|The Caduceus; Public Domain by Wikimedia Commons|
The Caduceus as a Symbol
by Amethyst Black
Hermes was the messenger of the gods and protector of messengers, god of merchants and trade, sports and athletes, travelers, and of border crossings and of thieves; as well he was god of eloquence and a guide to the Underworld. The caduceus first and foremostly represents him (in Roman mythology, Mercury), due to the fact that as messenger of the gods, he carried one. When not associated with Hermes, such an object is called a herald's rod. The significance of one is to denote messages of great importance.
What Do the Individual Components of the Caduceus Represent?
The messages Hermes bore for the gods, were sacred; snakes are protectors of sacred knowledge and wisdom. Additionally, snakes shed their skin, which is symbolic of rebirth, or renewal of life. The wings denote speed and the ability to fly. The rod denotes power, as it resembles the spine; and the orb atop of it represents the world, and when considered alongside the rod being a spine, the globe also represents a brain. A spine, when regarded as the sacred djed pillar of ancient Egypt, represents stability. Not part of its actual meaning but still very present, is the fact that the intertwining snakes represent human DNA, and also the chakra system and the flow of kundalini energy through it.
|Rod of Asclepius; Public Domain via Wikimedia Commons|
What the Caduceus is Not :: An Observation
Though the caduceus was never a bonafide medical symbol, it does resemble the Rod of Asclepius, the true healing symbol; from this point, part of the misidentification of it with medicine may have arisen.
Why was it chosen to represent medicine? Its appearance was based upon confusion. In the 1500s, John Caius used the symbol as he taught and otherwise engaged in medical practices; ergo people assumed that it bore medical relativity. When queried he explained that the symbol he used was not about medicine or a god of old at all. It turned out that he wanted to announce the delivery of important news, along with a salute to due prudence in its preparation and reading, in having the herald's rod present.
Read on to see how alchemical healing can be symbolized by the caduceus (under the heading 'How the Caduceus Relates to Alchemy').
Does the Caduceus Tell Us Anything Else?
It urges us to think of the planet Mercury and also mercury the element. Furthermore, powers that Hermes' caduceus had, not commonly mentioned within mythology are: to put the wakened to slumber and to awaken the sleeping; also, to grant the dying a kind death. Additionally the wand had the ability to revive the dead. Beyond these things, it can relate to the ancient Sumerian deity, Ningishzida, who was forerunner to the Greek Hermes; he was the first known historical figure depicted using one. He was messenger to Ishtar, and used the rod to awaken nature in the springtime. It can alternatively relate to the Egyptian deity, Thoth, as he is considered syncretic with Hermes (Trismegistus).
How the Caduceus Relates to Alchemy
Paraphrasing Eliphas Levi (from the book, 'Transcendental Magick': "sulfur, mercury, and salt, prepared by the alchemically wise, composes Azoth. It is an all encompassing medicine--for the soul it is reason and justice; for the mind it provides basis for mathematical and practical truth; for the body it is quintessence, as it is gold and light combined."
To summarize, Azoth is the force and balance behind matters of spirit, mind, intelligence and justice; and also behind healing and medicine. Also implied, in the mathematical and practical foundation of it, is that it will get an alchemist started on any endeavor. Finally, some draw a connection between Azoth, HP Lovecraft's Azathoth (a demon); and Atazoth (a demon), described in Kenneth Grant's works; there are likely as many who believe that any connection is falsely attributed. Unless one makes effort to channel the two beings, they won't find their 'true' answer. My two cents? as someone who often takes time to channel entities and inquire about similar-sounding names, more often than not there is a connection. Alas, I have not yet channeled these.
When one reads this, it's clear to see that the caduceus, though not rightfully a symbol of medicine, is much about that; however, it is not about medicine alone, as is especially made clear by its referencing Azoth. It could perhaps be reduced to this: the caduceus is a powerful symbol of mind, justice, spirit, health and healing, and even of life and death; and let's not forget, messages as well. Some would say that tricksterism should be mentioned too, but my take on that is this--Mercury was seen as a trickster due to the fact that he could find ways to get things done. So shrewdness, not tricksterism.