived in the southwest of modern Turkey, and were believed to have invented the round shield (hoplon), which they offer the king, together with a spear and a bull.
Although the Carians were known to the Persians as “cocks” because of the crests on their helmets, this man has a wreath in his head. They are otherwise dressed like Lydians]

Caria in yellow and Thrace (above Caria) after the Macedonian conquest. At an earlier date, the ancient Greeks employed the term “Thrace” to refer to all of the territory which lay north of Thessaly inhabited by the Thracians, a region which “had no definite boundaries” and to which other regions (like Macedonia and even Scythia) were added. In one ancient Greek source, the very Earth is divided into “Asia, Libya, Europa and Thracia”. Thrace designated her lands as bordered by the Danube on the north, by the Euxine Sea (Black Sea) on the east, by northern Macedonia in the south and by Illyria to the west. This largely coincided with the Thracian Odrysian kingdom, whose borders varied over time.]

Middle East

The Snake in Inanna and the Huluppu Tree is a python.

In the ancient divinatory art of herpetomancy seers use a live snake to foretell the future.The early, pre-Canaanite Phoenicians had a serpent god called the Basilisk.

Gnostic texts and the Serpent on the cross

Fixing the volatile; from the notebook of Nicholas Flamel Source: Symbol Dictionary

The symbol appears in Flamel’s grave illustrations, and is attributed to the medieval professed French alchemist, Nicolas Flamel.  The symbol of a crucified serpent is an old alchemical drawing representing the vital step in the alchemical opus’ process, the “fixing of the volatile,” or, making the elixir of mercury, a legendary curative, by removing the ‘volatile’ or poisonous element.  The elixir suggests to some the search for immortality, and Flamel’s relation to the Philosopher’s Stone.

The Flamel  resembles and shares common origins with many ancient symbols (being often mistaken with), such as the Rod of Asclepius (the ancient Greek sign of medicine), the Caduceus (the ancient Greek symbol related to the god of Alchemy, Hermes) and the Serpent Cross (a Hebrew sign signifying victory over the devil)…which are derived from the biblical story of Moses, who erected a brazen snake as a charm against plague.

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Moses and the Brazen Serpent of the Bible

The Brazen Serpent
[Julius Schnorr von Carolsfeld 1851-60)]

The etching “The Brazen Serpent” by Schnorr von Carolsfeld shows this as only one snake, suggesting he interpreted this as a medical rather than mystical or magical symbol.

And the Lord said unto him [Moses], What is that in thine hand? And he said, A rod. And he said, Cast it on the ground. And he cast it on the ground, and it became a serpent; and Moses fled from before it. And the Lord said unto Moses, Put forth thine hand, and take it by the tail. And he put forth his hand and caught it and it became a rod in his hand. Exodus 4:2-4

And the Lord said unto Moses, Make thee a fiery serpent, and set it upon a pole: and it shall come to pass, that every one that is bitten [by a serpent], when he looketh upon it, shall live. Numbers 21:8.

Apparently an Israelite cult subsequently formed worshipping Nehush’tan, the serpent Moses made (apparently twin snake images were inscibed on standards of the time) but the cult was eventually suppressed (over 600 years later) by King Hezekiah –

“He removed the high places, and brake the images, and cut down the groves, and brake in pieces the brasen serpent that Moses had made: for unto those days the children of Israel did burn incense to it: and he called it Nehushtan (2 Kings 18:4).

And as Moses lifted up the serpent in the wilderness, even so must the Son of man be lifted up.
John 3:14-15

 

Gnostic beliefs about the Serpent

The symbol is used as a representation of many broad concepts.

Time, life continuity, completion, the repetition of history, the self-sufficiency of nature, and the rebirth of the Earth can all be seen within the circular boundaries of the Ouroboros. The symbol is also sometimes thought to represent the idea of primordial unity related to something existing in or persisting before any 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. It is also often associated with Gnosticism and Hermeticism.

