The all-seeing eye is a symbol that has existed for thousands of years throughout various cultures and religions. Much like the swastika, its meaning has taken on numerous interpretations since its creation, however, its meaning today has a much more negative connotation attached to it compared to its predecessors. In the modern era, the all-seeing eye is often associated with sinister secret societies like the Illuminati or the Freemasons. But worst of all, it has, in many ways, become a symbol of American hegemony in which it symbolizes both the U.S.’s massive surveillance network and its powerful economic status.
This is in stark contrast to its origins which mostly depicts the all-seeing eye as a symbol of divine benevolence. From the ancient period of India, Egypt, and the Middle East, all the way to the Renaissance period of Europe, the all-seeing eye has always represented the watchful eye of a higher being. More often than not, the watchful eye in this context usually was associated with protection or wisdom rather than some dark omnipresent being. With the current status of this symbol in disarray, now more than ever would be a good time to take a step back and truly allow ourselves to think about what version of the all-seeing eye we want to be our prevailing image of it.
Perhaps the oldest variation of the all-seeing eye can be traced back all the way back to ancient India in the form of the eye of Shiva. In the Rig Veda, one of the oldest known texts in any Indo-European language, there are all sort of Hindu deities referenced as some sort of divine eye such as an eye in heaven, an eye that never closes, and an eye that reveals all creation. But arguably the most well-known variation of the all-seeing eye from the Rig Veda is the eye of Shiva.
In Hinduism, Shiva is referred to as the “destroyer of evil and the transformer”, and is considered to be one of the principle deities among the Hindu trinity which includes the deities Brahma and Vishnu. Shiva is depicted as having three eyes in which it is said that when the third is opened, it destroys anything it sees. As malevolent as that sounds, in this context it refers to the destruction of evil and ignorance, thus transforming it into knowledge and higher consciousness.
Much like ancient India, ancient Egypt also had multiple variations of the all-seeing eye such as the Eye of Osiris, the Eye of Ra, and the Eye of Horus. Among these three, the Eye of Horus would be considered the most prevailing image of the all-seeing eye when it comes to ancient Egyptian mythology. Horus was considered to be the sky god and was depicted as having a falcons head in ancient Egyptian mythos. It was often said that Horus was the sky, with the sun considered as his right and the moon his left eye. The Eye of Horus itself was
considered symbolic of sacrifice, healing, restoration, and protection. Egyptian sailors would often put the Eye of Horus on their ships to ensure safe travel, and usually would be incorporated in some manner for a Pharaoh’s burial in order to protect them in the afterlife.
Unlike the other variations of the all-seeing eye previously mentioned, Hamsa, also referred to as Khamsa or Hamesh, has been adopted by several religions and cultures over time. Its origins can be traced back to both ancient Mesopotamia and ancient Cathage, it has been seen in artifacts as having a connection with Mesopotamian deities such as Ishtar and Inanna as well as Carthage’s chief deity Tanit. Because of its Middle Eastern origins, Hamsa is
used as a protective symbol by Muslims, Christians and Jews alike. Hamsa is referred to as the Hand of Fatima in Islam, the Hand of Mary in Christianity, and the Hand of Merriam in Judaism. It’s even used in the ancient Indian religion Jainism in which it’s referred to as ahimsa which symbolizes non-violence.
It was during the Renaissance period in Europe, however, that the all-seeing eye that most people recognize as the definitive image of it first appeared. In Christianity during this period, it was also referred to as the Eye of Providence and the Eye of God, and was depicted as an eye inside a triangle surrounded by rays of light. The triangle represented the holy trinity while the symbol as a whole symbolized God’s omnipresence. The all-seeing eye was often depicted in Christian Renaissance paintings, and was subsequently incorporated in several European cathedrals afterwards. A few centuries later, it became the symbol for both the Bavarian Illuminati and the Freemasons.
Despite all the rich history and cultural significance behind the origins of the all-seeing eye, most of it has seemed to falter in the wake of the U.S.’s rise to its status as the lone superpower in the world. Today, the all-seeing eye is used as the reverse side of the Great Seal of the United States, which is also depicted on the back of the dollar bill. In many ways, it has become a symbol of both U.S. policy as well as its overbearing economic might. In contrast to the eye of Shiva, which represents knowledge as well as the destruction of evil and ignorance, the all-seeing eye now seems to represent the complete opposite. It’s become associated with the immeasurable greed of both Wall Street and Corporate America, as well as the U.S.’s xenophobic polices.
The all-seeing eye is also used as the symbol for the Defense Advanced Research Project Agency’s (DARPA) Information Awareness Office. This very same agency would go on to introduce some of the most integral aspects of what would later become the U.S.’s infamous mass surveillance network. Thanks in large part to this agency, the all-seeing eye now seems to symbolize a malevolent force waiting to punish all those who step out of line of its rigid sense of right and wrong, instead of a benevolent being watching over all creation to protect it from harm’s way.
Corporate America and its association with the all-seeing-eye has become undeniable with variations of it being used as logos for several major companies like AOL, CBS, and Time Warner Cable. It’s difficult to ignore the sinister overtones of its connection with these institutions, especially when it comes to Time Warner Cable. When you consider the fact that this massive media conglomerate has been lobbying for the government to officially destroy net neutrality, it really begins to paint a not so pretty picture. With its symbolism firmly embedded in the government, the business sector, and the media, the all-seeing eye, in a contemporary sense, seems to represent a new “unholy trinity” based around control, greed, and surveillance.
With so much negativity surrounding this symbol, it’s essential, now more than ever, to choose what we wish for it to represent. Do we choose to sit idly by and allow it to be twisted into the symbol of the corrupt powers at be? Or do we choose to take action against these very same forces, and allow the virtues of benevolence, knowledge, and higher consciousness that the all-seeing eye has represented for thousands of years to be its defining portrayal?