The Significance of the All Seeing Eye
by Major A. Cathcart Bruce
What is the Significance of The "All Seeing Eye"?
Are we not taught that every character, emblem or symbol in Freemasonry has a peculiar meaning? There is need for a careful explanation of them all. Especially is this so, I think, in the case of the " All Seeing Eye," since it is seldom referred to directly but is often implied.
Nature seems to have built the physical eye as a light perceiver in response to a demand. Light rays impinging upon the animal kingdom in its earliest stages of evolution, have produced an organ of perception.
The late Professor Huxley has said somewhere that the perception or recognition of light, in some manner apparently called forth the eye, and light alone maintains it. Where there is no light there can be no eye: where animals have withdrawn and dwelt in the dark, their eyes have become degenerate and atrophied.
Thus at the start of our enquiry let us realise the close connection of an eye with light, in both the physical and (as I hope to show) the metaphysical aspects.
The portrayal of what is known as the "All Seeing Eye" is one which is familiar to all Freemasons, for it occurs frequently and in many places. It often figures, for instance, on Lodge Summons Papers: sometimes it is found depicted centrally on the ceilings of our Temples: it is made use of in Masonic jewellery: and most notably it appears as an irradiated eye within a triangle enclosed by compasses on the jewel pendant from the collar-chain worn by the Grand Master himself. It figures too in the Royal Arch. Obviously therefore it is of no little importance in the Masonic scheme of things, and it were well if we considered the matter together and attempted to find out, whence it arose and also if possible, something of its inner meaning.
An "Eye", or "Eyes", appear to have been made much of in the Mystery Systems of antiquity and also in both classical and non-classical mythologies, etc. Our ancient Egyptian brethren had their "Eye of Horus" - there was the fearsome eye of Polyphemus, one of the Cyclops - in India the Hindu reverences the eye of Shiva - and in the Kabalistic mysteries of Israel, the eye was held in great awe, where it was taught that were that divine eye (known sometimes as Kether), to close but for an instant, all created things would cease to be. This thought is implied in the V.S.L., where we read in Psalm 121 - "Behold He that keepeth Israel shall neither slumber nor sleep." Again in the legends of ancient Scandinavia, the great god Odin, in the beginning of time, is said to have pledged an eye for a draught from the well of wisdom, wherein all the future was mirrored, and beside which grew the sacred "Yggdrasil, or Tree of Life." * And lastly do not let us forget the Eye Single" of the Christian gospels.
I have mentioned all these matters (and there are other instances known) to show you how the eye has always been held in great veneration from the very earliest of times, and under many races.
It is also known that the word "Eye", or "Eyes" was an ancient expression used in the Mysteries, meaning mighty and divine Intelligencies and as such these represented the manifold powers and attributes of God. Think in this connection for a moment of the vision of St. John and the four Beasts - "and in the midst of the throne and round about the throne were four Beasts full of eyes before and behind . . . and they were full of eyes within: and they rest not day and night saying Holy, Holy, Holy, Lord God Almighty, which was, and is, and is to come." + Similar is Ezekiel's vision of the Cherubim and the Wheels.
The four Beasts, perhaps you may have already perceived, have a direct but veiled connection with the four hermetic elements and the four hierarchies of Angels, of which I have already spoken: whilst the
* c.f. :-The Acacia is our Masonic legend: the Bodhi tree under which the Buddha sat: the Sycamore tree which grew round the tomb of Osiris: and the Tree of Life of the V.S.L., etc.
+ Revelation iv., vv. 6-8.
wheels, ever moving onward, never turning back or going aside, can be said to represent the power of progressive energy or life, an unswerving course on a straight path. There is a further mystical meaning too in the vision of Ezekiel, for the prophet, I am led to understand, uses the word "Gel", which in Hebrew means either revolutions or revelations! To these mighty-eyed wheels or Divine Beings, the hidden mysteries of God are made clear.
From all I have said so far you should not find it strange that reference to an "Eye" is made in Freemasonry, which fraternity may we not justly consider as a lesser mystery system of the present epoch, containing all the essentials of the great teachings of its forbears, though now but a pale shadow of the past grandeur of its ancestry?
Later on I hope briefly to draw your attention to the philosophical and Masonic connotations of our "All Seeing Eye", but what I want to do now is to explore at some length one line at least of its development and I am going back to ancient Egypt to do so.
