The Caduceus of Hermes: origin, meaning, powers

In the ancient Greek world, travelers, traders, and other messengers often carried a strange staff with them. This is the caduceus, sometimes also known as the kerykeion, a symbol of the god Hermes.

From a description of Hermes (and his powers) to an in-depth analysis of the meaning of the caduceus, through a reflection on medicine among the Greeks, we will offer you a complete vision of the subject... and wish you now a pleasant read!

Contents :

Preamble

But actually, who is the god Hermes?

Appearance and representation of the caduceus of Hermes

Origin and meaning of the caduceus

Bronze statue of the god Hermes with his caduceus.

Preamble

Made up of a short stem decorated with wings, the caduceus sees two snakes coiled around it, their heads meeting just below the wings.

In fact, this symbol represented a whole lot of things to the Greeks of the time. An impressive number of professions and activities were actually associated with the god Hermes and, through him, the caduceus.

Among its attributes (which we will develop in this article), we can cite things as varied as commerce, eloquence, commerce and music.

These few examples help us understand an essential facet of the personality of Hermes: he is a light, almost aerial god.

The symbol of the caduceus is therefore used by a whole bunch of people, and in a whole bunch of different situations.

Especially, some doctors and hospitals use it as an emblem. This is most often an error, Hermes being absolutely not a doctor god. However, nurses, caregivers and health professionals all use it commonly.

If, however, this symbol can provide support in a health setting, make the surgeon's hand safer in the operating room and bring wisdom to the pharmacist who issues his medical prescription... or is the harm?

A cup of Hygieia, a statue of a Greek deity and a mythological protection amulet

acquire power and knowledge

through ancient esoteric symbols

Discover

But actually, who is the god Hermes?

Hermes (of whom here is a rather complete genealogy ) is one of the twelve Olympian gods and undoubtedly not the least important. Son of Zeus and Maia (one of the seven Pleiades and daughter of the titan Atlas), he is the youngest god in Greek mythology.

His areas of predilection are extremely numerous and vary. Here is a (non-exhaustive) list of the main activities and people placed under its protection :

  • The travellers
  • Shepherds
  • The speakers
  • The politicians
  • The philosophers
  • The writers
  • The poets
  • The musicians
  • Sportsmen
  • Traders
  • The inventors
  • The thieves

For many, Hermes is also in a way the "nervous system" of Olympus. A great communicator, he is the god of transport, travel and commerce.

It is therefore not surprising that he is cited an incredible number of times in Greek mythology as an emissary or messenger.

The Greek people actually have some of the most interesting history and beliefs in the world. If, like many others, you are passionate about this subject, you should take a look at the lucky charms from ancient Greece that we have unearthed for you.

In short, the legends also describe him as an intelligent and prankster god, sometimes going so far as to display cunning.

In some myths, Hermes is described to us as a trickster who delights in outwitting the other gods, either for the good of humanity or for his amusement and personal satisfaction.

Through this close relationship with men, it is therefore often he who is responsible for doing the dirty work of the other gods on Earth. Yes, he doesn't always act in our direction.

For all this, Hermes symbolizes the adaptability of the mind, the ability to survive in all situations not its intelligence and ingenuity.

In short, we will now delve further into the attributes, powers and different functions of the one who caused so much ink to flow from Homer to the present day: the god Hermes.

Greek white marble sculpture showing seated Hermes.

The attributes of Hermes

The representations we have of this Greek god in the arts often show him adorned with the same attributes.

Among these, we can cite the caduceus (obviously), the rooster, the herma (a kind of rectangular pillar), the turtle, the double-strap bag, sandals and a very particular helmet.

The last two elements have the particularity… of having wings!

Yes, as a messenger god, Hermes must have been able to move quickly from one corner of the Earth to the other. So, this type of magical accessory made the task possible for him.

To give you an idea, we could say that his helmet resembled that of the famous comic book character Asterix the Gaul.

Despite the plethora of symbols associated with Hermes (we have actually only cited a small part of them here), the most famous undoubtedly remains his caduceus.

