The United Symbolism of America

Deciphering Hidden Meanings in America's Most Familiar Art, Architecture, and Logos

Robert R. Hieronimus has been defending American symbols all his life. A visual artist, talk radio host, and historian, Hieronimus earned a Ph.D. with a sophisticated symbolic analysis of the reverse of the Great Seal as thesis. His weekly program, 21st Century Radio with Dr. Bob Hieronimus (, is celebrating its 20th year of new paradigm talk radio, including interviews with most of the recently featured Authors of the Month at

His newest title United Symbolism of America: Deciphering Hidden Meanings in America's Most Familiar Art, Architecture and Logos exposes many lies about our Founding Fathers and their symbols by examining both the history and the artistic influences behind our official designs. At the same time, he reveals their encoded symbolic messages and mysterious origins, showing how our icons represent hope, growth, and opportunity. United Symbolism of America has been described as 'an epic book' by George Noory, as 'some of the best research ever compiled on the ancient symbols used in our… emblems' by Shirley MacLaine, and 'requir[ing] deep study and concern' by Willie Nelson.

Robert Hieronimus joins us during November 2008 on our Author of the Month message board to answer queries from posters and to discuss his work.

Thank you to Graham Hancock for inviting me to be a part of this forum. As I write this article (October 2008), Americans are experiencing our quadrennial saturation and even misuse of our national symbols that comes with every presidential campaign. It's an unfortunate irony that this overexposure might actually be working to the detriment of these time-honored symbols, as they are linked around the world to our nation's flagging reputation on the world stage. There is no question that something is about to give, and that change is on the horizon. It is my belief that American symbols could play a role in pushing us in the right direction, to get back on track to the bold and noble intentions of our founders. Unfortunately, thanks to a conspiracy theory growing like wildfire on the Internet, the empowering nature of our symbols is in danger of being steamrollered by fundamentalist-conspiratorialist revisionist history.

If you've ever wondered at some of the mysterious qualities of America's symbols, or if after watching one of Disney's National Treasure films you Googled "hidden meanings in American symbols," you might have been shocked at what you found. Most other writers, beside myself, who are speculating on American symbolism do so with an agenda to prove their conclusion that Illuminati-Mason Satan-worshipers are in control of world events. Their compelling slideshows on YouTube, flipping through hundreds of corporate logos that resemble the eye in the triangle over the pyramid (while inferring that this symbol is somehow evil), have convinced gullible people everywhere that America's Founding Fathers were members of a Satanic world-domination plot.

True Meanings of American Symbolism

Although in my new book I examine many of America's best-known myths and legends and reveal their historical hits and misses, I take particular offense when I see the denigration of the pyramid and the eye in the triangle, the subject of my doctoral dissertation. This symbol is the honorable reverse of the Great Seal of the United States, created in 1782, and it is also the core piece of evidence in the current Internet conspiracy theory that goes like this: There is a mysterious group of "Them," usually called the Illuminati, but known by many names, that controls the world behind the scenes. As clues to their existence this group enjoys sprinkling eyes and triangles and pentagrams all over the place in logos and public designs. They do this to identify themselves to one another, and to condition us, the miserably stupid populace, to accept the coming Antichrist.

The problem with this theory is that it's based on misinformation that was born out of propaganda and then popularized through fiction. When I began to assemble my new book, United Symbolism of America: Deciphering Hidden Meanings in America's Most Familiar Art, Architecture and Logos, New Page Books, 2008, I was surprised to discover how far and wide this new genre in conspiracy theories had spread. Having made a lifetime of defending and collecting American symbols (ironically I spent much of the 60s, 70s, and 80s defending American symbols from leftist intelligencia who sometimes equated them with the conservative pro-war agenda), I felt it necessary at this time to come out in defense of them again and deflate this growing smear campaign. After all, a healthy, collective, national symbolism is key to the wellbeing of any society according to the likes of Carl Jung, Rollo May, and Joseph Campbell.

After thoroughly trashing the Great Seal through innuendo and coincidence and unfounded supposition, they then feel justified to pick apart the Statue of Liberty, the eagle, and even the Liberty Bell. And most of you have probably stumbled upon the very prevalent diagrams of the street layout of Washington, DC, which is used as evidence to prove the existence of all kinds of groups with all kinds of evil intentions.

