Thursday, January 21, 2016

The Eye of Providence, Freemasonry, Illuminati and the Great Seal of the United States of America

Last Supper at Emmaus
Jacopo Pontormo, 1525
There's a great deal of misinformation around the eye in the triangle symbol and what it means. I'd like to clear that up. FIrst off, it's called "The Eye of Providence."

The Eye of Providence inside of a pyramid is not "the Illuminati logo". The symbol of the Illuminati was the Owl of Minerva. The Eye of Providence was a symbol of the Christian notion of divine providence circa the 15th century in art, but was adopted by many different organizations in the 17th and 18th century as a symbol of the omniscience of deity without being specifically of any one religion.

It was in this sense that Freemasonry, not the Illuminati, used the symbol (though, also not as their primary symbol or logo, which was the Square & Compasses), but it did not appear inside of a pyramid. The conflation with the pyramid probably arose from The Great Seal of the United States where the Eye of Providence represents the providence of God with respect to the founding of the nation from 13 individual colonies (hence the 13 stones making up the base of the pyramid). This providence is clearly explained in the Declaration of Independence, where it is clear that one of the most important aspects of the founders' claim to the right of self-rule, in the face of centuries of monarch-lead claims of divine right to rule, was divine providence. But note that the eye is not inside a pyramid on the Great Seal either! It's actually inside of a triangle. We'll get to where the eye started to go in a pyramid later on...

The Great Seal, like many other uses of the Eye of Providence in the 19th century, had little to do with other uses, so much as it generically represented the philosophy of one group (the framers of the early US system of government). Was it used because of Freemasonry's use? Probably not, but we can't know for sure. Freemasonry was one of many groups that routinely used that symbol in the 18th century, and it was probably used more to avoid specifically referring to any one group or philosophy than the opposite.

The eye is routinely associated (by conspiracy theorists as well as well-meaning enthusiasts) with the Eye of Horus, a symbol from ancient Egyptian mythology. The problem with this theory is that there is absolutely no evidence to support it, and the eye as a symbol of the awareness of deity has cropped up in many isolated systems of iconography from Eastern religions such as Hinduism to the Western aboriginal folk art. There is therefore no particular reason to assume that the Eye of Providence had to be based on some previous icon, and there is no evidence to cause us to do so.

So, why are we so convinced that the Eye is a symbol of the Illuminati and that it was displayed inside a pyramid? Well, that all gets to a funny little thing that happened in the 1970s. Robert Anton Wilson published a story called The Illuminatus! Trilogy which was a comedic, science fiction take on just about every brand of conspiracy theory, and it based its titular organization on what had been a relatively obscure bunch mostly of interest to historians for their alleged influence on the later Jacobins: the Bavarian Illuminati. The book developed most of the sorts of memes that we're familiar with today regarding the Illuminati including absurdly broad influence over governments, religions and secret societies; contact with aliens; the whole works!

It also featured on its cover the Eye of Providence inside of a pyramid... probably influenced by the Great Seal.

The Eye of Providence is an important part of the history of post-enlightenment symbolism and it's sad to see so many people ignoring its actual history in favor of comedy/sci fi. I love good sci fi, but I try not to confuse it with history.