Eye of Providence

From Academic Kids

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The 'Eye of Providence' floating above an unfinished pyramid on the reverse of the Great Seal of the United States.

The Eye of Providence or All seeing eye is a symbol showing an eye surrounded by rays of light or a glory, and usually enclosed by a triangle. It is commonly interpreted as representing the all-seeing eye of God keeping watch on mankind.



In its current form, the symbol first appeared in the west during the 17th & 18th centuries, but representations of an all-seeing eye can be traced back to Egyptian mythology and the Eye of Horus. 17th-century depictions of the Eye of Providence sometimes show it surrounded by clouds. The later addition of an enclosing triangle is usually seen as a more explicit trinitarian reference to the God of Christianity.

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An alchemical woodcut, showing the all-seeing eye of God floating in the sky.
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A Christian version of the Eye of Providence, emphasising the triangle representing the Trinity.

United States

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. The Eye was introduced by the original design committee of 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 Coeptis, meaning "It [the Eye of Providence] is favorable to our undertakings". The Eye is positioned above an unfinished pyramid with thirteen steps, representing the original thirteen states and the future growth of the country. The combined implication is that the Eye, or God, favors the prosperity of the United States.

The Great Seal is used to endorse offical United States documents. As such, it is reproduced, along with the Eye of Providence, on the back of every one dollar bill.

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An early Masonic version of the Eye of Providence with clouds and a semi-circular glory.


The Eye of Providence also appears as part of the iconography of the Freemasons. The all-seeing eye is then a reminder that a Mason's deeds are always observed by the Grand Architect of the Universe. Typically the Masonic Eye of Providence has a semi-circular glory below the eye — often the lowest rays extend further down. Sometimes the Eye is enclosed by a triangle, but here this is seen as a reference to the Freemason's preference for the number three in numerology. Other variations of the symbol can also be found, with the eye itself being replaced by the letter ‘G’, representing the Grand Architect.

The first official Masonic reference to the Eye of Providence is in The Freemasons Monitor by Thomas Smith Webb in 1797, some years after the Great Seal was designed. The Masonic use of the Eye does not incorporate a pyramid, although the enclosing triangle is often interpreted as one.

It is a popular urban legend or conspiracy theory that the Eye of Providence and unfinished pyramid show the influence of Freemasonry in the founding of the United States. This was recently dramtised in the disney film National Treasure.

Although Benjamin Franklin, one of the members of the original design committee for the Great Seal, was a Freemason, it appears that he was not responsible for introducing the symbol, and may not even have been aware of it. Many masonic organisations have denied any special connection.

Cao Dai

The Vietnamese religion Cao Dai, as well as a number of other churches, uses the Eye of Providence (specifically, the left eye) within a triangle to represent God.


Today some conspiracy theorists link the symbol with conspiracy organizations, especially Adam Weishaupt's Bavarian Illuminati. This is possibly the only context in which the Eye of Providence is shown actually embedded in a pyramid.

Current usage

See also

External links

  • Rosslyn Templars (http://www.rosslyntemplars.org.uk/eye_in_the_pyramid.htm) a modern Freemason's debunking of the myth of a connection between Freemasonry and the Great Seal of the United States.
  • grand lodge of british columbia and yukon (http://freemasonry.bcy.ca/anti-masonry/anti-masonry02.html#eye_pyramid) - response to claims of masonic origins of symbol
  • grand lodge of british columbia and yukon (http://freemasonry.bcy.ca/kneph/kneph_images.html) - graphics from the kneph
  • wealth4freedom.com/dollarbill (http://www.wealth4freedom.com/dollarbill.html) - collection of links regarding the symbol and discussion regarding them

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