Mythology - Chasing the tale of an Ouroboros

A copy of a 1478 drawing by  Theodoros Pelecanos  of an  alchemical  tract attributed to  Synesius

A copy of a 1478 drawing by Theodoros Pelecanos of an alchemical tract attributed to Synesius

Life and death are a circle in which we dance our best. In drawing meaning from the known, we can face the unknown with greater purpose.

Ouroboros made its first impression on me when I was two and my parents took me to see the Neverending Story. Years later I was visiting the incredible Highgate Cemetery in London, and I noticed a stone carving of a snake eating its tale. The image struck an immediate note, reviving my childhood love for fantasy, combined with a young man’s budding appreciation of funerary architecture. I felt pulled to this strange image, a rousing curiosity, and a sense that I should know about its origins.

The ouroboros is often described as representing a formless chaos surrounding an orderly world, being present at the end of the world, and active in that world’s rebirth. The first known appearance of ouroboros is from an Egyptian funerary text from the 14th centery B.C.

First known representation of the ouroboros on one of the shrines enclosing the sarcophagus of Tutankhamun

First known representation of the ouroboros on one of the shrines enclosing the sarcophagus of Tutankhamun

On a fashion item, the snake is an interesting conversation piece. Customers either love and want them, or are repulsed by the image, often due to a lifetime of fear. In my design, I decided to rest my ouroboros in a spiral of flowers, creating a balance of light and dark; not quite hiding it, but making it more subtle.

I’ve always had a love for snakes, despite a close encounter with a large rattler when I was 12. When I was a little boy, I used to take a flute to the zoo. Fancying myself a snake charmer, I would sit and play for them, and even encouraged a couple snakes to dance for me.

As an adult I interacted with many snakes, and the more time I spent with them, the deeper my appreciation became. Snakes are incredibly sensitive to vibration, and as such, can tell if you are agitated. I learned to approach them with caution and thoughtfulness.

I first made my ouroboros design over a year ago, and in recent months have been pleased to see a sudden wave of other artists also creating them. The ouroboros symbol has so much history. It’s alchemic, Gnostic, Hermetic and originally part of Egyptian iconography. Now it decorates t-shirts, jewelry and scarves.

Today in my weekly ballet class I was pleased to see that my ballet teacher had an ouroboros tattoo on her forearm. For me they are a symbol of good luck, and when I see one out and about, I indulge a thought that the formless chaos surrounding our world is winking at me.

See our ouroboros scarves here.

Damon Grey