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Caduceus Symbol Gifts and History

Updated on December 23, 2012

History and Origins of The Caduceus Medical Symbol

The Caduceus (Kerykeion in Greek) is depicted as a winged staff with two snakes wrapped around it. It was once an ancient astrological symbol of commerce, healing and is associated with the Greek god Hermes. He was known as the messenger for the gods, a conduit for the dead and a protector of merchants and thieves.

The Caduceus and the Rod of Asclepius are often used interchangeably in Greek culture. The Rod of Asclepius symbolizes the healing arts by combining the serpent, and a figure-eight shape, a number which is important to Hermetic practitioners who use the astrology of the planets and stars to heal the sick.

The Rod of Asclepius

Asclepius was the (Greek) God of Healing.

As a symbol for medicine, the caduceus is now used interchangeably with the Rod of Asclepius (depicted as a single snake with no wings), most historical experts however prefer the Rod of Asclepius over the more common caduceus, as it originally was associated with Hermes a messenger of the dead and a representative of commerce.

Historically, the two astrological symbols had distinct meanings in alchemical and astrological principles. Some medical organizations join the serpents of the caduceus with rungs to suggest a DNA double-helix.

Who was Asclepius?

Asclepius was most probably a skilled physician who practiced in Greece around 1200 BC (he is described in Homer's Iliad). Eventually through myth and legend he came to be worshiped as the (Greek) God of Healing.

Both healers and the sick used Asclepius' name in prayer and healing ceremonies. A healing tribe known as the Asclepiads claimed to be the descendants of Asclepius and to have inherited the mystical power of healing from him. Hippocrates is thought by some to be the 20th generation descendent of the Asclepiads.

The Greek Mythology Story: Asclepius is the God of Healing.

Asclepius was the son of Apollo and the nymph, Coronis. While pregnant with Asclepius, Coronis took a mortal lover. When Apollo found out, he sent Artemis to kill her. However, while Coronis was being cremated, Apollo felt pity for the unborn child and sent Hermes to rescue him from his mother's burning corpse.

Asclepius was taught about medicine and healing by a wise Centaur, he became so skilled that he brought one of his patients back from the dead. Zeus felt that this act threatened the Gods immortality and killed the healer with a thunderbolt. Upon his father, Apollo's request, Asclepius was placed among the stars as the serpent-bearer, Ophiuchus.

The Medical History of a Single Serpent Seen Wrapped Around a Staff:

In ancient times infection by parasitic worms was common. The worm dracunculus medinensis aka "the fiery serpent", crawled around the victim's body, just under the skin. Physicians treated this infection by cutting a slit in the patient's skin, just in front of the worm's path. As the worm crawled out of the cut, the physician would carefully wind it around a stick until completely removed.

This type of infection was once so common that physicians would advertise their practice by displaying a sign showing a worm wrapped around a stick.

The Staff or Rod as a Medical Symbol:

From the early 16th century onwards, the staff of Asclepius and the caduceus of Hermes were widely used as printers' marks, and later in pharmacopoeias (pharmacy's) in the 17th and 18th centuries. Over time the rod and serpent emerged as an independent symbol of medicine.

Reproduced with permission from:

Read More About The Caduceus

The Golden Wand of Medicine: A History of the Caduceus Symbol in Medicine (Contributions in Medical Studies)
The Golden Wand of Medicine: A History of the Caduceus Symbol in Medicine (Contributions in Medical Studies)

“Many readers will find this book pure bliss, and every medical library should have it.”

–New England Journal of Medicine


The Caduceus of Hermes

Mercury to the Romans

The Greek God Hermes, found his counterpart in Egypt as the ancient Wisdom god Thoth, as Taaut of the Phoenicians and in Rome as the god Mercury (all linked with a magic rod with twin snakes).