In one of the past Transactions of the Masonic Study Society of London, is recorded some remarks put forward in the course of a discussion, by the late Wor. Bro. Cleland, on what is known as the "Eye of Horus" and I feel if we study the Egyptian cosmological aspect of our problem we may learn much. I am not trying to say in any way that the "Eye of Horus" is the one and only origin of our "All Seeing Eye": I do not think anyone could say that with certainty, but the Egyptians had a civilisation amongst the oldest and the most advanced known to history, and so what they may have to teach us in the matter has a distinct bearing on our problem, though by no means the only answer. I am simply taking one line of thought and exploring it. as could very well to be done with others.
Let us therefore discover if we can, why the "Eye of Horus" or "Utchat" as the Egyptians called it, was held so sacred and further expand W. Bro. Cleland's past remarks.
Before I do this I would ask you to bear with me whilst I say a word or two about Horus himself.
Horus was one of the many forms of the Sun God Ra, and the word "Horus" or "Heru" means "He who is above". The Egyptian symbolic theology and theosophy was highly involved but Horus wherever he appeared as a youth (the Greek Harpocrates), represented the earliest rays of the rising sun - the dawn in the East in fact - and was the chief form of Ra when embattled against the powers of darkness and evil, represented by his brother Set. In this great conflict, the Egyptians tell us, that certain priests or followers of Horus assisted him and that they were armed with weapons of metal and had a collective name meaning "workers in metal". At Edfu, one of the principal centres of the Horus cult, the god was worshipped as "Lord of the Forge City" and in the temple there was a sanctuary called "The Foundry", where this blacksmith caste of priests attended on the god, who was known as "Horus-Behutet". I mention this since I think those of us who are Master Masons may find this point productive of much thought, as here undoubtedly Horus represented the first artificer in metals. The name "Horus-Behutet " is probably the equivalent of that used by us, which is its Hebrew alternative probably substituted later.
Other nations all had their blacksmith gods too, such as Hephaistos of the Greeks - Vulcan of the Romans and Thor of the Scandinavians. Wieland Smith of Norse and German legend, known to us as Wayland Smith, comes into the picture too.
Collectively this order of priests were known as "Companions of Horus" and they were said to be born symbolically from out the womb of Mother Isis, who, in the inner teachings of the Egyptians, seems to have stood for the Mystery Schools themselves. We too are just as much the figurative sons of the widowed Isis and could be correctly called "Sons of Horus."
Let us return to our main theme, however.
The "Utchat" or "Eye of Horus" was used by the Egyptians in many ways. Most commonly it is found painted on shrines and coffins, such as for instance on that of the famous Amenopliis II., the idea being that on whatsoever it appeared was automatically placed under the protection of the Sun God. Quite often we find two eyes, a right and a left: these are said by Egyptologists (amongst whom I would specially mention the late Sir Ernest Wallis Budge, one time keeper of the Egyptian and Assyrian antiquities in the British Museum), to represent one of two things - either the Sun and the Moon or alternatively, the Sun considered in the two main diurnal phases of its journey across the sky; from dawn to noon, and from noon to sunset. There is an ancient Egyptian Text which itself states that one of these two eyes was black and the other white. We shall return to this later for I think it is quite an important and belpful pointer in our search. I have discovered a further instance from quite another source, that of the Aztecs of ancient Mexico and indeed of the Toltecs before them, who apparently made use of a ritual mask of Quetzacoatl, the Sun God, showing one eye black and one white.
But the "Utchat" perhaps found its greatest use as an amulet, since it was supposed to give not only protection to its wearer, be he dead or alive, but was reputed to impart vigour and strength similar to that which the earth receives from the sun. The ancient texts further tell us that to obtain full benefit from such an amulet it should be consecrated at the time of the summer solstice.
I think I have said sufficient to show you that this sacred eye was intimately connected with the sun, and in fact, a part of a solar cult. In one of the many and very beautiful hymns to Ra which are available to us, is to be found these words - "Thou that openest the two eyes and the earth is full of light," which apart from its more obvious meaning should be interpreted mystically, as no doubt it was intended it should.
It is conceivably possible, even probable that the "Utchat" had other important uses than those I have mentioned. It may have been used as an actual jewel of some Egyptian degree since there appears an idea that it was worn ceremonially both by priests and priestesses. Whether this was so or not we shall perhaps never know for certain, and I am not prepared to argue about it.
