Rod of Asclepios and the Brass Snake

by googlemagoogle 8 Replies latest watchtower beliefs

  • googlemagoogle

    this one is for the history/myth experts out there.

    i've already seen a lot of common legends in greek/mesopotamian/hebrew mythology (the flood, the tree of life, ...) especially after reading the gilgamesh epos.

    when i was little i always ment the sign on farmacies (the rod of ascleipos) to be the brass snake moses made to save the israelites from the snakes-bites (wich was later an idol the israelites worshipped). and indeed the similarity can't be overlooked. in arts, asclepios (lat.: aesculap) - a greek hero and later god of healing - is always shown with a rod acompanied by a snake. the "rod of asclepios" sign probably contains a "guinea-worm" but he's still always with a snake, wich is a metaphor for medicine.

    has anyone already looked into this, are there any connections, any common sources for asclepios and moses?

  • Narkissos

    Serpent worship (cf. 2 Kings 18:4) was very common in the Ancient Near East. The snake is used as a multiple symbol (eternal life, healing, etc.) from Gilgamesh to Philo of Byblos.

    See Leolaia's thread

  • googlemagoogle

    thanks for the link

  • Scully
    Scully <~~ Here's an interesting site that explores the origins of the caduceus, including the Greek and Roman legends of the gods Hermes and Mercury, both of whom are depicted with a rod that is entwined by serpents.

    The Caduceus vs the Staff of Asclepius

    Mercury (Hermes) & merchant approach disapproving Asclepius (Physician) and the naked Graces (Meditrine, Hygeia and Panacea)
    [Engraved from an original in the then Museum Pio Clemens in Rome
    Galerie Mytholgique, Recueil de Monuments par A. L. Millin, Paris 1811.]
    • Asclepius dealt with patients - merchants make deals with clients
    • Asclepius is linked with a constellation of idealistic medical ideas
    • Hermes is linked with hermetic occultism
    • Mercury is identified with mercantile mercenary views

    [1] The Caduceus of Hermes (Greek) and Mercury (Roman)

    Many "medical" organisations use a symbol of a short rod entwined by two snakes and topped by a pair of wings, which is actually the caduceus or magic wand of the Greek god Hermes (Roman Mercury), messenger of the gods, inventor of (magical) incantations, conductor of the dead and protector of merchants and thieves.

    It is interesting to see that most of organisations using this symbol are generally either commercial or military (or American). New Zealand examples include drug and pharmaceutical companies. A study by Friedlander confirms this impression.

    The link between the caduceus of Hermes (Mercury) and medicine seems to have arisen by the seventh century A.D., when Hermes had come to be linked with alchemy. Alchemists were referred to as the sons of Hermes, as Hermetists or Hermeticists and as "practitioners of the hermetic arts". There are clear occult associations with the caduceus.

    The caduceus was the magic staff of Hermes (Mercury), the god of commerce, eloquence, invention, travel and theft, and so was a symbol of heralds and commerce, not medicine. The words caduity & caducous imply temporality, perishableness and senility, while the medical profession espouses renewal, vitality and health.

    [2] The Staff of Asclepius (Æsclepius, Asklepios)
    [Personification of Medical or healing Art and its ideals]

    Professional and patient centred organisations (such as the NZMA, in fact most medical Associations around the world including the World Health Organization) use the "correct" and traditional symbol of medicine, the staff of Asclepius with a single serpent encircling a staff, classically a rough-hewn knotty tree limb. Asclepius (an ancient greek physician deified as the god of medicine) is traditionally depicted as a bearded man wearing a robe that leaves his chest uncovered and holding a staff with his sacred single serpent coiled around it, (example right) symbolizing renewal of youth as the serpent casts off its skin. The single serpent staff also appears on a Sumerian vase of c. 2000 B.C. representing the healing god Ningishita, the prototype of the Greek Asklepios. However, there is a more practical origin postulated which makes sense [See Dracunculus medinensis].

    Asclepius and his staff

    Who was Asclepius? Asclepius was most probably a skilled physician who practised in Greece around 1200BC (and described in Homer's Iliad). Eventually through myth and legend he came to be worshipped as Asclepius, the (Greek) god of Healing. [See BBC reference]

    Medical schools developed, which were usually connected to temples or shrines called Asclepions (Asclepieia) dedicated to Asclepius. The Asclepion became very important in Greek society. Patients believed they could be cured by sleeping in them. They would visit, offering gifts and sacrifices to the god, and be treated by priest healers (called the Asclepiadae). The worship of Asclepius spread to Rome and continued as late as the sixth century.

