Caduceus and ReligionBack to Alchemy Forum page.
From: Daniel Heib
I'm doing research to confirm any current religious organization or movement connected to use of the caduceus of Mercury/Hermes or staff of Aesculapius symbol. Can anyone provide any leads? Articles, persons to contact, or other sources?
The question naturally arises, Is modern medicine in its frequent usage of these religious symbols and other related references, and other guesswork, still employing another religion? Legal ramifications?
Some temples of The Golden Dawn of the Outer, a well known R.C. Group, use this symbol in lieu of a Lamp. The disk/sphere is the lamp which guides the soul through the birth process. Pat Zalewski, whose messages appear on this forum, would be a good lead, for he is one of the authorities on the GD.
There are some "Black Lodges" which use the same but the disk/sphere is black. It represents a "more" absorbing quality which is in line to that particular system.
I am currently reading "The Hermetic Order of Luxor", and I have not yet (only up to page 100) seen references to this symbol, though I suspect they might have.
Ancient Greek "Mystery" Plays, whose ritual used this symbol and probably Robert Graves could be a good resource.
From: "Charla J. Williams"
"The Hermetic Brotherhood of Luxor" which promises a forthcoming book in it's bibliography titled "Paschal Beverly Randolph. A Nineteenth Century Black American Spiritualist and Sex Magician" by John Patrick Deveney, SUNY Press, Albany.
> Ancient Greek "Mystery" Plays, which was ritual used this symbol and
> probably Robert Graves could be a good resource.
I was going to suggest F.J.M. De Waele's "The Magic Staff or Rod in Graeco-Italian Antiquity" (1927) but he appeared to only be interested in modern usage.
From: firstname.lastname@example.org (Clay Holden)
I find this line of inquiry a bit unsettling:
> I'm doing research to confirm any current religious organization
>or movement connected to use of the caduceus of Mercury/Hermes or
>staff of Aesculapius symbol. Can anyone provide any leads?
>Articles, persons to contact, or other sources?
> The question naturally arises, Is modern medicine in its frequent
>usage of these religious symbols and other related references,
>and other guesswork, still employing another religion? Legal
"Another religion" than *what*?
What "related references and other guesswork"?
"Legal ramifications" in what country, and on what grounds? Religious?
By what criteria do you define a "religious organization or movement?"
Your terms here need some definition.
Have you looked in medical sources to discover the sources for these symbols, their meaning, and the reasons for their adoption by the medical community?
Any religious organization or movement you might find using the caduceus as a "religious symbol" could only have derived it from ancient sources similar to those from which the medical community draws its symbol. In other words, the symbol used in Medicine is exactly that, a symbol. It has its own meaning, it is not worshipped as an idol. It is not an "occult" sign of membership in some secret religious society that worships Strange Gods.
It has been noted by someone far brighter than myself that the major difference between the Caduceus used in Hermetic symbolism and that used in Medicine is the single versus the double serpent around the staff, and that these two symbols are *never* confused. There was actually a pretty good article published along these lines, intended to establish the complete lack of connection between the two forms (and traditions), but I have no clear recollection of who or where. Maybe someone out there has access to a better memory than mine and maybe even an onsite library.
Frankly, I don't believe you will find anything new or useful in pursuing this line of inquiry. I can hardly imagine anything so absurd as a secret cabal of M.D.s stripped to the waist, dancing around a fire, and worshipping a snake on a stick... (but imagine the legal ramifications of *that*!)
And a couple of comments on a response:
>Some temples of The Golden Dawn of the Outer, a well known R.C. Group, use
>this symbol in lieu of a Lamp. The disk/sphere is the lamp which guides the
>soul through the birth process. Pat Zalewski, whose messages appear on this
>forum, would be a good lead, for he is one of the authorities on the GD.
>There are some "Black Lodges" which use the same but the disk/sphere is
>black. It represents a "more" absorbing quality which is in line to that
Not to look for trouble, but could you produce some evidence for this statement? I don't recall having read any factual accounts of the temple furnishings used by "Black Lodges". A few fictional ones, though.
I would hazard to suggest, though, that even if a black disk or sphere were used in some temples, particularly in a ceremonial setting, its intended symbolism would more likely refer to the Midnight Sun than anything relating to what is commonly called a "Black Lodge". It is, after all, one of the four stations of the Sun in its daily path.
