The Eye of Providence (or the “All-seeing Eye” of God) is a symbol showing an eye often surrounded by rays of light or a glory and usually enclosed by a triangle. It is sometimes interpreted as representing the eye of God (the Sun or RA / HORUS, the Ancient Egyptian Sun Gods) watching over humankind (or divine providence).
In the modern era, the most notable depiction of the eye is the reverse of the Great Seal of the United States, which appears on the United States one-dollar bill.
Religious use of the Eye
In Hinduism, the divine providence is associated with Lord Shiva, a major Hindu deity, who is one with great powers, yet lives a life of a sage and is known to keep himself intoxicated and meditating with bhang so that the world remains safe from his anger. He has an all seeing eye, the third eye on his forehead, that notices of everything that happens in the world, has an authority over death, rebirth and immortality.
Imagery of an all-seeing eye can be traced back to Egyptian mythology and the Eye of Horus. It also appears in Buddhism, where Buddha is also regularly referred to as the “Eye of the World” throughout Buddhist scriptures (e.g. Mahaparinibbana Sutta) and is represented as a trinity in the shape of a triangle known as the Tiratna, or Triple Gem.In Hinduism the gods have a third eye which is described as being “all powerful and all seeing eye”.
In Medieval and Renaissance European iconography, the Eye (often with the addition of an enclosing triangle) was an explicit image of the Christian Trinity. Seventeenth-century depictions of the Eye of Providence sometimes show it surrounded by clouds or sunbursts.
In 1782, the Eye of Providence was adopted as part of the symbolism on the reverse side of the Great Seal of the United States. It was first suggested as an element of the Great Seal by the first of three design committees in 1776 and is thought to be the suggestion of the artistic consultant, Pierre Eugene du Simitiere.
On the seal, the Eye is surrounded by the words Annuit Cœptis, meaning “He approves (or has approved) [our] undertakings”, and Novus Ordo Seclorum, meaning “New Order of the Ages”. The Eye is positioned above an unfinished pyramid with thirteen steps, representing the original thirteen states and the future growth of the country. The lowest level of the pyramid shows the year 1776 in Roman numerals. The combined implication is that the Eye, or God, favors the prosperity of the United States.
Perhaps due to its use in the design of the Great Seal, the Eye has made its way into other American seals and logos, notably the Seal of Colorado and DARPA’s Information Awareness Office. It is also part of the City Seal of Kenosha, Wisconsin.
Inverted Pentagram and “MASON” subliminal, encoded into the ‘Eye of Horus’ Symbol
Today, the Eye of Providence is usually associated with Freemasonry. The Eye first appeared as part of the standard iconography of the Freemasons in 1797, with the publication of Thomas Smith Webb’s Freemasons Monitor. Here, it represents the all-seeing eye of God and is a reminder that a Mason’s thoughts and deeds are always observed by God (who is referred to in Masonry as the Great Architect of the Universe). Typically, the Masonic Eye of Providence has a semi-circular glory below the eye. Sometimes the Eye is enclosed by a triangle.
The Eye of Horus is an ancient Egyptian symbol of protection, royal power and good health. The eye is personified in the goddess Wadjet (also written as Wedjat, Uadjet, Wedjoyet, Edjo or Uto and as The Eye of Ra or “Udjat“). The name Wadjet is derived from “wadj” meaning “green” hence “the green one” and was known to the Greeks and Romans as “uraeus” from the Egyptian “iaret” meaning “risen one” from the image of a cobra rising up in protection.
Wadjet was one of the earliest of Egyptian deities who later became associated with other goddesses such as Bast, Sekhmet, Mut, and Hathor. She was the tutelary deity of Lower Egypt and the major Delta shrine the “per-nu” was under her protection. Hathor is also depicted with this eye. Funerary amulets were often made in the shape of the Eye of Horus. The Wedjat or Eye of Horus is “the central element” of seven “gold, faience, carnelian and lapis lazuli” bracelets found on the mummy of Shoshenq II. The Wedjat “was intended to protect the king [here] in the afterlife” and to ward off evil. Ancient Egyptian and Near Eastern sailors would frequently paint the symbol on the bow of their vessel to ensure safe sea travel.
