The Rod of Asclepius (or Staff of Asclepius) is an ancient Greek symbol that has become an internationally recognized symbol of medicine. It depicts a serpent entwined around a staff that is traditionally a knotty tree limb. The symbol is associated with the Greek demigod, Asclepius who was renowned for his unsurpassed medical prowess and healing powers. According to myths, he got his medical knowledge through the whispering of snakes that have the ability to periodically shedding their skin and emerging bigger, healthier and shinier than before.
The Rod of Asclepius is a befitting representation of the physician’s art of healing because of its combination of the staff, which is symbolic of authority and the snake, which denotes rebirth, fertility, revitalization, and rejuvenation. Moreover, snake venom has been found to be fatally poisonous and, at the same time, have medicinal properties. Therefore, the serpent is also seen as symbolic of the dual nature of a physician’s work that involved sickness & health, life & death. It even signifies the dual powers of medicine – the dosage and the situation determine if it will heal or harm. The symbol was displayed at the Temples of Asclepius that became popular healing centers of the Greco-Roman world. Later on, it came to be adopted by doctors all over the world.
Some scholars assert that the Rod of Asclepius actually represents a parasitic worm coiled around a stick. In the ancient times, people used to be commonly infected by parasitic worms like the guinea worm. The physicians treated them by piercing the skin and extracting the worms underneath by wrapping them on a rod or stick. The physicians are believed to have advertised this service by putting up the sign of a worm on a stick.
Whatever the origin of the Rod of Asclepius may have been, it remains a dominant global symbol of healthcare, healing, and medicine.
The snake is one of the most established spiritual symbols known, worshipped in some religions and detested in others. In Christianity the snake was held responsible for luring Eve to eat the forbidden fruit – which changed the entire course of mankind. While in Eastern cultures, the snake is considered to be a symbol of regeneration, death and rebirth.
Bhujanga is a Sanskrit word that means “snake,” “serpent” or “cobra.” Hindu mythology is filled with stories about the symbolism and worship of snakes. Lord Shiva is typically depicted with a bhujanga around his neck as an ornament, and sometimes, one around his upper arms. Bhujanga also refers to the Hindu snake god (Bhujanga Nag), who is worshiped at temples erected in his name in the city of Bhuj, located in western India, which is noted as the home of snakes.
Symbolically, bhujanga represents kundalini or shakti, the primal feminine energy that rests at the base of the spine. When awakened, it is a powerful force that travels up the spine.
The name Ouroboros is Greek in origin. Oura means tail while Boros is translated as eating. Taken together, it means ‘tail devourer’ or ‘one who eats the tail’. As a symbol, it depicts a serpent consuming its own tail.
The Ouroboros is one of the world’s most ancient mystical symbols, having appeared in Egypt as early as 1600 BC. It was adopted by the Phoenicians and later the Greeks, who gave it its name. Over the centuries it has been subject to several interpretations by different cultures. One is that it represents the Universe’s eternally cyclic nature, which creates life out of destruction. In alchemy, it symbolizes the continuous renewal of birth and death that alchemists struggle to break free from. Gnosticism and Hermeticism also hail the Ouroboros as representative of cyclical natural life and the unity of opposites. Gnostics, in particular, regard it as a sign of the transcendence of duality and a connection to Abraxas, the solar god.