While I enjoy the writings of such as Dion Fortune and others who perpetuated the "White Lodge/Black Lodge" dichotomy (Crowley included), I'm not so sure the evidence supports there being such a division in the real world, except in terms of name calling by groups with different magical agendas (e.g. on either side of the coin, "What *we* practice is White Magic; what *they* practice is Black Magic"...).
I wonder what colors and symbols the "Hunting Lodges" are using these days?
>It has been noted by someone far brighter than myself that the major
>difference between the Caduceus used in Hermetic symbolism and that used in
>Medicine is the single versus the double serpent around the staff, and that
>these two symbols are *never* confused.>
I have seen plenty of Medical establishments using the Caduceus with Two Serpents. I only noticed that the serpents wrapped themselves around the staff more then the 3.5 times which is traditional in Hermeticism. It is my understanding that the 3.5 times is one of the most important aspects of the Staff of Hermes. There are numerous references to the serpent in scripture and other esoteric literature. Everyone knows the story of the serpent in the Garden of Eden and the fall of Man into original sin. HPB says that the serpent was a remnant of a much earlier race, which perished, and they were guardians of the Forbidden Wisdom. In Latin, Sapiente (Serpent) and Saper (to Know) come from the same root.
In the QBL of numbers (Gematria) the name of the serpent in the garden of Eden, NOGASH, and the word MESSIAH (Savior) both have the same numerical value. Incidentally this number is 358, which just so happens to be the three left hand pillars on the Tree of Life (Binah, Geburah, and Hod).
The Serpent appears often in Alchemical Literature. First as one who swallows his own tail, then as a double helix of infinity, and finally in the 3 1/2 turns of the double Helix Caduceus of Hermes.
>M.D.s stripped to the waist, dancing around a fire, and worshipping a snake on a stick...
It is my understanding that there could be a relationship, though not direct, between the Medical Profession and the Caduceus. The Fama of the R.C. states: "To heal the sick and that Gratis". Most of the great names in R.C. happen to be medical doctors.
>There are some "Black Lodges" which use the same but the disk/sphere is
>black. It represents a "more" absorbing quality which is in line to that
>particular system. Not to look for trouble, but could you produce some
Evidence for this statement? I don't recall having read any factual accounts of the temple furnishings used by "Black Lodges".>
I came across a box of material from the late 1800's which contained items used by a group who practiced the negative (what ever that means) aspects of QBL. In that box were robes and some magical weapons of which there was a Black Robe with a red cross (Opposite color combination of your standard Hierophants robe) also a Caduceus with a Black sphere.
>I would hazard to suggest, though, that even if a black disk or sphere were
>used in some temples, particularly in a ceremonial setting, its intended
>symbolism would more likely refer to the Midnight Sun than anything
>relating to what is commonly called a "Black Lodge".>
This could very well be the truth. I do not know.
>I wonder what colors and symbols the "Hunting Lodges" are using these days?>
Hunting Lodges today still use the traditional Olive Drab with an occasional streak of Bright red/orange. I suppose they want to combine the influences of Malkuth with Geburah/Hod. This can tie in the whole 358 Gematria with shooting Deer.
From: email@example.com (George Randall Leake III)
CLAY--YOU THINK THESE GUYS IMPLY THAT MEDICINE ITSELF IS A RELIGION OR SOMETHING?
CLAY...THANKS FOR PUTTING THIS STUFF IN PERSPECTIVE...I WONDER IF THERE AREN'T MORE USEFUL/PRODUCTIVE AVENUES FOR THIS FORUM, THE NET IN GENERAL, AND ONE'S TIME THAN TO FRET ABOUT SOME SYMBOL... SORTA REMINDS ME OF A MILD VERSION OF ALL THE HISTRIONICS OVER FLAG-BURNING
ONE OTHER NOTE...THIS SYMBOLISM WAS EMPLOYED BY ALEISTER CROWLEY AND FRIEDA HARRIS IN THE DESIGN OF SOME OF HIS TAROT CARDS (WIDELY AVAILABLE COMMERCIALLY)
I THINK CLAY PUTS THIS IN PROPER PERSPECTIVE--THESE ARE SYMBOLS--- LET'S GET OVER IT AND GET BACK TO WORK ON FINDING A CURE FOR HIV, REFORMING THE POLITICAL SYSTEM, OR TRYING TO ENGAGE YOUNG PEOPLE IN THIS COUNTRY IN THE LIFE OF THE MIND.
From: Daniel Hieb
No need to get so defensive over my caduceus questions. An explanation is in order.