Now let us look into another and deeper aspect of the "Utchat" as it was probably understood by the Initiate-Priests in those far off days. At one of the important periods in Egyptian history, the great Trinity of the gods consisted of Osiris-Isis-Horus.
There are many ancient tales told about these three. Horus was the child of course arising from the mystical marriage of the former two. Now I have mentioned elsewhere that there existed (and exists) an occult philosophy of numbers, a sort of divine geometry, known as a sacred Gematria, a matter much too intricate to enter into here for it would require a paper all to itself to do so. This philosophy of numbers has been attributed by some to Pythagoras, but in point of fact it antedates that great Initiate by a considerable period of time. This hidden application of numbers played a very conspicuous part in the mystery systems of Israel, and also elsewhere in the ancient world and is capable of giving us an interesting key or clue to many matters in a most surprising way, not excluding our Freemasonry of today.
Suffice it to say that the number 3 was given to Osiris - the number 4 to Isis - and the number 5 to Horus. Let us try and see why 3, 4 and 5 were the numbers allotted to the Osiris, Isis and Horus Trinity.
(i) One - unity, was always regarded as fundamentally unmanifest, because when divided into any other number it left them entirely unchanged.
(ii) Two - duality, is negative and static; it gets nowhere until it produces a third, by interaction.
(iii) Three - is considered, therefore, the first effective number, hence its being attributed to Osiris, or any other similar godhead.
(The Ancients usually considered all odd numbers as male, and all even numbers as female, for reasons it is impossible to launch forth into here)
(iv) Four - is the first so-called effective female number and so was allotted to Isis, or her equivalent.
(v) Five - is the product of three and four when holding a right angle between them, and was thus given to Horus, the offspring of Osiris and Isis, in one aspect of Egyptian mythology.
As an example of the use made of such numbers we can take Osiris and Isis by themselves, when their mystical marriage together gives us 7, always regarded, you all know, as a most perfect and sacred number. It is the mathematical symbol if you like for "Father - Mother God". But to return to our Trinity. If to the 3 of Osiris and the 4 of Isis, we join the 5 of Horus, we can produce from these three diagrammatically, a triangle whose sides measure 3 - 4 and 5 units respectively. This was of immense importance to the great nation of pyramid builders, as it is to all of us who have since followed after, for such a triangle is a perfect right-angled triangle and contains that great operative secret of laying out lines at ninety degrees to one another. This peculiar triangle came in a later period to be known as the golden triangle of Pythagoras, and remember Pythagoras was well versed in the Egyptian Mysteries. Today we make use of this ancient and valuable piece of knowledge in architecture and so on; and even in such an ordinary matter as that of laying out a tennis or badminton court correctly. The use of this particular triangle is the most ancient method known for making a right angle at any given point, without the possibility of error.
It seems almost quite certain that the builders of the great Pyramid which the Egyptians themselves called "Khut" (Light), were actually the first to discover this secret many thousands of years ago. The whole matter has been dealt with most thoroughly, and fully explained mathematically, by Wor.Bro. Major A. Gorham, in a paper which he read in July, 1933, before the Masonic Study Society of London in which he also demonstrated that the 3 - 4 - 5 operative secret was without doubt incorporated in the construction of the King's Chamber in that Great Pyramid of Light: not directly, it is true, but in such a way as to carefully conceal it in a most ingenious and amazing manner.
It would appear that our ancient Egyptian brethren had no decimal system and that they extracted square roots with great difficulty, thus this secret of theirs had the advantage of forming a figure compounded of sides consisting of quite simple whole numbers.
You may well by now be thinking, what has all this to do with the Sacred Eye? I will now attempt to show you. Suppose we take the 3 - 4 - 5 triangle, bearing in mind carefully both its operative and speculative meanings: and suppose we dedicate it to Horus as the Sun God, by placing within it the hieroglyph for the sun, which incidentally is well known to Masons. Now if we further elaborate it by adding eyelashes on the hypotenuse to the number of 5 (the number of Horus) and further add also the distinctive mark of the scalplock of the youthful Horus we are beginning to build up something very interesting.