Showing itself primarily in ancient Gnostic texts, the Ouroboros is any image of a snake, worm, serpent, or dragon biting its own tail.

Parallels found in JUDEO-CHRISTIAN In Judeo-Christian mythology the Gnosis of Basilisdes related the Ouboros to the solar god Abraxas who signified eternity and the soul of the world.

Some Gnostic Christians worshipped the serpent hung on a cross, rod, or Tree of Life, calling it “Christ the Savior.” The Ophite Christians called him Ophion, while the Gnostic Jews worshipped him as Nehushtan.

Some Gnostic Jews believed Yahweh/Jehovah was no god, but a devil, usurper of the Kingdom of the Wise Serpent. The Gnostic demiurge:

Gnostics often considered pre-Christian figures to be among their important early teachers and leaders. Adam and his son Seth were especially important. Several figures appear in Gnostic versions of Old Testament stories who do not appear in canonical versions, such as Norea, who saves the Gnostics from the flood in the time of Noah. The three companions of Daniel are called by many names in Gnostic texts, and often invoked. Eugnostos is a proto-Sethian writer of the Nag Hammadi text of the same name, and may have lived as early as the 1st Century BCE. John the Baptist is sometimes claimed as an early Gnostic leader — for example, by the Mandaeans. Other figures are more difficult to locate in time, such as the Prophets Barcoph and Barkabbas, mentioned by Basilides and Epiphanius.
Likewise, it may not have been unusual for even Christian Gnostics to consider a variety of important pre-Christian figures as among their early leaders. Irenaeus claims that followers of Carpocrates honored images of Pythagoras, Plato, and Aristotle along with images of Jesus Christ. Philo of Alexandria, Zoroaster, and Hermes Trismegistus may have occupied similar roles among other early Christian gnostics

the term refers only to those Sethians who used the term gnostikoi to describe themselves. Sometimes it is used more broadly to include Valentinians, followers of Basilides, and others. Likewise, one scholar may consider Simon Magus a gnostic, where another considers him a proto-gnostic. Some early Church fathers, such as Irenaeus, seemed to think that all heresies were Gnosticism at root, and thus that any heretic was in a sense a Gnostic.
Important early Gnostics include Simon Magus, Cerinthus, Carpocrates, and Basilides. Early figures such as Marcion, Theudas, and Nicolas of Antioch are more debatable. By the 2nd century several major schools are separating out, such as the Sethians (with no clear leaders), and the Valentinians following the teachings of Valentinus. By the 3rd century the prophet Mani gave birth to Manicheanism, a syncretic gnostic religion which was influenced by Buddhism, Zoroastrianism and Christianity.

.In the late 1st century or early 2nd century Cerinthus founds a Gnostic offshoot of the Ebionites, teaching a Supreme God distinct from the creator of this world.

By the early 2nd century Carpocrates has founded the Carpocratians. His students include Marcellina the Carpocratian and his son Epiphanes (not Epiphanes of Salamis).

Another early 2nd century theologian was Basilides.http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Basilides His son Isidore succeeds him around 150.Although we have no evidence that Basilides, like some others, regarded Jesus’s Baptism as the time when a Divine being first was joined to Jesus of Nazareth, it seems clear that he attached some unusual significance to the event. St. Hippolytus of Rome implied that Basilides regarded the Baptism as the occasion when Jesus received “the Gospel” by a Divine illumination.[22]
“They of Basilides,” says Clement,[23] “celebrate the day of His Baptism by a preliminary night-service of [Scripture] readings.” The Venice MS. states that the Basilideans celebrated the night before the Epiphany singing and flute-playing in a heathen temple at Alexandria: so that probably the Basilidian rite was a modification of an old local custom.[24]
[edit]Meat offered to idols and apostasy
Eusebius of Caesarea quotes Agrippa Castor, who said that Basilides: “taught also that the eating of meat offered to idols and the unguarded renunciation of the faith in times of persecution were matters of indifference”.[2] However, from St. Clement of Alexandria’s Stromata, it appears that Agrippa Castor misunderstood the purpose of Basilides’s argument, partly from the actual doctrine and practices of later Basilidians; but it may also have had some justification in incidental words which have not been preserved. It appears as if Basilides was actually saying that the eating of meat offered to idols and apostasy weren’t condemned for immorality, but were punishments because of immorality Agrippa Castor stated that Basilides “invented prophets for himself named Barcabbas and Barcoph, and others that had no existence”.[2] The alleged prophecies apparently belonged to the apocryphal Zoroastrian literature popular with various Gnostics

