- Written by Ben Fuchs
Pharmacy students are taught that the ubiquitous Rx prescription symbol refers to the Latin designation to take. But as it turns out that there’s another more mysterious and occult tradition associated with the well-known sigil that has come to be synonymous with all things pharmacy.
Modern pharmacy’s early roots in 16th century Europe owes much of its basic tenets of “pharacakeia”, the science of making administering drugs, to early Greek medical practices. And the Greeks in turn assimilated much of their understanding of the healing arts from the Ancient Egyptians who works they revered.
The Egyptians regarded Horus as the father of medicine. Horus according to Egyptian theology was the son of the two primary Egyptian deities Osiris and Isis. According to the tale he was also the avenger of his father’s death at the hands of his wicked uncle Seth (later named Satan), brother of Osiris with whom he did battle, losing his left eye in the fight. Thoth, the god of wisdom and the patron deity of physicians and scientists, magically healed the eye and gave it back to Horus who used it as a remedy to restore his father Osiris to the world of the living.
Thus began the legend of the Eye of Horus which initially referenced Sirius, the brightest star in the sky, known as the Dog Star whose first appearance at the beginning of summer predicted the flooding of the Nile. Over time it was linked to the sun itself (The Eye of Ra) and then the sky; Egyptian hieroglyphs depict Horus as having the head of a falcon. From there it was a short leap to connecting the Eye to light and sight and later it became a powerful sigil representing healing and rebirth. Egyptians referred to the eye with the term “wedjat”, meaning “whole one” and in addition to wholeness (healing) they associated the symbol with protection, prosperity and abundance. Other variations of the Eye of Horus that can be found in the superstitions around the “evil eye” and it have been linked in metaphysical circles to the Hindu concept of the third Eye (or the pineal gland if you’re more scientific). And of course it shows up in modern culture in freemasonry’s all-seeing –eye in the pyramid as well as the eye associated with the dollar bill and the so-called Great Seal of the United States.
So what’s this got to do with pharmacy? Well as it turns out, at least according to some folks, the Eye of Horus bears an interesting resemblance to the Latin designation Rx. While pharmacy students learn that it is a directive to the patient there are those who believe it is actually an acknowledgment of the historical and occult foundations of the practice of pharmacy.