The eye as hieroglyph and symbol
There are seven different hieroglyphs used to represent the eye, most commonly “ir.t” in Egyptian, which also has the meaning “to make or do” or “one who does.” In Egyptian myth the eye was not the passive organ of sight but more an agent of action, protection or wrath.
HORUS (Ancient Egyptian Sun God)
The eye symbol represents the marking around the eye of the falcon, including the “teardrop” marking sometimes found below the eye. The mirror image, or left eye, sometimes represented the moon and the god Djehuti (Thoth).
Learn more about the two primary Egyptian Sun Gods:
THE EYE OF HORUS (RA)
From very early times in Egypt the sun and the moon were regarded as the eyes of the great falcon god Horus, though the two eyes eventually became differentiated, with the left eye (the “Eye of Horus”) often being regarded as the symbol of the moon and the right eye (the “Eye of Re”) being that of the sun.
One of the most prominent myths concerning the moon relates its cycle to the battle between Horus and Seth. During this famous battle over the inheritance of Osiris, Seth steals the (left) eye of Horus, damages it, and divides it into six parts. Thoth (with the help of other gods) later restores it “with his fingers,” or by spitting on it. In the temple at Kom Ombo, a series of medical instruments is depicted being used in the healing of the eye by the god Haroeris (actually, Haroeris is one of the oldest forms of Horus, known as Horus the Elder). The restored eye is called Wadjet, from the New Kingdom onward, but the myth in question is much older and was found in the Coffin Texts as Spell 335.Thoth may also be said to catch the lunar eye in a net, acting together with the god Shu.
Restoring the damaged eye is said to have happened on the sixth lunar day. The eye is said to be filled with specific minerals and plants. Thoth, together with a specific group of fourteen gods, principally performed this act. In Greco-Roman temple reliefs from the region between Dendera and Esna, this group is the Ennead of Hermopolis. Together with Thoth, these gods represented the fifteen days leading up to the full moon, and again the days of the waning moon. As representing the latter, they are said to exit from the eye.
An iconographic variant of this theme occurs in the temples at Edfu and Dendera in the form of a staircase with fourteen steps that support the fourteen gods of the waxing moon. Reliefs in Edfu, Dendera and Ismant el-Kharab (Dakhla Oasis) list a different group of thirty, mostly male, deities associated with the days of the lunar month. In the legends inscribed with these gods at Ismant el-Kharab, the first fifteen are said to fill the Wadjet eye with a fraction each day, after which the moon’s reduction is recorded up to the twenty-fourth day, when the intensity of the moonlight has all but disappeared.
The healed eye, known as the Wedjat eye, or the sound eye, became the symbol for the reestablishment of ordered conditions after disturbances. In a somewhat different myth, Horus is said to have brought his eye to his dead father Osiris who devoured it as an offering meal and by means of it was recalled to life. It thus became the guarantee of life and of the regeneration of life. The fact that offerings are called ‘the Eye of Horus” indicates that they are considered participants in the preservation of life. This designation also characterizes the offering as divine substance and even allows for discussions about the transubstantiation of the material of the offerings. The Eye of Horus is the greatest gift of all, and it constitutes the quintessence of gifts.
Hence, the sacred eye could also function as a symbol of offerings. Frequently in the art of the later New Kingdom, a personified eye presents incense or other offerings as the deceased as he kneels before the throne of Osiris. As sacred solar animals, baboons are also frequently shown presenting Wadjet eyes to the rising sun.