This term actually comes from Latin (and must therefore in certain aspects be associated with the god Mercury, the Roman counterpart of Hermes). When translated into ancient Greek, it instead gives us “kerikeion”.

More than just a means of differentiating him from other gods in paintings and pottery, the caduceus meaning of Hermes was profound and this object was reputed to contain great magical powers.

Some stories tell us about it as a tool used to put anyone who looks at it into a very deep sleep. Others show it to us, on the contrary, as capable of waking anyone from their sleep, even the dead...

In addition, the presence of the snake on the caduceus is also, as we will soon see, very significant. To clearly see what we are talking about, you will find here a necklace bearing the caduceus that we offer on our site.

Anyway, we'll talk about all this later in the article. For now, let's continue to focus on the god Hermes.

Large marble statue of the god Hermes ready to use his divine magical powers.

His powers

The god Hermes actually had a lot of magical powers (like most of his peers in reality).

As we have just clarified, it could affect people's sleep. In order to play his tricks on us without being disturbed, he could put anyone to sleep in an instant. Conversely, if it went in the direction of his mysterious designs, he could wake us up at his will.

As a messenger, Hermes had a particularity compared to the other gods: he had acquired the reputation of being the only Olympian god who could cross the border separating the underworld, the world of the gods and that of the living.

According to certain historians specializing in mythology, this earned him the reputation of being “the conductor of the orchestra, the one who transported the souls of the dead to hell”.

Whatever the case, Hermes liked to use (and sometimes even abuse) this monopoly, not without a touch of pride.

If we add to this still substantial power a whole bunch of others linked to his abilities as a magician, we quickly understand that nothing could stop him from playing all the tricks he wanted on us.

Bronze representation of Hermes singing and reciting poems.

A remarkable birth!

The ancients say that Hermes was born early in the morning in a cave on Mount Cyllene, in the Peloponnese.

Already at noon, the newborn Hermes had made a stringed musical instrument which he called a “lyre”. He then used it to produce absolutely sumptuous music, singing over it to celebrate his own coming into the world.

On the evening of his first day on Earth, Hermes sneaked into the herd of his older brother, Apollo, to steal some cattle... Precocious little one!

Seeing this, his brother could have gotten angry, but he didn't and the reason for this is quite simple.

Unlike any other thief, Hermes had not stolen his brother's possessions for his own gain. Its goal was in reality to put animals (which in this case symbolizes goods in general) back into circulation.

If you're interested in this kind of story, here's a more detailed description of the birth of this Greek god.

Wall of a museum covered with masks of Greek gods.

A complex genealogy

The god Hermes, like most characters in Greek mythology, has a broad and complex genealogy.

We have already said it: he is the son of Zeus and Maia, a nymph living in the mountains. Through his father, Hermes is therefore the grandson of the titans Cronos, Rhea and Atlas, and of the nymph Pleione.

Among his most famous (half) brothers and sisters, we can notably cite:

  • Apollo
  • Athena
  • Persephone
  • Dionysus
  • Artemis
  • Ares

Hermes also had many children with various goddesses, nymphs and nature spirits. Perhaps you have heard of the following:

  • The satyrs
  • Bang
  • Eros
  • Hermaphrodite
  • Palaestra

Let us clarify: these two lists only bring together the most famous characters. Greek mythology is truly vast and making a comprehensive list would be unnecessarily long.

Vegetable market where traders sell their produce.

The god of commerce

Yes, we are talking here about the god of thieves... but also that of merchants.

Its objective was therefore to create commercial activity for men through the circulation of goods.

You should know that the Greek soil and climate are ideal for enjoying a good vacation, yes, but that they often offer only meager harvests and that the animals sometimes have difficulty finding satisfactory pasture.

Thus, for the ancient Greeks, agricultural trade in particular held special importance, sometimes representing the life, or death, of an entire community.

In this sense, Hermes is a major figure in ancient Greece. He was linked on the one hand to shepherds and breeders, but also to traders. Thus, daily life often depended on the areas placed under his authority.

