The true origin of the triangle with an eye inside that appears on dollar bills (and the theories it fuels) | The State

Conspiracy theories thrive on cryptic symbols and signs that appear to be covert.

And the Eye of providence, also called “the all-seeing eye“It is part of these graphics that unleash multiple interpretations.

It is an eyeball within a triangle that is associated with Freemasonry, but also linked to apocryphal groups such as the Illuminati, a secret elite society that at different times sought to control global affairs.

The Eye of Providence is something of a magnet for conspiracy theorists because it seems to be hidden and in plain sight at the same time.

Not only does it appear in countless Masonic churches and buildings around the world, it is also on the US one dollar bill and on the reverse of the Great Seal of the USA.

It can be said that this is a strange and striking inclusion for a state symbol.

The disembodied eye strongly conveys the feeling of some kind of meddlesome authoritarian “big brother.”

And, in combination with the pyramid, it is an emblem that may suggest a ancient cult and esoteric.

So what are the origins of the Eye of Providence, why does it generate such fascination, and why is it frequently associated with the Freemasons and the Illuminati?


It was originally a Christian symbol, since the earliest known examples of its use can be found in Renaissance religious art to represent God.

An early example is the painting “Supper at Emmaus”, painted by the Renaissance Portormo in 1525, although the eye symbol was added later, perhaps in the 17th century.

Another key to the icon is found in a book of emblems called “Iconology”, first published in 1593.

In later editions, the Eye of Providence was included as a attribute of personification of “Divine Providence”, that is, the benevolence of God. As the name of the symbol and its early use suggest, it was invented as a sign of God’s compassionate vigilance over humanity.

“Dinner at Emmaus”, painted by the Renaissance Portormo in 1525. Uffizi Gallery

No one is sure who originally invented it, but its creator is considered to have started from a previously existing set of religious motifs.

The triangle was long a symbol of the Holy Trinity Christian of the Father, the Son and the Holy Spirit. In centuries prior to the Middle Ages God was sometimes 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.

The eye

However, what are the origins of that strange disembodied eye?

God had been represented in numerous cryptic ways before. For example, as with a hand emerging from a cloud, but not like an eye.

An eyeball depicted in isolation can be said to have its own inherent psychological impact, as a sign of authority and implying a sense of vigilance.

This effect is even found in nature, as some animals have developed “eye spots” on their skin to scare off predators.

The ocular eye on the pyramid is on the reverse of the US one dollar bill Getty Images

But there is a deeper history of the eye as a symbol to take into account, and in particular one that takes us back to the earliest known religions.

In the third millennium BC, the Sumerians, considered the first civilization in the world, made certain sculptures of their sanctities enlarging abnormally his eyes to accentuate the sense of vigilance.

They even held ceremonies in which artists “brought life” to their sculptures by opening their eyes.

But it was the ancient Egyptians who created the symbol of the detached eye.

For example, they painted a pair of eyes on a coffin so that the dead could see into the afterlife.

And one of the most famous Egyptian symbols is the Eye of horus.

It is a hybrid between a human eye and a hawk eye, and includes the dark markings on the eyebrows and cheeks of the bird.

According to ancient Egyptian mythology, the god king Horus (often depicted as a falcon or hawk-headed) had his eyes cut out in battle with his uncle Set.

With Thoth’s help, he then healed his eyes. The Eye of Horus was therefore a protective symbol, often used as an amulet, a piece small enough for a person to carry in their pocket for protection.

This and other Egyptian hieroglyphs of human eyes influenced European iconography during the Renaissance.

Sumerian sculpture
The Sumerians made certain sculptures of their sanctities by abnormally enlarging their eyes. Metropolitan Art Museum

At that time, thinkers and artists were fascinated with Egyptian writing.

The only problem was that they didn’t fully understand it, and translation attempts were usually riddled with inaccuracies.

One of the most famous samples appeared in a 1499 romance titled “Poliphilo’s Dream”, where the translation of an Egyptian one-eyed symbol was “God.”

