The caduceus, an esoteric symbol picturing two serpents coiled around a rod, is one of the most ancient symbols in the Middle East. Serpents always carried very opposite connotations. They were beautifully decorated creatures who symbolized wisdom. In many cases they also carried a deadly venom and their bite killed. The ancient Hebrews saw the serpent in the Garden of Eden as the instrument of humanity's fall from innocence. While in the wilderness, many were bitten by serpents and, according to the story, Moses lifted up a brass image of a serpent coiled around a rod (Num. 21:8-9). Those who looked upon the serpent were healed. Throughout Mesopotamia, the serpent was associated with healing deities. Thus did it find its most common use as the symbol of physicians. While probably originating in Mesopotamia, the caduceus found its way eastward to India and westward into the Mediterranean. It is associated with the use of paired serpents in general such as those on the Egyptian Pharaoh's headpiece or the serpents coiled around the body of Mithras. In Greek lore, Hermes (the Roman Mercury) came upon two serpents fighting. He thrust his rod between them. They coiled around the rod and remained attached to it. Thus, the caduceus emerged as the symbol of messenger of the God. In Greek thought, the caduceus acquired wings. In India, the caduceus became associated with the kundalini or serpent power, the latent power believed to lie as a coiled serpent at the base of the spine. As spiritual consciousness awakens, the energy travels up the spine to the top of the head. In Roman thought, the caduceus was a symbol of moral equilibrium and good conduct.
Over the centuries, the caduceus was brought into the esoteric Gnostic tradition and reappears as symbolic of power and the balance between positive and negative or darkness and light. It has a special place in the rich iconography of speculative Freemasonry. As Eastern and Western symbology has mixed and merged in the twentieth century, the ancient caduceus has emerged as a symbol of enlightenment and acquisition of the ancient wisdom.
Cirlot, J. E. A Dictionary of Symbols. New York: Philosophical Library, 1962, 1971.
Hall, Manly Palmer. The Secret Teachings of All Ages. Los Angeles: Philosophical Research Society, 1977.
ca·du·ce·us / kəˈd(y)oōsēəs; -shəs/ • n. (pl. -ce·i / -sēˌī; -shēˌī/ ) an ancient Greek or Roman herald's wand, typically one with two serpents twined around it, carried by the messenger god Hermes or Mercury. ∎ a representation of this, traditionally associated with healing.
1. Winged rod with two serpents and leaves wound around it, called the Wand of Hermes (of which deity it is an attribute). Compare Aaron's rod.
2. Herald's rod, or wreathed olive-branch, originally wingless.