The (left) Eye of Horus was considered the most powerful of protective amulets. Abundant examples with many variant forms and materials have survived from all subsequent dynasty periods. Despite the uncertainties surrounding the origin and significance of the sacred eye symbol, its use in Egyptian iconography is widespread and relatively clear. Above all, the eye was a protective device, and this is seen in the countless representations of the Wadjet which are found in amulets and jewelry and on the protective plaques which were placed over the embalming incision on mummies. This protective aspect is probably at least part of the significance of the two eyes which were commonly painted on the left side of the coffins during the First Intermediate Period and the Middle Kingdom. Although the mummy was often placed on its left side in these coffins, suggesting that the eyes may have served as a “window” onto the word for the deceased, a protective function also seems likely. In the same way, the Horus eyes painted on the bows of boats both protected the vessels and “saw” the way ahead. More directly, in the New Kingdom, representations of the sacred eye is often depicted with wings, hovering behind kings and gods as an emblem of overshadowing protective forces.
The composition of the of the symbol itself is not completely understood though it seems to represent a human or falcon eye (depending on the individual representation) above the distinctive cheek marking of the falcon. The stylized, spiral “tear line” below the eye is somewhat like that found on the face of the cheetah, which was also associated with the heavens in early Egyptian mythology for various reasons. The left (Horus) and right eye (which could be the Eye of Re) were usually depicted very similarly, with little difference other than one was a left and the other was a right eye. Of course, representations of the eyes frequently included other representations specific to each one. However, it should be noted that their orientation was not always reliable as an indicator of the lunar or solar eye.
EYE OF RA (The Right Eye of Horus, the Solar Eye)
At some point, the right eye of Horus, with its solar symbolism, was naturally associated with Re, and became the Eye of Re (Ra). Re was said to be the “father of the gods,” for he was their head and king, as well as the father of humanity, and, according to some ancient myths, all living creatures that were believed to grow from his sweat or tears. The tears were produced from the Eye of Re, which was separable from him with a mind of its own. Once when it did not return, Re sent Shu and Tefnut to get it, the Eye stubbornly resisted, and in the struggle shed tears; from the tears, men grew. Perhaps this myth emerged because the Egyptian words for “tears” and “men” share a similar sound.
There were variants of the story concerning the Eye of Re. One legend was that the Eye was sent by Atum to search for Shu and Tefnut who were lost in the waters of Nun; being placed on Atum’s forehead rewarded the Eye. Another story is that The Eye one wandered on its own accord, and Re sent Thoth, the moon, to fetch it back; upon returning the Eye discovered that it had been replaced by another Eye, perhaps the moon. Thoth, however, mollified the original Eye, and Re pacified it by placing it, in the shape of the uraeus serpent, on his brow “where it could rule the whole world.” The Eye, as uraeus, would become the effective ruler of the world, and as such would be worn by pharaohs as a symbol of their majesty and their descent from the sun god.
It came to exist as a separate entity, independent of the god himself. The symbolism of the eye of Re, associated with a number of goddesses, was complex and diverse.
Sekhmet, another version of the eye, took the form of a savage goddess who reveled in the slaughter of humans as the instrument of the sun-god’s wrath. There are a number of versions of it found in various royal tombs in the Valley of the Kings at Thebes. In this story, Her Father Re dispatches Hathor in the form of the lioness goddess Sekhmet in order to punish the transgressions of mankind, who had become willful and rebellious. She slays men, leaving them in pools of blood in the deserts where they had fled. In the process, She becomes overzealous and nearly wipes out humanity. In order to stop her, Re sends for His High Priest at Iunu to obtain red ochre from Elephantine, which is ground and mixed with beer. Seven thousand jars of this mixture are spread over the land of Egypt, turning it into what looks like a sea of blood. When Sekhmet (Hathor) awakens in the morning and sees it, she begins drinking voraciously. In the process, she becomes quite intoxicated and is unable to continue slaughtering. She is coaxed to return to Her benign aspect of Hathor, and mankind is saved. However, from such stories, the Eye of Re lives on in the form of the original “Evil Eye”.
On the other hand, the Eye of Re could also be a protective force, particularly for the king, evidenced by its identification with the Wadjet, the divine personification of the uraeus. These two versions of the eye were essentially the two sides of the personality of the goddess.