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A caduceus ( κηρύκειον , kerykeion in Greek) is a staff with two snakes wrapped around it. It was a symbol of commerce and is associated with the Greek god Hermes, the messenger for the gods, creator of magical incantations, 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 the figure-eight shape.

In the seventh century, the caduceus came to be associated with a precursor of medicine, alchemy, based on the Hermetic spells. The caduceus is used interchangeably with the Rod of Asclepius, especially in the United States. Historically, the two symbols had distinct and unrelated meanings. Occasionally the caduceus may be combined with a DNA double-helix, which the intertwined snakes coincidentally resemble.

Its origins are thought to be as early as 2600 BC in Mesopotamia. It was used by the priests in the Eleusinian Mysteries of ancient Greece, and has been associated with the Gnostic Corpus Hermeticum and Kundalini Yoga, where it is thought to be a symbolic representation of the "subtle" nerve channels the "ida", "pingala", and "sushumna" described in yogic kundalini physiology.

In Unicode, the "caduceus" symbol is U+2624 (☤).

Relief with a stamnos and a kerykeion, the symbols of Dionysus and Hermes from Athens

Links

Blayney, Keith, "The Caduceus vs the Staff of Asclepius"


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