A Gnostic teacher named Cerdo is teaching in Rome sometime in 136-142. Marcion is a 2nd century theologian whose links to Gnosticism have been hotly disputed, although his disciple Apelles the Marcionite seems to have interacted with the Alexandrian Gnostics later on. Apelles was also friends with Philumene, an Alexandrian prophetess.
Little is known of founders of Sethian Gnosticism, which may have existed in a pre-Christian form, and which also flourished in the 2nd century AD. Early Sethian leaders might include:
Barkabbas – a prophet mentioned by Basilides and linked to the Gnostics by Epiphanius;
Zostrianos, the supposed writer of a Nag Hammadi text, believed in antiquity to be a follower of Zoroaster;
Satornius (Satornilos, Satorninos) who may have been an early 2nd century Sethian teacher
Marsanes (Marsianos), the supposed author of a Nag Hammadi text, who is also mentioned by Epiphanius of Salamis as a prophet revered by the Archontic Gnostics.
Porphyry also mentions several of these, as well as Nikotheos and Messos, Gnostic revelation writers whose works don’t survive (Nikotheos is mentioned in the Bruce Codex too, as a “perfect man” who had seen visions of the “triple powered one”), and Adelphios and Aquilinus (mentioned as leaders of the Gnostics by Porphyry). Eutaktos of Armenia is founder of the Archontic Gnostics, according to Epiphanius. Peter the Gnostic or Peter of Kapharbarikha is a Palestinian Archontic described by Epiphanius. Martiades is a prophet of Archontics mentioned by Epiphanius, along with Marsanes.
Valentinus, who may have been a student of Basilides, and Theudas was a prominent Gnostic teacher of another major form of Gnosticism in the 2nd century AD. He taught many other Gnostic fathers whose names we know, and his school survived for centuries.
His school was later divided into Eastern and Western branches based on a Christological dispute. Western Valentinians include: Ptolemy the Valentinian, whose letter to Flora survives, and who seems to have been martryed in 152; Flora a female Valentinian who corresponded with Ptolemy; Heracleon who has several surviving excerpts; Hermogenes (the painter) a late 2nd century painter, Monoimus the Arab, and Prodicus the Gnostic, Secundus, Florinus (a presbyter), Alexander, and Theotimus. Eastern Valentinians include: Marcus the Valentinian, a magician interested in using Gematria with Valentinianism; Axionicus of Antioch, who was alive in time of Tertullian; and Theodotus who also has several surviving excerpts in Clement of Alexandria’s Excerpta; Ambrose and Candidus (in the 3rd century).

Later Gnostics

The 3rd century also sees Bardaisan or Bardansanes, an immediate forerunner of Mani. He was a Valentianian at one point but later rejected them. The prophet Mani founded a religion called Manicheanism but also described himself as “the apostle of Jesus Christ”. His religion borrowed heavily from Gnosticism and may well be thought of a form of gnosticism, so it might be fair to think of Mani as a father of Christian Gnosticism, although clearly many would dispute this.
By the early 4th century, gnostics were kicked out the church and officially forbidden to meet, by the mid 4th century their books were widely banned and by the late 4th century Gnosticism carried a death penalty in the Roman empire. The Sethian Gnostics, Archontic Gnostics, Basilidean Gnostics, Valentinian Gnostics, and Manicheans seem to be the only schools of Christian Gnostics to survive into the 4th century. St. Augustine of Hippo claimed to be a Manichean early in life, but later rejected it, and thus was a Church Father who was at one point a gnostic. Likewise, the late 3rd-early 4th century theologian Lactantius has sometimes been thought of as being influenced enough by Gnosticism to be a Gnostic father, but this is by no means clear.