But as it is the Great Seal where all of this speculation seems to have begun, it is where I will focus the majority of the rest of this article. To read more about the symbolic interpretations and the conspiracy theories about the Statue of Liberty, the Liberty Bell, the eagle, the flag, and Washington DC, please visit

The Great Seal, the Illuminati and the Freemasons

The theory that the prevalence of eyes and triangles in logos and seals is evidence for the existence of an Illuminati-Mason cabal, can be toppled by kicking out just one leg. There is no connection between the reverse of the Great Seal and the Freemasons or the Illuminati, and there was never intended to be one. The symbol of a pyramid-with-the-eye-in-the-triangle-above-it is not a Masonic symbol. It was not an Illuminati symbol. It was not an Egyptian, Phoenician, Babylonian or any other kind of symbol. It was designed by an American, and a non-Mason at that, Charles Thomson. The reverse of the Great Seal is a perfectly American symbol.

Secretary of Congress Charles Thomson is the one who originally combined symbols of an unfinished pyramid with a radiant eye in a triangle. That's right, before it was done by Charles Thomson, we have no evidence that any other group had ever combined these symbols together in just such a way. Thomson, a Latin scholar, was one of the most respected men of his age, particularly for his integrity, which inspired a popular expression, "It's as true as if Charles Thomson had said it." The Delaware Indians gave him an Indian name meaning "Man Who Tells the Truth," quite an honor for a white man. There is no indication that Thomson was a Freemason. He was friendly with the earliest group of Rosicrucians in America at the Wissahickon and Ephrata communities outside of Philadelphia, but there is no indication that he was a member. Like the Masons, Rosicrucians also used the single eye in their symbolism, and sometimes also the pyramid, but never the two together.

Assisting Thomson on the final accepted design of our national seal was artist and heraldry expert William Barton, who was the first to suggest the unfinished pyramid for the seal (an idea he likely borrowed from the $50 colonial note of 1778 designed by Francis Hopkinson). There is a contemporary Freemason by the name of William Barton, and I am among the many researchers who originally made the mistake of thinking I had discovered the link between the Masons and the Great Seal through this name. Wrong. There were two William Bartons, I later discovered (much to my embarrassment, having thoroughly believed it when I shared this information with Jimi Hendrix backstage at The Scene nightclub in New York. See his Jimi Hendrix: An Illustrated Experience, Atria Books, 2007 for a sketch he made soon after this conversation.) It's a good thing I stuck with this research for a long time. As I later discovered, the William Barton who contributed to the Great Seal, born in 1754 in Philadelphia, was not a member of the Freemasons or Rosicrucians either. There is an exhaustively documented tome detailing the history of the Great Seal of the United States, published by the State Department in 1978 called The Eagle and the Shield. I recommend any writers on the secret meanings of the Great Seal first make a careful read of this 600-plus-page book before continuing.

If they did, they would discover that it is entirely untrue, for example, to say, "Freemasons designed our Great Seal," or that "There is a Freemasonic message or intent behind the Great Seal." Most other people posting interpretations about our Great Seal, however, all make this fatal error in assumption. And it is an error, there is no question about it. It is factually incorrect. There is NO direct connection between the Freemasons and the creation of the Great Seal. There is a relationship between the Freemasons and the Great Seal, and an indirect connection in that regard, which I go into greater detail in both my new book and my 2006 publication, Founding Fathers, Secret Societies. They are also related through the 1935 design for our current one dollar bill, which is the first place most Americans had ever seen the reverse of the Great Seal since it was adopted, and then quickly forgotten, in 1782. It was Freemasons Franklin Delano Roosevelt and Henry Wallace who rediscovered the reverse of the Seal, mistakenly thought it was a Masonic emblem, and pushed to return it to public awareness by adding it to the new design for the bill.

In 1782, however, Congress approved of this symbol because they immediately understood it. At that time, this symbol did not remind them of the Freemasons. To them, the symbol of the single eye meant God, and because there was a consensus belief among the founders that God had played an active role in the founding of this new country, they decided to honor Him as Divine Providence in their coat of arms. It's confusing because Masonic symbolism and popular American symbolism often run parallel, as Masons tend to be a rather patriotic lot and they often borrow American symbolism. They are also contemporaneous and were choosing from the same pool of inspirations. But the truth is that Freemasons did not officially use the all-seeing eye as one of their symbols until several decades after the approval of the U.S. Great Seal. Likewise the pyramid. This is more a case of the Great Seal influencing the Masons to adopt these symbols than the Masons influencing the symbols used in the Great Seal. Masons do not usually depict their all-seeing eye encased in a triangle, but rather floating alone among clouds, just as you'll see in a lot of Christian churches. Masons have long admired pyramids as incredible structures built by ancient stone masons, after all, but pyramids did not become a popular symbol on Masonic regalia until after the adoption of the Great Seal.