While the aristocracy of the time was rather made up of a landed elite who owned the land, accumulating wealth without really circulating it and sometimes causing famines for simple profit, the merchants were seen as a simpler and closer population. of the people, streamlining exchanges within society.

Musician dressed in a black shirt playing dry guitar.

The god of music

As we have just seen, Hermes was a creative god who, on his first day, had already created a magnificent musical instrument and released incredible music from it.

Here is more precisely the story of this creation.

He actually caught a turtle that came into his hands to take its shell. Then, in honor of the seven Pleiades (of which his mother was one), he wove seven ropes which he stretched over the shell.

The sounds that came out of this strange device seduced all the gods then present.

Thus, the god Hermes is considered the creator and source of music. All instruments flow directly from his genius, and there is no musical talent in any man without his agreement and blessing.

Old map with travel photos and a camera on it.

The god of travel

In the temples, the literature, the legends that have come down to us... There is an impressive amount of evidence that, yes, Hermes was one of the gods of travel.

Traveling by air but sometimes also on the roads, he thereby blessed all the paths as well as those who take them.

Through its link with the paths, it is also Hermès who directs runners and marathon runners (and, by extension, all athletes in general).

Who says roads and paths also says borders and barriers. This is another thing that Hermès oversees. However, a bit like the god who knows how to cross the barriers between worlds, no border set up by man never exists without a crossing.

Bottle containing a message washed up on a beach.

The messenger god

If Hermes wore a helmet, sandals and his caduceus, all three decorated with wings, it was for a good reason: as a messenger of the gods of Olympus, he had to travel as quickly as possible.

In fact, he is often described to us as the fastest of the gods, the one who arrives before all the others and who would beat anyone in the race. Hades, Aphrodite, Poseidon, Hera: all rely on his unique abilities.

The god Hermes received the role of messenger because of this speed, but not only that. His eloquent qualities (manipulative for some) also make him pleasant to gods and men alike, who are always happy to see him bring a message.

Hermes was therefore the messenger of all. There was, however, one person in particular who he always cared about: his father Zeus.

The king of the Olympians was grateful to him and often asked the wise Hermes for advice when he had to make serious decisions.

Drawing showing the symbol of the caduceus, a winged staff around which two snakes are coiled.

Appearance and representation of the caduceus of Hermes

Concretely, the symbol of the caduceus is made of a winged staff with two snakes coiled around it. Here you will find many images and photos showing you this accessory.

Often shown held by the god Hermes, the caduceus can sometimes also be found alone in some depictions. Very often, these are the ones that allow us to fully understand its deeper meaning.

According to some historians, the snakes in Hermes' caduceus were not initially present. At the base were two ribbons, thus transforming the symbol into what the Greeks called a "herald's staff."

In a second time, therefore, the snakes arrived… but not necessarily without the form that we know them today. In fact, it was only later that they wrapped themselves around the stem to form a figure eight.

The symbol of the caduceus is actually a very ancient Greek lucky charm (even thousands of years old to be exact). Thus, representations can vary, the context in which the famous stick is found necessarily influencing its characteristics.

When we also know the number of nurses, private doctors and paramedical specialists who have used it throughout history, we understand that its meanings can be varied.

Studying the meaning of the caduceus of Hermes therefore promises to be a difficult and complex task, a real challenge in short.

We have taken on this challenge for you.

A cup of Hygieia, a statue of a Greek deity and a mythological protection amulet

acquire power and knowledge

through ancient esoteric symbols

Discover

Origin and meaning of the caduceus

There are certain things that are not taught in our schools.

Far from being useless, they often hide major secrets, great keys to understanding our world.

Ancient history is one of these things, and Greek mythology is a prime example of how education sometimes attempts to rewrite history.

Hospitals, doctors' offices, pharmacies: take a look at all these health-related places and you will have to admit that the symbol of the caduceus is present there.

As this article shows us, the symbol of the caduceus of Hermes is indeed associated with the medical profession.

However, health is undoubtedly the most precious thing that a human being can possess. Seeing a symbol everywhere where it is supposed to be preserved is necessarily a heavy act...

