Wednesday, July 8, 2009

Clue #35: The Great Seal of the U.S.

The 35th Twitter clue, sent at about 2 p.m. (PDT) on Wed. July 8th:

Our favored endeavor in the language of the Tiber.

Of course, the language of the Tiber river area in ancient Rome was Latin. The phrase that is being hinted at in this clue is one of the two most reproduced Latin phrases in the world -- given that they are on the back of every $1 bill currently in circulation in the United States. The phrase is annuit coeptis, and it appears on the reverse side of the Great Seal of the United States (shown above). The phrase translates to "He [that is, God] has favored [our] endeavors"; it may also be translated as "he has approved [our] undertakings." (The front or 'obverse' side of the Great Seal is the side with the eagle on it.)
That is the surface solution to the clue. However, this being a clue about a Dan Brown novel, we need to consider what else this clue brings up. Of course, we also have to consider what this all tells us about The Lost Symbol.
To mention the one phrase, annuit coeptis, is to point a finger at the entire of the reverse side of the Great Seal. Let's take a good look at that, and consider its implications for the novel.
The Interpretation of the Reverse of the Great Seal
The reverse of the Great Seal of the United States has been the subject of more frankly bizarre and even paranoid writing than any other other single object or image that I can think of. This is so, even though the actual interpretation of the objects on the Great Seal is easy to find, in several places; one such place is this excellent article on Wikipedia. Let's go over the elements of the Seal one by one, and consider two different approaches to interpretation: the real life one, and the grossly paranoid one.
For the real life interpretation, I'll be using the explanation given by Charles Thomson, the man who actually designed the Seal at the request of Congress. Thomson was the Secretary of the U.S. Congress, to whom Congress gave all the material submitted by three prior committees who had been asked to submit ideas for the seal. Thompson received these materials on June 13, 1782, and submitted his own ideas a week later. (His full description is available in several places, including the Wikipedia article.) Incidentally, let me say at the outset: Thomson was not a Freemason.

For the grossly paranoid conspiratorial approach, I will use Nicholas Hagger's book, The Secret Founding of America: The Real Story of Freemasons, Puritans and the Battle for the New World (London: Watkins, 2007; paperback, 2009); I am focusing on pp. 136-139 of the hardcover edition. I do not mean to compliment the book, because it is a rat's nest of gullibility, rumor, truly wild fantasy, and nonsense -- but there is a lot of that going around these days, and someone has to respond to it. Hagger claims that the Great Seal of the U.S., both sides, was inspired by the similar seal of the Illuminati -- no example of which has been reported by legitimate historians, of course. (Looking at his footnotes and references, I think Hagger has simply taken other conspiracy writers' word for it. Read about the Illuminati in the posts here for Clues #5 and #33.)

So here goes.

The Pyramid

Thomson brought in the unfinished pyramid with 13 courses of stone, and the Eye atop it, from the designs of the third committee, who in turn had taken the pyramid, apparently, from the design of the $50 note. Thomson wrote that "the pyramid signifies Strength and Duration." Makes sense: the Egyptian pyramids have been there a long time. For a fledgling nation, having a pyramid as a symbol would be like a positive affirmation in our day: "Yes, I will endure."

Hagger states that Ben Franklin came into contact with the Illuminati in Paris, and looked at their symbol as an inspiration of the Great Seal of the U.S. "The Illuminati Seal's reverse side showed a Templar 13-layered, four sided pyramid with its capstone missing. ... The esoteric significance of the pyramid was connected with Atlantis. There was a belief that the university of Atlantis, where all arts and sciences originated, was housed in a pyramid with an observatory at the top where the stars could be studied."

Later, specifically in relation to the American seal, Haggar writes: "The Templar pyramid suggests there is a plan to build a New Atlantis in a New World and that it is America's spiritual destiny to complete its building. The Utopian pyramid is in fact a world government in which all nations are bricks ... a new Tower of Babel where all languages will be heard."

