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Sunday, July 1, 2012
4) Tarot Symbolism: The Caduceus:
“Caduceus” is a Greek symbol representing the staff carried by Hermes in Greek
Mythology. In Roman mythology, Hermes is called Mercury, the “Messenger of the
Gods”. In Egypt, he is associated with the ancient Wisdom God Thoth.
Caduceus in Greek means the “Herald’s staff” and is also carried by Iris, the
messenger of the Greek Goddess Hera (wife of Zeus, King of the Gods).
Although the term Caduceus has come from the
Greek “Kerukion” or “Herald’s Staff”, it is different from Kerukion, in that,
the latter may represent any herald’s staff including that of Hermes, whereas Caduceus
essentially means “Hermes’ staff”.
The Caduceus Symbol:
symbol consists of a short staff on which are entwined two serpents, sometimes depicted
by wings or a Lion at the Apex of the staff.
Symbols resembling the Caduceus have been found on ancient Mesopotamian
in an earlier form was, also, the Underworld God “Ningishzida” or “Messenger of
the Earth Mother”. In Egyptian iconography, the “Djed” pillar is shown as
containing a snake in a frieze of the “Dendera Temple complex”.
Rod of Moses and the brazen serpent are often associated with the Caduceus,
especially as Moses was said to be acting as a “Messenger of God” to the
Pharaoh and his staff changes into a snake to put forward his view-point of
God’s wrath befalling the Pharaoh and his countrymen for not following God’s
Origins of the symbol
Mythology, Apollo (the Sun-God) is said to have given the Caduceus as a return
gift for Hermes (his half-brother) having gifted Apollo a lyre made from a
tortoise shell as compensation for having stolen Apollo’s cattle.
Greek myth goes like this – Hermes saw the two serpents wrapped around each
other in mortal combat (much like the Red and the White dragons in Arthurian
Tarot – Please refer my Post on the “Lemniscate or the Symbol of Infinity” –
Magician Card in the previous post on this blog). He separated them with his
wand and brought about peace between them.
Caduceus is also seen as a symbol of peace, in keeping with this legend.
“Caduceator” in the Roman Empire referred to as a peace-maker, who negotiated
peace under the “diplomatic protection” of the Caduceus which he took with him
as a symbol that he was an ambassador of peace.
Caduceus symbol Relevance:
-In Dictionaries, it is mentioned as a
“Commercial Term”, in consonance with Hermes being associated with Commerce.
-The God Hermes or Mercury stands for education, letters, argument,
logic, brotherhood, geometry, commerce, community, messaging, service, profit,
discoveries. The symbol as a representation of Hermes also is a symbol for
Trades, occupations and associations represented by the God.
-Hermes is the giver of discernment and
judgment and governs sculptors, teachers, lawyers, orators, philosophers,
architects, musicians, diviners – those who use paradox and craftiness in
calculations and those who make their livings from display, vagrancy and
unsettled conditions, those who are experts and inquirers concerning celestial
phenomena and the Caduceus symbol announces his presence.
-It is also an astrological symbol
representing the planet Mercury as well as the element Mercury. Further, as
Hermes was also a magician/trickster par excellence, it is also a symbol used
in alchemy (an earlier stage of
chemistry its focus being on turning base metals into gold and finding the
elixir of life – “ alkimiya” in Arabic).
-The caduceus is also a symbol representing peace
-As Mercury is adept in the art of writing
and eloquence, the symbol also represents printing. Printers saw themselves as
messengers of the printed word and diffusers of knowledge, hence took the
Caduceus as a symbol.
-The Caduceus is another symbol of the dual
nature of the astral light and stands for the opposing currents of universal
magnetism. One snake represents creativity, while the other one represents fire
which destroys, in order to recreate/regenerate. As the snake casts off its
skin and thereby renews its outer covering, it is supposed to be having an
eternal life in Greek/Roman Mythology.
Caduceus and the Rod of
Caduceus is often mistaken as a symbol
of medicine and medical practice, however, it differs from the Rod of Asclepius
, in that, there is only one snake on the Rod of Asclepius symbol representing
medicine and medical practice and no wings on the top of the Rod.
link between Caduceus and medicine seems to have come from the fact that Hermes
is linked to alchemy. Alchemists were referred to as the sons of Hermes, as
Hermeticists and as “practitioners of the hermetic arts”.
Caduceus was the magic staff of Hermes (Mercury), the God of eloquence,
invention, travel and theft, and, therefore, is not a symbol of medicine.
mistaken interpretation of the Caduceus as a symbol of Medicine/Medical Science
is primarily due to the fact that it is used as an emblem by the US Army
Medical Corps the beginning of the twentieth century.
Medical Organizations, for example, the Medical Council of New Zealand, 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.
was an ancient Greek physician, said to be a mortal son of Apollo, deified as
the God of Medicine and is portrayed holding a large staff with the sacred
single serpent coiled around it, symbolizing the renewal of youth, just as the
serpent casts off its skin.
is believed that the filarial worm crawls about the patient’s body just under
the skin. In ancient Greece, the physicians used to make small cuts on the
patient’s skin and hold a small rod around which the worm used to crawl out of
the patient’s body and wrap itself. The filarial worm was nicknamed the “fiery
serpent” because of the discomfort it caused to the patient.
This infection was
so common that physicians used to advertise their skills at curing patients by
showing a sign with a worm wrapped around a stick, hence the origins to the
symbol of Asclepius as a medical symbol.
