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The caduceus is the staff carried by Hermes Trismegistus in Greco-Egyptian mythology and Hermes in Greek mythology (god Hermes, messenger of the gods, and later these attributes were transferred to Roman god Mercury). The same staff was also borne by heralds in general, for example by Iris, the messenger of Hera. It is a short staff entwined by two serpents, sometimes surmounted by wings. In Roman iconography, it was often depicted being carried in the left hand of Mercury, the messenger of the gods, guide of the dead and protector of merchants, shepherds, gamblers, liars, and thieves.
Some accounts suggest that the oldest known imagery of the caduceus have their roots in a Mesopotamian origin with the Sumerian god Ningishzida whose symbol, a staff with two snakes intertwined around it, dates back to 4000 B.C. to 3000 B.C.
Through its use in astrology and alchemy, it has come to denote the elemental metal of the same name. It is said the wand would wake the sleeping and send the awake to sleep. If applied to the dying, their death was gentle; if applied to the dead, they returned to life.
By extension of its association with MERCURY and HERMES, the caduceus is also a recognized symbol of commerce and negotiation, two realms in which balanced exchange and reciprocity are recognized as ideals.
The CADUCEUS also appears as a symbol of the punch-marked coins of the Maurya Empire in India, in the 3rd-2nd century BCE.
Serpents in general are symbolic of renewal because they shed their skin. Ancient naturalists observed how clean, bright and shiny snakes are after shedding, so they became representatives of transformation, purification and sloughing off the old to embrace the new. This has spiritual connotations as well.
In ALCHEMICAL SYMBOLILSM the caduceus is associated with prime matter; the two serpents threaded in opposite directions around the magic wand represent the primal Chaos, in that the serpents are thought to be fighting. Eventually their withering around the caduceus brings about equilibrium of opposing factors, qualities, or tendencies. This is why sometimes the caduceus is called the symbol of peace; besides being the messenger of the gods Hermes also guided humans through their changes of being.
There are other interpretations of caduceus symbolism which relate to alchemy. One is that the caduceus is comprised of two serpents coupling on an erected phallus, fertility symbol; one of the most ancient Indo-European images, found in various rites in both ancient and modern India, which became emblem of Hermes, which was passed onto Mercury.
Finally, the symbolism of the CADUCEUS has inspired an ethical-biological philosophy based on the myth describing the caduceus as an attribute of Asclepius (Aesculapius) who was the first physician and future god of medicine. The entire life-cycle of medicine is condensed in this myth of Asclepios and comprised within the caduceus, for true cure and true resurrection apply to the soul. The serpents entwined around the staff-symbolizing the Tree of Life-to show the egotism tamed and brought under control, their venom transformed to healing, the corruption of the life force brought back to its proper channel. Health “is the right proportions, harmonization of desire (the serpents’ symmetrical coils) control the emotional stimuli, the need for spiritualization and sublimation [which] not only rule the health of the soul [but] determine the health of the body as well.” Such an explanation of this kind definitely classifies the caduceus as a symbol of psychosomatic balance.
Clarification: The caduceus is the traditional symbol of Hermes and features two snakes winding around an often winged staff. It is often mistakenly used as a symbol of medicine instead of the Rod of Asclepius, especially in the United States. The two-snake caduceus design has ancient and consistent associations with trade, eloquence, trickery, and negotiation. Tangential association of the caduceus with medicine has occurred through the ages, where it was sometimes associated with alchemy and wisdom.
The modern use of the caduceus as a symbol of medicine became established in the United States in the late 19th and early 20th century as a result of documented mistakes, misunderstandings and confusion
Length: 65 mm
Width: 30 mm
Weight: 12 g