The One Dollar Bill and the 20th Century Birth of the Great Seal Conspiracy Theories

It was possibly an anti-Roosevelt backlash generated by the 1935 dollar bill design that first linked this symbol with the conspiracy theory. The first use in print we have found so far that mis-identifies the reverse of the Great Seal as an insignia of the Illuminati is William Guy Carr's Pawns in the Game, first published in 1955. Carr capitalized on the anti-Communism scare of his time by updating the anti-Semitic conspiracy theories of Nesta Webster and the proven hoax, The Protocols of Zion. We are currently looking into the possibility that Carr appropriated these connections between the Great Seal and the Illuminati from an earlier source, possibly the American Nazi anti-Roosevelt literature of the 1935-1936 era tying his reforms to a Jewish-inspired Illuminati conspiracy.

Identifying the Illuminati with the Great Seal, or anything remotely resembling it showing a pyramid or an eye, is a fabrication. Unfortunately this erroneous link has effectively filtered into the consciousness of our nation to the point that today, though they may not know quite why, many people think the reverse of the Great Seal is a little bit spooky. Much of this is thanks to works of fiction like the popular role-playing game developed by Steve Jackson in the 1980s, and a series of novels by tricksters Robert Anton Wilson and Robert Shea in the 1970s, both elaborately detailed tongue-in-cheek satire. There is no documentation linking the eye in the triangle with the Bavarian Illuminati, and the best the conspiratorialists can do is claim that documents proving the Bavarian Illuminati used this symbol were formerly on display at the British Museum until they mysteriously disappeared.

Even though the link to the Freemasons or the Illuminati is not there, the irrational fear that a vocal group today has of these secret societies infects everything they say about the Great Seal. This means that everything they say about the seal is based on a false assumption. We found this situation repeating itself frequently as we looked at the astoundingly negative interpretations that have been proposed for some of our other beloved American symbols. For the most part the fundamentalist-conspiratorialist assumptions are based on jumps in conclusion resulting in faulty interpretations that apply to only one level of the symbol.

Creating a sense of fear about our Founding Fathers, or about the Freemasons, or about any of our American symbols is a waste of time, but it could also be a carefully planned distraction from the religious right. The George W. Bush administration was elected in large measure thanks to the support from the fundamentalist evangelical voting block. As a result, we have an administration that is driven by war profiteering interests and is ignoring the world scientific consensus regarding needs for environmental safeguards threatening even the short-term future for our children. Instead of standing up to vote them out, many of our fundamentalist-conspiratorialist friends are absorbed in finding clues to prove our Founding Fathers were secretly Satan-worshipping Illuminati Masons.

The Age of Enlightenment

The real reasons our founders often borrowed symbols from the Greco-Roman era are far less exciting than the currently popular theory that they were anti-Christian libertines coaxing future generations to unwittingly venerate pagan icons. Though the majority of our founders were Christians, to be sure, what the Founding Fathers deliberately did not create was a Christian nation. They created a land of religious tolerance, so that all faiths could worship as they choose without persecution from the state. Christianity was not being promoted. Religious tolerance and liberty were being promoted. These are also Christian ideals, of course, cite for reference the story of the Good Samaritan, but our Founding Fathers were declaring that it was the American way to be respectful of those who worship differently.

The biggest influence on the designs that were intentionally created for this country was the Age of Enlightenment. Indeed, our revolution is often cited as one of the most successful outcomes of these new ideas of freedom and knowledge spreading all over Europe. The architects of our government were excited by the democratic and educational ideals of ancient Greece and Rome, and they boldly took the next step beyond what was still only theory in Europe. They put the experiment into action, and surprisingly, they won. Our Founding Fathers declared they would live and operate under self-rule and dreamed of recreating earlier democratic societies where men lived in general peace and self-governance. They determined that their new country would carry this torch of freedom forward. As a natural course, the symbols they chose and the art and architecture they left behind were styled mainly after their role models: ancient Greece and Rome. Symbols of enlightenment from other cultures were also used, but most often it's the Greco-Roman influence that we see in early American art, architecture and symbolism. The largest example of this neoclassical trend in design is our nation's capital, Washington, DC.

