As you probably know, the eye symbol's history is far-reaching and intertwines with many peoples. It is so deeply embedded in culture that, in spite of its potentially pagan connotations, it even finds a place within religious texts, including the Bible and the Quran.
It was the ancient Egyptians who were the originators of the detached eye as a motif: for example, a pair of eyes painted on a coffin that allowed the dead to see in the afterlife.
One of the most famous of all Egyptian symbols is the Eye of Horus (pictured above), a hybrid of a human and falcon eye including the bird’s dark eyebrow and cheek markings. It was often used as an amulet, and often buried with pharaohs to protect them in the afterlife, and it was also replicated as sculptures small enough for a person to carry in their pocket as a form of protection.
This and other Egyptian hieroglyphs of isolated human eyes went on to be reinterpreted during the Renaissance. They were commonly misunderstood and believed to have a much more mystical significance and contain multiple meanings. The most famous of these interpretations is the eye of providence, an eye set within a triangle, associated with freemasonry and later on with illuminati and conspiracy theories, which was invented as a sign of God’s compassionate watchfulness over humanity.
This symbol appears in countless churches and Masonic buildings worldwide, as well as on the reverse of the American one-dollar bill and the Great Seal of the United States (Pictured).
After Egypt, the earliest version of eye amulets was excavated in the Mesopotamian city of Tell Brak (modern day Syria) and goes back to 3,300 BC, however these amulets are a far cry from the kind we know today, which first appeared in the Mediterranean around 1500 BCE as glass beads stranded into necklaces. They inherited their blue color from Egyptian glazed mud, which contains a high percentage of oxides like copper and cobalt.
These ocular amulets were meant to ward off evil eye: a curse transmitted through a malicious glare and usually inspired by envy. Virtually every culture has a legend related to the evil eye, and variations of these charms have been used by the Phoenicians, Assyrians, Greeks, Romans and, perhaps most famously, the Ottomans (It’s still a tradition in Turkey to bring an evil eye token to newborn babies).
In addition to eyes as a concept of protection, in spiritual traditions both in Asia as well as in pre-colonial Americas, the Third Eye is a mystical and esoteric concept of an invisible eye located at the center of the forehead, which provides perception beyond ordinary sight and acts as a portal to our inner selves.