To put it briefly, the subject of the medical profession being associated with (any) current religion raises interesting religious freedom questions- for the person on the receiving end of the medical treatment. In the U.S., if this is state sponsored medical treatment, it raises question about state "establishment of religion" which is prohibited.
I have in mind the example of persons who practice spiritual healing ways of life, and have religious convictions against medical treatment. BUT WHO also are nevertheless forced to have medical treatment over their objection. They have a right not to have medical treatment forced on them, not EVEN A RELIGIOUS POINT OF VIEW promoted by the state. (Recently an Illinois mother was taken to court because she refused, on religious grounds, to have a caesarean-section operation to "protect" her fetus. She won the case though, and had a healthy baby anyway.)
In the medical profession itself, some of its own doctors have spoken out against "the religion of Medical Care", and its frequently attempted hegemony over religious exemptions by spiritual healing adherents. Doctors employ hunches and guesses often; they don't have the whole story or picture. Neither does psychiatry and the "medical model", its own medical opponents say.
If medical care employs not only religious symbols, but also refers to the religious figures behind them, this is a valid concern for the rights of the proposed patient.
From: firstname.lastname@example.org (George Randall Leake III)
Daniel...no need to worry...The flag-burning parallel I think applies...I just don't want to see folks start over-reacting to the caduceus like they are over the flag...they are both symbols...who cares?...I know of NO doctors or health care workers who take this symbol as some sort of religious symbol...frankly my reaction is that such notions smack of these paranoids who rave about the Masonic symbols on the back of the dollar bill and all that it implies (i.e. the gnomes of Zurich conspiracy controls the world)...or an article I read some 15 years ago alarmed about those little "k" symbols on food products which designate that food is kosher (cause General Foods has let a rabbi in to bless all their pop tarts...ooohhh...scary!...my food has been tainted by the incantations of the unbeliever!)
Is there any doubt that the medical profession (with obvious exceptions such as private Catholic run hospitals and the like) is *completely secular*? Some of these other issues you raise are MUCH MORE serious to me like the forcing health care/caesarian example you cite...admit it...this whole caduceus issue is a big slimy RED HERRING...
Are you familiar with the parasitic filarial worm Dracunculus medinensis AKA the fiery serpent AKA the dragon of Medina AKA the guinea worm? In areas where this worm is common, persons hosting the very long worms rid themselves of the parasite by grasping its tail (which protrudes through the skin, usually on the leg) and rolling it up on a small stick, twisting the stick a little each day until the entire worm is removed. It has been suggested that this is the origin of the symbol of medical doctors.
From: Daniel Hieb
There is an interesting and excellent book all about the caduceus:
"The Golden Wand of Medicine: A History of the Caduceus Symbol in Medicine" by Walter J. Friedlander 1993
The author is very careful to make distinctions about the staff of Aesculapius and the Caduceus of Mercury or Hermes.
Is it proper to refer to them both as Caduceus as people so often do?
Also, I've seen the 2-snaked version used in medical establishments far more often than the 1-snaked version. Maybe because it looks better?
From: "Kirk Crady"
It may be of interest to observe that the caduceus with two serpents somewhat resembles a double-helix (albeit tapering at one end), and so also looks a bit like (I beg to suggest if for no other reason than to broaden the perspective) a DNA molecule...
It may be way off base, but I would be interested in hearing if there were any examinations of this aspect.
From: B Garner
Can someone please explain the difference the double and single versions
Also I was wondering if there is a significance to the snake wrapping themselves 3.5 times, and is there some significance to the sinusoidal curve of the snakes?
From: email@example.com (Art_Kompolt)
The staff or wand ( Latin CADUCEUS) carried by Hermes was perhaps originally a fetish representing the mandrake root as guessed by Partington.
The serpent staff also appears on a Sumerian vase of c. 2000 B.C. representing the healing god Ningishita, the prototype of Asklepios. Another different staff (Lat LITTUS, perhaps Etruscan) was an augur's wand.
It is clear to me that Alchemy/Spagyrics is a dual process. One process affecting both the physical and the subtle. It is only when we approach this subject from different perspectives that we loose our limited way of expressing the concept. The Alchemical Forum is a process similarly as expressed in 'Solve et Coagula'-we are in the 'solve' (analytical) phase.
Confused? It's no wonder.