The Myth:

The mythical origin of his magic twin serpent caduceus is described in the story of Tiresias. Poulenc, the "Les Mamelles de Tiresias" (The Breasts of Tiresias) tells how Tiresias- the seer who was so unhelpful to Oedipus and Family- found two snakes copulating, and to separate them stuck his staff between them. Immediately he was turned into a woman, and remained so for seven years, until he was able to repeat his action, and change back to male.

The transformative power in this story, strong enough to completely reverse even physical polarities of male and female, comes from the union of the two serpents, passed on by the wand. Tiresias' staff, complete with serpents, was later passed on to Hermes...

Occult Hermetic Connection:

An occult description of the Caduceus of Hermes (Mercury) is that the serpents may represent positive and negative kundalini as it moves through the chakras and around the spine (the staff) to the head where it communicates with the MIND by intellection, the domain of Mercury [wings].

Caduceus Power Wand:

This wand is sold at occult, new age & witchcraft stores such as Abaxion with descriptions such as

"It's central phallic rod represents the potentiality of the masculine, and is intimately surrounded by the writhing, woven shakti energies of two coupling serpents. The rod also represents the spine [sushumna] while the serpents conduct spiritual currents [pranas] along the ida and pingala channels in a double helix pattern from the chakra at the base of the spine up to the pineal gland".

According to occultists, there are three principal "nadis" or channels, in the human body. The Sushumna (the spinal column through which the life-forces flow), by which energy enters and leaves the body, the Ida (refreshment and stimulation of spirit), which is associated with the higher mind or manas and the Pingala, (reddish-brown), associated with karma or the force of desire.

(G. de Purucker "Man in Evolution" ch. 15 & 16; and "Fountain-Source of Occultism", pp. 458-63).

The Hermetic Arts:

There are few names to which more diverse persons and disciplines lay claim than the term "Hermetic". Alchemists have applied the adjective "Hermetic" to their art, while magicians attach the name to their ceremonies of evocation and invocation.

The most abiding impact of Hermeticism on Western culture came about by way of the occult tradition. Renaissance occultism, with its alchemy, astrology, ceremonial magic, and occult medicine, became saturated with the teachings of the Hermetic books. This content has remained a permanent part of the occult transmissions of the West, and, along with Gnosticism and Neoplatonism, represents the foundation of all the major Western occults.

The Caduceus as a Medical Symbol:

The link between Hermes, his caduceus and medicine seems to have arisen by Hermes links with alchemy. Alchemists were referred to as the sons of Hermes, as Hermetics or Hermeticists and as "practitioners of the hermetic arts".

By the end of the sixteenth century, the study of alchemy included not only medicine and pharmaceuticals but chemistry, mining and metallurgy.

Despite learned opinion that it is the single snake staff of Asclepius that is the proper symbol of medicine, many medical groups have adopted the twin serpent caduceus of Hermes or Mercury as a medical symbol during the nineteenth and twentieth centuries.

Like the staff of Asclepius, the caduceus became associated with medicine through its use as a printer's mark, as printers saw themselves as messengers of the printed word and diffusers of knowledge (hence the choice of the symbol of the messenger of the ancient gods).

A major reason for the current popularity of the caduceus as a medical symbol was its ill-informed official adoption as the insignia for the Medical Department of the United States Army in 1902.

Reproduced with permission from:

The Hermetic Arts

Initiation into Hermetics
Initiation into Hermetics

Initiation into Hermetics provides step by step instruction in the form of practical exercises. These exercises lead to the development of body, soul and spirit.

The reader will receive first-hand knowledge about the principles of fire, air, water and earth, the positive and negative attributes of these elements, and how these elements affect the human body.


Did You Learn Something New?

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    • OUTFOXprevention1 profile image

      OUTFOXprevention1 5 years ago

      Interesting info. Thanks for the lens.

    • pennyhart lm profile image

      pennyhart lm 5 years ago

      Very informative lens!

