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Theosophical Encyclopedia

Caduceus

 

The Caduceus
               The Caduceus

(Caduceum) (L.). A rod-like symbol with winged tips and with two snakes intertwined on the rod itself. It is frequently seen in pictures of Hermes or Mercury, the messenger of the gods. Its use as a symbol by the medical profession is of comparatively recent origin. Caduceus is a Latin word from the Greek karyx meaning “herald,” and karykeion, signifying “herald’s badge of office.” In classical times it was a badge which showed that the individual wearing it was a sacred person who was to be shown every courtesy and protection. The symbol is very ancient and probably was derived from the magic wand which consisted of a branch or rod crowned by a twig branching out each side of the top; this later showed the branches pulled down and wound around the rod, which later were changed to a coiled serpent and then still later into twin serpents. One account in mythology ascribes its origin to the god Mercury’s intervention in a fight between two serpents who, in a token of submission, curled themselves around his wand.

The caduceus may symbolize the integration of the four classical “elements” in alchemy, the wand corresponding to “earth,” the wings to “air,” the serpents to “fire and water.”

The symbol has multiple meanings. Helena P. Blavatsky states that, “Metaphysically, the Caduceus represents the fall of primeval and primordial matter into gross terrestrial matter, the one Reality becoming Illusion. . . . Astronomically, the head and tail represent the points of the ecliptic where the planets and even the sun and moon meet in close embrace. Physiologically, it is the symbol of the restoration of the equilibrium lost between Life, as a unit, and the currents of life performing various functions in the human body” (TG, 71).

Its metaphysical meaning is further elaborated, “The trunk of the ASVATTHA (the tree of Life and Beingthe ROD of the caduceusgrows from and descends at every Beginning (every new manvantarafrom the two dark wings of the Swan (HANSA) of LifeThe two Serpents, the ever-living and its illusion (Spirit and matterwhose two heads grow from the one head between the wings, descend along the trunk, interlaced in close embrace. The two tails join on earth (the manifested Universe) into one, and this is the great illusion” (SD I:549).

The Caduceus is also associated with the kundalini energy in the human body, where the two intertwining serpents represent the two channels on the left and the right side of the spine, Ida and Pingala, and the rod representing the susumna.

V.H.C.

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