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Why is there a floating eye on the $1 bill?

(NEXSTAR) — If you were to look at the back of a $1 bill, you’d likely notice a few things. The “In God We Trust” printed above a big “ONE.” There’s the Great Seal of the United States on the right, but what about that pyramid on the left?

It may look similar to the symbol associated with the Illuminati. But is it?

Sort of, but not really. Let us explain. 

What is the Illuminati?

You’ve likely heard of the Illuminati conspiracy theory. There was a real group, the Order of the Illuminati, a secret society founded in Bavaria in the late 18th century by Adam Weishaupt to advocate for secularism.

The group later faded, the BBC explains, but the Illuminati name swelled into an unrelated conspiracy theory around the 1960s. At the time, the founders behind the Discordian movement, and others, were largely spreading misinformation, according to the BBC. That included conspiracies surrounding the Illuminati.

The conspiracy remains popular today, with “Illuminati” often used to describe anything “that might challenge [someone’s] values,” Joseph Uscinski, a political scientist at the University of Miami, explained to Vox. Even Marvel uses “Illuminati” to title a “secret organization” composed of some of the comic universe’s “most powerful heroes,” like Doctor Strange and Iron Man.

It is known that the Order of the Illuminati was inspired by Freemasonry (more on that in a moment), a group that uses many symbols, according to the BBC.

What is Freemasonry?

A different, less secret society has been known to use the eye-in-a-triangle symbol: Freemasonry.

“Freemasonry is one of the oldest fraternal organizations in the world,” the Grand Lodge of Ohio explains on its website. “It unites men of good character who, though of different religious, ethnic or social backgrounds, share a belief in the fatherhood of God and the brotherhood of mankind.”

Freemasonry’s roots stretch to guilds of stonemasons in 13th-century Europe. As a stonemason was trained and grew in the craft, climbing the guild’s ladder, he would learn certain handshakes and passwords signifying his status. Then, if he traveled to another area for work, other guild members could identify him and his abilities. 

George Washington, Benjamin Franklin, and Paul Revere are said to have been members of Freemasonry, known as “Masons,” as the fraternity reached the U.S. and became more than a stonemason’s guild, the Washington Library at Mount Vernon explains

Freemasonry uses multiple symbols to teach lessons. You may be familiar with the square and compass in their logo, which represent the value of being honest and fair, as well as self-restraint, respectively. Another symbol they use? The Eye of Providence, which you’ll find on the back of your $1 bill. 

The Square and Compasses symbol located on a plinth of the Statue of Liberty New York Bay in New York, United States, on October 25, 2022. (Photo by Beata Zawrzel/NurPhoto via Getty Images)

What is the Eye of Providence?

The Eye of Providence has roots as far back as 800 BC with many divine connections. It was later depicted in art as an eye within a triangle, serving as an all-seeing eye or the eye of God, The George Washington Masonic National Memorial explains

The All-Seeing Eye would later become a symbol among Freemasons, serving “as a reminder to Freemasons of the watchfulness of the Great Architect.” It’s unclear how exactly the Illuminati became associated with the eye-in-the-triangle symbol, but many have since associated it with the conspiratorial group.

How the Eye of Providence reached the $1 bill

Now let’s go back to the $1 bill. You’ll see the Eye of Providence topping an unfinished pyramid — this is the reverse side of the Great Seal of the United States, approved in the 1780s.  

It’s believed the pyramid symbolizes that, at the time, the country was still growing, an article posted to the National Institute of Environmental Health Sciences explains. While the original committee behind the seal — Franklin (a Mason), Thomas Jefferson, and John Adams — didn’t suggest the pyramid, they did suggest the All-Seeing Eye capstone. 

The pyramid and the all-seeing eye, symbols used in the Great Seal of the United States and printed on American paper currency. (Photo by Stefano Bianchetti/Corbis via Getty Images)

“The Franklin committee wanted the seal to include a reflection of divine providence and discussed a variety of themes including the Children of Israel in the Wilderness,” the article explains.

The rest of the seal includes the motto “Annuit Coeptis,” Latin for “He [God] has favored our undertakings” above the eye. Below the eye is “Novus Ordo Seclorum,” or “A new order of the ages,” which is meant to signify the new American era, according to the National Museum of American Diplomacy.

Despite the conspiracy theories, the floating eye above the unfinished pyramid on the back of your $1 bill isn’t connected to the Illuminati. Instead, it seemingly serves to represent the eye of God on “the spiritual side of the seal.”

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