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. 218–9). 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.