Symbols of medicine - a reflection of the ways of healing ancient peoples

Everyone knows that the symbol of medicine is a bowl with a snake, and in the people it is jokingly called "mother-in-law eating ice cream".But that's what such an emblem means, not everyone knows. What other symbols are there that indicate medicine, where did they come from and what is their true meaning? This is what we will talk about in our article.

Where the medical symbols

originated At different times different cultures accepted their symbols and medical emblems, which reflected the understanding and perception of death and life, pointed to the image of the healer and the methods of treatment. Speaking of various medical symbols, it is worth remembering the famous gods - patrons of healing, ancient methods of treatment and other features. symbols of medicine

The most basic and the oldest symbol of medicine is snakes. It is their image in various forms used to denote healing. The history of the use of this sign goes back to the ancient civilizations of the East, Greece and Egypt. For example, it is the snake that wraps the body of Isis, the Egyptian patroness of healing. Also, the inscription is accompanied by an inscription on the pillar of Sesostris I in Karnak, where it says: "I give life, longevity and health. .. to the king of the lower and upper Egypt".It is interesting that the modern symbol of medicine also did not do without a snake image. Here the reptile wraps the cup, and each of the parts of this emblem deserves special attention.

As the society develops, with increasing level of knowledge about nature and the surrounding world, symbols reflecting various phenomena have changed and rethought. Today, the treatment of the healing symbols that have come down to us is quite diverse. There are about fifty different conventional images, meaning medicine, but we will only consider the most common images.

General and private medical emblems

For a comprehensive study of the issue, along with many scientific methods used in the study of medical symbols, the historical method is also relevant.

The most valuable sources for studying the issue are numismatics and bonistic. The former studies coins, tokens, medals and medals, and the second examines paper currency notes in a historical, economic and artistic aspect. It is on coins and banknotes of different eras that you can meet the greatest number of medical symbols and medical emblems, and in some cases it is generally the only source of confirmation of their physical existence.

Specialists studying emblems and symbols of medicine tend to apply a special classification, according to which all existing designations can be divided into private and general. The following are classified as private:

  • drop of blood - a sign of a surgical profile;
  • image of a lily of the valley;
  • clyster( enema);
  • hand, palpating pulse - emblem of therapists;
  • image of a Florentine baby;
  • pentagram of surgical instruments, such as a scalpel;
  • urinarium;
  • mortars with or without pestle - such emblems are used by pharmacists or medical societies;
  • military medical signs( emblems).

symbol of medicine photo General medical symbols are much more famous. These include:

  • snake;
  • staff of Asclepius( Aesculapius) - snake, sticking stick;
  • a snake around the bowl;
  • two snakes wrapping the staff of Hermes( Mercury);
  • egg;
  • a snake, wrapping the tripod of Apollo;
  • lamp;
  • anchor Impos;
  • snake, wrapping mirror;
  • the cock;
  • one or two snakes twirled around a candle or a lamp;
  • snake, wrapping the Delphi navel, omphalos;
  • burning candle or torch;
  • heart in the palms and others.

Thus, it can be concluded that common symbols mean healing in general, and private ones are meant to divide medicine in the directions.

Why the snake is a symbol of medicine

At the dawn of civilization, in a just emerging primitive society, when the first totems reflected human helplessness in front of nature and the surrounding world, the snake was one of the main symbols. With the advent of the religious cult, the snakes were attributed to the dual nature of good and evil. On the one hand, they represented treachery and cunning, and on the other hand, they were a symbol of wisdom, knowledge and immortality.

It is interesting, but in ancient beliefs, the symbol of medicine was not poisonous snakes, but quiet, harmless ones. It was they who were called "Eskulapovy snakes".These reptiles were the honorable inhabitants of the cult healing centers in Rome and Greece. The snakes moved freely around the house and treated the sick-they licked their wounds. The Romans and Greeks loved their snakes very much, kept them in houses, in bathhouses and bathhouses.

For many people, the snake symbolizes a good beginning, brings prosperity to the home, health and happiness to those living in it. Also, according to the belief, snakes heal wounds and are able to teach the wisdom of healing.

In ancient Eastern mythology, the snake was also associated with people's health and their treatment, and in African countries personified healing. Perhaps this is the only case in which you can trace the chain of associations. The fact is that in Africa people were treated solely by sorcerers, they were also the spellcasters of venomous snakes. So there was a chain of associations: sorcerer - snake - treatment. Then, however, sorcerers disappeared somewhere, but the snakes and healing remained in a strong bundle.