Our founders believed they were making history. They believed they were witnessing the end of oppression, of church-state alliance, and government-promoted religion. The "New Order of the Ages" was the beginning of rule by the people. Today's religious right who currently sit in power have tried to rewrite this essential element of our history to claim their authority for legislating morality according to their own narrowly defined ideas.

From the Great Seal, it's a Hop, Skip, and a Jump to Attack America's Other Symbols

Go to your average anti-Masonic websites and you will read that the Statue of Liberty is a not-so-veiled symbol for the Illuminati Enlightening the World. The writer will then go on to tell you that all goddesses are evil, and ultimately are expressions of the Great Whore of Babylon, the arch-enemy of Christ. This belief is frighteningly common among the hugely popular Pentacostal and Evangelical mega-churches spreading all over this country with followers including the current (October 2008) Republican Vice Presidential candidate, Sarah Palin.

Other anti-Masonic websites like those of David Bey and Texe Marrs will tell you that every time you see the eagle symbol it is actually a secret nametag proclaiming membership in the club of Satan-worshipping Illuminati Masons. They link the American eagle to the Freemasonic double-headed eagle symbol, as well as to the Nazi use of the German Imperial eagle. By selectively emphasizing two groups they fear who also used the eagle, they can then claim that when Hillary Clinton wears an eagle lapel pin, it "proves our contention that Hillary and Bill Clinton are practicing Illuminists," according to David Bey. Texe Marrs uses the Freemasonic eagle symbol to conclude that the allegedly coded phrase of "The eagle has landed," proves that NASA is controlled by the Illuminati.

And we can't forget our national capital, chock full of symbols ripe for the picking. Other Anti-masonic websites have a field day tracing geometrical symbols in the street layout of Washington, DC, and forcibly interpreting the neoclassical statuary to fit their argument that Satan is lurking in every corner!

I invite you to read my new book where we look at each of these arguments in turn and balance them against the documentable historical data that refutes most of their claims. We also provide numerous, considerably different interpretations of America's symbols based on potential influences by world cultures, religions, secret societies, archetypes and popular usage. What we conclude is that they are all ultimately about balance and unity. Strength in numbers. Out of Many One. Or as the Woodstock generation put it, We Are All One.

America's symbols really do contain clues to treasure maps just as the summer blockbusters tell us, but the treasure is not gold and silver. It is knowledge of the path to higher consciousness, which is our country's destiny. The Great Seal was chosen as a symbol for early Americans to emulate, and to remind us that we are not complete as humans or as a nation without God or the conscious soul. It was not designed as a clue that any one particular group was secretly in charge. Secret and non-secret societies for centuries have honored the individual symbols that make up the reverse of the Great Seal for the same reasons Americans today should still honor them. They remind us that illumination from the Creator source gives knowledge of the life purpose – for both the soul and the nation – a condition which when achieved creates a balanced whole individual, or a unified nation.

I'm hoping that a deeper and more timeless appreciation of American symbols can be gained when we account for the classical inspirations of the designers together with a humanistic archetypal interpretation. I wrote this book to confound conspiracy theorists, while at the same time inspire budding political activists. It's time for us to take a second look at the symbols we all take for granted. By learning their intended meanings, we can activate the political will to defend our liberty, like the symbol of the eagle tells us to do, with eternal vigilance.

Bio: The research of Robert R. Hieronimus, Ph.D. has been used by the White House and State Department, and published in the Congressional Record. His earlier books have been featured repeatedly on the History and National Geographic channels, and the Discovery Channel is producing a 2-hour documentary based on his new book called "Secret America" scheduled for release in January 2009. In it he is seen working on his new Artcar, the Biodiesel "We The People." One of his best-known Artcars, the Woodstock bus, is being turned into a diecast model by Sunstar, Inc. for release in 2009 and the 40th anniversary of Woodstock. More about his radio program at, and about his new book at

The United Symbolism of America

Deciphering Hidden Meanings in America's Most Familiar Art, Architecture, and Logos

Robert R. Hieronimus has been defending American symbols all his life. A visual artist, talk radio host, and historian, Hieronimus earned a Ph.D. with a sophisticated symbolic analysis of the reverse of the Great Seal as thesis. His weekly program, 21st Century Radio with Dr. Bob Hieronimus (, is celebrating its 20th year of new paradigm talk radio.