Gnosticism is a philosophical and religious movement which started in pre-Christian times. It may have had is source in the Jewish community of Alexandria and been later picked up by some Christian groups in Judea and the Galilee. 1

The name is derived from the Greek word “gnosis” which literally means “knowledge.” However, the English words “Insight” and “enlightenment” capture more of the meaning of “gnosis.” It is pronounced with a silent “G” (NO-sis). Gnosticism is not factual, intellectual, rational knowledge, such as is involved in mathematics and physics; that would have been more accurately represented by the Greek world “episteme.” Rather, Gnosticism involves the relational or experiential knowledge of God and of the divine or spiritual nature within us.

The movement and its literature were almost wiped out before the end of the 5th century CE by Catholic heresy hunters and the Roman Army. Its beliefs are currently experiencing a rebirth throughout the world, triggered in part by the discovery of an ancient Gnostic library at Nag Hammadi, Egypt in the 1940s, and the finding of the Gnostic Gospel of Judas at El Minya, Egypt, in the 1970s. (Source: Religious tolerance)

An anonymous follower of one of the Gnostic faith groups wrote the Gospel of Judas circa 150 CE. Its existence was mentioned in the writings of proto-orthodox Christian authors where it was condemned as heretical. However, a manuscript, translated from the original Greek into Coptic, was only discovered in recent years. It was found in the Egyptian desert near El Minya.

The manuscript is now called the Codex Tchacos. It is 66 pages in length and contains:

The Gospel of Judas

Generally taking on a circular form, the symbol is representative of many broad concepts. Time, life continuity, completion, the repetition of history, the self-sufficiency of nature, and the rebirth of the Earth can all be seen within the circular boundaries of the Ouroboros.

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Societies from throughout history have shaped the Ouroboros to fit their own beliefs and purposes. The image has been seen in ancient Egypt, Japan, India, utilized in Greek alchemic texts, European woodcuts, Native American Indian tribes, and by the Aztecs. It has, at times, been directly associated to such varying symbols as the Roman god Janus, the Chinese Ying Yang, and the Biblical serpent in the Garden of Eden.


Because the Albigenses came from Armenia, where Zoroastrianism and Mithra worship were common, it may be that the symbol entered their iconography via the Zoroastrian Faravahar symbol, which in some versions clearly features an ouroboros at the waist instead of a vague disc-shape.

In Mithran mystery cults the figure of Mithra being reborn (one of the things he is famous for) is sometimes seen wrapped with an ouroboros, indicating his eternal and cyclic nature, and even references which do not mention the ouroboros refer to this circular shape as symbolizing the immortality of the soul or the cyclic nature of Karma, suggesting that the circle retains its meaning even when the details of the image are obscured.

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Middle Ages

Norse


In Norse mythology, it appears as the serpent Jormungandr, one of the three children of Loki and Angrboda, who grew so large that it could encircle the world and grasp its tail in its teeth. In the legends of Ragnar Lodbrok, such as Ragnarssona patter, the Geatish king Herraud gives a small lindworm as a gift to his daughter Pora Town-Hart after which it grows into a large serpent which encircles the girl’s bower and bites itself in the tail. The serpent is slain by Ragnar Lodbrok who marries Pora. Ragnar later has a son with another woman named Kraka and this son is born with the image of a white snake in one eye. This snake encircled the iris and bit itself in the tail, and the son was named Sigurd Snake-in-the-Eye.

Christians and Coptic priests

Christians adopted the Ouroboros as a symbol of the limited confines of this world (that there is an “outside” being implied by the demarcation of an inside), and the self-consuming transitory nature of a mere this-worldly existence following in the footsteps of the Preacher in Ecclesiastes.

