The Freemason All Seeing Eye & The Egyptian Eye of Horus: Seeing the Light
Kerry A. Shirts, 32°
Eagle Rock Lodge #19
Idaho Falls, Idaho
May 16, 2010
The “All-Seeing Eye” in Freemasonry has the intention, the
guided meaning for us that “all the ways of man are before the eyes of the Lord,
and he pondereth all his goings; that the eyes of the Lord are in every place
beholding the evil and the good, and especially upon them that fear him and
hope in his mercy.” Sir Lionel Brett claimed that “the concept of an
all-seeing deity goes back at least to Euripides, 5th century B.C..
The phrase was proverbial.” And, of course, as a symbol, not to mention the
actual reality, the eye is the most important sense we possess, since it is
through the eye we receive light, the most significant goal of Freemasonry. “In
the symbolism of Freemasonry, the ‘all-seeing eye’ in the triangle and
surrounded by sunbeams appears in many lodges over the master’s chair, a
reminder of the wisdom of the Creator, the “Great Master Builder of All
Worlds,” penetrates all secrets; the eye is in some contexts also called the
‘eye of providence.’” These ideas resonate in the ancient Egyptian concept
of the Wedjat eye, also called “The Eye of Horus.”
The “All-Seeing Eye” in Freemasonry has the intention, the guided meaning for us that “all the ways of man are before the eyes of the Lord, and he pondereth all his goings; that the eyes of the Lord are in every place beholding the evil and the good, and especially upon them that fear him and hope in his mercy.” Sir Lionel Brett claimed that “the concept of an all-seeing deity goes back at least to Euripides, 5th century B.C.. The phrase was proverbial.” And, of course, as a symbol, not to mention the actual reality, the eye is the most important sense we possess, since it is through the eye we receive light, the most significant goal of Freemasonry. “In the symbolism of Freemasonry, the ‘all-seeing eye’ in the triangle and surrounded by sunbeams appears in many lodges over the master’s chair, a reminder of the wisdom of the Creator, the “Great Master Builder of All Worlds,” penetrates all secrets; the eye is in some contexts also called the ‘eye of providence.’” These ideas resonate in the ancient Egyptian concept of the Wedjat eye, also called “The Eye of Horus.”
Rather than worrying about tracing the origin of the concept
or the actual time the phrase was first used, or when it was adopted into
Freemasonry, I will share some themes from the ancient Egyptian concept of the
“Eye of Horus,” and it’s meanings, themes, and contents in the ancient Egyptian
Rather than worrying about tracing the origin of the concept or the actual time the phrase was first used, or when it was adopted into Freemasonry, I will share some themes from the ancient Egyptian concept of the “Eye of Horus,” and it’s meanings, themes, and contents in the ancient Egyptian rites.
This comparison of religious ideas and symbols, and what they mean help
us learn more about our own usages of the symbolisms at our disposal in
Freemasonry. They give us a different view, a contrasting perspective, and an
intellectually stimulating inclusive comprehension of not only ancient symbols
and their meanings and use, but of our own.
This comparison of religious ideas and symbols, and what they mean help us learn more about our own usages of the symbolisms at our disposal in Freemasonry. They give us a different view, a contrasting perspective, and an intellectually stimulating inclusive comprehension of not only ancient symbols and their meanings and use, but of our own.
“The Eye of Horus was multivalent. It represented life; it also represented order. It was the eye snatched away by Seth, tore apart in the battle, restored to wholeness by Thoth, and returned to Horus (who then offered it to Osiris); it was reestablished order, sound and perfect again.” Hans Bonnet indicated that it represented a symbol of triumph over any attack, which meant the power of the Eye, the light of God, was a healer, a sign of salvation (heilszeichen). Bonnet also describes how it repels evil “als Amulett der Befriedung es bricht auch die Macht des bosen Blickes,” – “as a charm of pacification, it breaks the power of the evil look.” Eberhard Otto “maintains that it is a symbol of ‘physical health,’ and ‘the beautiful connection between God and man through light.’” There it is again, the theme of light, as well as power, order, including healing, salvation, health, etc., everything good in other words. Freemasonry is congenial with all of these concepts.
