Too heavy and vast to be lifted. A problem too big for anyone to solve. In the early days of our civilization it wrapped itself comfortably around the common philosophy biting its own tale to ensure its grip. Mankind found itself enslaved by its sleeping undulations.
The ouroboros or uroboros is an ancient, originally Egyptian, symbol depicting a serpent or dragon eating its own tail. It's the most ancient symbol of alchemy and the one of the first examples of a protective ring in sympathetic magic. It's also called the "paradoxical serpent" and represents the circular process of the alchemist's work. Because the Latin word draco means both "serpent" and "dragon," the Ouroboros is sometimes interpreted as a dragon. See Salvador Dali on Alchemy.
Outside of alchemy, the symbol was also used to indicate eternity and the binding of limitations into a functional Universe.
Consider the Scandinavian legends of Thor fighting Jormungandr, the ouroborus. It's Jormungandre who hails Ragnarok by letting go of its tail when it wakes to burden the earth once more with its massive expanse. See Norse Mythology
Yet even in all its unfathomable girth, defeating the tired Ouroborus is not beyond the will of the hero who sees the well containing all the waters of infinity. Including the world around which the snake sleeps. The serpent is painted like a mural on your mentalité.
Jörmungandr gets fished by an ox head, from the 17th century Icelandic manuscript AM 738 4to
So distant and still you wonder for a moment if it's just a painting after all. Coiled endlessly down beyond space and time. But you've stood here before. Looked down into the well, beyond its darkness, it still smells like earth and stone.
"When I was a little boy, maybe 3 or 4, I started having recurring dreams. The same dream almost every night for months. I was a grown man, standing naked, holding a torch in one hand and a knife in the other. I'm in a cave with no obvious way in or out. A modest dark gray stone well a few steps ahead. The kind of round well which might be typical for wishing. It was clearly very, very old."
The hero takes a breath then dives into the cold waters and faces the monster, fights it even at the cost of their own life. Even should they use their last breath for the killing stroke as it takes all the hero's strength to reach the head as Jormungandr wakes and thrashes about thoughtlessly hoping to crush your will against the boundaries of the Universe even as you seek to expand them.
"Now unlike any other dream at this point in my life these recurring dreams were 'waking dreams' as in I was completely in control of my actions and everything was incredibly realistic. However, I had no memory of my regular life. Just a vague sensation I'd been here before which became more solid the more times I had the dream."
A person's feelings about the wider society and world they live in, and their place within it; a worldview, outlook.
"Early on I'd avoid the well and circle a few times, explore the cave, touch the rock walls. Smooth and slippery. Warm. Eventually, I walked up to the well and looked inside. I saw what at first I thought was a mural of a giant coiled serpent on the bottom far below. It seemed to me it was painted in an almost Romanesque style tile art with a shiny black jeweled eye."
The hero breaks free of the imposition of destiny. This is Ragnarok. Freedom from fear of death earned through willing sacrifice. Order over chaos. Discarding attachment to the past. Baptized in battle; redeemed. The life you thought you knew is already gone. You look forward with certain knowledge that you will give more than you take. That you can stand up to challenge when most would run.
"The first time I put the torch on the well's edge, placed the knife between my teeth, and dove into the water I'd planned to swim as far down as possible to search the tiles of the painting for some clue to escape the cave. Yet within moments of breaking the surface I was surrounded by bubbles rising from beneath. The water was murky like lake water, though clear enough I could see the slimy scales of a massive snake coiling around me. A soft greenish glow sort of radiated from the inner edges of the rock wall. I woke up."
Thor goes fishing for the Midgard Serpent. From an 18th-century Icelandic manuscript.
Like a fairy tale you composite your own unique morals upon common archtypes. Drawing the unfamiliar with familiar elements in the hopes of revealing a deeper truth. That you have the power to change your story even as you remain an element in someone elses. That the impressions of reality imposed upon you by external forces are just coiled snakes of the past. Once slain, you can abandoned their entangling grip to the depths where they remain generally hidden by murky waters. Waiting for a reason to wake once more so someone else can reach their maximum potential.
"Each time I had the dream I went deeper... holding my breath... struggling to reach the bottom. When finally I touched the stone. The snake surrounding me, crushing me, it's head directly in front baring down on me. Mouth widening as it prepared to strike yet again. But this time I don't wake up. Where once I was afraid instead I was angry. Indignant. As in how dare this creature stand in my way. I take the knife from my teeth and I drive it into the throat of the serpent. It flails, but I wrap my legs around and with my last moment of breath, as the darkness of oblivion overwhelms me, I pull the knife around until the head is severed from the neck."
An Alchemical example, "Ouroboros, A. Eleazar"
"I expected to wake up, but I didn't. I drowned in my own alchemy instead. They say you can't die in your dreams, but that isn't true. I felt all pain disappear, all worry evaporate. The bottom of the well gave way and the water rushed me down into a vast underground lake where I spent what seemed like years and minutes at the same time just drifting in emptiness. Neither happy or sad, yet perfectly content. There was no need to breath as the desire had long left me, yet I could if I wanted to. I just somehow knew I could do anything if I wanted to... invoke any shape, imagine any design, be anything, do anything I could think of. And generally all I wanted to do was think. Though I was physically paralyzed there was no compelling reason to move. Imagination worked better than my body ever had. It was the most comfortable I've ever remembered being."
So you float in the peace of accomplishment. Your work is done. You've transformed lead into gold. Died and been reborn. There was no audience and there were no surviving witnesses. No old stories, so embrace new ones. You did your best work in obscurity. It wasn't forgotten; it was never even published. In your dreams you're a nameless hero. You left everything behind and held nothing back.
"The dream soon left me. Oh, I had it again from time to time as I grew up, but it diminished quickly and it's been years now since the last one. It seems that once I slayed the great beast the purpose had been fulfilled. Though just a memory now it's something I can never forget. The greater... the more difficult... the more personal my accomplishment in real life the closer I feel to my dream. From that point on, in all the years since how I conduct myself has been informed by a life I never really lived and a death I never really died."
So do you see it? How do your illusions compare to the reality now that you realize your reality made of illusions? Has the insanity of the "real" world driven you deep into your dreams yet? How much were you able to bring back with you? I'm suggesting a dream isn't a fantasy when you use it as a blueprint for designing the elements of future dreams and life isn't real if you're always sleep walking. Now you see it don't you? Why the Alchemist is the Alchemy. You may not understand completely, but I just told you where to find the Philosopher's Stone.