Before proceeding may I just recall to your minds the inner significance of this scalp-lock? It was a coil or lock of hair hanging down one side of the face and was a method used by the Egyptians to designate a child or youth. Horus the younger is generally so portrayed both in painting and sculpture. We should know from our former studies that a child or a youth, in what we may term the language of the mysteries (which indeed is largely used in the V.S.L. itself), always signified an initiated or perfected, or god-like person. You may perhaps remember the words of the Christian Master bearing on this truth - "whosoever shall not receive the Kingdom of God as a little child, he shall not enter therein." * Can we not already begin to see something of the immensity of the symbolism we are building up?
* Mark x, v. 15.
Now let us place over our sketch the hieroglyph for the vault of heaven as it were an eyebrow, implying that everything beneath it is brought into manifestation. Let us also join up the end points of the various lines, and what do we get? We get a typical, though diagrammatic representation, of the "Utchat" which you can compare with a drawing made of a blue faience amulet of about 2500 B.C.
I venture to suggest that the 3 - 4 - 5 secrets are symbolised therein.
I think it is extremely likely that where two eyes are depicted one was regarded as masculine and one as feminine, especially if we bear in mind that the ancient texts themselves tell us that they refer to the Sun and Moon, which are always considered as such. Further sometimes one eye was black and one white. Remember Quetzacoatl. Is there not a tradition that the great twin pillars before the porchway or entrance to King Solomon's Temple were also one white and one black: and are they not often regarded as representing masculine and feminine cosmic forces respectively?
I maintain, therefore, that as with the pillars so with the twin eyes - both stand for the same thing - the eternal duality in the Cosmos, as does our tessellated pavement which we have already studied. I can't help feeling there is some connecting thought between eyes and pillars if we call to mind that Horus is the Sun God and that the mystical Solomon (Sol-Om-On) is also a Sun-man, as his very name implies.
Thus our twin eyes (as with the pillars) stress for us the perfection to be found in the blending of two opposite forces; the perfection and the harmony of the spiritual androgyne.
The "Utchat" is surely a very wonderful, though involved, piece of imagery, containing not only a hint of a great operative secret but also matters of deep inner and spiritual significance.
Before I conclude I would like to add a few words concerning the Master's Jewel, for again the lines of thought which we have just been investigating, are linked with it.
This Jewel is termed a square, that is its two arms are at ninety degrees one with the other. We find this Jewel first mentioned as such in the Minutes of Grand Lodge of 1724, though it is not referred to in our actual Constitutions until about the year 1815. The Jewel as we find it today has both its Arms of equal length but this was by no means the case originally.
The actual construction of the Jewel would appear to have been left in the hands of Masonic Jewellers about the middle of the nineteenth century, who were responsible for its present form. If, however, one studies ancient Tracing Boards, and floor-cloths, such as are to be found illustrated in the Transactions of the Ars Quattuor Coronati Lodge; and if one also examines actual examples to be found in Masonic Museums and pictured elsewhere, we shall discover that originally this square had two arms of unequal length!
Well of course the simple, usual, and obvious answer is that if the arms were not equal, the Jewel would not hang straight. But why should it? for it was never designed just to be symmetrical but in order to veil secrets of vast antiquity.
What then should be the proper length in units of its two arms? They should, and can be found to have been, of 3 and 4 units each. This being so then the distance between the two open points must be 5. We have, therefore, in fact a concealed reference to the 3 - 4 - 5 triangle, symbol of godhead. With regard to the jewels of the Worshipful Master and the Immediate Past Master - the 3 - 4 - 5 triangle is inherent in both. The Master's square if accuratly and correctly made (which nowadays it scarcely ever is), contains this 3 - 4 - 5 triangle in veiled form. I am not at liberty to discuss this further other than with Installed Masters, but I think, however, I may add that the Master's Jewel was (and should be) what is known as a "gallows square", and derives in the first place from Operative Lodge symbolism. Each of the three principal Masters carried such a gallows square of 3 and 4 units; the fourth lay on the V.S.L. When all four were brought together, many different and highly significant figures could be formed, including the true "Swastika", a very ancient symbol indeed. Each of these three principal Masters carried also a rod of three different lengths, i.e., of 3 - 4 and 5 units respectively. These when laid on the ground gave the solution of that great and ancient operative secret, that of laying out lines at right angles to one another.
