The ouroboros is a curious symbol.
It has multiple meanings across multiple cultures.
A ubiquitous creature, it seems to have existed since the beginning of time.
Many iconic civilizations have images and legends that refer to a snake eating its tail.
Today, the legacy continues with our modern tattoo art.
The great self-eating serpent lends itself well to tattoos.
It’s a relatively simple image with complex symbolism.
As such, it is open to artistic interpretation.
The ouroboros exists in different cultures, so it can be drawn in a variety of styles.
What is the Ouroboros?
An ouroboros is a circular symbol.
It depicts a snake (or sometimes a dragon), eating its tail.
We will delve further into symbolism and history, but for now, some basic talking points.
Ouroboros tattoos may represent different concepts, including:
- The birth/life cycle in humans
- Perpetual cycles in the natural world
- Time has no beginning or end
Do Snakes Actually Eat Their Tails?
Yes, but this phenomenon isn’t necessarily related to the ouroboros symbol.
Though it may have inspired it!
Snakes are reactive creatures, and can sometimes misinterpret their flickering tails for prey.
At times, they become overheated which causes them to enter a delirious state.
It’s quite an unpleasant sight, something you can google at your own discretion.
But the creature represented in an ouroboros tattoo is no earthly snake.
It is a divine, ancient serpent.
The ouroboros symbolizes spiritual concepts that govern so many of our belief structures.
Where did it all begin?
Before you make your ink appointment, let’s get to know the origins of this interesting symbol.
The Ouroboros in Egypt
The first known ouroboros symbol is in the Enigmatic Book of the Underworld, a text found in King Tut’s tomb.
These funerary texts are not uncommon in Egyptian tombs.
They are said to help guide the dead through to the afterlife.
Prior to this text, however, no one had seen the Ouroboros symbol.
It features twice in the text, which tells the story of Ra and Osiris, the respective gods of the sun and the underworld.
Egyptologists have found that the snake eating itself symbol is a flexible one.
It is drawn differently depending on the context.
As such, the symbolic interpretation will change with setting as well.
In ancient Egyptian texts and artwork, the Ouroboros may represent:
- A protective symbol
- A symbol of the sun
- A representation of the birth/life cycle
- An expression of our origins as a species
In one image in King Tut’s tomb, the serpent wraps itself around the sun god, Ra.
Circular images often represent the sun god in ancient Egypt.
He is central to the Egyptian religion as a life-giving deity.
In this context, the serpent is said to be a manifestation of the snake god Mehen.
Mehen, The Ancient Egyptian Snake God
The snake god is coiled.
He represents the outward expansion of the universe from a tiny point of origin.
In short, the Egyptians believed in the big bang theory before modern scientists ever came up with it.
And they added a cool snake which makes it so metal.
Mehen acts as a protective entity for Ra during the night hours as he journeys through the underworld.
This is interesting, as Ra also has a snake enemy in those shadowy lands.
The snake demon Apophis embarks on a nightly mission to kill Ra and prevent the sunrise.
Every night Ra slices off the head of the snake demon.
The sun rises and the journey continues, only to happen again the next night.
Mehen always protects Ra, and Apophis always tries to kill him.
So, what does Mehen/the Egyptian Ouroboros Symbolize?
- The eternal balancing act between dark/light, day/night, friend/foe, life/death.
- The outward expansion of the cosmos from one point of origin.
- Creation from destruction and vice versa.
- The chaotic, spiritual forces that govern our everyday world and the cycles therein.
- Protection from evil and disease.
The Ouroboros in Greece
As with most of the English language, the word we use for this symbol came from our friends the Greeks.
Ouroboros is a Greek word meaning “tail devourer.”
Grecian philosophers took note of the snake symbol in Egypt.
They liked it so much, they brought it into their belief systems.
The symbolism is basically the same, with a few tweaks.
The Grecian ouroboros represents the birth/death/life cycle.
It was especially significant for the Greeks to use a snake to represent the concept of eternal life.
The snake sheds its skin, an act of simultaneous creation and destruction.
The snake shedding its skin is symbolic of the soul shedding its human body at the time of death.
In this context, the snake can also represent reincarnation: A process also known as Metempsychosis or the transmigration of souls.
Celestially speaking, the ouroboros also represents the Milky Way galaxy.
The mythological theory is that this galaxy was a serpent made of light that moves through the sky.
So if you’re a star gazer, this could be a cool take on the ouroboros tattoo.
The Grecian concept of the Ouroboros is similar to the Egyptians.
But let’s recap some key concepts all the same.
To the ancient Greeks, the self ouroboros represents:
- The Milky Way galaxy
- Life beginning, ending, and beginning again
- The soul lives on after death, taking a new form
The Great Serpent in Hinduism
Within Hindu spirituality, there is a concept known as Kundalini.
The word Kundalini translates to “coiled snake.”
In the Hindu faith, the coiled snake lays at the base of your spine.
It is a representation of a life force, an energy that exists in all of us.
