THE STAFF / CADUCEUS CONNECTION
Long rods or staffs were generally used by the animal keepers (shepherds) and wise men of the tribes. In the Old Testament is recorded the stories of Moses (and others) who performed magic with their rods. In some magical traditions, the act of the magician touching his staff to the Earth represented the directing of consciousness towards Humanity. If he, instead, raised his staff in the Air, he lifted his awareness in the direction of Divinity.
In some cases, their rods transformed into serpents. This “trick” has been explained by scientists by the fact that pressure put upon a certain snake’s neck will often paralyze it, making the snake appear to be a rigid staff. Throwing this staff (snake) to the ground will revive it. The snake involvement with wands were not isolated to these examples. The snake had been the symbol of wisdom and knowledge since the dawn of time. The snake wrapped around the tree symbolized the Tree of Life long before the “Adam and Eve” myth. The snake was also the symbol representing the Druids of Britain. In fact, in 432 A.D., when “Saint” Patrick chased the “snakes” out of Ireland, in reality he drove out the Druid priests, healers and leaders, and converted the Irish to Christianity. The term “snakes” was, of course, only a metaphor for “Druids.”
The “snake around the staff” also symbolized the human spine through which the coiled “kundalini serpent energy” was drawn upward to the head through the “chakras” (“psychic centers of the body”). The staff with the single serpent, as held by Asclepius, the Greek god of healing and medicine, is a symbol of medicine. In fact, his daughter was Hygeia, the goddess of health (which is where our word hygiene comes from). Medieval physicians inherited the custom of carrying wands from their priestly predecessors, the magician healers of antiquity. This custom lasted down into the 18th Century when doctors carried “canes” (short staffs or walking sticks). Many modern medical organizations still use the symbol of the snake around the staff.
Long ago there appeared a second version of the “snake around the staff,” with the development of the mystic caduceus: a short staff (or wand) entwined with two serpents, with the end held upright possessing a globe or orb with wings below it. The fiery serpents represented cosmic polarity creating energy. The wand was a symmetrical arrangement of opposing forces balancing one another. And this balance was twice stated: 1) on the lower plane of the instincts (symbolized by the serpents) and 2) on the higher level of the spirit (represented by the wings). Some scholars believe that the two wings also represent the two hemispheres of the brain. But before we discuss the caduceus further, what was its historical origin? My research and recent discoveries shed light on its story. Here are several examples:
1) Ruins were found of the Royal Tombs of Ur in the cemetery of the sacred Sumerian city of the Moon-Goddess Inanna, which date back to c.3500 – 2500 B.C.E. Clay figures found of Ninshubar, the messenger of the gods, show him bearing a wand in his right hand. Ninshubar is the prototype of Mercury/Hermes, the Olympian messenger of the gods. The Mesopotamians considered the intertwining serpents as the symbol of the god who cured all ills.
2) There exists an early Akkadian seal which shows a seated man with a caduceus (entwined snakes) symbol behind him. There is a crescent moon over a chalice held by the man which may suggest that he may have been a moon-worshipping high priest or god incarnate. This seal dates back to 2350 – 2150 B.C.E.
3) In the Louvre is a vase which was carved c. 2025 B.C.E. and dedicated by King Gudea of Lagash to Ningizzida, the Lord of Truth and consort of the Sumerian goddess. It shows two snakes entwined around a staff.
4) The ancient Phonecian god Baal and the ancient Egyptian gods Thoth, Horus and Bast, all carried a form of the caduceus at certain times, held high in order to attract energies and used these energies for healing.
The ancient Greeks helped to modify the caduceus. This symbol, first a double snake, then a double snake around a staff, was altered into a rod with a winged knob, globe or orb. In Greek mythology, the god Apollo gave his brother Hermes a special golden wand called the Caduceus, which gave Hermes the powers of wisdom, prophesy and healing. Hermes was also the Greek god of all forms of magic and trickery. He used his wand to confuse men while he practiced magic and deception. When Hermes became the messenger of the gods, the rod became his badge of office.
In Roman Mythology, Mercury was the son of Jupiter, the Sky-Father God and Maia, the Earth-Mother Goddess. Mercury exchanged a hand-made lyre for two oxen, with Apollo the Sun God. Apollo was so pleased with the lyre that he gave Mercury a magic wand called Caduceus, which had the power of stopping arguments. Mercury decided to test it, so he thrust it between two fighting snakes. They immediately became friendly to each other and wound themselves around the wand. This pleased Mercury, so he asked them to remain there forever (which they did). Mercury used the wand on all occasions. As a messenger of the gods, they presented him with winged sandals (“The Talaria”) and a winged cap (“The Petasus”), the combination of which gave him the powers of “super-speed” and flight. Eventually, a pair of wings was also added to the wand, making the wand, cap & sandals a “matched set.”
© Joe Lantiere, 2001