An Associated Press story attempts to debunk some of the hype and conspiracy theories which surround (literally, see the image!) the Great Seal of the United States. I wrote about the seal in my book The Guide to Dan Brown’s The Lost Symbol. For those interested, I’ve excerpted some of it below.
HISTORY OF THE GREAT SEAL
Before adjourning on the ground-breaking day of July 4, 1776, the Continental Congress passed a resolution that a committee be formed to design a seal for the newly independent United States. The members of that committee were Benjamin Franklin, John Adams and Thomas Jefferson – three of the five men who worked on the Declaration of Independence, two of whom would go on to become President. However, it would take another six years before the Great Seal of the United States came into being, with two more committees and fourteen men eventually employed to establish the icon.
The first committee of Franklin, Adams and Jefferson initially worked on Biblical and classical themes, including the ‘Children of Israel in the Wilderness’, but with little success. They then employed the talents of French portrait artist, Pierre Eugene du Simitiere, who had some experience in designing seals. However, the du Simitiere-influenced design was rejected by Congress on August 20th 1776, although a couple of the features later became a part of the official seal – the infamous Eye of Providence within a triangle, and the motto E Pluribus Unum.
Four years later, a second committee was appointed to take over the design of the Great Seal. They asked Francis Hopkinson, who had contributed to the design of both the American flag and the great seal of the State of New Jersey, to serve as consultant on the project. However, Congress rejected this design as well. Like the previous effort though, some features were retained in later designs – the 13 red and white stripes on the shield held by the eagle, the constellation of 13 six-pointed stars, and the live
branch as a symbol of peace.
In May 1782, Congress appointed a third committee to continue with the design. This they did with maximum efficiency – by promptly assigning the job to a lawyer from Philadelphia named William Barton. Barton added the important figure of the eagle to the design, and also designed the enigmatic pyramid found on the reverse of the seal, combining it with the first committee’s Eye of Providence. Barton worked quickly, and the third committee turned in its report to Congress just five days after being appointed.
However, the ever-fussy Congress was still not satisfied, and the project became the responsibility of Charles Thomson, Secretary of Congress. Though not a great artist, Thomson was able to incorporate the various features into an acceptable design, while also adding the Latin mottoes Annuit Coeptis and Novus Ordo Seclorum to the reverse of the seal. He then employed Barton again to finish the job artistically, and finally the Great Seal of the United States was accepted by Congress on June 20th 1782.
THE OBVERSE OF THE SEAL
The obverse side of the Great Seal today depicts a Bald Eagle with outstretched wings. In its left claw it holds a bundle of arrows, while in the right we find an olive branch – the head of the eagle is turned to its right, which is said to indicate that the United States favors peace, although it is always prepared to make war if necessary. Though the United States does not have an official coat-of-arms, the eagle image is often used in its place.
Manly Hall, in The Secret Teachings of All Ages, claims that the bird portrayed on the original seal was not in fact an eagle, but the mythological phoenix. He based this claim on the small tuft of feathers rising from the back of its head, similar to Egyptian depictions of the Phoenix. Hall says:
In the Mysteries it was customary to refer to initiates as ‘phoenixes’ or ‘men who had been born again’…born into a consciousness of the spiritual world.
According to Manly Hall, the “hand of the Mysteries” was involved in the founding of the United States, and the Great Seal acts as its signature. He does admit though that only a student of symbolism is fit to see through the subterfuge of the modern-day claim that the bird is an eagle. Hall is at the very least partly correct with his claim, because one of the early designs – by William Barton – clearly shows a phoenix sitting upon its characteristic nest of flames. We’ll continue to call it an eagle, for the sake of simplicity, but Hall’s claims are worth remembering.
The eagle holds in its beak a banner which reads E Pluribus Unum, meaning ‘Out of many, One’. This is a reference to the joining of the original thirteen colonies into the United States of America – fittingly, there are thirteen letters in the phrase
itself. But this is probably more than a coincidence, for the number thirteen is in fact found throughout the Great Seal: there are thirteen arrows in the eagle’s left claw, the shield is made up of thirteen stripes, and above the eagle there are thirteen stars.
One point noted by conspiracy theorists is that the thirteen stars above the head of the eagle are arranged to form the ‘Seal of Solomon’, a hexagram also known as the ‘Star of David’. This often leads to fanciful accusations of a Jewish conspiracy, although some researchers have suggested that the financier Haym Solomon may have been involved in the placement of this ‘constellation’. Interestingly, the individual stars in the hexagram design were originally hexagrams themselves, but were changed into pentagrams at some point.
We have already noted the symbolism of the pentagram, but there is one additional side-note worthy of mention. In The Secret Symbols of the Dollar Bill, David Ovason raises the possibility that the earliest official use of the five-pointed star in North America may have been at the request of none other than Francis Bacon.