When the Kundalini life force awakens, the symbolic snake uncoils and travels through the spine.
As the snake travels upward, it awakens a vital, spiritual energy that has been dormant.
This may also be referred to as enlightenment.
There are many methods within Hindu spirituality to awaken your Kundalini life force.
Some include yoga, meditation, or reiki.
Kundalini concepts have been gaining popularity over the years.
In a world so weighed down and busy, it’s no wonder people crave a spiritual awakening.
Are you sleepwalking through life?
Maybe a Kundalini tattoo will remind you to move in a more enlightening direction.
The Great Serpent in Norse Mythology
The world serpent, also known as Jörmungandr, is an agent of chaos in Norse mythology.
The offspring of Loki and a giantess named Angrboða, the world serpent has two ominous siblings, each a monster in their own right.
Jörmungandr lives in the sea and can cause terrible storms.
The creature was tossed into the water by Odin, but it began to grow to epic proportions from there.
It is said that this serpent now encircles the entire earth, holding its tail in its mouth.
When the snake releases its tail, a prophesied apocalypse, the battle known as Ragnarök, will begin.
The Norse Ouroboros legend focuses less on the “creation” side and more on the destruction.
If you’re thinking the end is nigh, why not live a little?
Get a Jörmungandr tattoo and spread your grim prophecy.
Norse Ouroboros Tattoos
Ancient alchemists were concerned with the idea of transformation, both scientifically and spiritually.
To these scholarly philosophers, the ouroboros represented a spiritual transcendence.
To transcend or become enlightened requires an awakening to oneness.
Mystics often believe that there is no “I” or “you,” we are one.
There have been many “all is one” symbols throughout history, including the yin yang and the tree of life.
If the concept feels new to you, consider its Christian cousin: do unto others as you would have done unto you.
It’s the interconnected core of so many belief systems.
The serpent also represents the endless birth/death cycle- as it does in so many belief systems.
Gnosticism is an umbrella term that deals with ancient belief systems of a similar ilk.
It is a mystic set of beliefs, and it existed when there was no formal version of Christianity.
At that time, there were a few spiritual theorists searching for the right way to worship and be holy.
The Gnostic people interpreted Christianity in a vastly different way than we know it today.
Gnosticism has had a resurgence in recent years.
It deals with many concepts people would consider “new age.”
Closely linked to alchemy, Gnostic people often use the ouroboros as a symbol of eternity and unity.
Common Themes in Ouroboros Tattoos
When it comes to ouroboros tattoos, there are so many directions to consider.
You may want to design something personal, draw inspiration from your cultural background, or grab an idea from pop culture.
To help you narrow down your options, we’ve compiled some of the most common ouroboros tattoo designs.
Black and White Ouroboros
There is a duality within oneness.
Opposing concepts make an eternal harmonious loop.
It is this yin/yang type concept that inspires black and white ouroboros tattoos.
Many designs feature a “half and half” colored ouroboros.
They are often black and white or sometimes in two opposing colors.
It is a reminder that everything has its harmonious opposite.
Skeletal Ouroboros Tattoos
An ouroboros can be a way to accept death as a part of life.
In these tattoos, the snake is in a skeletal form.
Death doesn’t play favorites, it comes for us all.
Some people prefer to live with death, rather than deny it because it’s uncomfortable.
An ouroboros is an easy reminder of it without looking too grim.
The Ouroboros as a Heart
The Egyptian texts featured long, twisted snakes that could coil themselves into any position.
We continue that legacy with heart shaped snakes in our ouroboros tattoos.
A heart shaped serpent may represent eternal love, or a passion for living life to the fullest.
Infinity Ouroboros Tattoo
The great serpent can also take the shape of an infinity symbol.
This reinforces the idea of eternal life, natural cycles, and time not having a beginning or end.
It is perfect for mystics, or people who have just lost someone they love.
Masonic Ouroboros Tattoos
If you want to double down on your esoteric symbols, look no further than the all seeing eye.
Depicted in many religions but known as a Masonic symbol, the eye represents an all seeing God.
In this context, an ouroboros tattoo may communicate your new age religious beliefs.
Or perhaps you want to remember that you will answer to your god in the afterlife.
Ouroboros Tattoos & Runes
The Norse ouroboros legend is one of the most epic incarnations of the great snake.
If you want to show off your love of all things Norse- you may want to add some runes to a world serpent design.
The runes are an ancient Norse alphabet.
They are also markings used on divining tools.
They represent the mysterious, the mystical, and the unknown.
An ouroboros with runes may represent mysteries and the desire for spiritual knowledge.
Ouroboros Tattoo Designs
The ouroboros is a fascinating, mystical symbol, and something you’ll never get tired of as a tattoo.
It can be simple and elegant, or ornate and opulent.
It can represent your view on death and the afterlife, your desire for spiritual oneness, or the end of days.
Still not sure what kind of ouroboros tattoo you’d like?
Wrap your eyes around our ouroboros tattoo gallery for some slithery inspiration!
Ouroboros Tattoo Ideas
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