    The Asclepiadae were a large order of priest physicians who controlled the sacred secrets of healing, which were passed from father to son. Harmless Aesculapian snakes were kept in the combination hospital-temples built by the ancient Greeks and, later, by the Romans in honor of the god. The snakes are found not only in their original range of southern Europe, but also in the various places in Germany and Austria where Roman temples had been established. Escaped snakes survived and flourished. Smooth, glossy, and slender, the snake has a uniformly brown back with a streak of darker color behind the eyes. The snake's belly is yellowish or whitish and has ridged scales that catch easily on rough surfaces, making it especially adapted for climbing trees. Scientific classification: The Aesculapian snake belongs to the family Colubridae. It is classified as Elaphe longissima.

    The Myth:

    Asclepius is the god of Healing. He is the son of Apollo and the nymph, Coronis. While pregnant with Asclepius, Coronis secretly took a second, mortal lover. When Apollo found out, he sent Artemis to kill her. While burning on the funeral pyre, Apollo felt pity and rescued the unborn child from the corpse. Asclepius was taught about medicine and healing by the wise centaur, Cheiron, and became so skilled in it that he succeeded in bringing one of his patients back from the dead. Zeus felt that the immortality of the Gods was threatened and killed the healer with a thunderbolt. At Apollo's request, Asclepius was placed among the stars as Ophiuchus, the serpent-bearer. [Reference]

    Meditrine , Hygeia and Panacea : The children of Asclepius included his daughters Meditrina, Hygeia and Panacea who were symbols of medicine, hygiene and healing (literally, "all healing") respectively. Two of the sons of Asclepius appeared in Homer's Illiad as physicians in the Greek army (?Machaon and Podalirius [?Podiatry]).

    Note that the classic Hippocratice Oath is sworn "by Apollo the physician, by Æsculapius, Hygeia, and Panacea, ....."

    The probable medical origin of the single serpent around a rod : In ancient times infection by parasitic worms was common. The filarial worm Dracunculus medinensis aka "the fiery serpent", aka "the dragon of Medina" aka "the guinea worm" crawled around the victim's body, just under the skin. Physicians treated this infection by cutting a slit in the patient's skin, just in front of the worm's path. As the worm crawled out the cut, the physician carefully wound the pest around a stick until the entire animal had been removed. It is believed that because this type of infection was so common, physicians advertised their services by displaying a sign with the worm on a stick. [See graphic photos -not for the faint-hearted or Benjamin.]

    The staff as a Medical symbol: From the early 16th century onwards, the staff of Asclepius and the caduceus of Hermes were widely used as printers? marks especially as frontispieces to pharmacopoeias in the 17th and 18th centuries. Over time the rod and serpent (the Asclepian staff) emerged as an independent symbol of medicine.

    Despite the unequivocal claim of the staff of Asclepius to represent medicine (and healing), the caduceus, a rod with two entwined serpents topped by a pair of wings appears to be the more popular symbol of medicine in the United States, probably due to simple confusion between the caduceus and the staff of Asclepius, the true symbol of medicine. Many people use the word caduceus to mean both of these emblems.



    Medical Council

    Aviation Med Ass


    The Caduceus of Hermes

    The Greek Hermes found his analogue in Egypt as the ancient Wisdom god Thoth, as Taaut of the Phoenicians and in Rome as the god Mercury (all linked with a magic rod with twin snakes).

    The mythical origin of his magic twin serpent caduceus is described in the story of Tiresias. Poulenc, in "Les Mamelles de Tiresias" (The Breasts of Tiresias) tells how Tiresias--the seer who was so unhelpful to Oepidus and Family- found two snakes copulating, and to separate them stuck his staff between them. Immediately he was turned into a woman, and remained so for seven years, until he was able to repeat his action, and change back to male. The transformative power in this story, strong enough to completely reverse even physical polarities of male and female, comes from the union of the two serpents, passed on by the wand. Tiresias' staff, complete with serpents, was later passed on to Hermes...

    Occult Hermetic Connection : An occult description of the Caduceus of Hermes (Mercury) is that the serpents may represent positive and negative kundalini as it moves through the chakras and around the spine (the staff) to the head where it communicates with MIND by intellection, the domain of Mercury [wings].

