They call me “Ol’ Snake-arms”
December 23, 2012 13 Comments
I like to consider myself a fairly responsible young male adult (whatever the fuck that means), generally speaking. I mean, I graduated high school with top marks, went to a good university for computer science and engineering, got a respectable job with the federal government, and am progressing slowly in my quest for cosmic apotheosis and power. I make a car payment and have finished paying the vast bulk of my nontrivial college loans in two years, and am generally doing well in the world. Life is good, dear readers.
Of course, because I’ve been such a good student, son, colleague, and laborer, I’m taking a few more liberties with my life than I have before. For instance, I got my first piercings (all three of them on my ears) about eleven months ago in late January last year, and got my first tattoo back in October. Well, the thing about me is that I like balance, so I couldn’t just have the one tattoo on just my left arm, so I went ahead and got a second tattoo in a similar style done on my right. A few weekends ago in November, I got the rod of the healer god Asclepius, the asclepian, on my right.
The caduceus (left forearm, two snakes with wings) is the wand of Hermes, and has its origins in the staves used by heralds in ancient Greece. Mythologically, Hermes was given a golden wand as a magic implement and cowherding crook by Apollo as a symbol of their friendship, but was later merged with the symbol for heralds which was a staff with white ribbons tied on it. Over time, the ribbons became snakes, wings were added to show Hermes’ divine nature, and the symbol eventually became the astronomical/astrological glyph for the planet Mercury. The symbol generally refers to commerce, deception, trickery, language, trade, travel, and magic.
The asclepian (right forearm, one snake) is the staff of Asclepius, though its origins are debated. Asclepius was the founder of medicine in Greek mythology, a son of Apollo, and had such skill that he was able to even revive the dead; since this was against the natural order of things, Zeus had him killed, but established him as the constellation Ophiuchus, the Serpent Bearer, placed near Libra and Scorpio. A special breed of non-poisonous snake associated with the god and was used in healing rituals, and also were allowed to live and breed in temples to Asclepius. A related symbol is the nechushtan from Hebrew mythology, the bronzed serpent on a staff that Moses made at the Lord’s direction to heal the Israelites from poison while walking in the desert.
I wanted the tattoos to have a kind of art nouveau, art deco, hieroglyphic look, with the caduceus looking more arcane or stylized and the asclepian more natural and earthy. The two were always designed as a pair, the caduceus on the left forearm and the aslcepian on the right, and were designed by one of my college friends. The only modifications I really made to the designs were the size of them so that they’d fit proportionally, but the sun disk (dotted circle with hexagram) on the asclepian was a last-minute change I added myself to the design, since the asclepian looked a little off without it. The sun disk more closely associates the symbol with the sphere of the Sun, since Apollo is the father of Asclepius, and gives the staff a more ethereal look that I can dig.
In healing the tattoos, I used two balms I made from beeswax, olive oil, and miscellaneous herbs. I used herbs associated with Mercury for the caduceus, and herbs associated with the Sun for the asclepian. I rubbed the balms into the tattoo as it was healing (after the initial peeling phase finished) while reciting the Orphic hymns to Hermes and Asclepius, respectively, and holding my planetary talismans of Mercury and the Sun. I had them introduced to the angels governing those spheres and the gods associated with the symbols, as well, and both Hermes and Asclepius were highly pleased with the work. They’ve both left a good imprint on my aura and astral self, which I’m totally okay with. The caduceus has already been gone over once, and shouldn’t need touching up again for a good few years; I’m headed back to Wild Style in a few weeks to get the asclepian touched up, and maybe get something else done (another tattoo? another piercing?).
Also, it’s annoyingly common for people to mix up the two symbols: the asclepian is the proper symbol of medicine, seen on many ambulances, hospitals, and professional health organization logos, though the caduceus is also seen on many commercial health logos and healthcare products. The caduceus is also used for American military medics, which is more a symbol of their speed of service than the kind of service they do. Having these tattoos on my forearms is kinda helpful for correcting people; whenever people get them mixed up, I can now clothesline them with the proper arm.