Beast #2 - Hoop Snake/Ouroboros  

Posted by Wishwords in ,

When I was growing up in Southeast Missouri, I heard stories about a lot of strange creatures. Most of these critters lived west of my home town, where it was hillier and more forested. One that I remember is the tale of the hoop snake.

Now, hoop snake lore can be found in Australia and the US from Pennsylvania to Louisiana, and it all sounds pretty similar. It can also be found in the histories of Norse, Phoenician, Greek, and Egyptian mysticism. We’ll refer to those as Ouroboros. These versions appear to be related in a basic sense though the American versions lack the symbolism of the older ones.

A hoop snake story usually starts out with someone saying their grandma, or other older relative, told them about someone who was out working in the field one day (or skipping school or work in some versions) when he heard something that caused him to look up the hill. Rolling toward him at high speed was a hoop snake.

At this point there is a pause to explain to those unfamiliar with local wildlife what a hoop snake is. Descriptions range from short to long, slim to fat, and mud to rainbow colored. It lies in ambush at the top of a hill and when prey comes along it takes its tail in its mouth and rolls down the hill like a barrel hoop.

The intended victim sees the snake rolling down the hill and takes off running... always down the hill. The hoop snake gains on him and just as the snake lets go of its tail and whips that horned stinger through the air, the victim leaps behind the tree at the bottom of the hill. The snake’s stinger strikes the tree. Sometimes the snake is stuck there until it dies at sunset and sometimes it slithers away. The tree always dies about three days later from the poison injected into it.

An interesting note about American hoop snake lore is that it seems to have originated with European settlers. A large amount of American folklore in general is adapted from American Indian legends and lore, but not the hoop snake.

Some researchers think the legend comes from encounters with the mud snake, also known as the stinging snake. When held in the hand, this little snake coils up and probes its surroundings with the tip of its tail. This action is often interpreted as stinging even though the tail is a normal snake tail.


Older than the American hoop snake is the Old World Ouroboros. In some ways, the Ouroboros has more in common with the Phoenix than the hoop snake. The name is Greek and translates roughly to "tail-devourer". Depictions of the Ouroboros as a serpent, either snakelike or dragonlike, in a loop with its tail in its mouth have been found in China, Ancient Egypt, Phoenicia, Greece, Medieval Norse cultures, West Africa, the Aztecs, and the Toltecs where it represented ideas such as: eternal rebirth from destruction, cycles, unity, and completeness.

It was also an important symbol in religion and mysticism. The Gnostics saw it as a symbol of time, eternity, the soul of the world, and the continuity of life. It sometimes bears the caption Hen to pan - 'The One, the All'. The early Christians used it as a symbol of the limited confines of the material world, and the self-consuming nature of a worldly existence, following in the footsteps of the preacher in Ecclesiastes 3:9-14.

In some of this lore the thought was that if the Ouroboros succeeded in consuming itself, the world would end.

Because so many cultures shared similar images and symbology of the Ouroboros, psychologist Carl Jung declared it one of his archetypes.

In alchemy, the Ouroboros was used as a purifying sigil. However, in modern science, the Ouroboros can be used as a symbol for the flow of energy and entropy in living beings.

In some circles it's believed that Ouroboros was inspired by the Milky Way Galaxy. There are myths referring to a serpent of light residing in the heavens and the Milky Way is thought to be this serpent. When viewed at galactic central point near Sagittarius, the serpent eats its own tail. The Milky Way galaxy keeps a great time cycle that ends in catastrophic change. The sign of the Suntelia Aion is the sun rising out of the mouth of the Ouroboros, which will occur on the solstice December 21, 2012 which links with the Mayan Calendar as a symbolic date the evolution of consciousness in the alchemy of time. This also goes to Quetzalcoatl and accelerating Earth changes in the Ring of Fire.

Appearances in Literature
• In the comic series "Bone" by Jeff Smith, the dragon queen Mim is an Ouroboros that kept the world in balance until being possessed by an evil spirit.

• In Larry Niven's "The Magic Goes Away", the 'World-Worm', a dormant world-circling snake god, whose body has turned to stone from lack of magic to sustain it, is an Ouroboros.

I wasn't able to find many instances in pop culture of this creature appearing as itself. It is, however, frequently used as a symbol for organizations in film, book, and games.