Sunday, January 27, 2013

The Ouroboros

The other evening as I was driving home,
the sky was filled with long expanses of dark stratus clouds.
They stretched across the horizon as far as I could see.
I can't remember ever seeing such long, 
narrow charcoal-gray clouds striping the sky before.
One of the long clouds directly ahead of me
 looked just like a snake with its mouth wide open.
Not only that, this cloud snake
looked like it was about to eat the tail of the long cloud in front of it.
photo courtesy of

 I remembered reading about a snake eating its own tail as a symbol in astrology,
but couldn't remember much more.
I did a little research and learned this symbol is called the ouroboros, 
and it is described in detail in the article
"The Ouroboros as an Auroral Phenomenon"
by Marinus Anthony van der Sluijs and Anthony L. Peratt,
published in the January 1, 2009 edition of the Journal of Folklore.
According to the authors, the snake-eating-its-tail symbol, "the circular snake,"
dates back several thousand years BCE.
I find it remarkable that it is a symbol shared by ancient cultures all over the world,
including China, Egypt, Persia, South America, and equatorial Africa.
In some cultures, the ouroboros symbolizes unity and eternity;
in others, it symbolizes the protection and stabilization of the earth.
In any case, it sounds like a positive symbol to me.

Ouroboros Line Art

The near-universality of the symbol is a mystery,
but authors van der Sluijs and Peratt attribute it to the possibility 
of a magnificent astral event visible to ancient cultures around the globe.
Something like the southern (aurora australis) 
or northern (aurora borealis) lights, or what they call an auroral ring.
In other words, the ancient cultures related the fantastic astronomical event
to their own physical experience, in this case, a snake.

Wherever the ouroboros came from, and whatever it may mean,
I like that it appeared in the form of a cloud on a winter's evening to guide me home. 

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