Joseph Smith’s Serpent Cane

Joseph Smith’s Serpent Cane

This walking cane carved to resemble a serpent was used by the Prophet Joseph Smith in Nauvoo. Scholars have long debated the meaning of the cryptic symbols carved into the back of the cane. Some scholars see Judeo-Christian symbology, while others see folk magic or Masonic symbolism. The cane likely bears a mixture of both.

As shown below, the back of the cane bears the carving of a shield with a crown, an “X,” an inverted cross, and the initials “J” and “S” on either side.  The “X” could represent St. Andrews cross, a Masonic symbol for Aaron as the great high priest, and/or the magic symbol for Jupiter. The “J” and “S” have been interpreted to represent the initials of both Joseph Smith’s name and “Jupiter” and “Saturn”

In mystical Jewish legend, Yahweh created a rod in the twilight of the sixth day and gave it to Adam when he was driven from the Garden of Eden. The tradition believes that the rod was handed down to all the patriarchs, through to King David before being lost to history. In the Old Testament, both Aaron and Moses use staffs that can transform into snakes, which some believe to be Adam’s magical rod of legend. While Joseph Smith’s serpent staff was not the same belonging to the biblical patriarchs, Joseph saw himself as a prophet and patriarch of this final dispensation. He may have enjoyed the association of his own serpent staff with that of the biblical prophets of old.

The staff and snake symbology has existed in other cultures, leaving open the possibility for other interpretations, such as the caduceus (the staff carried by Hermes) or the Rod of Asclepius.


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