By all accounts of which I am aware, the Staff or Wand of Asclepius (or Aesculapius [Latin] - one serpent spiraling up the staff) is the TRUE emblem of the physician. The winged staff of Hermes, which displays two serpents, represents Mercury (Hermes) the messenger of the Gods and the patron of Trade. Yet in the United States the two serpent caduceus is used overwhelmingly to symbolize the medical profession.
We practically have a glut of doctors in the western world, but isn't it ironic that true Healers are as rare as their symbol, yet were overrun with doctors who practice their medical Trade? Maybe they ARE using the correct symbol, after all?
Way back in my memory I seem to have read that originally, the caduceus symbolized diviners (dowsers) who, in the ancient world were considered to be in touch with the Gods. Not only did they divine water, a most valuable commodity, but the causes of ill health as well their remedies. I recall that once the willow branch was chosen, then cut and used, the two branches of the fork were woven back around the larger staff. This then became a symbol of the One who talks with the Gods - a Herald.
Its easy to see that as the caduceus symbol evolved into a more formal item, the wings and the serpents could easily represent Hermetic truths. For example, the wings and staff would symbolize the Spirit; Mercury - volatile, neutral, the well spring of all life, the middle pillar of the Trinity. The two serpents might represent negative and positive spiraling (cycling) energy? Or, as has been suggested over time, 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 MIND by intellection, the domain of Mercury [wings].
The Wand of Asclepius, on the other hand, has a rather different story. We must go back before the Greeks to the ancient Egyptians. Egypts life and economy depended totally upon the waters of the Nile river which overflowed its banks each year flooding the land for miles on either side. The priests and wealthy Egyptians would leave the valley until the waters receded, but the common people had to survive as best they could. The waters left putrefying dead fish, dead animals, dead people, stagnate pools, angry, frightened, and disoriented cobras and crocodiles - and typhoid fever which the Egyptians symbolized as a deadly serpent. Its invisible venom, it was believed, moved through the land silently killing animals and people.
As the hot sun dried the stagnate pools and ponds and returned the land to a normal balance, the priests returned to the valley with their magic wands (rods) to administer to those still alive but sick. Conveniently for the priests, when the sun had finally dried everything, the typhoid disappeared.
What priest in his right mind would deny that his staff or wand had made the deadly serpent flee?
The accepted tradition of the day held that the priest's staff WAS the serpent and that when the Nile flooded the priests released their power as serpents to cause death from which new life would spring. Did they understand that the rich silt and dead carcasses renewed their lands? I rather imagine the priests did, at least.
In Chapter 4, verse 2 of Exodus there is a reference to this: And the Lord said unto him [Moses]. What IS that in thine hand? And he said a rod. Verse 3, And he said, Cast it on the ground. And he cast it on the ground, and it became a serpent; and Moses fled from before it. Verse 4, And the Lord said unto Moses, Put forth thine hand, and take it by the tail. And he put forth his hand and caught it and it became a rod in his hand. I would say that the tail of the serpent represents a metaphor for the end of the flood.
A note of trivia: There is a specie of cobra, naja-haje, that can be made strait and rigid as a rod by applying pressure to a certain place behind its head. As long as it is handled correctly it will remain in this state for a short time. When thrown to the ground the jolt breaks it out of its rigid stupor and it wriggles away. It was a favored trick of the Magicians; - still
is today, probably.
The Greeks took the same natural occurrence [any flooding river] and put it this way: Apollo (the Sun) mates with a wile little nymph named Coronis a spirit of the earth and water, devious and corrupt - ref. typhus) and consumes her - dries her up, as it were. Their son is none other than Asklepios, the Greek God of - what else? - medicine. Somewhere in this myth, Zeus, afraid that Asklepios will do such a good job that he will make men immortal, incinerates him with a bolt of lightening. In this way, the wand of Asklepios is wrapped with spiraling lightning [Fire] - which in the Qabalistic tradition would be symbolized by a spiraling serpent.
These themes repeat over and over throughout mythology. It is difficult if not impossible to ever know the whole story, but through them runs a thread of relevance. Of additional interest is the E-mail post from HSofia, about the long parasitic filarial worm Dracunculus medenensis AKA the fiery serpent. To be removed from a human host it is caught by its tail which protrudes from the hosts body. The tail is wrapped around a stick and rolled up a little each day until the worm is removed. She suggests this might be the origin of the medical symbol. It could be. Why not?
Until The Nile floods again . . .
