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the caduceus

A caduceus is a winged staff with two snakes wrapped around it. It was an ancient strological symbol of commerce and is associated with the Greek god Hermes, the messenger for the gods, conductor of the dead and protector of merchants and thieves. It was originally a herald's staff, sometimes with wings, with two white ribbons attached. The ribbons eventually evolved into snakes.

In some cases, depictions of the Greek kerykeion can be radically different from that of the traditional caduceus (as in the picture at right). These representations will feature the two snakes atop the wand (rod), crossed to create a circle with the heads of the snakes resembling horns. In this form, it looks remarkably similar to the symbol for the planet Mercury — while Mercury the god is the Roman name for Hermes, who carries the kerykeion, or caduceus. The basic power of the Caduceus is the primal power to heal or harm.

In the seventh century, the caduceus came to be associated with a precursor of medicine, based on the Hermetic astrological principles of using the planets and stars to heal the sick. As a symbol for medicine, the caduceus is often used interchangeably with the Rod of Asclepius (single snake, no wings), although learned opinion prefers the Rod of Asclepius, reserving the caduceus for representing commerce. Historically, the two astrological symbols had distinct meanings in alchemical and astrological principles.

Some medical organizations join the serpents of the caduceus with rungs to suggest a DNA double-helix. It has also been suggested that the caduceus derives from the treatment for Guinea Worm disease, which requires sufferers to pull the worms out of their legs by slowly, over a period of many days, winding the worm around a stick which is twisted a little more each day to draw the worm out. It is also said that doctors would wrap the extruding parasite around a stick over the course of weeks or months, and the result was worn as an indicator of the doctor's competence, although this suggestion seems to be more represented by the Rod of Asclepius.

The symbol's origins are thought to date to as early as 2600 BC in Mesopotamia, and there are several references to a caduceus-like symbol in the Bible, namely in Numbers 21:4–9, and 2 Kings 18:4. During the Exodus, Moses was instructed by God to fashion a pole upon which he was to position a serpent made of bronze; when looked upon, this Nehushtan, as it was called in Hebrew, would spare the lives of the Israelites stricken by venomous snake bites. The intent was that people would look upward and be reminded to pray to God, but eventually the meaning was forgotten and this symbol was apparently worshiped by the Hebrew people until the reign of Hezekiah as described in 2 Kings 18:4.

Walter Burkert has two figures in his book which show a rod with two intertwined snakes winding around a central axis from Mesopotamia in 2200 BC, and a similar image from Crete in 700 BC.

A similar symbol, but lacking the snakes and with a winged sun, is the Staff of Hermes.

the rod of asclepuis

The Rod of Asclepius is an ancient Greek symbol associated with astrology and healing the sick with medicine. It consists of a serpent entwined around a staff. Asclepius, the son of Apollo.  was practitioner of medicine in ancient Greek mythology. He was instructed in medicine by the centaur Chiron also connected to the constellation Ophiuchus.

The Rod of Asclepius symbolizes the healing arts by combining the serpent, which in shedding its skin is a symbol of rebirth and fertility, with the staff, a symbol of authority, befitting the god of Medicine. The snake wrapped around the staff is widely claimed to be a species of Rat snake, Elaphe longissima, also known as the Aesculapian (Asclepian) snake. It is native to southeastern Europe, Asia Minor, and some central European spa regions, apparently brought there by Romans for their healing properties.

Some scholars have suggested that the symbol once represented a worm wrapped around a rod; parasitic worms such as the "guinea worm" (Dracunculus medinensis) were common in ancient times, and were extracted from beneath the skin by winding them slowly around a stick. Physicians may have advertised this common service by posting a sign depicting a worm on a rod.

Asclepius was said to have learned the art of healing from Chiron, and is shown holding a stick with a serpent coiled around it. Serving as a surgeon on the ship, the Argo, Asclepius was so skilled in the medical arts, that he was reputed to have brought patients back from the dead. For this, he was punished, according to Greek mythology, and placed in the heavens as the constellation Ophiuchus. This symbol is now used as the symbol of western medicine.

