Caduceus of Ningishzida: the Pre-Hermes Caduceus

Streaks of lightning flash above you as you finally catch a glimpse of the cave’s opening. It has been a long trek across the desert. Once or twice you weren’t sure you were going to make it, especially after being captured by a small band of gnomes with a penchant for exotic meat cookery. 

Leaning on your staff, your lift your body upward and peer into the cave. You are confident this is the right cave. The marker described in the old books is there before you. The stalagmites and stalactites form fangs at the entrance, as if to warn travelers of the danger they face. This is the cave of serpents.

You walk further in and then stop to listen. The only sound you hear is the wind hissing between those fangs. It brings shivers up your spine. The legend runs rapidly through your mind - the tale of an old man who carried a staff that could summon lightning, heal all illness and even raise the dead. The old man was supposed to be an immortal, a follower of the ancient religion of the serpent.

“If his remains and his treasures are here, I shall find them.”

Confident, you continue wending your way through the darkness, guided only by your torch, till you reach a junction. You can go right or left. What did that drunken dwarf tell you about the legend? It was something about following the path of your own heart for salvation.  You take the right junction for your heart leans toward the right-hand path. An hour passes by and this tunnel seems endless. You curse yourself for not considering that the dwarf could have been referring to his own heart as he eyed your pouch of gold on the table.

Just as you begin to consider returning to the other junction, the corridor in the cave opens out into a large hall. The dwarf was right! It is the hall of the lost legendary dwarven king Noxmagi IV. There is little left of its glory. Yet, you are certain that this is the right hall, for the signs are everywhere. Your eyes dart here and there and take note of the remnants of the ancient pillars, the swords strewn around, the short tables and of course, the emblem of the double hammer behind a throne carved out of solid rock`. 

You reach closer to the throne to brush off some of the dust. There is a loud popping noise and the world turns black around you.

You wake up with pain drumming in your head. Your eyes adjust to the light and you see an old dwarf looking at you like he would view his last supper. Oh not that again!

“Crimety! Ay got me a tresspassa!” his deep voice spits at you with disgust.

“You’ve got me all wrong, O honorable and wise dwarf. I have here with me a writ from the local magistrate of the Kwanoxhoff Clan permitting entrance to this sacred ground. You can find it in my pocket. I would get it for you, but you have me all tied up. Oh by the way, what’s that buzzing sound?”

He ignores you and roughly digs his hand into your vest and pulls out the tied scroll. He unfurls it, eyeing it with suspicion. He reads it and falls silent for what feels like an eternity, then finally lifts an eyebrow your way.

“It’s yar brain rattling from my hammer blow.”

You groan for a few minutes, then eye him pleadingly.

“Ar, fine! I’ll untie ya, but I’ll keep my eye on yur varmint kind. Any thieving and I’ll whack ya again twice as hard.”

A short while later, you get tired of watching the fires dancing in the pit. You turn to your sour host, while rubbing your aching head, and try to strike up a conversation. It doesn’t seem like he is interested in your banter. You get up and suddenly he is in your face: “Watcha think yar doin?”

Raising both hands: “Relax friend. I am here on a quest of an exploration. I am looking for a legendary tomb of a human who carried with him a staff.”

He groans: “Not that wild tale again! How much did that no-good-for-nothing three times removed cousin king of mine take ya for?”

Your face turns pale: “It is a hoax!?”

“Not exactly! Ya see the tales of the dwarves tell of such a man. It is just that his tomb was robbed of everything a thousand years before I was born and I am still young, if you get my meaning, being only 400 years old myself.”

You sit down heavily.  “There is nothing left then?”

He pats your shoulder with a sudden discovery of compassion.

“Not exactly! There are still the runes on the tomb. I can’t read them, but maybe you can. Come, I’ll show ya.”

Deep in your dark thoughts, you follow him through many unwinding tunnels. You note that without him, it would be easy to get lost and die in here. You finally emerge into a high hanging area, which looks like a mausoleum.

“There are maybe tens of thousands of them.” You gasp.

“Unmarked and untouched! Each of them is a member of my clan.”

He walks to an older part of the rows upon rows of tombs. He beckons you to follow him up a ladder. You are almost half way to the ceiling and you are high enough that if you were to lose your grip and fall, death would be assured.

You are surprised to find a tunnel hidden among the dwarven coffins. You crawl inside to the best of your ability and emerge into a small chamber to see a sad old dwarf pointing to the corner.

You take a closer look at a coffin. You’re happy to note that it is marked with four images - that of an eagle, lion, ox and man. There is nothing else to identify the coffin, but those markings confirm that you finally have found the tomb of the legendary healer. You turn to your dwarf puzzled, but he gestures to you to open it.

You push open the lid and step back to better survey your find. The coffin is empty except for a scroll, a black chalice, and the multitude of runes adorning the coffin.


You pick up the hold the chalice reverently. You quickly pull from your backpack a piece of canvas and a brush and trace the carving on the chalice. The dwarf jumps on a rock and peers over your shoulder.

“You know what this means?”

“I wasn’t expecting two serpents. Let’s see if the attached scroll can give us an idea of exactly what we are looking at here.”



You settle yourself and focus your mind toward the study of the ancient writing in the scroll. The dwarf sits quietly fiddling with his beard and eyeing you impatiently. 

“Marvelous! Marvelous!” you scream, send the dwarf into a backward fall. He gets up and dusts off his leather vest, followed by an unmistakably threatening glare.

