What the eye in every conspiracy theory actually means

Films such as “National Treasure” love to play on conspiracy theories, and the Eye of Providence is a favourite that shows up time and again. But what does it actually mean, and is there any real conspiracy behind it?

What is this thing? You’ve probably seen this eye in a bunch of conspiracy theories and illuminati references. It’s the same eye you see on the back of a US dollar bill, and it’s even part of the Great Seal of the United States. No, not there: It’s actually on the other side. Yes, the seal has two sides. But this symbol’s meaning and creation actually have nothing to do with any of that.

But this symbol’s meaning and creation actually have nothing to do with any of that. It shows an eye, often surrounded by rays of light, enclosed by a triangle. Artists used it to represent the all-seeing eye of God. The three points of the triangle represent the Christian mythology of the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit. The rays of light are stand-ins for holiness and divinity. One of the first known appearances of it is in this painting: the Supper of Emmaus painted for the Carthusians in 1525.

If you go even farther back in history, you can find an eye being used in ancient Egyptian times. For example, the “Eye of Horus” belongs to Horus, the sky god, often depicted as a falcon. It’s a falcon’s eye. Fast-forward to the founding of the United States, and it ended up on the back end of the Great Seal on top of a pyramid. Why?

Steven C. Bullock: The pyramid is a sign of strength and survival and long-lasting, and that’s showing that the new nation is going to survive and last a long time, and it’s built on 13 different steps meaning the 13 new states, the 13 former colonies.

It was a few years later that the Freemasons started using the eye. Some think it’s the masons’ way of projecting their own watchful power, but it’s actually the opposite.

Steven C. Bullock: The all-seeing eye of God was designed for freemasons was designed to be a message to themselves. “We are being watched over, therefore we need to live up to the standards of not only religion but also Freemasonry.”

Freemasons were reminding themselves to keep to their own strict moral standards, not push their values on the general public. Other conspiracies say the eye on the seal of the United States and the dollar bill means the government is always watching us. But again, its real meaning goes back to a higher power.

Steven C. Bullock: It’s supposed to represent America being watched over by God, America being created under God’s watchful eye.

So how did the symbol get so tarnished? Why is it tangled in so many conspiracy theories?

Joseph Uscinski: All symbols are easy for people to digest. Their easy on the brain, you know, whereas data and evidence is much tougher for us we have to digest it and think about it and come to new conclusions. Symbols can be very powerful. Here’s this symbol, it’s on the back of the dollar bill. You can attach a picture to it. And it’s much easier to do that than to say, “Well listen, we have free markets and we have democracy and both those things are incredibly messy and no one is really controlling it,” but if I give you a few symbols and attach a name to it, all of a sudden you have an evil villain that you can pin the blame on.

OK. But evil villains do exist … is it really such a stretch to believe others like them might be using symbols to signal their secret intentions?

Joseph Uscinski: There are all sorts of things that people see that they think are clues put out there. So the dollar bill, the way the roads are made in Washington, DC. There’s a painting in the airport in Colorado that people think is really an illuminati base because there’s a weird painting painted on the wall there. People think there are secret messages in the movies in the music. The truth is if you’re pulling off a grand conspiracy the idea is that you want to do this in secret, you don’t want to be caught, you don’t want to put out clues. It doesn’t make sense. None of this makes sense.

So instead of signifying an all-seeing power that watches over us all, and hints to greater and more sinister plans ahead, maybe the simpler explanation is true: It’s just a symbol.

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