Asclepius himself, in traditional Greek mythology, was reputed to have the blood of Medusa in his veins. The blood that flowed on Medusa's left side was said to be fatal poison. The blood from her right side was beneficial. Asclepius was also known as Ophiuchus, the son of Apollo, to the ancient Greeks. In early Christianity, the constellation Ophiuchus was associated with Saint Paul holding the Maltese Viper.

In Astrology, some systems include a thirteenth sign of the zodiac. which is the constellation Ophiuchus, and is known as Ophiuchus Serpentarius (the "serpent holder"). This constellation lies between Sagittarius and Libra.

In Hebrew mythology, a similar symbol, Nehushtan, is mentioned in the Bible in Numbers 21:4–9. Attacked by a plague of snakes in the wilderness, Moses holds up a serpent coiled around a staff, both made from bronze, so that the Israelites might recover from the bites. However, the serpent itself was not seen as a powerful healing tool, rather the action of looking upwards, towards God, was what healed those afflicted.

the rod of Aaron

Aaron's rod refers to any of the staffs carried by Moses' brother, Aaron, in the Old Testament. Along with Moses' rod, Aaron's rod was endowed with miraculous power during the Plagues of Egypt which preceded the Exodus. Upon two occasions, however, the singular virtue of spontaneous power when not in the grasp of its possessor was exhibited by Aaron's rod.


The Haggadah goes a step further, and entirely identifies the Rod of Aaron with that of Moses. Thus the Midrash Yelamdenu states that:

"the staff with which Jacob crossed the Jordan is identical with that which Judah gave to his daughter-in-law, Tamar (Genesis 32:10, 38:18). It is likewise the holy rod with which Moses worked (Exodus 4:20, 21), with which Aaron performed wonders before Pharaoh (Exodus 7:10), and with which, finally, David slew the giant Goliath (I Samuel 17:40). David left it to his descendants, and the Davidic kings used it as a scepter until the destruction of the Temple, when it miraculously disappeared. When the Messiah comes it will be given to him for a scepter in token of his authority over the heathen."

Legend has still more to say concerning this rod. God created it in the twilight of the sixth day of Creation (Pirkei Avoth 5:9, and Mekhilta, Beshalla, ed. Weiss, iv. 60), and delivered it to Adam when the latter was driven from paradise. After it had passed through the hands of Shem, Enoch, Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob successively, it came into the possession of Joseph. On Joseph's death the Egyptian nobles stole some of his belongings, and, among them, Jethro appropriated the staff. Jethro planted the staff in his garden, when its marvelous virtue was revealed by the fact that nobody could withdraw it from the ground; even to touch it was fraught with danger to life. This was because the Ineffable Name of God was engraved upon it. When Moses entered Jethro's household he read the Name, and by means of it was able to draw up the rod,


The International Red Cross and Red Crescent Movement

is an international humanitarian movement whose stated mission is to protect human life and health, to ensure respect for the human being, and to prevent and alleviate human suffering, without any discrimination based on nationality, race, religious beliefs, class or political opinions. The often-heard term International Red Cross is actually a misnomer, as no official organization as such exists bearing that name. In reality, the movement consists of several distinct organizations that are legally independent from each other, but are united within the Movement through common basic principles, objectives, symbols, statutes, and governing organs. The Movement has several parts:

  • The International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC) is a private humanitarian institution founded in 1863 in Geneva, Switzerland. Its 25-member committee has a unique authority under international humanitarian law to protect the life and dignity of the victims of international and internal armed conflicts.
  • The International Federation of Red Cross and Red Crescent Societies (IFRC) was founded in 1919 and today it coordinates activities between the 185 National Red Cross and Red Crescent Societies within the Movement. On an international level, the Federation leads and organizes, in close cooperation with the National Societies, relief assistance missions responding to large-scale emergencies. The International Federation Secretariat is based in Geneva, Switzerland.
  • National Red Cross and Red Crescent Societies exist in nearly every country in the world. Currently 185 National Societies are recognized by the ICRC and admitted as full members of the Federation. Each entity works in its home country according to the principles of international humanitarian law and the statutes of the international Movement. Depending on their specific circumstances and capacities, National Societies can take on additional humanitarian tasks that are not directly defined by international humanitarian law or the mandates of the international Movement.