The Eye at the Apex of the Pyramid

Thomson: "The Eye over it [the pyramid] & the Motto allude to the many signal interpositions of providence in favour of the American cause." That is, the eye and motto signify the many times God came to the aid of the Americans in the war. Fair enough: the colonists had a lot of good breaks in their war against England, a far more powerful nation, and they attributed that to God.

Hagger on the Illuminati symbol, taken over for the American Seal: "Above [the pyramid] was a triangle in sun-rays and within it the All-Seeing Eye of Osiris and Sion, which some said represented Weishaupt's spying system." He considers this a symbol of both the Illuminati and Freemasonry.

The Date on the Pyramid

Thomson: "The date is that of the Declaration of Independence."

Hagger on the Illuminati seal: "On the bottom layer [of the pyramid] in Latin was a date, 1776, the year Weishaupt founded the Illuminati."

The Top Motto: Annuit Coeptis

As noted above, Thomson said the motto above the pyramid alluded to the help of God in favor of the American cause. The motto was the idea of Thomson, a former Latin teacher; the correct translation from the Latin is clearly along the lines of "he has favored our endeavor."

Hagger on the Illuminati seal: "The 13 letters in Annuit Coeptis ('Announcing the Birth') suggested 13 October 1307, when Templarism was first persecuted, and the 13 degrees of Templar initiation."

The Bottom Motto: Novus Ordo Seclorum

Thomson contributed the bottom motto as well; the correct Latin translation is clearly "A New Order of the Ages." (The word "secular," as in non-religious, does not work in here at all.) Thomson says that "the words under it [that is, the date 1776] signify the beginning of the new American Aera [that is, Era], which commences from that date."

Hagger on the U.S. seal: "The full Latin text on the reverse [that is, of the Great Seal] thus reads: 'Announcing the Birth of a New Secular Order' (or 'New World Order')."

How This All Might Work Into The Lost Symbol

I have gone into detail here to show that there are really two entirely different views of reality that can be applied to the reverse of the Great Seal. In the real life one, it is the symbol of the hopes of a new nation. In the fantasy one, it is the symbol of conspiracy and mind control. Where might Dan Brown be going with this symbol?

What do you think?

One Final Note: The Eye-in-the-Triangle, Freemasonry, and the Illuminati

This would be a good place to address an often-repeated but totally inaccurate set of claims, to the effect that the eye-in-the-triangle motif is a special sign of Freemasonry or the Illuminati.

This idea is certainly prevalent in popular society. For example, the eye-in-the-triangle is depicted as the sign of the Illuminati in the popular movie, "Lara Croft: Tomb Raider." However, the reality is that the real Illuminati, the Bavarian Illuminati founded by Adam Weishaupt in 1776, did not use this symbol. The association between the Illuminati and this symbol is entirely in the imaginations of the more fringe-y parts of the conspiracy theorist community, who cite one another's fantasies as fact and claim to have done real "research."

As far as Freemasonry is concerned, the story is a bit more complicated. Yes, Freemasons have used the symbol of the eye-in-the-triangle for many years; I even give a rare example incorporating the eye-in-the-triangle with the Masonic compasses in the illustration to my post about Freemasonry. However, the symbol did not originate with Freemasonry. One can find it, for example, in Christian artwork, such as Jacopo Carucci's "Supper at Emmaus" (1525). It also occurs in the Papal Basilica of Santa Maria Maggiore in Rome (as noted Masonic author Christopher Hodapp and Alice VonKannon point out in the May 1, 2009 post regarding the Illuminati on their blog, "Conspiracy Theories and Secret Societies for Dummies" -- with a lovely photo, too).

Thus, the most that one can claim about this is that the symbol occurs in Freemasonry, but it did not originate within Freemasonry.

[The image was obtained from the Wikimedia Commons through Wikipedia. As a product of the U.S. Federal government, it is in the public domain.]

(Copyright 2009 Mark E. Koltko-Rivera. All Rights Reserved.)


  1. September 15, 1789: Congress adopts the official seal of the United States as the seal of the U.S. Congress.

    September 15...