Cohn de Toraeke
From: Jeffrey Smith
Lurking in the back of my head while reading all the interesting propositions here is Poulenc, who composed _Les Mamelles de Tiresias_ (The Breasts of Tiresias). Some of you at least should remember the story of Tiresias--the seer who was so unhelpful to Oepidus and Family. At one point, he 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.
Vedi Tiresia che muto sembiante
Quando di maschio femmina divenne,
cangiandosi le membra tutte quante;
E prima, voi, ribatter li convenne
li duo serpenti avvolti, con la verga,
che riavesse le maschili penne. (Inferno, Canto 20:40 ff.)
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. And I seem to remember that Tiresias' staff, complete with serpents, was passed on to Hermes...
You have prodded my interest and my memory. I shall have to re-read the story of Tiresias. Thank you so much for your contribution. CdT.
For general interest and readership:
Jeffery had written:
Tiresias -- the seer who was so unhelpful to Oedipus and Family. At one point, he found two snakes copulating, and to separate them stuck his staff between them [killing the female]. Immediately he was turned into a women, and remained so for seven years, until he was able to repeat his action [by killing the male], and change back into a man.
Such myths are filled with alchemical or hermetic references, as are most of the Greek Myths of the so-called Golden Age of Greece. Rather than profane their art with clear speech and understandable recipes, the Greek philosophers composed their Myths, which both entertained and instructed their chosen students - who easily remembered them.
In later ages, when philosophers wrote books, they hid their meaning in confusing convoluted writing that only the initiated aspirant could navigate. One of the European alchemists adopted the name, Geber (a latinized form of the name of the great Arabian alchemist, Jabir - pronounced: jee-beer). He wrote of stuffing the beaks of Pelicans and such. Few people know of him and that he was considered mad by his usurpers. But, today, everyone knows the meaning of the term - Gibberish - which is an adulteration of his name.
For a student of alchemy, myths are worth knowing.
Thank you, again, Jeffery,
Cohn de Toraeke
From: Daniel Hieb
Here is some more various information that someone put together with other discussion group posts, on the caduceus. It is not very scholarly, or is more opinionated; but perhaps of further interest here. It does mention 'alchemy'.
Subject: alt.magicK KfaQ#04: Hermes' Wand? (kreEePing oOze faQ)
Newsgroups: alt.magick , alt.magick.tyagi , alt.mythology ,
alt.answers , news.answers
KrEeEpIng ooze FAQ #04:
"What about Hermes' wand, that snake-staff thing?"
That's the caduceus, or rather, it is commonly presumed to be the caduceus.
Actually, there is another wand attributed to someone else, I don't recall right now that has more to do with medicine-
The caduceus is a wand of Chthonic power, the snakes having come up from the earth to wound about the wand.
I found these notes (alchemical I think) concerning caduceus-but I'm not sure where they are from-although it sounds a bit like Crowley to me.
The caduceus contains a complete symbol of the Gnosis; the winged sun or phallus represents the joy of life on all planes from the lowest to the highest. The Serpents, besides being active and passive, Horus and Osiris, and all their other well-known attributions are those qualities of Eagle and Lion respectively, of which we know but do not speak. It is the symbol which unites the Microcosm and the Macrocosm, the symbol of the Magical Operation which accomplishes this. The caduceus is the universal solvent. It is quite easy to turn quicksilver into gold on the physical plane, and this will soon be done. New life will flow through the world in consequence. The god now lays his caduceus upon my lips for silence; bidding me only remember that on the following night he is to come in another form.
firstname.lastname@example.org (Jess Karlin)
The one presently used by doctors and such people (twin snakes entwined about a winged staff) is actually a classical Greek herald's staff (more or less equivalent to a flag of truce). heralds would carry messages between hostile armies or cities and were inviolate. molesting a herald was a religious offense and the gods were thought to become involved in enacting justice for such offenses (there are many stories in Greek literature about this kind of thing happening). what does this have to do with doctors? nothing in particular. the staff of Aeskulapios (an ancient Greek physician deified as the god of medicine) was a single snake wrapped around a staff. don't ask me how the two became confused.
I am using 'classical' to refer to the centuries just before the Christian era and 'ancient' as anything before 1000 bc or so, btw.
email@example.com (joshua geller)
There are many explanations for how the pharmaceutical symbol came about. Perhaps more than one is 'true'? The least poetic but IMO most interesting explanation I've encountered follows:
Before modern medicine and sanitation, infection by parasitic worms was a common occurrence. One particularly virulent type crawled around the victim's body, just under the skin. You could actually follow its movement. Doctor's 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 the cut, the doctor carefully wound the pest around a stick (they're very long) until the entire animal had been removed. Because this type of infection was so common, doctor's advertised their services by displaying a sign with the worm on a stick.