The “All-Seeing Eye of Justice” was associated with Ma’at, the Egyptian concept of order, regulation, law, etc. The eye imposes order and reverence on the world. One of its functions is combining with the oil of healing which revives a smitten hero (usually the king). As a food substance, it is “the power of the bread which fills, revives, and strengthens the king.” This reminds us of the wages of a Freemason, of the corn, oil, and wine and their functions, all done under the “All-Seeing Eye.” It is really instructive to grasp that it was the “corn measure” used in Egypt for their mathematical fractions, that represented the various parts of the Wedjat Eye, which when all added together, give the eye its wholeness, health, and makes it the perfect eye, “the sound eye.” This is the “filling,” and “completing” the eye. In Freemasonry, corn represents “all the nutritious fruits of the earth; the emblem of wine, implying all that nature affords to gladden the heart, and the emblem of oil… represents nature’s bounties, the wages of practical labor.”
We even learn “it was for the Egyptians the creative eye that gives form and hence existence to things: ‘I am Shu, the image of Re, seated in the interior of the Eye of his Father. The eye creates and nourishes… to inspire love in the soul. In the Memphite theology… the tongue (word) and the heart (mind) of the God Ptah are the source of creation. But the Eye itself has creative power. ‘My Eye meditated upon the divine tear which I shed on myself, and men and women came into being from it.’”
The theme of the eye tied with the sun cycle is also interesting to Freemasonry from a purely informative point of view. The Egyptian shen ring was a symbol of the solar cycle (Sonnenzyklus), and Horus, as the Sungod, enters the soil of the earth in the west at sunset, in order to renew his Eye, (sein Auge zu erneuern) and is regenerated with new life as he rises as the sun in the east. Any Freemason will have in mind the lodge as aligned from the east to the west, and the movement and meaning of the sun through the day from sunrise, to the meridian point of the day, to sunset in the west, and who symbolizes the three stations of the sun in the lodge, all underneath the “All-Seeing Eye” as Lodge business is conducted. W. Kirk MacNulty showed the idea of the direction in Freemasonry signifying that “they traveled East in search of instruction, and West to propagate the knowledge they had gained.” The real dynamism however is realized when the “journey from west to east is represented, symbolically, by the progress through the Masonic degrees; and it is, in fact, the ascent up Jacob’s Ladder…” 
“The all-seeing eye” also represents the sun in the Scottish Rite, since it is, from our earthly perspective, the sun which gives the light and life here on earth. Without it, life is simply impossible on our oblate spheroid.
In his Doctoral Dissertation, T. G. Allen also demonstrated how the Eye of Horus represented the sun. It connects with the deceased king’s own person identified with Horus, and further “became identified likewise with the magic Horus-eye.” The eye is labeled as “large,” “great of honor,” “powerful,” “sound,” “sweet,” “flourishing,” etc. Everything good, true, beautiful, and noble is associated with the Egyptian eye, heal, strength, and life is the overall theme. It is an offering to the King associated with oil, wine, fruit, meat, barley, incense, food, and nourishment. Perhaps because the eye represented the sun, we understand the description “The gods of East and West are satisfied with the great thing which came to pass in the embrace of the offspring of the god (msw.t.ntr). The symbolism and myth of the sun as it encircles the earth, and how we imitate its journey in the lodge is important. We incorporate ourselves into the cosmological dramatic myth. “A myth always contains a religious truth…from the waters of chaos the primeval hill arose. The sungod ascended the hill, repressed the forces of chaos and initiated world order called Ma’at and in this way the first king assumed the government of the world.” It is a government of order which is established, imitating the kingdom of the sun here on earth, hence the ancient king’s circumambulations around the altars, and even their own cities, imitating the sun.
