"Oh , Muse...You know the Truth, and your memory cannot be dulled by time." So begins Ovid's revealing of the alchemical journey of Aesculapius, the ancient Grecian God of Healing. This chapter of the Metamorphosis powerfully symbolizes the phrase, "As Above, so Below". Aesculapius is represented by a long rod graced by a continuously spiraling snake, and I thought it would be interesting to research the different aspects of this imagery. Today, the Rod and Snake, is perhaps most recognizable as the symbol of Veterinary Arts. To begin I will briefly summarize the story Ovid tells, then I will share how I interpret the symbolism in the story. Aesculapius stretches across at least 3 books, but I will stick petty much with stanzas 620-740.
All of Ovid's stories run very dark and deep, and I know I am just skimming across the top of the water here, but it is because I want to get to the Hermetic purpose of the story, and the reader needs to know the basic narrative.
The God Apollo impregnates a woman named Coronis. She does something to piss him off, and he throws her on a fire to kill her. At the last minute, he decides to save the child. He takes a knife and cuts the child from the womb of Coronis just as she is consumed within the flames. The child lives and grows. In his eighth year (8) in a human abode, he rests in the grass. A snake slithers near, whispers in his ear... sssssssss. From a serpent, the secret of immortality is to him revealed. As an adult, the Elite members of his community house him in an exquisite temple in the center of an island metropolis. A neighboring island is stricken with a deadly plague. They send an envoy all the way to the Delphic Oracle, at the center of the earth. Upon asking the Oracle for instructions on where to find a healer, She quickly answers, "look closer to home, look closer to home". So the envoy from the plague stricken island sails back to their familiar vicinity and lands on the island where Aesculapius lives. The envoy approaches the Temple where the God of Healing resides. They ask for the aid of the great Healer. The Elite hesitate to release Aesculapius to meager working class folk. The envoy is told to wait till morning, then a decision will be made. At night one of the Elite dreams that Aesculapius himself comes to his beside and says, "Look at this rod and this snake, and fix it well in your memory, so when you see it again you will know it is me". The next day, a decision is made to release the God of Healing to go with the envoy, to heal the plagued city.
Stanzas 680-740 of Aesculapius are extremely psychedelic. The description of the serpent leaving the city, and settling within the ship, upon the harbor, "which felt the weight of the God, and settled deeper into the water" , is not to be missed.
This is good for a basic summery of the story, now to get to the Rod and the Snake, and the Hermetic interpretation of this work.
Apollo, as the God of Daylight, impregnates a woman, Coronis (Crown), bright as day herself. In alchemical symbolism, Women are wombs, ovens, or furnaces. Apollo fills the oven, then quickens the heating process by throwing the woman herself upon a huge burning pyre. The woman blackens and becomes Corvis, Raven. Apollo cuts out his, literally, smelted child from the womb and receives him with honor. At this point I see the child has become a metal. The snake image immediately suggests the child is a manifestation of mercury, the liquid metal. The child, Aesculapius, "he who is cut out" grows and receives messages (sound waves) from the throat and tongue of a snake. These are healing resonances, frequency vibrations. These vibrations open the chakras of the child, and he receives Source energy awareness, or the secret of immortality. SSSSSSSSSSS.
The Healer, Aesculapius, is being held in a "Temple", literally, a structure that keeps the Time, or the secret of Time. The Elite priest dreams of a man who tells him that when one sees the Rod and the Snake, one will know it is the Healer. These priests are ancient Time keepers who follow the paths of the stars and the planets across the sky, very carefully, century after century.
In my opinion, the Snake that encircles the Rod of Aesculapius, is recognized as the snake constellation at the top of the world, inside which dwells the north star, Polaris. In America we call the constellation Draco, but all over ancient Britain it is the Worm, or the Viper. I feel that the Priests recognize the Rod, as the earth's magnetic pole that connects directly to Polaris. Therefore, year round, the snake moves continuously around the magnetic pole; Polaris never leaves the constellation's circular orbit. The priests understood that this coil of energy directly mirrors the electromagnetic charge that continuously encircles the human spine in a vertical ascent.
As Above, So Below. This is, in my view, the primary symbol of the Snake and Rod. Another mirror image I see is the power of the fluid metal mercury as, "that which delivers the Gold". In mining operations mercury is used in process of rendering Gold. In medicine Gold represents perfect mental and physical health. The Snake, ( fluid mercury, or Aesculapius) delivers the divine message, to recognize the Cosmos as the Body and the Body as the Cosmos. When the Oracle tells the envoy to "look closer to home" for the cure, she is saying to meditate and find the cosmos within, that is, ones' true self. In my opinion, the Oracle's message to the sick people is clear;
Make your spine as straight and true as the earth's own magnetic pole. Open the top of your head and connect with the resonance of the gravitation of Polaris and the Great Viper. This cosmic connection is a tool to obtain a glimpse of "Immortality." The fluid metal mercury has been used from ancient times in many cultures to promote longevity and cure disease.
So back to the story....the Elite let the Healer, Aesculapius, go and live among the common people, so they may be aided in their horrific plight. The Healer leaves the metropolis in the form of a Massive Snake, (we are talking the size of 100 whales all in a line.) In these exquisite lines Ovid tries to wrap the readers head around the importance of the moving, fluid energy that is 'This Immortal Coil" the energy that every being contains within herself. The Healer lives among the people, teaching astrology and Self love and Self awareness. He resurrects the dead, and teaches the secrets of longevity. Naturally, the Powers that Be (in Ovid's case, Gods) decide this is not cool and he should be killed or exiled. So ends most of the fables in the Metamorphosis.
For thousands of years a nonpoisonous snake called the Aesculepian Viper was used widely in the healing arts practice. Children were soothed to sleep at night with one or two snakes snuggled close to their bodies. Remember, we are talking 'resonance' here.
Today modern Witches cooperate with these Medicinal Vipers in many forms of healing rituals.