In European countries, unlike Africa, the snake was associated not with sorcerers, but with wisdom and knowledge in general. It is a symbol of eternal youth - rejuvenation in this case is symbolized by an annual molt, a change of skin. This ability of the snake in the literal sense of the word "lose its temper" has found an interesting reflection in the Egyptian legends. At midnight the great god of the sun Ra, along with his associates, emerges from the luminous rook and enters the body of the great serpent. In the morning, from his interior, they all go out to the children, sit down again in the sacred rook and continue their journey through the sky. That's right, according to the ancient Egyptians, the day is replaced at night.

Similar myths of rejuvenation and immortality exist in African tales, Sumerian legends and Greek myths. As the oldest symbol of medicine, the snake was depicted without any additions and attributes. And only later, a staff, a tripod, a mirror or a famous bowl joined it. which means the symbol of medicine

What symbolizes the bowl

Because the symbol of medicine is a bowl with a snake, then the next thing we'll talk about will be it. The most common interpretation of the fact that the bowl has become a symbol of something good and salutary, that is medicine, is associated with the perception of fresh water in the arid regions of the globe. Since rains in these places were rare, water became a gift of heaven. The gift of the heavenly gods could be preserved with the help of hands, folded in the form of a bowl, or stones with grooves, clay or metal utensils. Since people dying out of droughts by whole villages, prayers for rain began to be accompanied by requests for health and preservation of life. On the ancient Egyptian steles and frescoes, the sick, appealing to the gods with a request for recovery, holds the cup in his hands.

Treatment with water has become traditional for the countries of the Ancient East and India. Alchemists necessarily used water or droplets of dew to obtain medicines. For healing, special cups with spells and symbols engraved on them were used. For example, for the treatment of fear( "fear of fear") Muslims used a special "cup of fear" - a copper bowl specially made in Mecca and adorned with sayings from the sacred Koran.

Folk tales to our times have preserved the expressions associated with the ritual cups: "the cup of suffering", "let the house become a full cup," "drink the cup to the bottom," "the cup of patience," and others. In these sayings the dual nature of the image is laid-a double-bottom goblet, the creation of heaven and earth. If a person has drunk from the cup of earthly creation, his interior turns to the passions of the earth. Having drunk from the heavenly cup, a man directs thoughts to heaven, sublime ideals, gets rid of earthly sins and passions. Not for nothing is one of the symbols of Christianity is the cup of the sacrament - the cup of deliverance from sins.


Looking at the symbols of medicine, one can not help recalling the staff - a bit of shag, around which a snake usually encircles. This object represents a road stick, signifying the journey of the healers. The staff not only helps along the way, but also increases the level of trust. Medical treatises of India urged the doctor to have a staff with him, as patients subconsciously trust people more experienced, elderly, having a connection with the ground.

This particular object became the prototype of the doctor's cane, especially popular in England during the Middle Ages. Sometimes, as a medical symbol, the staff was depicted with branches and foliage. This symbolized the beginning of a new life, rejuvenation.

In some emblems there is not a staff, but a rod of Mercury, or Hermes. This god was considered an intermediary between the realms of the dead and the living, between people and gods. According to legend, Hermes received his staff as a gift from Apollo. It was a reward for the fact that he invented such a musical instrument as the lyre, and masterfully played it. The Greeks called this magic cane kirekiyonom, and the Romans called kadutseem. why the snake is a symbol of medicine

Pentagram and tripod

Quite popular are also such symbols of medicine as the pentagram and tripod of Apollo.

The first of these is a five-pointed star, drawn by a single line. This sign has its roots in Mesopotamia and Egypt. It is believed that in this way five known planets were connected to each other: Mars, Venus, Saturn, Mercury and Jupiter. This symbol was most often used as a talisman and a guard against the spirits and creatures that cause misery and disease. A little later, during the widespread spread of Christianity, the pentagram became a sign of heretics and was replaced by an image of a hand with spread fingers.

The second sign is the tripod of Apollo. According to legend, at the foot of Mount Parnassus Apollo killed Python - the evil monster that guarded the valley. On the battlefield was built the Delphic Temple, the sanctuary of Apollo. One of the walls of the temple was a rock, from the crevices of which flowed intoxicating aroma. Nearby on the golden tripod sat Pythia - the priestess, communicating with the gods and thus recognizing their will. And since Apollo was the patron of medicine and healing, the tripod from his sanctuary became a special symbol combining the three principles of medicine:

  • own observation;
  • analysis of other people's observations;
  • conclusion by analogy.