It could very well be used to symbolize the closed-system model of the universe of some physicists even today.’

Rome

Earthly Ouroboros from Alciato’s Emblems


Oceanic Ouroboros from Alciato’s Emblems

Janus 1608

The Ouroboros symbol appears in both 14th-15th century Albigensian printing watermarks[9] and is also worked into the pip cards of many early (14th-15th century) playing cards, including Tarot cards.[10] Watermarks similar to those used by the Albigensians appear in early printed playing cards, suggesting that the Albigenses might have had contact with the early authors of tarot decks.[11] The symbol commonly used as the ace of cups in early decks, which is one of the symbols frequently circled with an ouroboros, also frequently appears among Albigensian watermarks.[12] It is conceivable that this is the source of some of the urban legends associating this symbol with secret societies,[13] because the Albigenses were closely associated with the humanist movement and the inquisition it sparked. Because the Albigenses came from Armenia, where Zoroastrianism and Mithra worship were common, it may be that the symbol entered their iconography via the Zoroastrian Faravahar symbol, which in some versions clearly features an ouroboros at the waist instead of a vague disc-shape. In Mithran mystery cults the figure of Mithra being reborn (one of the things he is famous for) is sometimes seen wrapped with an ouroboros, indicating his eternal and cyclic nature,[14] and even references which do not mention the ouroboros refer to this circular shape as symbolizing the immortality of the soul or the cyclic nature of Karma, suggesting that the circle retains its meaning even when the details of the image are obscured.[15]

In Norse mythology, it appears as the serpent Jörmungandr, one of the three children of Loki and Angrboda, who grew so large that it could encircle the world and grasp its tail in its teeth.

In the legends of Ragnar Lodbrok, such as Ragnarssona þáttr, the Geatish king Herraud gives a small lindworm as a gift to his daughter Þóra Town-Hart after which it grows into a large serpent which encircles the girl’s bower and bites itself in the tail. The serpent is slain by Ragnar Lodbrok who marries Þóra. Ragnar later has a son with another woman named Kráka and this son is born with the image of a white snake in one eye. This snake encircled the iris and bit itself in the tail, and the son was named Sigurd Snake-in-the-Eye.[16]

 

Alchemy and the serpent
Alchemically, the ouroboros is also used as a purifying glyph. Ouroboros was and is the name for the Great World Serpent, encircling the Earth.

The word Ouroboros is really a term that describes a similar symbol which has been cross-pollinated from many different cultures. Its symbolic connotation from this owes to the returning cyclical nature of the seasons; the oscillations of the night sky; self-fecundation; disintegration and re-integration; truth and cognition complete; the Androgyny; the primeval waters; the potential before the spark of creation; the undifferentiated; the Totality; primordial unity; self-sufficiency, and the idea of the beginning and the end as being a continuous unending principle.

Ouroboros represents the conflict of life as well in that life comes out of life and death. ‘My end is my beginning.’ In a sense life feeds off itself, thus there are good and bad connotations which can be drawn. It is a single image with the entire actions of a life cycle – it begets, weds, impregnates, and slays itself, but in a cyclical sense, rather than linear.

Thus, it fashions our lives to a totality more towards what it may really be – a series of movements which repeat. “As Above, So Below” – we are born from nature, and we mirror it, because it is what man wholly is a part of. It is this symbolic rendition of the eternal principles that are presented in the Emerald Tablets of Thoth

Swiss psychologist Carl Jung saw the Ouroboros as an archetype and the basic mandala of alchemy. Jung also defined the relationship of the Ouroboros to alchemy:[17]

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.
The famous Ouroboros drawing from the early alchemical text The Chrysopoeia of Cleopatra dating to 2nd century Alexandria encloses the words hen to pan, “one is the all”. Its black and white halves represent the Gnostic duality of existence. As such, the Ouroboros could be interpreted as the Western equivalent of the Taoist Yin-Yang symbol.