  2. Esquire,

    That certainly is a _very_ interesting point. Thanks for bringing that up.

  3. Add this to the long list of coincidental (or accidental?) congruities of the books cover art: if you overlay the new cover with the Great Seal—with the size matched so that the "Eye of Providence" pyramid fits the red wax seal—then the unfinished pyramid on the Seal fits the torn triangle enclosing The Capitol.


  4. "Seclorum" had another special meaning in the late 1700's. Catholic scholars in Italy such as Barnaba Oriani were promoting, as a special virtue, the "secular principle" of the calendar reform (in 1582) of Pope Gregory XIII. This secular principle gets its name from the secondary Latin meaning of "century" as a specific length of the more general meaning of an "age". By restricting changes to the solar (and lunar) calendar to adjustments occuring only in centurial years (1700,1800, etc.) these catholic scholars maintained one could easily correct the calendar to keep up with the rapidly accelerating progress in the accuracy of the science of astronomy. Benjamin Franklin however was in a position to know that this Papal "secular principle" with its focus on the centurial meaning was actually a hindrance to perfecting the calendar according to the latest science which indicated a need to correct the lunar epact of a Golden Number every twelth year (rather than waiting for a century year to correct all Golden Numbers). This would indeed be a "new ordering of the (moon) ages". The labelling of the base step of a thirteen step pyramid with the year "1776" implies the top step should be "1788", a providential year in which to initiate the undertaking of such a twelve-yearly calendar adjustment.

  5. ...Oh! and I forgot to mention that the lunar adjustment to the calendar every twelfth year only works if the solar calendar abandons the Papal centurial principle too, and instead follows a 33-year scheme of leap years! I wonder if Dan Brown knows this meaning of his number "33" in the triangle of the red seal on his U.S. book cover!

  6. do you know what? The invisible lightbulb above my head flickered on for a couple of seconds just now! I looked at the date of the release. 15th of September 2009 or 09/15/09.

    09+15+09 = 33!!!

    could it be that simple???

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  8. Another lunar calendrical connection, in the mottos of the reverse of the Seal of the USA, lies in the choice of the word "Annuit" for heavenly approval. This latin verb, annuo or adnuo, originally indicated nodding (in approval). The only naked-eye heavenly body that nods is the moon. See:
    especially the great animated gif of the moon's monthly nodding!

  9. This comment has been removed by the author.

  10. Oh and by by the way, the 33-year solar calendar, and the lunar calendar Golden Number correction every 12 years, had been proposed to Queen Elizabeth I, exactly two centuries prior to the appearance of the U.S. Great Seal, by John Dee, when she tasked him with responding to Pope Gregory XIII's Gregorian calendar initiative, a reform of the Julian Calendar enacted from the Vatican in February 1582.

    John Dee's influence on the 1782 design of the Great Seal of the United States can be seen by placing a hexagram (star of David formed from two coaxial equilateral triangles) with its top point coincident with the top point of the triangular heavenly eye, and resizing it until the five other points touch letters of the mottoes. The five letters thus found spell MONAS (read sequentially clockwise). The sixth top point (of the hexagram) straddles the triangle, enclosing the heavenly eye and forming a Greek letter Delta. Delta is John Dee's shorthand signature (found in his printed works, and in his marginal notes to the volumes in his extensive library).
    MONAS is the shorthand title of his most enigmatic printed work the "Monas Heiroglyphica" published in Antwerp 1564, after he returned from Rome with the valuable intelligence that the last session of the Papal "Council of Trent" (December 1563) had probably set in motion the eventual Papal reform of the calendar with its flawed Secular (centurial) principle.


  12. While I appreciate the information, you do a crappy job of providing an unbiased opinion and allowing your readers to decide for themselves what to believe. By continuously saying, "The real life meaning," you imply that this is the only correct meaning. Also, descriptions such as, "often-repeated but totally inaccurate set of claims," need to be backed up in order to be valid...
    Way to keep an open mind.. Anyone with brains will know not to trust a completely biased writer.

  13. Serious US? I thought Egypt symbolize the pyramids.


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