The Eye of Providence: The symbol with a secret meaning?

How has a seemingly straightforward image – an eye set within a triangle – become a lightning rod for conspiracy theorists? Matthew Wilson looks at the history of an ambiguous symbol.

The Eye of Providence is a lightning rod for conspiracy theorists because it is very much hidden in plain sight: not only does it appear on countless churches and Masonic buildings worldwide, it also features on the reverse of the American one-dollar bill as well as the Great Seal of the United States.

In truth, it’s an uncanny and frankly odd choice for a US symbol of state. The disembodied eye strongly conveys the sense of a prying authoritarian Big Brother. In combination with the pyramid beneath it, we have emblems suggesting an ancient and esoteric cult. So, what are the origins of the Eye of Providence, why does it fascinate us so much, and why is it frequently connected with the Freemasons and the Illuminati?

Nobody is certain who originally invented it, but whoever did crafted it out of a set of previously existing religious motifs. The triangle was a long-standing symbol of the Christian Trinity of Father, Son and Holy Spirit; sometimes in previous centuries God was even depicted with a triangular halo. The rays of light that are often shown emanating from the symbol are also a pre-existing sign of God’s radiance in Christian iconography. But what are the origins of that eerie disembodied eye? God had been depicted in numerous cryptic ways before, such as by a single hand emerging from a cloud, but not as an eye. …

But there is a deeper history to the eye as a symbol to consider – one that takes us back to the earliest known religions. In the third millennium BCE, the Sumerians conveyed the holiness of certain sculptures by abnormally enlarging their eyes to enhance the sensation of dutiful watchfulness. They even held ceremonies in which artists brought the sculptures to life by ‘opening’ the figures’ eyes.

By Matthew Wilson, BBC

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