The staff of Asclepius

So, what does the symbol of medicine, representing a stick, up which the snake creeps up, mean? For starters, it should be noted that this sign is the most recognizable since about the 8th century BC.The history of this sign goes back to the Greek myths. According to the legend, Asclepius( the Romans called him Aesculapius) learned his work, the art of healing, from a centaur named Chiron. He successfully applied the received knowledge in practice and became the most skillful healer. He treated people so well that Zeus was afraid that thanks to his efforts people would become immortal at all. Therefore he killed Asclepius with a thunderbolt.

There is a legend according to which once Asclepius was invited to the court of King Minos to resurrect his dead son. On the way to the palace on a stick, on which Asclepius leaned on walking, suddenly a snake climbed up. The doctor was frightened and killed her. As soon as he deprived the reptiles of life, from nowhere appeared another snake, carrying grass in the mouth. With the help of a bunch of grass, the snake resurrected her friend, and they crawled away together. Asclepius correctly understood the sign of the gods, he found the grass that the snake held in his mouth, and was able to resurrect the son of King Minos.

Since then, the image of Asclepius's staff has been used as a healing symbol, and the doctor himself was revered as the god of healing.

Bowl with snake

Still a much more common symbol of medicine - a snake wrapping a bowl. The first images of this symbol refer to 600-800 years. BC.It is noteworthy that in the beginning the parts of the image existed separately and were attributes of Gigeia, the daughter of Asclepius - she kept the snake in one hand and the cup in the other. And only much later images merged into a single whole. symbol of medicine bowl with a snake

The true meaning of this sign is very controversial. Someone treats it like this, but someone else. Most often, the cup is associated with a vessel for storage of snake venom, a widely known medicinal substance, and the snake symbolizes wisdom. However, there is another interpretation. According to him, the emblem reminds the doctor of the need to be wise, and to draw wisdom from the cup of world knowledge, the human mind that encompasses the whole world.

The most amusing interpretation of the symbol was invented by medical students. In their opinion, the symbol means that the medic is "cunning, like a snake, and very fond of drinking."

Today, such an emblem is most often used to refer to pharmaceutical activities.


The meaning of the medicine symbol depicting a baton with wings, around which two snakes are twisted, is also not very unambiguous.

The fact is that initially the caduceus was a symbol of secrecy, a sign that protects commercial or political correspondence. And only later it became a symbol of medicine.

For the convenience of perception, it is worth dividing the logo into several parts:

  • symbolizes the Tree of Life, the connection between heaven and earth;
  • a double helix formed by the interlacing of snake bodies - a symbol of cosmic energy, the unity of the opposite, the duality of phenomena;
  • themselves are reptiles - the active forces of the earthly and other worlds.

Most likely, the transformation of the symbol from commercial( political) to medical was due to the presence of snakes, giving both a medicinal potion and poison.

Red Cross and Crescent

symbols and emblems of medicine If we consider the symbols of medicine popular all over the world, we should not forget about the red cross and the crescent moon. Strangely enough, but such a symbol does not at all mean "something medical", as it is commonly believed in our country. He is called upon to protect doctors, wounded, hospitals and hospitals during military conflicts. Therefore, it is unacceptable to use such a symbol on pharmacies, automotive first aid kits, gowns and caps of medical staff and elsewhere. According to the idea, it should have an "emergency" value and be used only in extreme cases.

Similar value:

  • red cross;
  • red crescent( in Islamic countries);
  • sun and red lion( in Iran);
  • red star of David( in Israel).

At the present time, the Red Cross Movement is engaged in the development of new symbols, devoid of national and religious signs.

The star of life

The symbol of medicine, the photo of which is presented below, is not very popular in Russia. This "Star of Life" is a symbol of medicine, born in the USA.Each of the snowflake beams symbolizes a certain function of emergency medical care:

  • detection;
  • notice;
  • response;
  • assistance at the scene;
  • transportation assistance;
  • transportation for further assistance.

the meaning of the symbol of medicine


When studying medicine, it is impossible not to know or understand symbols that mean healing. Interest in the past, as you know, generates a bright future. The more vividly we can imagine the content and significance of the cultural relay race passed on to us by past generations, the more valuable and meaningful the present becomes for us. After all, in each symbol our ancestors put a special meaning, called to convey its value to future generations.