I don't know if the symbol actually came from this, but it is true that that's how the infection was treated.
The Caduceus is not a good symbol for DNA. Aside from the matter of DNA being a recent discovery, the staff up the middle doesn't fit. In "initiated interpretation", meaning mainly 19th century Western explanation of symbols, the Caduceus is a representation of the Kundalini, as is also the Patriarchal Cross or Grand Hierophant's Cross. That is something of an anachronism as well, but the staff fits in that case.
firstname.lastname@example.org (Bill Heidrick)
Just to muddy the waters even more....could it be that Hermes has 2 staves? I thought I would go to ancient Greek sources to see what they said about Hermes and his staff. What I commonly found was a staff called a rhabdos which was used to make mortals bend to his will. For example this is the staff used to lead the dead off to Hades (Od. 24.1-24), and this staff (rhabdos) is also used by Hades himself for this purpose. Would this staff be the staff with a circle on one end topped by another circle (not closed)? I thought at first that this was merely an abstract design of the 2 snakes, but now I'm not sure of this at all.
The staff with 2 snakes often now called Caduceus, was called by the Greeks a kerykeion; this word is derived from keryx (or stem keryk-) meaning herald, as one would expect for the staff of a herald. This staff was the one with 2 snakes. According to Burkert this is a Near Eastern image of copulating snakes. He suggest a few sources for further reading:
The magic Staff or Rod in Graeco-Roman Antiquity by F J M de Waele.
E D Buren, Archiv fuer Orientforschung 10 (1935-36) 53-65.
email@example.com (Stephen Cavan)
[Quoting: firstname.lastname@example.org (Stephen Cavan)]
>Could it be that Hermes has 2 staves?
He doesn't according to the evidence of visual representation. The only exception I could find in all of Montfaucon (hoary, but copious) was a HermOsiris, at V.1, pl.39 #16. Otherwise, it's the familiar two snakes wound around a rod.
By the way, the Abbe thought the caduceus stood for trade, or traffic in goods. hmmm........sure that's an office of Hermes/Mercury, but how does the *symbol* suggest trade?
>I thought I would go to ancient Greek sources to see what they
>said about Hermes and his staff. What I commonly found was a staff
>called a rhabdos which was used to make mortals bend to his will.
A rhabdos is more properly a *rod* or *wand* than a "staff." Liddell and Scott say it is "lighter than the *Bakteria* or walking-stick." It is used about 1,000 different ways--much like the Latin *virga,* really—for ferula, wands magical and otherwise, rods of authority, etc. it's a skinny thing you hold in one hand--too skinny really to support your weight. It's pretty commonly used as a generic term for magic wand--and that's how we understand the Caduceus.
|For example this is the staff used to lead the dead off to Hades
Think of Spenser in Mother Hubberd's Tale--no classical author, but knowledgeable about them. says something like "his snaky wand Caduceus, with which he ruleth all the damned ghosts."
>and this staff (rhabdos) is also used by Hades himself for this purpose.
A rhabdos is also what Circe used on Odysseus--a charming wand, apparently (*Od* X.238, 319) and what Hermes uses as an anaesthetic, on mortals—a sort of wand of sleep (*Iliad* 24.343). Really, it's just a magic wand in these illustrations--and that is in no wise incompatible with our understanding of the caduceus, which was a rod or wand held in one hand by the herald. It would help to have the other one free, I suppose, in order to make appropriate gestures.
>was the one with 2 snakes. According to Burkert this is a Near Eastern
>image of copulating snakes. He suggest a few sources for further reading:
>The magic Staff or Rod in Graeco-Roman Antiquity by F J M de Waele.
>E D Buren, Archiv fuer Orientforschung 10 (1935-36) 53-65.
We don't have those either, but they sound interesting.
Here is the entry for "caduceus" in the "Meridian Handbook of Classical
A wand borne by Hermes. The caduceus, or "kerykeion", is a rod entwined by snakes and sometimes furnished with small wings near the tip. It was the badge of Hermes' office as messenger of the gods and as guide of the dead, though in the latter capacity he is shown merely carrying a forked stick. Some scholars believe that the caduceus was originally decorated with ribbons rather than snakes.