“Sorry about that. This is the most amazing of finds. This parchment talks about the origin of the religion of the serpent and its universal mystery. Here is what it tells:

Back in the mists of time, the Supreme One of the heavens gave birth to two beings.  From the celestial womb came the white serpent. Its glow and radiance was terrible, for it was the first created light that emanated in the universe.  The great heavenly serpent moved to protect the good tree. It was like the sun in its majesty and magic flowed from its tongue.

Standing strong as keeper of the tree of life and dispenser of spiritual medicine, it was praised as Ningishzida (Lord of the Good Tree).

The great white serpent gave birth to its new face as it shed its skin again and again in its timelessness.  It gave birth to the radiant and perfected soul Dumuzid, the true son of the Divine face. Indeed, Dumuzid is the Amaushumgalana, the Great Serpent of Heaven.

The white serpent seeks to redeem humanity and restore it to its state of glory. It dispenses medicine and magic and teaches humanity how to protect itself from the demons. It is the savior and redeemer angel, the Silikmuludug, the immortal king of righteousness that has no earthly father or mother.  It is the vanquisher of evil and darkness, the master exorcist, and bringer of dead things to life. It is Marduk the champion of Heaven against destruction and evil.

The white serpent hissed and pulled its head back ready to strike. For it stood face to face with the second being to have come forth from the Great Womb.  The second serpent was born. It was black, for it contained no light. It set forth to sow deceit and suffering. It brought plagues, wars, disease, famine, and suffering.  It taught the art of evil sorcery and poisons.  The black serpent set out to corrupt the pure souls and pull them into the underworld. 

The great beast coiled itself in the great salt waters of depth of the earth.  Tiamat gave form to monstrous armies of serpents and dragons. Led by a great and mighty evil serpent, Kingu waged war on those of heaven and earth. Slain to help fashion the world, it left in the heart of humanity the seed of its own destruction and corruption. Yet, the black serpent is as immortal as the white serpent. Vanquished and severed, it lay in the deep waiting for a time when the great Leviathan would again rise to wage war.

Thus the white and black serpents coil around each other in eternal battle. They are the powers of life and death, redemption and fall from grace, guidance and deception, light and dark, coiling and recoiling around the axis of the world. Their powers are contained by mighty griffon lions, crowned messengers of the Supreme One. They stand with swords to guard the boundaries of the heavens from the raging war of the white and black serpents.”

The dwarf looks at you for a moment in deep thought, and then points at something that you missed on the bottom of the coffin’s lid.

“Does this mean the same thing?”

You look and notice a winged staff with coiled serpents held by a hand emanating from the cloud. Near it is a rune that you translate to mean: “Now you know, so be as wise as a serpent.”

“Here is what I think, my friend. Often Divinities were represented by stars to represent light and radiance. The same can be said of the solar disk, which to us is the brightest star and source of life. Wings were associated with heaven. We can assume the winged sphere on top of the staff represents the radiance and power of the heavenly Supreme One. The shaft of the staff is the axis of the world. The two serpents are the same as those on the chalice. They are the white and black one contending and coiling around each other. They touch seven times to represent the seven gateways of heaven and or seven gateways of the underworld. Yet, neither of them reaches the sphere and disk. This tells us that the power  of the two serpents never exceeds to infringe on the domain of the Supreme One. The hand is that of the messenger of the gods or some other divine announcer. The words I translate to mean ‘Now you know, so be wise as a serpent’. I believe the Divine messenger is asking us to choose between the two serpents. It is telling us the story again and reminding us of the forces waging the eternal duel.”

The dwarf slaps you on your back and gives a busting laugh.

“Wars of heaven and earth eh? Enough to make me drunk on a pint of ale, and we dwarfs can inhale a barrel before our eyes even mist.”

You give a deep sigh. “I gather I am not going to find the staff here and, if this is any indication, a staff that contains the powers of the two serpents is beyond my ability to wield anyway.”

The dwarf suddenly has a thought and, not being used to such curious thoughts, he takes a minute to think about it. Finally, he decides to blurt out his question:

“Have you heard of a parallel of this tale anywhere else?”

“You know, I have in some way. I know stories of the serpent appeared in many human cultures. For example, the Minoans had a Goddess that carried two serpents, one in each hand pointing up toward the sky. I also know an ancient and obscure sect wrote of a war between the ‘prince of light’ Melchizedek and the ‘prince of darkness’ Belial. There seems to be similarities between them.   They talk of a prophecy in which Melchizedek will reincarnate or return to life in this world at the end of time and bring redemption to all that is left of humanity.”

“It says no such thing on the scroll, does it?”

“Not that I can see. However, there is a reference to the serpents having feet, which makes no sense to me. It is possible that this is an allusion to them taking on human form through reincarnation and walking on feet. ”

Bursts of light emerge all around you and you hear a cacophony of sounds. You both look up to see yourselves surrounded by a group of people, each wearing a black robe with a necklace of a black serpent coiled around an egg.
The dwarf raises his weapon threateningly.

You try to maintain your composure.

“Who are you?”

Their leader smiles and hisses,

“We are the guardians of the mysteries of ushumgal  xul, the black serpent. The great dingir xul’s power knows no equal. We have removed the scroll detailing the prophecy of his return and the signs of his reign. You have deduced too much and can’t be allowed to interfere.”

Each one raises a red staff with a black serpent coiled around it in unison. They point at you. The last thing you see is a great blinding flash and the sensation of your entire body on fire. The world goes dark all around you.

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