Lost in translation

Back then there was a fundamental misunderstanding about the meaning of hieroglyphs.

Today we know that they are a written language of mainly phonetic signs, but in the 15th and 16th centuries it was believed that they had a much more mystical background.

Symbols in hieroglyphic writing – animals, birds, and abstract shapes – were thought to be deliberately mysterious, each creating meaning through inspiration from the viewer rather than being part of a linguistic system.

They were, it was believed, open puzzles that contained multiple meanings.

This belief had a great effect on European art.

When dictionaries of symbols appeared, such as the 1531 “Emblemata” by Andrea Alciati and later “Iconologia” by Cesare Ripa, the emphasis was on cryptic visual symbols, often highly complex, in which the viewer participates as a participant in the decipherment and construction of meanings from them.

Eye inside a triangle
Throughout history, different images of an eye were made within a triangle. Getty Images

As a result, an item like the Eye of Providence had a deliberately esoteric look, almost as if it were specifically constructed. to be reinterpreted, and maybe even misunderstood.

Modern times

All of this materialized at the end of the 18th century.

Three key examples from this period demonstrate the diversity present in the symbolism of the Eye of Providence.

In post-revolutionary France of 1789, in Jean-Jacques-François Le Barbier’s Declaration of the Rights of Man and the Citizen, you can see the Eye of Providence at the top.

In this case, it was used as a paternal symbol that watches over the new nation that proclaims equality.

In London, in 1794, Jeremy Bentham commissioned the architect Willey Reveley to design a logo for his “Panopticon“, A new model of prison designed to allow continuous surveillance of each cell.

The resulting design prominently featured the Eye of Providence, a symbol representing the unblinking gaze of judicial righteousness, surrounded by the words “Mercy”, “Justice” and “Surveillance“.

Declaration of the Rights of Man and of the Citizen
The image also appears in the Declaration of the Rights of Man and the Citizen. Getty Images

And going back to the Great Seal of the United States (1782), Thomas Jefferson, Benjamin Franklin and John Adams had proposed ideas for the design, but it was Charles Thomson, secretary of Congress, who devised the pyramid and the Eye of Providence, among others. Stamp Elements, in collaboration with a young lawyer and artist named William Barton.

The unfinished pyramid was meant to symbolize “strength and duration,” with 13 levels to represent the original 13 states of the United States.

The Eye of Providence, as in earlier examples from the same period, was a conventional symbol of God’s comprehensive supervision over this fledgling nation.

In none of the three cases was Freemasonry involved in the choice of the symbol.

And what about the Illuminati?

Known details of the early years of the original group, said to have been founded in Bavaria in 1776 and dissolved in 1787, are scarce.

Inconveniently, we also don’t know how important visual symbols were to that command.

It seems that the Illuminati were inspired by the ideas behind Freemasonry, which had sporadically used the Eye of Providence as Supreme Architect symbol (God), following the example of many other churches at that time.

However, the symbol was not widely used by Freemasons until at least the late 18th century, and not before Bentham, Le Barbier, and Thomson adopted it for their purposes.

The reverse of the Great Seal of the United States.
The reverse of the Great Seal of the United States. Getty Images

Unfortunately for conspiracy theorists, the Eye of Providence on the dollar bill tells us much more about the aesthetics of the late 18th century than on the authority of the secret elites.

In our time, Madonna, Jay-Z, and Kanye West have been accused of using Illuminati iconography, including the Eye of Providence.

But more than any link to the Illuminati, what each musical artist has in common is their affinity for the iconic and for provocation, both in imagery and melody.

Repeated use of the Eye of Providence, and we can apply this to Madonna and Jay-Z as well as Bentham, Le Barbier, Thomson, Barton, the Freemasons, Renaissance artists, or almost any other individual or group, is proof that not a symbol of a concerted conspiracy.

But it is a sign of his enduring strength as an icon.

*This article is an adaptation and you can see its original version in English here.

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