It is true to say that the I.P.M.'s jewel contains this fundamental 3 - 4 - 5 triangle more openly than does the Master's jewel, as is only natural. The I.P.M. represents the perfection of Mastership for it is his duty to be the watchful and All Seeing Eye of his Lodge. He represents that spiritual vision within the Temple, which vivifies and keeps within bounds, the faculty of intuition represented by the Worshipful Master.
It is, therefore, both meet and right that his (the I.P.M.'s) jewel should be the "All Seeing Eye" albeit represented and concealed under the symbolism of the 3 - 4 - 5 triangle, except in the case of the jewel worn by the Most Worshipful the Grand Master himself, when the irradiated Eye appears, as I have already stated in my text.
Summing up, we can say, therefore, that the 3 - 4 - 5 triangle is triangle shown openly in the Master's jewel or square, it is only implied there; but the symbolism becomes much clearer in the case of the I.P.M.'s jewel for those qualified to comprehend something of its immense meaning and profundity.
It is quite possible to quote various authorities in support of what I have said in my Paper, but as the late Worshipful Brother Cleland has pointed out, since the 3 - 4 - 5 triangle is so fundamental in Freemasonry, occurring constantly as it does in many veiled ways, I do not consider it requires any such "bolstering up".
May I just point out (I have no time to do more) that the 3 - 4 - 5 proportion has applications of very wide significance for it is to be found (so we are told by those entitled to say so) in the common chord of music: and further it is probable, if not a fact, that there is also an analogy with the number of vibrations per second in the primary colours of the solar spectrum. It has a Cosmic meaning for us, you see. All this could be elaborated much further, showing, for instance, the connection of the Master's Jewel with the unequal armed squares of our old Operative Brethren's seventh degree and with the Egyptian square which was regarded as an insturnent of immense power and used as the hieroglyph for God. In our Freemasonry this teaching would seem to be perpetuated. What a vast amount is implied when we say we are on, or we act on, the Square!
What, however, I should like you to think about is the connection in symbolism of the Master's Jewel with the sacred "Eye", for both are expressions of the same basic idea and both are connected with Mastership.
Thus we have traced together in some detail many things which are shown forth by a study of just one particular "Eye", that of Horus, But, as with all those other Eyes which I mentioned at the commencement of my answer to this question, there remains another and even more profound mystery yet, which in a Paper such as this I do not feel inclined to speak. I would say, however, that all these sacred "Eyes" not excluding their purposely concealed allusion to a certain atrophied organ, or should I say embryo organ, in the human head said to be capable, in certain circumstances, of acting as a link between the objectiveand subjective states, between the visible and invisible worlds. If any of you, in order to form your own opinions, should wish to enquire further I cannot do better than refer you to a book in our Library, "Man, the Grand Symbol of the Universe", by Manly Hall.
And now I come to the conclusion of the matter, and as foreshadowed earlier I will close with some remarks regarding the mystical meaning of the "Eye". I am persuaded that, together with our irradiated Masonic "Eye", both of the Craft and of the Royal Arch, the Eye refers to the development within ourselves of that true inner light and vision which is capable of irradiating and flooding our whole being. Truly is the eye the window of the soul. Especially with reference to the Royal Arch, is the "Eye" a symbol of prophecy - a revealer of the Divine Mind. It also stands, in general terms, for the possibility of the extension of our normal consciousness, a power surely befitting a Master, as an example of a divinized man, and a fortiori belonging to the Grand Master himself: a most proper and seemly symbol to be worn by him and emblematic of his supreme office and powers. Lastly, we should regard the "Eye" masonically as a signature of God Himself, the Light of the World. It represents for us the Divine "Over-seer" of all our work and labour, and above all points to the Omniscience of T.G.A.O.T.U., in His supernal wisdom, concealed but present everywhere in all things.
Whenever, therefore, we see a representation of the "Eye", we should think of that Light which lighteth every man who cometh into the world, and our very hearts echo the prayer of the Royal Solomon himself - "that Thine Eyes be open upon this house day and night". *
"The light of the body is the eye: therefore, when thine eye is single, thy whole body also is full of light; but when thine eye is evil thy body also is full of darkness. Take heed, therefore, that the light which is in thee be not darkness."+
* II. Chronicles vi, v. 20.
+ Luke xi, vv. 34, 35.
Sourced from The Dormer Masonic Study Circle