The Egyptian “shen” ring as a circle representing the sun and its obit, “guarantees the eternal life [ewige Leben] of the people as a symbol of eternity [symbole der Ewigkeit].” This order from chaos, this ruling in love, order, and justice (Ma’at), is precisely the basis of the governance of our Masonic lodges. Hence the Worshipful Masters is in the East, while the Junior Warden is in the South, and Senior Warden is in the West, following the daily path of the sun. In fact, the Egyptologist Westendorf added that when the King possessed the name “S3HEW-RE,” this name surrounded the supports of heaven, the signs for heaven, and the underworld, as well as the borders of the world, which were all inscribed on the ring the King wore. The shen ring was the symbol for “all that the sun orbits” (was die Sonne umkreist). The ring itself with the name on it, simultaneously represent the king as the go-between (Mittler) of heaven and earth, and protects him by virture of its borders.
As in Freemasonry, whereas we identify with Hiram Abiff in our ceremonies, with the all-seeing eyes above us, the kings of Egypt identified with Horus, once they received the all-seeing eye of Horus. The theme is ascending, in major stages, which ties in with a resurrection, and life in the Hereafter, conjoined with the eternal Lunar and Solar cosmological Cycles. This is one reason why the Horus eye can have multiple meanings, in some contexts, representing the sun, in other contexts, representing the moon, and in many instances, representing both. Hence the reason the Egyptians connected the Horus eye with the snake, the djet Uraeus serpent found on the Pharaohs crowns, since it was also a representation of eternity. This cyclical ascension by stages were performed in ceremonies, mystery plays (Mysterienspiele) by masked actors, re-enacting the nature myth of the difficulties of life and how to overcome them. This is why Osiris was identified with Horus, who upon ingesting and digesting the eye, was able, like the sun, to be reborn again on the horizon at the new day. When they reach the end of their destination, they embrace (umarmung) each other because they are the symbolic representation of the overcoming and uniting of all opposites, day and night, light and darkness, yesterday and today, death and life. It is all the opposites which the sungod embraces through the eternal life of circumambulation in the eternities, living orderly, justly, and eternally in the heavens. The all-seeing eye, which is the representation of the sun, which is imitated here on earth with its revolutions, and eternal orbit, is a very good meditation for Freemasons.
The philosophy of the symbolism is that of granting one its properties so one can behold or see the light. At Heliopolis, the sun city itself, the eye was filled, which imitated the moon in its cycle of waxing and waning, dying and being reborn, exactly as the sun was seen doing from forever and forever. It was Thoth [Mercury, Enoch, and Hermes Trismegistus] who filled the eye, which symbolized a cyclic completion of both cosmos and man. This was done on the 6th day, once again, showing that each part of the eye corresponded to a day of the week, i.e., a cosmic cycle which man is a part of and certainly included in the life and time cycles. Thus, time as well as eternity is symbolized by the eye, as it relates to (symbolizes) not only temporal cycles, but heavenly cycles also bringing all things (parts) together both in heaven and on earth, dead and alive, into one vast unity of reality. That reality is one of eternal life as Osiris is said to fly to heaven being reborn like the Phoenix, (er fliegt empor als Phoenix und nimmt am Himmel Platz), which, we are told, goes back to an astronomical observation (bestimmte astronomische Beobachtung zurueck).
The eye is for all, as it is presented as a gift for being able to “see” (Dir hat Horus sein Auge gegeben, dass du damit siehst.) In the Theban Recension of the Egyptian Book of the Dead, chapter 80, we read “I have rescued the Eye from its nonexistence before the festival of the fifteenth day had come…I have come to lighten the darkness, and it is bright. I have lightened the darkness…” In the Coffin Texts, the eye is said to be flame. And why not? Not only is the eye considered to be the sungod Re, it is also the winged sundisk Horus, which also marks the Summer Solstice, the midpoint of the sun’s path through the sky. We mark the midpoint of the sun’s journey in our lodges also. It was a prime prerequisite to mark the northern most and southern most points of the sun in the cycle, which was imitated by the Pharaoh-kings (Zur zyklischen Gliederung pharaonischer Regierungszeiten liefert der Horusmythos ein kosmisch gottliches Paradigma), and gave the meaning to the Horus myth with the eye. The Eye of Horus in the Coffin Texts is also anointed onto the person’s brow, so it will uplift him. The two eyes of Horus not only protect the person, they guide him through the heavens as well, and even expand his heart. It is eternal water, a protection, a garment which guides one on the path, strengthens all the members of the body, actually having the power to “combine your flesh, and pull together your members, ward off foes, and cause one not to be forsaken. All of this is meant to be, as one travels on the celestial path, equipment meant to “equip you as a god.” One travels in the sacred sunboat of the god Re, which circles the heavens, and in which mortals desire to enter.
