Snake and staff symbolism, and healing

  • FP Retief
  • L Cilliers


Since time immemorial the snake has been venerated as an enigmatic creature with supernatural  powers. As a snake and staff symbol it is also traditionally associated with the healing arts, either as the single-snake emblem of Asklepios, or as the double-snake emblem (caduceus) of Hermes. The mythological basis for this symbolism is reviewed. The Asklepian emblem has been associated with  health care since the 5th century  BC, when Asklepios became accepted by the Greeks as the god of healing. Whether he was also an historical figure as healer in earlier ages is less certain. The origin of the double-snake emblem is shrouded in the mists of antiquity. In classical times it became the herald's wand of Hermes, messenger of the gods who guided  departed souls to the underworld, and was seen as protector of travellers, shepherds and merchants. In the latter capacity Hermes also conveyed a negative connotation as protector of thieves. During the Middle Ages the caduceus became a symbol of the healing sciences (pharmacy and alchemy in particular), and today, although mythologically incorrect, it is in common usage in the health care field.

Journal Identifiers

eISSN: 0256-95749
print ISSN: 2078-5135