In reality, this presence reflects several things.

On the one hand, it clearly appears that the civilizations of the past possessed certain knowledge that was undoubtedly more advanced than what people are willing to tell us, particularly in medicine.

Studying the origin of the caduceus could therefore well reveal hidden secrets of the past.

On the other hand, choosing a symbol linked to an ancient religion is not trivial. Why then, in our skeptical society as much as possible, does one of the most widespread emblems of science come directly from age-old beliefs?

Here again, the question arises…

For a long time, the values ​​and ethics to adopt for the practice of medicine have been debated. Could the symbol of the caduceus of Hermes provide us with some clues?

Who knows, maybe if we understand the true meaning of the caduceus, we will better understand the hidden philosophy behind modern medicine.

Or maybe, on the contrary, this is just ancient folklore, a fun custom that has been passed down without any real meaning or purpose.

One thing is certain: the origin of the caduceus is very ancient and dates back, according to historians, to around 1400 BC.

From that time to the present day, the symbol has traveled, transmitted from culture to culture, with certain elements added and others removed, to ultimately arrive as we know it today.

In short, we are now going to share with you some of the most popular ideas regarding the secrets and meaning of the caduceus of Hermes.

Young female doctor posing in the corridor of a hospital.

The emblem of medicine? Really ?

It was around the seventh century BCE that the caduceus became an emblem used by doctors… or more precisely by those who would become one.

It wouldn't be right to talk about medicine at the time. Despite a few ideas and thinkers who would mark this practice (we can, for example, think of the famous Hippocrates), therapy in ancient Greece corresponded more to care provided by healers, all tinged with magic and esotericism.

Astrologers, hermeticists, healers: it was precisely those who practiced this type of art who widely used the symbol of the caduceus first.

Even today, many people who work in these fields like to wear a pin showing the caduceus such as this one.

This choice is undoubtedly linked to the snakes present on the caduceus. These cold-blooded animals have long had a deep connection to science and healing.

Because it sheds its skin, the snake is a symbol of renewal, regeneration and the possibility of new life. Furthermore, the ancient Greeks believed that an animal that could move freely without paws or legs must necessarily be wise and intelligent.

In reality, and we saw this in the article, Hermes was not even the god of medicine. While he protected astrologers and certain magicians, he had no use for caregivers, physiotherapists and other medical professions!

Astrology work on paper involving the celestial stars and the date of birth.

The esoteric point of view

While medicine as we understand it is a (very) recent practice, other forms of arts such as astrology and alchemy are much older.

Many therefore believe that the origin of the caduceus could be linked to these practices.

Since there is no such official science, theories often run wild, and when we are interested in these topics, we can hear everything.

So we tried to find plausible ideas to present to you. Be aware, however, that there are a whole bunch of others.

In short, here are some food for thought:

  • More than a simple symbol of healing and longevity, the figure of the caduceus serpent is said to have real magical powers. His presence alone would be enough to deliver us from many ailments and accelerate the recovery of certain patients.
  • The presence of two snakes in harmony is certainly a sign of balance. Some see this as needing the right balance for our bodies if we want to maintain good health.
  • The two snakes would respectively represent the lunar channel (Ida) and the solar channel (Pingala) of yogic philosophy. Cleansing and balancing them is a necessary condition for the rise of kundalini, the famous “rise of the snake” along the spine compared by some to enlightenment. In the Western tradition, this corresponds to what we call the “alchemical marriage”. The origin of the caduceus could therefore perhaps be found in mysticism and esotericism...
  • The number eight formed by snakes is important to practitioners of numerology. Indeed, this number represents power, will and an ambitious character. In this sense, the meaning of the caduceus shows us that we must face trials at the risk of deviating from our life path.
  • For some, it is not a figure eight but a DNA double helix. This would mean that ancient people had much (much) more scientific knowledge than we think. The presence of the snake on the caduceus would in this case only be a hidden message... But why did you hide this message?
  • Some astrologers compare the top of Hermes' caduceus to horns. Reference to the beast or to older deities? Possible ?