From one possible Freemason point of view, Thoms Milton Stewart has pointed out that the light shining in the darkness (he points us to John 1:5 – “and the light shineth in the darkness and the darkness comprehendeth it not”) the question Stewart asks is, “Is there a light that shineth in the darkness? Of Thoth it is said: ‘Thou hast given light and life to mortals, intelligences and creatures of light, and how does this help to answer our question?
1. Mortals – those instructed in the doctrine but who had not realized the inner vision, who live in worldly things. For them the orb of light is I the darkness.
2. Intelligences – those who had realized the inner vision, and had become men; that is lived in their minds. For such the orb is brought to light.
3. Creatures of the light – those who had become one with the light of the inner and spiritual world. These latter are the sons of Light and Mind; having the conscious self identity of their own individuality, independent of their physical body. They have opened the Eye of Horus and the light shineth in the darkness. The inner nature is illuminated.”
The eye is a representation of the sun “as it makes its appearance… of the sun… as an assurance of a cyclical renewal of life, the beginning of a new day.” This cosmic background is one of those things that is just good to understand for Freemasons with our symbol of the All-Seeing Eye.
1. John Sherer, “The Masonic Ladder or the Nine Steps to Ancient Freemasonry,” The Masonic Book Club, Vol. 28, a facsimile reprint of the first edition by R. W. Carroll and Co. Publishers in 1827, Reprint in 1997: quote on page 94.
2. Sir Lionel Brett, “The Vocabulary of the Ceremonies,” in “Ars Quatuor Coronatorum,” Vol. 101 (1988): 4.
3. Hans Biedermann, “Knaurs Lexicon der Symbole,” translated into English by James Hulbert, “Dictionary of Symbolism: Cultural Icons and the Meanings Behind Them,” Meridian Books, 1992: 123.
4. Byron Shafer, editor, “Temples of Ancient Egypt,” Cornell University Press, 1997: 24.
5. Hans Bonnet, “Reallexikon der Aegyptischen Religionsgeschichte,” Walter De Gruyter, 1952: 854.
6. Bonnet, “Ibid.,” p. 855.
7. Eberhard Otto, “Gott und Mensch: Nach den aegyptischen Tempelinschriften der griechisch-roemischen Zeit, eine Untersuchung zur Phraseologie der Tempelinschriften,” p. 85, as quoted in Hugh Nibley, “One Eternal Round,” Deseret Book/Foundation for Ancient Research and Mormon Studies, 2010: 315.
8. Nibley, “Ibid.,” p. 319.
9. Nibley, “Ibid.,” p. 320.
10. Sir Alan Gardiner, “Egyptian Grammar,” Griffith Institute, Oxford University Press, 3rd Revised edition, 1994: 197-198.
11. John Sherer, “The Masonic Ladder or the Nine Steps to Ancient Freemasonry,” The Masonic Book Club, Vol. 28, a facsimile reprint of the first edition by R. W. Carroll and Co. Publishers in 1827, Reprint in 1997: quote on page 68.
12. Nibley, “Ibid.,” p. 204-205.
13. Winfried Barta, “Der Koenigsring als Symbol zyklischer Wiederkehr,” in “Zeitschrift fuer Aegyptische Sprache,” (Hereafter cited as ZAS), 98 (1970): 15.
14. W. Kirk MacNulty, “A Philosophical Background for Masonic Symbolism,” in “Heredom: The Transactions of the Scottish Rite Research Society,” Vol. 5 (1996): 26.