Asklepios was identified with the constellation "Ophiuchus", or "serpent bearer" (I am not familiar with this one), and the symbol of the god's cult was the snake. So it is possible that the caduceus became identified with Asklepios due to the chthonic element of the snake as you mention, along with snakes being the symbol of his cult.
email@example.com (Dan Vieira)
This thread is reminding me of the Tiresias myth; he was walking on a mountain, I think Kitharion, and saw two snakes mating. He tried to separate them, and was turned into a woman. Seven years later, on the same mountain, he again saw two snakes mating, tried to separate them, and was turned back into a man. One day, Zeus and Hera were arguing over who had more fun during sex, men or women. They decided to ask Tiresias, and he agreed with Zeus that women had more fun. Out of anger, Hera blinded him. Out of gratitude, Zeus gave him the gift of prophecy.
Same theme, two snakes and a staff. Just thought it was interesting.
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Thanks so much for putting all the information about Caduceus into the forum.
Do you suppose that Tiresias had a mischievous sense of humor? When asked by Zeus to settle his argument with Hera about who had more fun during sex, could he have known Hera's secret - that she had nine orgasms to only one of Zeus's? Maybe that's why she blinded Tiresias, and Zeus made him a prophet?
Keep that smile on your face.
I wasn't counting but I thought it was seven! In any case this ordination of Tiersias is appropriate since it comes during his sojourn on Mt. Kyllene in Arcadia, famous as the primordial place of Hermes' origin. On Kyllene the rising stone phallus was venerated and this "Herm stone" or menheir (Old Welsh for hard and stiff) follows a long and ancient Tradition of phallic worship by the Cabieroi of Thrace. The kierkeion "rises up" from Hades (the invisible place of death) and was no doubt the hadean seminal emblem and as the property of the chthonian "womb/tomb." The matri-cults of death long predate the Hermetic articulation of the megalith rising up ichthyphallus.
But a stadial process is observable insofar as the phallus/serpent/staff develops wings to accommodate what is in effect a "marriage of hell and heaven" (my apologies to William Balke) by which Chthonios is connected to the Empyrean. It is thus a little more than a herald but an agency of prophecy (keeping in mind Typhon and Apollo). Its magical healing efficacy thus includes a telestic function and which is often represented by twins (in this case the snakes of the caduceus) or, in astrological assignment, as the Gemini twins (viz., my "Aelia-Laelia-Crispus" post of some weeks ago, re: Michael Maier and the alchemical inscription of Bologna).
The snakes binding themselves around and identifying themselves with the staff, as was the case with Moses attempting to impress Pharaoh with his magic, indicates a linkup by the mortal estate as intermediary between the world below and the world above. The staff, as such is a kind of portable axis mundi which during the Bronze age pointed to the constellation Draco to locate the pole star. The punctuation of the staff with wings indicates its allowance as something pneumatic and by which Chthonios is rejoined in Nous, the underworld (or "unconscious") intruding itself in Mind.
Much the same is apparent in the Meso-American cultures where the plumed or winged serpent, Quetzalcoatl, is cajoled into rising up by a libation of fresh human blood and by which it mantically "speaks" of the future just as the suggestion by Tieresia to Odyseus for an offering of a libation of blood to the shades of the Heroes in Hades allows them momentarily to speak. This "Dracula syndrome" by which the dead may speak (of the future) in effect links blood and soul as mutual metaphors.
The degeneration of the Hermetic figure to a mere messenger and the caduceus as a semiotic token of modern medicine indicates much more has been forgotten (*lethe*). The Latin equivalent as Mercury, however, gives it all away; Where Mer is both Sea and Mother and by which Mar-ket, Mar-tial, Mar-ital and Mor-tal represent the four forms of intercourse and exchange (commerce. war, marriage and death), not to mention Fate (Moira) represented by the kerkeion as Hekateion, a giant phallus surrounded by the three fates as the virgin Persephone, Queen of Death, Demeter (of the earth), mother of the virgin, and the old crone Hekate, guardian of the Wastelands, or Marchlands (qua Hades as the garbage dump), i.e, the virgin potential, the Mother and the old wise witch (weise qua wicca) as proto-Sophia. What this all has to do with European alchemy is essential insofar as it includes the history of the Hermetic function (intuition) and the ubiquitous but elusive Mercurius ofthe mater, matrix, mother lode as Lapis.
Bernard X. Bovasso