The all-seeing Masonic eye, like many other traditional Masonic symbols, has been borrowed from the past. The Masonic eye, or sometimes known as ‘The Eye of Providence,’ is of great importance to Freemasons globally and is one of Freemasonry’s most recognizable symbols. But the All-Seeing Eye is not a new symbol.
Before the Masonic Eye: The Eye of Horus
Perhaps the earliest appearance of the eye in history can be traced back to ancient Egypt, where it was used as a symbol by the Hebrews and the Egyptians. In the Egyptians’ time, the eye was known as ‘The Eye of Horus’, named after the God of the same name, who was most notably the God of kingship and the sky, as well as holding many other significant roles in ancient Egyptian theology.
The Egyptians believed the eye to represent royal power, protection, and good health, and it was also symbolic to the pharaohs, who thought the eye would protect them on earth and in the after-life. In this sense, The Eye of Horus was like a guide and could be used to navigate difficult decisions and to choose the right path.
To those in power, the eye also could ward off evil. There are many similarities between ‘The Eye of Horus’ and ‘The Eye of Ra,’ and although they belonged to different gods, they represented many of the same concepts. It is clear that before The Masonic Eye became a significant symbol of Freemasonry, it was symbolic to others in times gone by.
The Eye as a Symbol of Christianity
Throughout ancient history, the use of the eye was about the Egyptian Gods. However, in Renaissance Europe, in approximately the fourteenth century, the ‘Eye of Horus’ was often used as a symbol of Christianity for the very first time, moving away from its use as a symbol in polytheistic religions, and it is perhaps from here that The Masonic Eye of the Freemasons was developed.
In Christianity, God is regarded as omniscient, omnipotent, and omnipresent, meaning he is everywhere and can see everything. For example, in the Bible, in Psalm 34:15, it is written, “The eyes of the Lord are upon the righteous, and his ears are open unto their cry.” The All-Seeing Eye of the ancient Egyptians was the perfect symbol for Christians, as it symbolises their God’s nature.
What was to become The Masonic Eye sometime after the Renaissance became a symbol of divine power during it. The idea was that the eye was all-encompassing, as it would follow you everywhere you go. A beautiful example of the Eye of Providence as a Christian symbol can be seen in Pontormo’s 1525 supper at Emmaus. However, it is believed that the eye was added to the painting well after the artist completed it.
During this period, The Masonic Eye was also representative of The Holy Trinity of The Father, The Son, and The Holy Spirit. The eye was often drawn enclosed in a triangle. As late as the seventeenth century, the eye was even portrayed with clouds and sun around it, further emphasizing the symbolism of the eye being in the sky and overseeing life on earth.
For many, God’s watchfulness was seen as compassionate and was a sign of God’s benevolence and strength. For others, it was seen as representative of a jealous God who would always be watching and would be quick to hold those to account that stepped out of line and did not conform to Christian values.
We need to progress to the eighteenth century before seeing the eye used in the United States when it was adopted as part of the Great Seal of the United States in 1782. The use of the eye on the Seal was suggested by a committee that eventually decided to place the eye on top of an unfinished pyramid with thirteen steps leading to the top. Symbolically, the eye on the Seal is said to be a reminder to the United States that growth is essential and that its development was ongoing.
It is from here that The Masonic Eye, as we know it today, entered our popular culture and became an iconic symbol of Freemasonry.
The Masonic Eye as a symbol of Freemasonry
In the following decade, the All-Seeing Eye that was first used in Ancient Egypt was used by Freemasons for the very first time. In 1797, just before the turn of the century, the eye was used in a Masonic publication entitled Masonic Monitor by Thomas Smith Webb. Arguably, this was the birth of The Masonic Eye as we know it today.
Many people, conspiracy theorists amongst them, suggest that the use of the eye in the Masonic publication is proof of the connection between the US government and the Freemasons. And they often point to Benjamin Franklin’s association with the Freemasons for evidence of this, but it’s unclear whether there is any truth to such conspiracies.
Regardless of this fact, The Masonic Eye in Freemasonry represents the fact that the actions of a mason never go unseen, and they should always behave in a socially acceptable and responsible way. This is crucial to understanding Freemasons’ behavior, as they adhere to a code, and their actions are held to account by a supreme being.
In much the same way the Eye of Horus did for the Pharaohs of ancient Egypt, The Masonic Eye watches over freemasons in the current life and the after-life, and all actions will be judged by God, or The Grand Architect of the Universe, as God is often referred to in Freemasonry. Such a term was created to be inclusive of other monotheistic religions that form a part of the Masonic fraternity.
Typically, The Masonic Eye of Providence used by Freemasons has a semi-circular glory below it and is often enclosed by a triangle and can be found adorned on Freemason regalia and on buildings owned and occupied by Freemasons across the world.
The Masonic Eye: A Conclusion
The Masonic Eye is an important symbol of Freemasonry the world over. From as far back as ancient Egypt, the All-Seeing Eye has represented a superior being watching over humanity. That symbolism has continued all the way through to today, where Freemasons see the Masonic Eye as the watchful eye of The Grand Architect of the Universe.