is that man over there? I don’t know him. What is he doing? Is he a
conspirator? Have you searched him? Give him till tomorrow to confess, then hang
Conspiracy theorists (and sometimes religious intolerants) like to point to the "Eye in the Pyramid" in the Great Seal of the United States and on the U. S. Dollar Bill as being evidence of a Masonic conspiracy.
The simple fact is that the eye in the pyramid is not now nor has it ever been a Masonic symbol.
The 'Eye of Providence', sometimes referred to in Masonic ritual as the "All-Seeing Eye" (of Deity) is found in the ritual of most jurisdictions, reminding a Mason that his words and deeds are being judged by the Supreme Architect of the Universe. The pyramid appears in the ritual of some (not all) jurisdictions and represents the great builders of the past. However, their combined usage is essentially non-existent except by a few fanciful representations done by individuals whose imagination has soared beyond that of the black text ritual. There is NO 'official' combination of the eye and the/a pyramid!
The infrequency of the combined eye/pyramid usage was much more clear to this site's author when, in preparation for this page, we looked for a single example of an emblem or other "Masonic" eye in a pyramid. we couldn't find one! Nearly three years after this page was first written and after hundreds of thousands of 'hits', we've been provided with only two examples which might be an eye in a pyramid (although arguably, it could just as readily be an eye in a triangle). Please see the bottom of this page.
On another page, we've examined the United States' Great Seal: there, the pyramid signifies Strength and Duration while the eye over it (as well as the motto) allude to a perception of evidence that Providence had favored the American cause in the Revolutionary War.
However, the possibly Masonic design element in the Great Seal (according to the interpretation of it by the designers) is different from that used both then and now by Masons. The eye on the Great Seal represents a concept of active intervention of Deity in the affairs of men, while the Masonic symbol stands for a passive awareness by the Deity of the activities of men.
Noted Masonic Author Brent S. Morris points out the following facts:
"The first 'Official' <masonicinfo.com emphasis added - See note below regarding the Washington apron> use and definition of the all-seeing eye as a Masonic symbol seems to have come in 1797 with The Freemasons Monitor of Thomas Smith Webb -14 years after Congress adopted the design for the seal. Here's how Webb explains the symbol:
Dr. Morris continues:
"Besides the subtly different interpretations of the symbol, it is notable that Webb did not describe the eye as being in a triangle. Jeremy Ladd Cross published The True Masonic Chart or Hieroglyphic Monitor in 1819, essentially an illustrated version of Webb's Monitor." **
"In this first "official" depiction of Webb's symbol, Cross had illustrator Amos Doolittle depict the eye surrounded by a semicircular glory."
"The all-seeing eye thus appears to be a rather recent addition to Masonic symbolism. It is not found in any of the Gothic Constitutions, written from about 1390 to 1730. The eye - sometimes in a triangle, sometimes in clouds, but nearly always surrounded by a glory - was a popular Masonic decorative device in the latter half of the 18th century. Its use as a design element seems to have been an artistic representation of the omniscience of God, rather than some generally accepted Masonic symbol."
"Its meaning in all cases, however, was that commonly given it by society at large - a reminder of the constant presence of God. For example, in 1614 the frontispiece of The History of the World by Walter Raleigh showed an eye in a cloud labeled "Providentia" overlooking a globe. It has not been suggested that Raleigh's History is a Masonic document despite the use of the all-seeing eye."
"The eye of Providence was part of the common cultural iconography of the 17th and 18th centuries. When placed in a triangle, the eye went beyond a general representation of God to a strongly Trinitarian statement. It was during this period that Masonic ritual and symbolism evolved; and it is not surprising that many symbols common to and understood by the general society made their way into Masonic ceremonies. Masons may have preferred the triangle because of the frequent use of the number 3 in their ceremonies: three degrees, three original grand masters, three principal officers, and so on."
"Eventually the all-seeing eye came to be used officially by Masons as a symbol for God, but this happened towards the end of the eighteenth century, after congress had adopted the seal."
"A pyramid, whether incomplete or finished, however, has never been a Masonic symbol. It has no generally accepted symbolic meaning, except perhaps permanence or mystery. The combining of the eye of providence overlooking an unfinished pyramid is a uniquely American, not Masonic, icon, and must be interpreted as its designers intended. It has no Masonic context."
Are there Masons who'll assert that the eye in the pyramid is somehow "Masonic"? Probably there are. As Brother Morris notes, however, "Masons are as guilty of the exaggeration as many anti-Masons."
* Thomas Smith Webb, The Freemasons Monitor or Illustrations of Masonry (Salem,
Mass.: Cushing and Appleton, 1821), p.66.
In June, 2001, fellow Mason Gwydion Stone from Seattle, Washington wrote to 'compare notes' on this subject. He too had been told that there were no Masonic examples of the eye in the pyramid but after some diligent searching, has managed to find just a couple. This is what he's found: a couple of pieces of fanciful Masonic clip art, ONE lodge's emblem and one lodge building out of the many thousands - and it looks to us as if it's an eye in a TRIANGLE - not a pyramid!
That's it though! If we find any more, we'll post them here. Suffice it to say, though, that the eye in the pyramid - despite the writings of Freemasonry's detractors (as well as the misinformed boast of a Mason here or there) - is not a Masonic symbol.
We were sent a photo of a the Masonic Hall in Durham, U.K. where, it was asserted, that there was an eye in a triangle over their door. It still looked like a triangle to us and it appeared to be added as an aesthetic design feature in the middle of a sloping roof. Further, just because ONE lodge building has that feature doesn't mean that it's a Masonic emblem!
The George Washington apron
Some have sent e-mails saying that we're wrong in writing that the first appearance of the Eye of Deity was in 1797. Of course, they've missed two very salient points here. The first is that this was not something WE wrote: it was written by preeminent Masonic author S. Brent Morris, Ph.D. Further, though, they seem to have missed the word 'official' which Dr. Morris used throughout his piece. Did the Washington apron ostensibly a gift from Lafayette contain the Eye of Deity? Well, yes - but that's not quite the whole story. Here's what the owner, the Grand Lodge of Pennsylvania, has to say about it:
So unless/until such time as we know the full story of the Washington apron, that's probably not a good reason to condemn the research found on this page, is it?
And Freemasons aren't the only ones to have used that "Eye"....
Here's one example: the famous Pinkerton's which was the foundation of the U. S. Secret Service. Those who pay attention, however, will note that THIS eye was to emphasize their motto, "We Never Sleep", seen below that eye.
Oh - and Pinkerton was NOT a Mason!
The Fraternal Order of Police - a well-respected organization in the United States - also uses an all-seeing eye in their logo:
Heck, they even call their national office the "Grand Lodge" and they show a pair of hands shaking as well. They state "The open eye is the eye of vigilance ever looking for danger and protecting all those under its care while they sleep or while awake. The clasped hands denote friendship. The hand of friendship is always extended to those in need of our comfort."
And no, not all police officers (male and
female) are Masons!
Updated 20 November 2004, 28 August 2005, and 31 July 2009.
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