Old bible open to a chapter recounting the life of the prophet Moses.

Information in… the Bible!

Some believe that the origin of Hermes' caduceus could be even older than we imagined. Indeed, traces of a similar symbol were found in Mesopotamia around the year 2600 BC.

Additionally, there are several allusions made in the Old Testament to this symbol…

During the Exodus, for example, Moses was instructed by God to fashion a pole on which he was to position a bronze serpent which would then help save the lives of the Israelites affected by the venom of the animals it represented.. You can find more information on this passage of Scripture in this analysis from the interbible site.

The aim was, basically, for men to raise their heads when they prayed and, thus, to remember God.

Apparently, this meaning was forgotten and the Hebrew people began to pray to the totem until the reign of Hezekiah as described in the book of Kings.

Could the caduceus serpent be an allusion to this passage from the Bible?

Also possible...

Two bracelets made of black and white beads which symbolize dualities.

The caduceus of Hermes: symbol of many dualities

The origin of the caduceus is therefore apparently uncertain.

Although primarily used by the Greeks, other peoples and cultures gave it their own meaning.

However, the presence of the two snakes uniting in harmony, thus forming a symmetrical shape, has led to numerous interpretations linked to the notion of duality.

Asians can easily find their Yin-Yang balance nation there, although some notions differ.

Certain energetic doctrines, such as yoga or Taoism, consider that each snake in the caduceus of Hermes represents an energetic channel of the body, one serving for “ascent” and the other for “descend”.

So, we can say that our Greek lucky charm is a symbol of the nervous system. In fact, our nerves are divided into two large complementary groups. On the one hand we have the sympathetic system (which prepares us for action) and the parasympathetic system (which helps us recover).

Man looking through a magnifying glass with a surprised look, as if he had made a mistake.

An all-too-common confusion

There are actually two Greek symbols that we sometimes tend to confuse because their appearance is so similar. These are the caduceus of Hermes on the one hand, and the staff of Asclepius on the other.

We have already presented the first one to you. The second corresponds to a simple stick around which a single snake coils. Here you will find a pendant that shows you an example.

Asclepius (or Aesculapius in French) was indeed a healing god with absolutely incredible medical abilities.

You have undoubtedly understood: the use of the caduceus as an emblem of medicine is an error and corresponds to nothing more or less than a confusion between two symbols!

However, this error is very widespread. At the beginning of the 21st century, an investigation to determine which symbol doctors used took place in the United States. The result is edifying.

Around 40% of them used it to represent their profession. In addition, 86% believed that the meaning of the caduceus of Hermes was primarily medical.

Let's hope at least that after reading this article, you won't make the mistake again!

Lucky charms featured in this article

Hermes Caduceus Necklace

Hermes Caduceus Necklace

See more
Hermes caduceus brooch

Hermes caduceus brooch

See more
Pendant of the Staff of Asclepius

Pendant of the Staff of Asclepius

See more
author picture(Cyril Gendarme)

Discover the author: Cyril Gendarme

Cyril Gendarme is a writer whose website "The Lucky Door" ("La Porte Du Bonheur" in French, his native language) has become a reference in the field of esotericism. Born in Belgium, Cyril has been attracted to the mysteries of the world since he was a child. When his interest in occultism was awakened, a particular subject caught his attention: lucky charms.

After years of study and in-depth research on esoteric traditions from around the world, Cyril decided to share his knowledge with the public through the internet. In 2019, he launched "The Lucky Door," a website dedicated to exploring lucky charms, magical symbols, and esoteric arts.

The Lucky Door is much more than just a showcase for those curious about magic, divination, or tradition. It is the result of Cyril's passion for researching and understanding the mysteries of the universe. Every piece of information available on the site testifies to his dedication to sharing his knowledge of the most hidden symbols and their unique powers.

In addition to his online work, Cyril regularly organizes workshops and conferences in different countries. His presence on social media is also highly appreciated, where he offers personalized advice and happily answers questions from his community.