    Caduceus Power Wand: This wand is sold at occult, new age & witchcraft stores such as Abaxion with descriptions such as "It's central phallic rod represents the potentiality of the masculine, and is initmately surrounded by the writhing, woven shakti energies of two coupling serpents. The rod also represents the spine [sushumna] while the serpents conduct spiritual currents [pranas] along the ida and pingala channels in a double helix pattern from the chakra at the base of the spine up to the pineal gland".

    According to occultists, there are three principal nadis (Sanskrit for channel) in the human body. The sushumna (the spinal column through which the life-forces flow), by which means we enter and leave the body, the Ida (refreshment and stimulation of spirit), which is associated with the higher mind or manas and the Pingala, (reddish-brown), associated with kama or the force of desire. (G. de Purucker "Man in Evolution" ch. 15 & 16; and "Fountain-Source of Occultism", pp. 458-63).

    Hermetic: There are few names to which more diverse persons and disciplines lay claim than the term "Hermetic". Alchemists have applied the adjective "Hermetic" to their art, while magicians (not the entertaining type) attach the name to their ceremonies of evocation and invocation. Followers of Meister Eckhart, Raymond Lull, Paracelsus, Jacob Boehme, and most recently Valentin Tomberg are joined by academic scholars of esoterica, all of whom attach the word "Hermetic" to their activities.

    The most abiding impact of Hermeticism on Western culture came about by way of the heterodox mystical, or occult, tradition. Renaissance occultism, with its alchemy, astrology, ceremonial magic, and occult medicine, became saturated with the teachings of the Hermetic books. This content has remained a permanent part of the occult transmissions of the West, and, along with Gnosticism and Neoplatonism, represents the foundation of all the major Western occult currents. Hermetic elements are demonstrably present in the Rosicrucian and Theosophical movements.

    The caduceus in peudo-science: There are amazing claims that a Cadeuceus Power Wand has zero impedance and infinite resonance -check it out at

    The caduceus as a Medical symbol: The link between Hermes and his caduceus and medicine seems to have arisen by Hermes links with alchemy. Alchemists were referred to as the sons of Hermes, as Hermetists or Hermeticists and as "practitioners of the hermetic arts". By the end of the sixteenth century, the study of alchemy included not only medicine and pharmaceuticals but chemistry, mining and metallurgy. Despite learned opinion that it is the single snake staff of Asclepius that is the proper symbol of medicine, many medical groups have adopted the twin serpent caduceus of Hermes or Mercury as a medical symbol during the nineteenth and twentieth centuries.

    Like the staff of Asclepius, the caduceus became associated with medicine through its use as a printer?s mark, as printers saw themselves as messengers of the printed word and diffusers of knowledge (hence the choice of the symbol of the messenger of the ancient gods). A major reason for the current popularity of the caduceus as a medical symbol was its official adoption as the insignia for the Medical Department of the United States Army in 1902.



    Enigma Publishing


    Friedlander surveyed 242 logos or insignias of American organizations relating to health or medicine in which the caduceus or staff of Asclepius formed an integral part dating from the late 1970s to early 1980s. He found that professional associations were more likely to use the staff of Asclepius (62%) while commercial organizations were more likely to use the caduceus (76%). The exception is for hospitals, where only 37% used a staff of Asclepius versus 63% for the caduceus [but remember that US hospitals are usually commercial ventures]. Friedlander notes that while the prevalent use of the caduceus for the commercial aspects of medicine might be seen as "more-or-less appropriate", he thinks the reason is that professional associations are more likely to have a real understanding of the two symbols, whereas commercial organizations are more likely to be concerned with the visual impact a symbol will have in selling their products. "Friedlander, Walter J. The Golden Wand of Medicine: A History of the Caduceus Symbol in Medicine." New York, Greenwood, 1992

    Further information on the two symbol confusion at:
    Bruce Grainger "A Survey of Symbols of Medicine and Veterinary Medicine" and
    Darren Nichols "Walk Among Gods -The Symbols of Medicine"

    And to add some biblical confusion, we have:

    And the Lord said unto him [Moses], What is that in thine hand? And he said, A rod. And he said, Cast it on the ground. And he cast it on the ground, and it became a serpent; and Moses fled from before it. And the Lord said unto Moses, Put forth thine hand, and take it by the tail. And he put forth his hand and caught it and it became a rod in his hand. Exodus 4:2-4

    And the Lord said unto Moses, Make thee a fiery serpent, and set it upon a pole: and it shall come to pass, that every one that is bitten [by a sepent], when he looketh upon it, shall live. Numbers 21:8

    Apparently an Israelite cult subsequently formed worshipping Nehush'tan, the serpent Moses made (and twin snake images were inscibed on standards of the time) but the cult was eventually suppressed (over 600 years later) by King Hezekiah (2 Kings 18:4).