THE REVERSE OF THE SEAL
If the obverse of the Great Seal raises some eyebrows, the reverse side is a veritable feast for the conspiracy theorist. The primary motif on the back side of the seal is an unfinished pyramid consisting of thirteen courses of masonry. Some say the image is very similar to the pyramids of Central America. It is more likely though, that it is a simplistic illustration of the Great Pyramid of Giza, in Egypt. This wonder of the ancient world, which stands some 450 feet in height, is also missing its capstone. It consists of substantially more than thirteen courses of masonry though!
At the base of the pyramid the year 1776 is inscribed in Roman numerals. This is said to refer to the date of the Declaration of Independence of the United States. However, to conspiracy theorists the date has a second meaning, for on May 1st 1776 Adam Weishaupt formed the Order of the Bavarian Illuminati.
This is just one piece of evidence that is said to point to the seal being an emblem of the Illuminati brotherhood. Above the truncated pyramid hovers the so-called ‘Eye of Providence’, contained within a triangle. Dan Brown says this particular feature is “symbolic of the Illuminati’s desire to bring about ‘enlightened change’ from the myth of religion to the truth of science.” However, others – funnily enough, Masons included – have said the combination of pyramid and all-seeing eye was not a motif of Freemasonry at the time, and that the association probably arose in 1884 when Harvard professor, Eliot Norton, wrote that the emblem was…
…practically incapable of effective treatment; it can hardly, (however artistically treated by the designer), look otherwise than as a dull emblem of a Masonic fraternity.
The claim that Norton provided the Masonic context of the Great Seal design is certainly mistaken, if not disingenuous. David Ovason points out numerous rebuttals – one of the earliest uses of the all-seeing eye was by Freemason and founder of the Royal Society, Robert Moray. The personal seal of Moray, which can be found on his private correspondence, has a radiant eye at its center – and incidentally also features a five-pointed star. The pyramid was a common image in early 18th century Masonic lodges, and a Lodge Summons dated 1757, to the Philadelphia Ancient Lodge No. 2, clearly portrays the allseeing eye.
Moreover, there are more direct links between the ‘ allseeing eye’ and the Founding Fathers. As Ovason points out in The Secret Architecture of Our Nation’s Capital, Benjamin Franklin would almost certainly have been conversant with the work of the French Freemason Theodore Tschoudy, who equated French Freemasonry with a blazing five-pointed star carrying within it the all-seeing eye. And if anybody still has any doubt that the Founding Fathers were ‘in’ on the Masonic symbolism of the all-seeing eye, I would gently direct them to look at the Masonic apron of Brother George Washington.
Two mottoes appear on the reverse side of the seal. Across the top of the Great Seal we see the Latin phrase Annuit Coeptis, which is generally translated as ‘He has favored our undertaking’. Around the bottom a separate phrase is inscribed, Novus Ordo Seclorum, taken to mean ‘a new order of the ages’. Note that two of the three mottoes on the Great Seal are made up of thirteen letters. Beyond that fact though, there is also an eye-opening geometrical code to be found in the two mottoes written on the reverse of the Great Seal, although it is not known whether it was put there on purpose or was simply a bizarre coincidence.
Those with sharp eyes have found that a hexagram, or ‘Seal of Solomon’, can be constructed overlaying this side of the seal. If one circles the ‘A’ in ‘Annuit’, the ‘s’ in ‘Coeptis’, the ‘N’ in ‘Novus’, the final ‘o’ in ‘Ordo’ and the ‘m’ in ‘Seclorum’, we have five quite equidistant points, apart from one large gap. It is quite obvious that making another circle at the top of the ‘All-seeing eye’ triangle will give six points from which a hexagram can be constructed. While the ability to fit a hexagram so neatly on the seal is interesting enough, the real excitement comes when we look at the letters we circled to do so – A, S, N, O and M.
Anyone with a degree of skill in constructing anagrams will see that there is one very relevant possibility from this set of letters – the word MASON.
One last point while we are discussing the Latin mottoes: we should also note that there is some confusion on the meaning of the Latin word seclorum – the orthodox opinion is that the word originated with the classical poet Virgil, in which context it meant ‘for all time’, or ‘for the ages’. However, others – including Dan Brown – have tied the word to the modern ‘secular’, and its opposition to ‘religious’. In Brown’s own words, Novus Ordo Seclorum is a “clear call to the secular or non-religious.” This theme ties in well with the Rosicrucian tradition running through Francis Bacon and the subsequent ‘Royal Society’, right up to Benjamin Franklin, Thomas Jefferson and Thomas Paine – who were all scientists and Deists. The question is: has this tradition survived into modern times?