    • Lee Hansen profile image

      Lee Hansen 5 years ago from Vermont

      So the parasitic worm remover symbol is ancient. Cool to learn about this.

    • Michey LM profile image

      Michey LM 5 years ago

      Very interesting and a lot of new info for me. Blessings!

    • octopen profile image

      octopen 5 years ago

      Very interesting lens

    • Rosetta Slone profile image

      Rosetta Slone 5 years ago from Under a coconut tree

      Wow! Thanks for educating us on a cool and important symbol.

    • latishaalford profile image

      latishaalford 5 years ago

      Yes, I never heard of the God of healing.

    • OneHappyFeet profile image

      Lora Riley 5 years ago

      Yeah I did

    • kindoak profile image

      kindoak 5 years ago

      Fantastic info. One of the few lenses where read every word from start to finish!

    • rooshoo profile image

      rooshoo 5 years ago

      This lens is really interesting. I had no idea that what I always took to be a snake was originally a parasitic worm. Kind of gross, but really fascinating! Great lens.

    • Karli McClane profile image

      Psycho Free Zone 5 years ago from USA

      I did learn a lot here - very interesting lens!

    • profile image

      FashionMommy 5 years ago

      did i learn something new? DEFINITELY! although i had some trouble pronouncing the names XD very informative!

    • Howcanigetagirl profile image

      Howcanigetagirl 5 years ago

      Definitely! I've actually seen this symbol in many places but didn't know where it stemmed from. Very interesting lens!

    • chezchazz profile image

      Chazz 5 years ago from New York

      Very interesting! Now I understand why there's a snake on the caduceus - too bad the Army Med Dept didn't get a second opinion...

    • profile image

      anonymous 5 years ago

      I sure did! I've always wondered how that snake in particular fit in and never researched it....but you did and explained it very well! Oddly I'm starting to wonder if there is some little critter just below my skin crawling around.....hmmm..

    • Expat Mamasita profile image

      Expat Mamasita 5 years ago from Slovakia

      A very informative lens. Thank you for sharing

    • KimGiancaterino profile image

      KimGiancaterino 5 years ago

      Absolutely ... beautifully presented!

    • LabKittyDesign profile image

      LabKittyDesign 5 years ago

      Divinum sedare dolorem.

    • profile image

      JoshK47 5 years ago

      I love learning about things like this - blessed by a SquidAngel!

    • profile image

      anonymous 5 years ago

      @RavenRunner: You are right. Me too.

    • RavenRunner profile image

      RavenRunner 5 years ago

      Yes, I always wondered about this symbol!

    • TeacherSerenia profile image

      TeacherSerenia 7 years ago

      This was great. Yes I learned something new, thanks.

    • Demaw profile image

      Demaw 8 years ago

      Thanks for the info on the two symbols, interesting story about the worm and the stick.5*

    • kephrira lm profile image

      kephrira lm 9 years ago

      great lens, loads of intereting info - 5 stars!

    • LouiseKirkpatrick profile image

      LouiseKirkpatrick 9 years ago from Berkshire, United Kingdom

      Congratulations on becoming a Giant Squid too :)

      I love this lens, so 5* and am lensrolling to my Pentagram lens, along with your other "symbolism" lenses :D

    • delia-delia profile image

      Delia 9 years ago

      another great lens! thanks for stopping by my "Medical Symbol" lens...will lens-roll you to it....5*

    • MargoPArrowsmith profile image

      MargoPArrowsmith 9 years ago

      I love, love your symbolism lenses. This one was *****informative!

    • SusannaDuffy profile image

      Susanna Duffy 9 years ago from Melbourne Australia

      Excellent! Superb! 5* for the informative, entertaining look at an ancient symb ol (and lensrolled to my Hermes, Messenger of the Gods)Thanks for joining the All Legends and Lore Group

    • WhiteOak50 profile image

      WhiteOak50 9 years ago

      Very well done lens! Thanks for adding it to the Pagan Path Group!