A picture of the Rod of Asclepius taken from an ambulance in a Pune Hospital. In India Medical Institutions use the correct symbol - The Rod of Asclepius.
-The Caduceus gives a message of balancing
duality or an equilibrium between opposite polarities. An occult interpretation
of the two serpents is that they represent positive and negative kundalini as
it moves through the chakras and around the spine (the staff) to the head.
-In several Magician Cards the Caduceus appears as a Wand of Hermes symbolizing
the dual energy of the two snakes entwined in balance around the staff and exhibits
elements of the qualities that Hermes stands for i.e. from being a wandering
performer and diviner, to his association with commerce, education, letters and
Devil” Card is sometimes shown with a Caduceus
somewhere in its imagery. The Caduceus here symbolizes the two snakes representing
the dark side and the light, two aspects of personality in each one of us,
co-existence and balance between which may be a judicious way forward. The
symbol in the Devil Card, thus, offers one the “freedom to choose” without any
bindings on the querent, whether to choose a balanced path or to follow a
negative path leading to self destruction.
-In the “Two
of Cups” Card the symbol represents partnerships or associations in
marriage/business etc. by combining the different synergies of the two persons
or enterprises to the mutual benefit of both, leading to a desired common goal.
-Serpents represent renewal, because of
their shedding their skins. In other words, when the symbol appears in a
Reading, it may suggest a new beginning by shedding off the old trappings, a
process of purification of sorts and thinking anew towards the desired goals.
-The symbol in Alchemy is interpreted as one
serpent representing “sulphur” (male) and the other representing “quicksilver”
(female). The central staff represents the collective wisdom of the Eons,
pertaining to the balance between opposites, so as to achieve harmony or find a
common ground in duality. In Tarot Cards, therefore, the message is logically,
one of co-operation between opposite personalities to attain a common desired
A few examples from Tarot
Decks in my Tarot Library:
Arthur Waite Deck:
Two of Cups: (Rider Waite):
the two of cups are shown a man and a woman exchanging cups in what appears to
be a celebration of sorts with the Caduceus of Hermes between them.
here seems to stand for a positive beginning for new partnerships, proposals,
marriages, businesses and indicates that the new relationship could be very
successful. It also indicates that two persons (opposites) are coming together
and pooling their resources in order to achieve an objective or a
Caduceus in this card is a symbol of passion, courage, energy suggesting that these two
persons may have mutual admiration for each other’s characteristics, though
they may not necessarily exhibit them openly. The two snakes represent the
darkness and light, two aspects in each one of us, co-existence and balance
between which may be a judicious way forward.
card shows Hermes, who had appeared as the Fool’s inner guide in the Card of
the Magician at the beginning of his life’s journey as a trickster and a mentor
to the Fool as well as a Magus who points the way out of tricky situations , in a new
role as an emissary of Hades, the Lord of the Underworld. In this Card his role
transforms from the mentor and counselor in the Magician card to that of a summoner
of lost souls taking account of their deeds while they were alive and preparing
them for either reincarnation or freedom from rebirth (Reward) or taking them
to the depths of the Underworld (Punishment).
Caduceus with its two serpents entwined on the Rod here is indicative of his
role as a Messenger of the God Hades.
Caduceus in this card represents Hermes’ Magic Wand with the good and evil
snakes, male and female, opposites or darkness and light.
Here Hermes is
represented as a guide of travelers, thieves and deceivers, master of Magic ,
showing the path to fortunes and destiny. He is a trickster, par excellence, yet through his powers
of oratory and skills, he is the trusted messenger of the Gods and Guide of
souls into the Underworld.
is the guide and a spiritual teacher to the Fool and points to the creative
abilities within the querent which are yet to manifest telling him to balance
the opposite polarities within his personality and characteristics and to
achieve his goals through a balanced approach, much like the snakes entwined
and balanced on the Rod forming the Caduceus.
The Wheel of Change Tarot
card shows two pillars on either side of
the Magician which have a snake each wrapped on them, in a symbolic reference
to the Caduceus of Hermes.
Caduceus illustrates the magical circumstances of life that unites the heavens (ideas/thought
processes) with the Earth (represented by the physical self) highlighting Hermes’
role as a messenger of the Gods.
The Thoth Tarot:
the Crowley deck, the Magician in all three Magus Cards represents Thoth the
Egyptian God of Wisdom who is also Hermes or Mercury. The caduceus appears in
all three cards in different styles – In the first representation, the Magus
himself is the symbolic representation of the Staff and the two snakes are
wrapped around his head. In the second card, the Caduceus is placed around his
head while in the third representation, the Caduceus is placed in front of the
Reader or querent is free to choose whichever card he prefers, thanks to Werner
Ganser, who discovered the existence of all three cards during a visit to the
Warburg Institute in London, where these cards were displayed.
Card the Five of Wands (titled – strife) in the Thoth Tarot, shows the
Caduceus, the Phoenix and the Lotus arranged in a manner showing their
are now trying to achieve harmony within the discord or stance.
is an image of the Six of Wands (titled – victory) showing that the Wands
depicted by the Caduceus, the Phoenix and Lotus are now arranged in aggressive
and peaceful opposites, (a process which had been initiated by the Five of
Wands) and have now been properly balanced.
image of the Devil in the Thoth Tarot, showing the Caduceus in front. The Devil
represents the dark and lighted sides of one’s personality or circumstances and
lets the querent either choose one or the other side or take a balanced approach to the issues at