15. Rex R. Hutchens, “A Bridge To Light,” The Supreme Council, 33° 1733 16th Street N. W., Washington D. C., 2006: 18.
16. Thomas George Allen, “Horus in the Pyramid Texts: A Dissertation,” University of Chicago Libraries, 1916: 13.
17. Allen, “Ibid.,” p. 48.
18. Allen, “Ibid.,” p. 59-60.
19. Allen, “Ibid.,” p. 69.
20. C. J. Bleeker, “The Pattern of the Ancient Egyptian Culture,” in “Numen,” #11, 1964: 78.
21. Barta, “Ibid.,” p. 12.
22. Barta, “Ibid.,” p. 12.
23. Barta, “Ibid.,: p. 13.
24. Joachim Spiegel, “Die religionsgeschichtliche Stellung der Pyramidtexte,” in “Orientalia,” 1953: 142, note 1.
25. Whitney M. Davis, “The Ascension Myth in the Pyramid Texts,” in “Journal of Near Eastern Studies,” Vol. 36/3, 1977: 162.
26. Hermann Kees, “Zu den Aegyptischen Mondsagen,” in “ZAS,” 60, 1925: 3-4.
27. Rudolf Anthes, “Das Sonnenauge in den Pyramidentexten,” in “ZAS,” 86, 1961: 1-21.
28. Wilhelm Spiegelberg, “Der Aegyptischen Mythus vom Sonnenauge in einem Demotischen Papyrus der Roemischen Kaiserzeit,” Sitzungsberichte per Koeniglich Preussischen Akademie der Wissenschaften, 1915: 890.
29. Winfried Barta, “Zum Wesen des Gottes Osiris nach Zeugnissen der Aelteren Totenliteratur,” in “ZAS,” 117, 1990: 89-93.
30. Barta, “Ibid.,” p. 93.
31. Hermann Kees, “Die Feuerinsel in den Sargetexten und im Totenbuch,” in “ZAS,” 78, 1942: 47.
32. Georg Moeller, “Die Zeichen fuer die Bruchteile des Hohlmasses und das Uzatauge,” in “ZAS,” 48, 1910: 100-101.
33. Hermann Junker, “Die Sechs Teile des Horusauges und der ‘Sechste Tag,’” in “ZAS,” 48, 1910: 101-106.
34. Junker, “Ibid.,” p. 104 for Phoenix comment, and 106 for astronomical idea.
35. Kees, “Die Feuerinsel,” p. 52.
36. Raymold O. Faulkner, “The Egyptian Book of the Dead: The Book of Going Forth By Day, Being the Papyrus of Ani,” Chronicle Books, 1994: plate 28.
37. Raymond O. Faulkner, “The Ancient Egyptian Coffin Texts,” Aris & Phillips, re-issued, 1994, 3 Vols., quote in Vol. 1, Spell 313, p. 234.
38. Dieter Kurth, “Der Kosmische Hintergrund des Grossen Horusmythos von Edfu,” in “Revue d’Egyptologie,” 1983: 73. For Horus as winged sundisk, see also Carl Wilke, “Bemerkungen zu einer spaeten Bezeichnung des Sonnengottes (b3-nb-hj),” in “ZAS,” 76, 1940: 97-98. He brings in the winged scarabus beetle and falcon as well.
39. Kuth, “Ibid.,” p. 74.
40. Faulkner, “Coffin Texts,” Vol. 3: Spell 845, pp. 30-31.
41. Faulkner, “Coffin Texts,” Vol. 3: Spell 845, pp. 36-41.
42. Jan Assman, “Der Koenig als Sonnenpriester,” J. J. Augustin, 1970: 14.
43. Thomas Milton Stewart, “The Symbolism of the Gods of the Egyptian and the Light They Thrown on Freemasonry,” Baskerville Press, 1927: 81.
44. Hans Goedicke, “The Bright Eye of Horus: Pyr. Spell 204,” in “Gegengabe Festschrift fur Emma Brunner-Traut,” Verlag Tubingen, 1992: 102.