If you have ever flipped through a phone book looking through the listings for “physician”, you’ve no doubt seen the image or logo of two serpents criss-crossed around a staff topped by a circle and flanked by wings. This is known as the caduceus, and curiously it has been the symbol of the American medical profession for nearly a hundred years. The distant origin of the symbol adopted by the Greeks originated in Mesopotamia, and has been known since 2144-24 BC.
The caduceus is a winged staff with two snakes wrapped around it. Originally it was an enchanter’s wand. It was an ancient astrological symbol of commerce and is associated with the Greek god Hermes, the messenger for the gods, conductor of the dead and protector of merchants and thieves. It was originally a staff with wings, and two white ribbons attached. The ribbons eventually evolved into snakes in the figure-eight shape.
In the 19th century, a medical publisher used the symbol prominently on its texts, and thereby began the association of the caduceus with medicine, an association made firm by the prevalence of the image in the American Medical Corps during World War I. Some physicians are critical of the symbol, because Hermes also happens to be the god that leads the dead to the underworld and is not only associated with wealth and commerce, but happens to be the patron of thieves. It only makes sense that doctors wouldn’t want to be associated with trickery, death, and the accumulation of wealth. Most of organisations using the Caduceus symbol are generally either commercial (such as pharmacists) or military.
The Caduseus vs. The Staff Of Asclupius
The caduceus differs from the rod of Asclepius which is depicted as a single serpent coiled around a cypress branch. Most medical Associations around the world including the World Health Organization do use the rod of Asclepius which is the traditional symbol of medicine. Medical purists indeed suggest we should go back to the staff of Aesculapius, but are they are missing something?
Note that the snakes on the caduceus are bound to each other in a double helix – a shape of stability, creation, and life – the very shape our DNA conforms to. This is to some who believe in ancient wisdom to be no mere coincidence. In his book “The Cosmic Serpent”, Jeremy Narby takes a serious look at how neurogenetic consciousness forms our awareness, knowledge, symbolism and culture. Excerpt from the book:
“Inside the nucleus, DNA coils and uncoils, writhes and wriggles. Scientists often compare the form and movements of this long molecule to those of a snake”.
The Caduseus is the sign of the ancient physician. This winged staff with two serpents intertwined about it, carried by the Greek God Hermes and the Roman God Mercury, is a symbol of fertility, wisdom, and healing. It depicts the totality of the body’s functions and its connection to the mental, emotional and spiritual worlds; the description of the Tree of Life, the Tree of Knowledge of Good and Evil, and the Tree of Food and Nourishment. It was also used by the Romans as a symbol for truce and neutrality, and it may very well have anticipated the discovery of the DNA molecule long ago. Maybe that’s why it is currently the insignia of the medical branch of the US Army. Maybe the military does know a little bit more about the value of ancient widom than it lets on.