The Chrysopoeia Ouroboros of Cleopatra is one of the oldest images of the Ouroboros to be linked with the legendary opus of the Alchemists, the Philosopher’s Stone.

As a symbol of the eternal unity of all things, the cycle of birth and death from which the alchemist sought release and liberation, it was familiar to the alchemist/physician Sir Thomas Browne. In his A Letter to a Friend, a medical treatise full of case-histories and witty speculations upon the human condition, he wrote of it:

[…] that the first day should make the last, that the Tail of the Snake should return into its Mouth precisely at that time, and they should wind up upon the day of their Nativity, is indeed a remarkable Coincidence,

Engraving by Lucas Jennis (de), in alchemical tract titled De Lapide Philosophico.

Alchemy


The Ouroboros connects the Above and Below
India


Ouroboros symbolism has been used to describe Kundalini energy. According to the 2nd century Yoga Kundalini Upanishad, “The divine power, Kundalini, shines like the stem of a young lotus; like a snake, coiled round upon herself she holds her tail in her mouth and lies resting half asleep as the base of the body” (1.82). Another interpretation is that Kundalini equates to the entwined serpents of the Caduceus, the entwined serpents representing commerce in the west or, esoterically, human DNA.

The Kirtimukha myth of Hindu tradition has been compared by some authors to Ouroboros.

Ouroboros…is seen in the dragon circling the tortoise which supports the four elephants that carry the world.

China

Chinese Ouroboros from Zhou dynasty, 1200 BC.

The universe was early divided into Earth below and Heaven above. These, two as one, gave the idea of opposites but forming a unity. Each opposite was assumed to be powerful and so was their final unity. For creation of the universe they projected reproduction to conceive creation. Now reproduction results in the union of two opposites as male and female.

Correspondingly, the Chinese believed Light and Darkness, as the ideal opposites, when united, yielded creative energy. The two opposites were further conceived as matter and energy which became dual-natured but as one. The two opposites were yin-yang and their unity was called Chi (Qi). Yin-Yang was treated separately in Chinese cosmology which consisted of five cosmic elements.

Since Chinese alchemy did reach Alexandria probably the symbol Yin-Yang, as dual-natured, responsible for creation, was transformed into a symbol called Ouroboros. It is a snake and as such as symbol of soul. Its head and anterior portion is red, being the color of blood as soul; its tail and posterior half is dark, representing body.

Ouroboros here is depicted white and black, as soul and body, the two as “one which is all.” It is cosmic soul, the source of all creation. Ouroboros is normally depicted with its anterior half as black but it should be the reverse as shown here. With the name Chemeia taken to Kim-Iya, the last word would take Ouroboros to Yin-Yang.

Japan

Pre 1400 Japan

Mesoamerica

The serpent god Quetzalcoatl is sometimes portrayed biting his tail on Aztec and Toltec ruins. A looping Quetzalcoatl is carved into the base of the Pyramid of the Feathered Serpent, at Xochicalco, Mexico, 700-900 AD.

The god Quetzalcoatl is sometimes portrayed biting its tail on Aztec and Toltec ruins. A looping Quetzalcoatl is carved into the base of the Pyramid of the Feathered Serpent, at Xochicalco, Mexico, 700-900 A.D.

It is a common belief among indigenous people of the tropical lowlands of South America that waters at the edge of the world-disc are encircled by a snake, often an anaconda, biting its own tail.[

Seven-segmented Aztec Ouroboros

South America
It is a common belief among indigenous people of the tropical lowlands of South America that waters at the edge of the world-disc are encircled by a snake, often an anaconda, biting its own tail.

Native American

Ouroboros

 

The Jizo  Bodhisattva or Ojizo-samais sometimes portrayed holding a caduceus-like staff. Traditionally seen at the junction of the Sai-no-kawara river as a guardian or herald and guide of the underworld for dead children

Cretan goddess, Ariadne keeper of the labyrinth

Sources & References:

Persian Mythology

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