SERPENTS AND THE POWER OF HEALING
“Poisons and medicine are often the same substance given with different intents.”
– Peter Mere Latham, 19th-century English physician and educator
The medicine and pharmacy are twin souls, they are attached to each other and they can’t be really separated. That what is detected by medicine is cured by pharmacy but if the medical diagnosis is bad, the pharmaceutical treatment will be worse. Sometimes, so called medical professionals make the mistakes that correct good pharmacists but the land of pharmacy is the last land before the one leaves for a world after this one. Their magical knowledge can save people and can curse them , they are the modern alchemists that are not worshipped as they should be.
Have you ever wondered why the snake is used as the symbol of pharmacy? It is not the only one, because there are others as mortar and pestle, show globes and Rx symbols, but the snake is a dominant and recognizable. Someone would conclude that snake venom could be used as a poison and as a cure at the same time, depending on what is the purpose. It is an interesting logic in the background of the bowl of Hygieia, that leads us back many, many years. First of all, in the book of greek mythology, Hygieia was the daughter and assistant of Aesculapius, the Apollo’s son, the grandson of majestic Zeus and the god of medicine and healing. Based on the legend, Aesculapius tried to make people immortal and that has directly endangered the Gods from Olympus. Zeus killed his grandson because of his amazing healing capacities. In many of his temples, the dead snakes have been found as alive that has been connected with his healing power. Those who have worshipped Aesculapius have never forgotten that snake and the bowl go together as the symbol of resurrection and health.
In spite of the facts that religious interpretations find snakes lucrative and dangerous, there are the proves that snakes have been always considered as the part of healing power and that is exactly what the Department of Pharmacy at the University of Arizona is writing:” In art history, Hygeia is often shown with her bowl and a snake coiled around either her arm or the stem of the bowl itself. The Bowl of Hygeia may also have biblical connections. The imagery of a snake on a pole is found in the Old Testament (Numbers 21:6-9), when a bronze serpent was used to heal the Israelites. Moreover, art historical depictions of St. John often show him holding a bowl with a serpent. According to Jared Savage, the first summer intern with John Wyeth and Company and the American Pharmaceutical Association, this is based on the story that a trophy containing poison was offered to the apostle.”
Some other records keep informing us that the famous Bowl of Hygieia has been used as a symbol by so many apothecaries in Italy, in ancient 1222 but then it is lost for more than 500 years. During the dark middle ages, the pharmacy and the light of the science have been faced up with the tragedy of church accusations and religious terror in the name of God. The most brilliant minds have tried to protect their own lives and they have been hidden for the population, as the shadows with the good intentions. They spent their days and nights as the knights of light, fighting the darkness of the ignorance. They tried to discover the secret formula of the nature, to endure the lives, to chase away the deaths. People called them alchemists and the church mafia burnt them as heretics.
The surprising for all of us should be the thing that medieval pharmacy was, in spite of all challenges and risks, one of the best intellectual and scientific periods for turning herbs into drugs. While the Europe has been fighting the religious and social disturbances, the first pharmacy was founded in Baghdad in the year 754. The Arabic medieval doctors and pharmacists have tried to experiment with the materia medica an to make a successful cocktail of life. It was always a question more, how it should be made to not cause the damage and to prolong the possibility to survive? The European pharmacists are being waked by the 12th century when the drug stores could be also found around the Europe.
The pharmacists have invented to bring pure science into the herbal skills. Till 1100 year, the drugs have been collected based on experience and good feeling for recovery but after, the pharmacists and physicians are working together to find the invisible code of the friendly drug, they test the situations, they measure the results and they combine the offered ingredients. They are playing with the nature but that HIDE and SEEK of the ancient scientists have helped a lot the birth of the modern pharmacy and its children.
Our Bowl of Hygieia has been brought to life by 1796, as the symbol of the Parisian Society of Pharmacy but there is something else also very thrilling, the meaning of the famous Hippocratic Oath:“I swear | by Apollo the Physician and by Asclepius and by Hygieia and Panacea and by all the gods . ..” that includes the Aesculapius, the god of medicine and his two daughters, Hygieia, the goddess of health and Panaceia, the goddess of healing. There are scholars who argue that this oath has not been written only by Hippocrates but also by the followers of Pythagoras.
The worship of snakes in medicine and pharmacy is not the greek heritage but also linked with the egyptian form of cherishing the serpents. When we look on another symbol of health, that is a snake on the stick or to be precise- we are talking about the Rod of Asclepius. There are many healing temples that are based on the Asclepius cult and that in honor of him, keep a special type of non-venomous snake that offer for a healing ritual. These snakes are known as Aesculapian snakes.
The modern pharmacy is battle, struggle and fight between the dimensions of being moral and ethic and being profitable. There are many great pharmacists that live their own Aesculapian dreams but there are those who wear the cloak of interest and who play only for money. The first are bringing to us the spirit of medieval brave alchemists and the second remind us that evil will never give up.
The next time when someone teaches you how the snakes could be dangerous, be reminded that the snakes keep the meaning of recovery, the power of healing and the new rise. Open your thoughts for the world behind this one, when so many died for their science and for us, to be alive now. The symbol of serpents is more like a symbol of neverending fight for force of knowledge in the universe of constant terror of ignorance.
SUPPORT THE ETHIC PHARMACISTS, CHERISH THEM !