After writing a page on snake symbolic meanings, I felt a need for further expansion on the caduceus meaning; specifically the symbolic meaning of the various elements that comprise the caduceus symbol in whole.
–Double Snakes or Serpents–
The double snakes of the caduceus represent duality and the unification of polar opposites. As such, these double snakes speak of the balance and integration polarities in order to strike harmony. Such dualities include:
Essentially, these opposing snakes represent the concept of yin and yang.
The spiraling contortion of serpents in the traditional caduceus imagery is no accident. Their spiral effect indicates an expansion of knowledge as well as the undulating dance of cosmic forces.
–Staff, Rod or Wand —
Traditionally vertical rods are considered archetypal symbols of the phallus. As the dual serpents address the concept of gender, I’m more inclined to view the staff of caduceus as an emissary of transference between body and mind (physical and spiritual).
Just as the symbolic Tree of Life (seen in many ancient cultures) connects the expanse between earth (roots) to heaven (branching into the sky) – the rod of caduceus may be viewed as a conduit between mundane and ethereal.
Wings are symbolic of ascension, messages from the divine, and awareness from a higher (angelic?) vantage point. As the caduceus is associated with Mercury/Hermes, we may also infer these wings are icons of travel and serve as a protective icon for all wayfarer’s.
As an alchemical symbol the caduceus represents the conjugation of sulphur (male) and quicksilver (female). This symbol also infers the synthesis of opposites with the goal of unification and transformation.
Caduceus means “herald’s staff of office” in Greek, and the center rod was a symbol of Hermes who was the messenger of the gods.
Other gods to carry this magic wand include:
- Anubis (Egyptian)
- Baal (Phoenician)
- Mercury (Roman)
- Aesculapius (Greek)
The caduceus’ association with the medical profession comes from the latter-most god (Aesculapius) who is a god of healing. Further, Dr. Carl Jung popularized it as a modern medical symbol as he felt it was an appropriate emblem of homeopathy.
Other pages of interest: