Symbols REALLY matter, even ask Asclepius
It's symbolic. These letters on your screen. Symbol after symbol, you're reading a set of shapes and lines that we all agree to make meaning with...we agree on symbols.
Does the sound of the symbol B sounds like ZIP? No, it doesn't.
When we want to get a group of kids to quiet down in a noisy classroom, do we make the sound of POP POP POP? No, we don't.
Across our language, we agree on symbols that share meaning, sound and order.
In the healing art of Reiki, there are symbols to evoke specific intentions to heal. The symbol to deepen focus and "power up" which I sometimes call the Light-Switch Symbol is a fairly simple swirly shape. Like a seashell. Or a rose blossom. Or a hurricane on radar. This Reiki symbol is a swirl.
The swirl is not the shape of a cube. A cube is different from a swirl. Like the capital letter B is different from the shape of an octagon. Symbols matter.
If, as I drive my car, I see the shape of a red octagonal sign on the side of the road, I stop at the location of that sign. The same is true from Saudi Arabia to Singapore; A red octagon on the road side means stop your vehicle.
"Oh, but it's just a symbol and it's just my foot on the accelerator....a red octagon isn't going to control me!" Such a thought, albeit non-conformist, could lead to an economic fine, loss of your vehicle, injury or even death. Symbols matter.
Symbols are deep in our collective psyche to guide us in our community.
Speaking of community, there's chatter about healthcare lately. Healthcare is a community. It's a group of people who have a bodies. Hmmm....That's a pretty big group. Sometimes those bodies need healing, as well as members of that community who ALSO want to help the sick, injured, or simply ensure wellness. Sounds simple. In many ways it should be simple.
Go back to the stop sign and imagine yourself in a car. From your rear view mirror you see flashing lights from a vehicle with a symbol depicting the shape of a snake twisting up a staff. Yup. One snake on a staff. It's an image often seen on an ambulance. That symbol is called the Rod of Asclepius, a Greek mythological god considered the hero of health and healing.
"The ancient Greeks had Asclepius, the god of medicine. In Homer's Iliad, Asclepius was a man, a physician to soldiers wounded on the battlefield at Troy. But by Hippocrates' day, he had become elevated to the status of a god." Cassell's Dictionary of Classical Mythology by Jenny March Copyright 1998 -page 139
But what if this symbol of a healing god were to be switched? As if I went to every red octagon stop sign during the quiet night in my town and replaced the signs with a white and black 55mph speed limit sign? What would the morning commute look like? Would anybody notice? That would be preposterous. Right?
The Rod of Asclepius is often confused with the Rod of Caduceus, carried by Hermes, which is the depiction of a staff with two snakes and one set of wings at the top.
*As god of the high-road and the market-place Hermes was perhaps above all else the patron of commerce and the fat purse: as a corollary, he was the special protector of the traveling salesman. As spokesman for the gods, he not only brought peace on earth (occasionally even the peace of death), but his silver-tongued eloquence could always make the worse appear the better cause...his emblem would seem more appropriate on a hearse than on a physician's car.” -Stuart L. Tyson, "The Caduceus", in The Scientific Monthly, 1932 Volume 34
Asclepius is associated with health and healing but Caduceus is associated with commerce, trade and the protection of thieves.
What happens when symbols that have carried meaning from ancient beginnings into our modern age get switched?
Think of the red stop sign. Now, think of the difference between the god of Commerce, Caduceus symbolized by two snakes and a pair of wings, and the god of Health and Healing, the one snake on a staff symbol.
Symbols switched? Now I ask...what could possibly go wrong?