The Symbolism of Eyes: A Short History
May 20, 2014 • 125 VIEWS • All articles

The Symbolism of Eyes: A Short History

Eyes are the window to the soul, so the saying goes, but they also provide insight on human history; for centuries, the symbolism of eyes has appeared in churches, temples, and even on money. Here are just a few examples.

The Eye of Providence

Also known as the All-Seeing Eye of God, this symbol gained prominence with the rise of Christianity, which used it as a representation of God’s eye watching over the deeds of humanity. In Medieval Europe, the eye symbol was often surrounded by a triangle that represented the holy Trinity (Father, Son, and Holy Spirit). Later depictions also included clouds or sunbursts. Perhaps the most famous example of this eye in popular culture is on the Great Seal of the United States, which is also featured on the one dollar bill. Here, the eye is shown atop an unfinished pyramid with 13 steps and the Latin words “Annuit Coeptis,” which translated means “he (God) approves of our undertakings.” The 13 steps represent the 13 original American states, and the unfinished pyramid represents the potential growth of the country.

This eye symbolism has also been associated with the Freemasons. For Freemasons, the Eye was a reminder that God was always watching their thoughts and deeds. Rumours—and the movie National Treasure—postulate that the Freemasons influenced the creation of the Great Seal; Benjamin Franklin was a Freemason, for example. The Eye, however, was included as part of the Seal in 1782, while the Freemasons didn’t start using their version until 1797.


The Eye of Horus

Predating the All-Seeing Eye is the Eye of Horus, popular in Egyptian mythology. This symbolism of eyes represents good health, protection, and royal power, and is sometimes known as the “Eye of Ra,” after the Egyptian sun-god. The symbol itself is made to represent the right eye of a falcon, closely associated to the sky-god Horus. In addition to an eye and eyebrow, the symbol also contains a “teardrop” marking under the lower eyelid, similar to the markings found on peregrine falcons.


The Pine Cone

While it doens’t look like an “eye” in the traditional sense, the common pine cone is also associated with eye symbolism. The human pineal gland is shaped like and named after a pine cone, and it is an essential component in how we perceive light. Many believe this gland is the body’s Third Eye, responsible for spiritual enlightenment and sometimes referred to as the “seat of the soul.” Many religious and cultural artifacts depict heroes holding staves topped by pine cones or wearing crowns made to resemble pine cones.

Why this fascination with eyes throughout history? Connection. Eyes are critical in the connections between human beings and for many of religious faith, with gods or goddesses. This is why historical eye depictions almost always show eyes uncovered, unencumbered by lenses or other accessories. It’s also part of the reason many people seek out eye correction alternatives such as laser vision correction. It’s now possible to break the dependence on glasses or contacts; cutting-edge excimer lasers and procedures such as Custom Wavefront LASIK can correct a host of visual issues and let you see the world an entirely new way, with no pain and a minimal amount of recovery.

The symbolism of eyes tells the tale: As a species, we’re fascinated by these tiny windows to the soul. Expert laser correction can help give the best view possible, inside and out.


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