What people in the U.S.A. commonly referred to as the “All Seeing Eye” is more appropriately called the “Eye of Providence.” No, not Rhode Island. This would be the more divine providence – the big guy watching over all of us. Or gal. Or it. Whichever you prefer.
The Eye of Providence is the idea that some divine force is watching over us all, sees our deeds and actions, and judges accordingly. The Eye is associated with the Judgement card of the Tarot, as noted in some alchemical texts of the 17th Century, and associated with Egypt.
While the Eye of Providence has, from the 18th Century C.E. onward, been associated with Christianity, the idea of an “all-seeing God” has been around for thousands of years. What is called “The Eye of Horus” originally was known as the “Wadjet Eye” for the goddess Wadjet.
Wadjet, as many can read on the Internet and in several Egyptian Mythology books, was one of the oldest deities in Egypt and dates from the pre-dynastic period. She is associated with Lower Egypt as well as with the papyrus. Her name symbolizes the color of blue/green – the color of the papyrus plant. She is nearly always associated with a cobra and is considered the protector of pharaohs and the ruling classes of Egypt.
She’s seen as the Goddess, which represents time, heaven, and hell, and she is an ardent protector, especially of children. Over the millennia, she has been merged with many other goddesses, such as Bast and her sister, Nekhebet, Goddess of Upper Egypt, who is shown as a vulture. Wadjet has also been associated with Buto, the city which first revered her – and the city was originally named Per-Wadjet.
According to Herodotus, in his Histories ( Herodotus, The Histories, ii 55, and vii 134), “The Egyptians were also the first to introduce solemn assemblies, processions, and litanies to the gods; of all which the Greeks were taught the use by them. It seems to me a sufficient proof of this that in Egypt these practices have been established from remote antiquity, while in Greece they are only recently known.” There is note of a Temple to Wadjet in Buto (Per-Wadjet) that had an Oracle in it; it was considered that the Greek practice of using Oracles was co-opted from the Egyptians who, as Herodotus states, “taught them in their use.”
Originally, oracles were used to be able to link individuals, the common man, to the divine. A worshiper would travel to the oracle with a very specific and important question relevant to their lives. Kings would consult oracles to strategize on war or gain insight on divine events which would influence their people, like famine or floods. Using auguries drawn from various animals innards, smoke, visions, the flight of doves, or other “symbols,” the oracle would define the upcoming events based on intuition and divine inspiration. Oracles were eventually replaced by priests and religious figures as a way to connect the individual with their god or goddess, and in a way be a conduit for the divine.
We humans have always been looking for a way to have some kind of communion with the mind of our Divine source, whether it is through other individuals, hallucinogens, runes, tarot, channelling, or simply study. We look for some higher source to tell us what we ought to do, what will help us be successful, happy, healthy, or free. In this case, I find the idea of the Eye of Wadjet to be a symbol that connects us to a dusty, mythic past with some vague idea of what it really meant.
We’ve gone from the protection of a goddess to the protection of a country or our ideals, or maybe even our prosperity. I think the most interesting thing in this: the symbols we have in our daily lives are historical treasures that have been modified as our cultures modify them. They come to reflect what, and how we think about the world.