    And as Moses lifted up the serpent in the wilderness, even so must the Son of man be lifted up.
    John 3:14-15

    Now just in case you thought you had it all sorted out about which was the "good" symbol.... nothing is that simple, take a look at this interesting painting of Adam & Eve.......

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  • avishai

    It's a symbol of Asherah the consort of Yaweh, one of the few references to her they forgot to edit out.

  • googlemagoogle

    representing the healing god Ningishita
    ningishita? who's that? that the snake could be asherah (ashtoreth/ishtar) is a interesting thought... ishtar is sometimes shown as a "tree of life".

    but what also comes to mind is the mythology of precolumbian american cultures - think about quetzalcoatl, the aztecs feathered snake (mayan equivalent is "gucumatz"), wich plays a big role in the creation story.

    any connections there?

  • Leolaia

    Just to add a little clarification....Hebrew Asherah (Ugaritic Athirat) is frequently confused with Astarte (Ugaritic Athtart, Hebrew Ashtoreth, Akkadian Ishtar), but they are distinct deities. Asherah is a mother deity, wife of El and mother of the gods. She is a healing goddess and source of life. Athtart was the wife of Baal, a source of irrigated water and fertility (as Baal was the source of rain), and regarded as a hunter goddess. She was also astrally identified as one of the hypostases of Venus. Her husband used to be Athtar, who tried to be the source of rain after Baal died and assumed his kingship, but Baal pretty much kicked his ass when he came back from the dead and took Athtart as his wife.

    In Akkadian myth Ishtar was the wife of Dumuzi/Tammuz, who like Baal was sent to the underworld in death. In Judah, Baal was identified with Tammuz who was mourned during the dry season when the rains stopped (cf. Ezekiel 8:14 and the month Tammuz in the Hebrew calander, which corresponds to June-July).

    Ashtoreth/Athtart was venerated in Jerusalem from the time of Solomon until the demolition of her high places by Josiah (cf. 1 Kings 11:5). An etymological survival of the goddess Ashtoreth as a word meaning "fertility" in Hebrew appears in Deuteronomy 7:13; 28:4, 18, 51, shgr-'lpyk w-'shtrt ts'nk "the issue of your cattle and the fertility of your flocks", where shgr and 'shtrt are paralleled in terms of the bounty of the land, and which recalls the Ugaritic phrase 'thtrt shd "Athtart of the field" (KTU 1.148), and interestingly shgr and 'thtrt are mentioned together in the same text as receiving offerings of sheep (KTU 1.148). The goddess Shagar and Ishtar are also mentioned together in the 8th century BC Deir 'Alla Book of Balaam Son of Beor (shgr w-'shtr): "The gods have banded together, the Shaddai gods have established a council, and they have said to Shagar: 'Sew up, close up the heavens with dense cloud, that darkness exist there, not brilliance.' ... Disease was unleashed and all beheld acts of distress. Shagar-and-Ishtar did not [sew up the heavens], the piglet drove out the leopard, and the [?] drove out the young of the [?]" (COS 2.27). This text is interesting because it indicates that Shagar had control over the clouds (rain clouds?) and was paired with Ishtar who was (as Athtart in Ugaritic myth) responsible for rivers, streams, and canals.

    It is possible that Athtart's fertility aspect was a later development, as a consequence of her association with Baal, while the older Athtart cult that associated her with the failed god Athtar envisioned a different cosmological role for her.

  • googlemagoogle

    the Shaddai gods - like in "El-Shaddai"? "El-Shaddai" like god almighty of the bible? "shad" like "breast"?

    has anyone here read the popol vuh? there's a lot about a snake, creation, underworld, playing football and stuff like that too...

  • avishai

    google, check out Leolaia's other very well researched post on asherah here:

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