Rod of Asclepius t shirt from Closet of Mysteries

When I make a design, I like to research the symbolism to really understand it.  Recently, I designed a Rod of Asclepius; an ancient symbol most easily recognized from its symbolic use by the medical profession. Often confused with the Rod of Hermes or Caduceus which has two snakes wrapping a staff, the Rod of Asclepius has a single snake.  Where did this symbol originate and what does it really mean?  Well, I wanted to know so I did some poking around to find answers.

Who is Asclepius and what’s up with his rod?

Rod of Asclepius stone carving

Asclepius is the ancient Greek god of medicine and healing.  He was the son of Apollo (the sun) and father of another famous doctor Hippocrates.  As with many archetypal characters, there are several versions of the story of his mother but none end well for her and Asclepius was raised by his father.  Apollo taught the young demigod how to heal using plants.  Asclepius was so skilled that it was said he could even raise the dead.  The gods felt he would upset the balance and had him assassinated by Zeus.

The Rod of Asclepius symbol is made up of a snake wrapping around a staff.  Scholars debate over the meanings of the snake and staff.  The truth is, like with most symbols used by mystics, their meanings are many.  The most popular meaning of the snake is that it represents rebirth since it sheds its skin.  Since healers in the old days had to travel on foot, the staff was also associated with the medicine man.

The magical snake of Moses

The Rod of Asclepius symbol seems to make a cameo in the Bible also.  The use of a magical serpent on a stick by Moses would give this symbol an older usage than ancient Greece.  In Exodus, the Hebrew God tells Moses to make a fiery serpent and place it upon a pole.  When he does this, anyone who is bitten by a snake is magically healed by looking at it.  I would really like to learn that spell!  Moses also performed a neat little trick turning a staff into a serpent.

The Rod of Asclepius archaic roots?

I believe that the origins of the use of the serpent and staff date back to the archaic times.  The Rod of Asclepius was made out of symbols taken from shamanism and the archaic medicine man.  Let me explain.

The Shaman snake

Use of serpent symbolism predates our known history.  Many archaic shamanic cultures have beliefs involving serpent symbolism.  Some Siberian shamans tell ancient stories about riding the serpent rainbow into the upper world.  They also spoke of following snakes into tunnels that lead to the underworld.  The encompassing symbolism can be summarized to the best of my ability: shamans viewed the snake to symbolize the solar energy and path through the sky.  It’s energy is the source of all life and, therefore, healing.

The Shaman Pole

My understanding of the symbol of the pole is that it connects the worlds.  The pole is a simplified world tree.  The world tree varies from culture to culture but is a sacred tree.  It connects this world to the underworld with its roots and to the heavens with its branches.

Many shamanic rituals involve climbing a sacred tree.  The shaman goes into trance and climbs the branches. As he climbs, he enacts different adventures at each level of heaven the tree leads him to.  Anyway, they would strip the tree of most of the branches not needed for the ritual.  Over time, many cultures ditched the branches all together and it became a pole.

The Universal Healer

The serpent on the pole is a symbol of a healer.  A person who can harness the power of life represented by the snake.  They are also a person who can ascend and descent through the worlds by climbing up or down the world tree into the underworld or heavens.  In those ancient times, they knew that sickness was a spiritual battle.  The archaic shaman was a healer who dealt in all of the worlds and understood life energy.

…And so I drew my own adaptation!

Below, you can see some of the work in progress.  I will explain some of the choices I made in my version.

Rod of Asclepius t shirt design work in progressI went with the winged disc at the top of the pole to reiterate the solar connection.  This was meant to particularly reference Egypt.

 

The snake is loosely modeled after a python.

Rod of Asclepius t shirt design work in progress

 

Inking was completed with a Micron pen. Actually, that’s not true.  This drawing took up about five Micron pens…

Rod of Asclepius t shirt design work in progress

 

 

 

 

Well, after digging through some history and some of my own hogwash, here I am in a very comfortable shirt.  Sign up for my newsletter and get yours for 10% OFF!

Rod of Asclepius t shirt from Closet of Mysteries
There’s a dirtbag in a nice t shirt!

 

screen printed Lord Ganesh T Shirt from Closet of Mysteries

Please enjoy this “behind the scenes” look at the process involved in the creation of my hand drawn Ganesh T Shirt design.

 

Somewhere along the line in my drawing career (if you can call it that), I have become impatient.  I noticed this unsettling fact a few years ago but kept on doing things in my normal, fast way.  I found that I was no longer satisfied with the work I was creating in my old way.  As a response, I have been challenging my patience with projects involving higher demand on my concentration and loads more time than I used to.  I find that taking a new approach by incorporating a greater amount of detail has refreshed my interest in drawing.  Taking on the challenge of creating a Ganesh shirt design proved to be just the challenge I was looking for.

This drawing of Ganesh was intended to increase my mindfulness and push my patience.  Here, you can see the progress from beginning to end.  Follow the process as I worked from drawing to screen printed t shirt design.

The Drawing Process

As with any drawing project, I began with a pencil drawing.  Since this is going to have a lot of detail, I want to get most of it down before spending the time inking.  As a sort of creature of habit, I always draw with one of the same two .5 mechanical pencils I have used for years. My favorite is the Sakura which is very comfortable to draw with.  Also, I always keep a white plastic eraser around as they are the only ones that actually work.

Once the graphite part is generally established, I went at it with a black 05 Micron pen

I really enjoyed drawing the hands and feet since they are kind of like a baby’s…
This is the final inked drawing which I scanned for screen printing:

Screen printing the Ganesh T shirt

I make stencil from a film positive version of my drawing by burning it to a screen.  This is the screen ready to print a Ganesh Shirt.

 

Traditionally, Ganesh is depicted seated on a throne so I added this background element to the t shirt design:

The final printed Ganesh T Shirt still hot on the press

You can find this Ganesh T Shirt available in styles for Men and Women in the Closet of Mysteries shop.

Feel free to comment, ask questions, and share 🙂