The Caduceus, or “Staff of Hermes”

The Caduceus is one of the most well-known symbols in the world today. However, the true story and significance of this symbol remains obscured to the vast majority.

Most of us will recognize the Caduceus as a symbol belonging to the medical community. If asked, most would likely say that this symbol was adopted by doctors and other medical professionals as their symbol representing the power of healing, and that its origins can be traced to Asclepius, the ancient Greek physician.

Others, however, dispute this theory, arguing that in reality, what we know as the Caduceus is of much greater antiquity, having been traced back even further to the Greek legend Hermes Trismegistus.

There is a Greek legend which tells the story of how he came to possess what has also been called “the Staff of Hermes.”

It begins with a Greek seer named Tiresias, who discovered two mating snakes in the middle of the road on Mount Kyllene. When Tiresias went to separate the snakes with his staff, he was turned into a woman. He remained a woman for seven more years, until again he encountered and separated another pair of snakes.

The powerful staff, together with the snakes, was then hidden in a cave on the mountain; it is said that it is here where Hermes would eventually be born, and would make his home.

It is often thought that the snakes represent the life force, or inner creative power within man (and woman). Some even speculate that, since the caduceus looks quite similar to the double-helix structure of DNA, this could be clue hinting at the possibility that Thoth/Hermes may have somehow manipulated the structure of the human genome to advance our progress and hurry us toward the future evolution of humanity.

These are all interesting ideas, but the possibilities are not limited to these two options. I believe there are many ways of reading this myth, especially in light of certain alchemical principles.

I have my own inclinations when it comes to interpreting the symbolism of this mythic origins story, but I’d love to hear what you think.

Do the snakes and staff (and wings, in some versions) have any personal significance for you? What does it mean to heal or be healed, and how does the symbolism of the Caduceus represent that?

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