An End That Marks a Beginning
The Ouroboros, De Lapide Philisophico, 1625

An End That Marks a Beginning

The History of the Ouroboros
Paweł Janiszewski
time 13 minutes

The ouroboros, a serpent devouring its own tail, has slithered into modernity all the way from ancient Egypt. For thousands of years, it separated this world from the underworld, and made sure that the gods remained eternally young. More recently, it can be most frequently encountered in the form of a tattoo.

The symbol of a serpent with its tail in its mouth is one of the most unusual images accompanying mankind for thousands of years. Its official name is the ouroboros – derived from the Greek oura (‘tail’) and bora (‘food’). In the most general terms, it symbolizes cyclical renewal, an eternal return, a closed cycle. The history of the ouroboros is a fascinating tale, with so many diverse, intertwined threads that it is difficult to present it in whole. Individual elements of the story are like scales arranged in rows along the length of a snake’s body. So let us embark upon a journey along some of this cosmic monster’s scales, starting from the end, or the ‘tail’, which is nevertheless gripped in the serpent’s mouth and therefore also marks the beginning.

Modern pop culture

First aired on 7th February 1997, the 13th episode of the fourth season of The X-Files, a cult series for the turn-of-the-century generation, has the telling title “Never Again”. It portrays Agent Dana Scully going through an existential crisis. As she herself puts it, she has the feeling that her life has lost its meaning; she is spinning her wheels, trapped in a vicious circle. She engages in a brief romantic relationship with Ed, a man she meets by chance in a tattoo parlour. Influenced by Ed, Scully gets an ouroboros tattoo on her lower back. However, she does not know Ed’s secrets. Hit hard by his divorce, while under the influence of alcohol he once got a tattoo of Bettie Page


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Carved pumpkins have already been replaced with snowflake patterns. Letters to Santa get longer with each passing day, and their authors – my children – slowly but surely seem to be transforming into that annoying donkey from the Shrek movies, who keeps on asking: Are we there yet? “No, not yet,” I say. “So how long until Christmas?” insists my son, undeterred. Do they feel the passage of time differently than I do? Work, deadlines, more deadlines; it seems like I only came back from my summer holidays yesterday, and Christmas is already just around the corner. When it finally arrives, it will be gone quicker than you can say Santa.

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