UROBOROS is an image dear to our hearts, and is a name of NEWSLETTER posted out from time to time to a circle of about 280 Friends. It is also the image given to two research groups – one in Cape Town, the other in Turin, Italy – and is a fitting symbol for ongoing work on the Western Esoteric Tradition.

Here, I will gather material on the Symbol of the Uroboros, plus some Images, BIBLIOGRAPHIES and so forth. This will dovetail into a larger scheme of SERPENT SYMBOLISM – a vast Project, still in Formation.

Samten de Wet













primitive, original, earliest















to make water



cobra …ancient Egyptian word for Uraeus

Above is one of the most famous images of the Uroboros, from a Hellenistic Alexandrine text, the Chrysopoia, by pseudo-Cleopatra. (MS Marcianus 299, fol. 188 v.) Joseph Needham, in his vast multi-volumed tome: 'Science and Civilisation in China,' says:

"The etymology is from oura, tail, and the root of bora), food, boros, voracious." Thus, "tail-eater." A not very satisfactory translation for the Cycles of Eternity. He continues:

"The image of the serpent or dragon eating its own tail was very ancient both in Egypt and the Mesopotamian region."


"…two intertwined Ouroboroi are seen also in a relief of black asphalt excavated from a level of the Elamite necropolis at Susa antedating Hammurabi's time (c. - 2000)."

Needham traces the Uroboros symbol back to the Yin - Yang symbol of ancient China.

It is extra-ordinary that this symbol has a lifespan of at least 4,000 years - right up to the present day, here in Cape Town 1998. The most comprehensive article on the Uroboros was written by Harry J. Sheppard, The Ouroboros and the Unity of Matter in Alchemy: Ambix, 1962, London. Among the many routes of its cultural dispersion - The Uroboros moved from Alexander into Roman and then European culture, where it appeared again in the Emblem books from the 15th century onwards, in the Tarot, Alchemy and the Elizabethan Renaissance.

In The Sacred Tarot: Eternity in Arcanum 1, The Magus, is described in part, thus by C.C.Zain. I have quoted the entire paragraph to give the context from which one detail will be amplified.

"Arcanum 1 is pictured by a Magus, … His robe is white, image of purity, original or regained. A serpent biting its own tail serves him for a girdle; it is the symbol of eternity which alone circumscribes his endeavours. His forehead is girt with a circle of gold. Gold signifies light, and the circle expresses the universal circumference in which gravitate all created things."

And in the Hieroglyphics of Horapollo:

1.ETERNITY - When they wish to symbolise Eternity, they draw the sun and the moon, because they are eternal elements. But when they wish to represent Eternity differently, they draw a serpent with its tail concealed by the rest of its body. This the Egyptians call Ouraion, but the Greeks a Basilisk. They make this of gold and put it on the (heads of the) gods. (It symbolises Eternity) because, of the three kinds of serpents, this alone is immortal, the others being mortal. Should it blow upon any other animal, even without biting it, its victim dies. Wherefore, since it seems to have power over life and death, they put it upon the heads of the gods.

To amplify the details we would have to gather together to study the material and its associations, which are vast. The Uroboros, of course, in subsumed under the great family of Serpent Symbolism. The Serpents of Wisdom.


[1] Vol.IX, no.2. June, pp.83 - 96.

[2] Which made an appearance during the Renaissance, but may also originate from Alexandria