‘Eyes’ through the eyes of Egyptians


When you ask someone for something in Egypt, they may answer: “3enayya!” or “My Eyes”, meaning: “Sure thing, I would give my eyes for you!” The symbolism inherent in eyes can be traced back all the way to ancient Egyptian times.

Egyptian sayings often refer to the eyes as one of the most precious gifts that a human being has. By extension, loved ones in Egyptians’ culture are called “My Eyes” (3enayya) or “Light of my eyes” (nour 3enayya).

(photo: Abdel Hady El Gazzar booklet, Ebdaa Gallery)

Whether as protectors or precious gifts, eyes have a special place in Egyptians’ collective unconscious from time immemorial. This is seen in ancient Egyptian mythology and iconography.

(photo: Abdel Hady El Gazzar booklet, Ebdaa Gallery)

For instance, the sky god Horus is usually depicted as a falcon with his right eye associated with the sun god Ra. In depictions of Horus on tomb and temple walls, you often see the eye of Horus in a prominent place, a symbol of royal power and protection.

The sky god Horus (photo: solarlunar)

The Eye of Horus is the Egyptian version of the “all-seeing eye”, a mystical and esoteric concept referring to a speculative invisible eye, which provides a view beyond ordinary sight; also known in other cultures as the third eye.

Torino, Egyptian Museum, mummy coffin, Udjat Eye (mummy coffin, Udjat eyes)

Eye of Horus Collar (photo: Jan Geisen)

In ancient Egyptian mathematics, most fractions were written as the sum of two or more unit fractions, arithmetic values represented by parts of the Eye of Horus.

Egyptians used base two fractions thousands of years ago, and some curricula still include “Egyptian fraction” representation of numbers (photo: wikispaces)

In New Age spirituality, the third eye often symbolises a state of enlightenment or the evocation of mental images having deeply personal spiritual or psychological significance.

(photo: Abdel Hady El Gazzar booklet, Ebdaa Gallery)

The all-seeing or third eye is often associated with religious visions, out-of-body experiences, telepathy, as well as the ability to observe and to see beyond the material manifestation of phenomena.

The all-seeing eye can be seen represented in many places as a symbol of occult power or wisdom; for instance in some free mason iconography, or even on top of the pyramid of the United States dollar bill.

The Eye of Horus for ancient Egyptians was not only a symbol of protection, but also a lucky charm, amulet and bringer of good luck.

Here again, modern-day habits reflect ideas inherited from the past, and Egyptians often hang a blue eye to ward off evil and protect the wearer or their possessions.

Egyptians often hang a blue eye to ward off evil and protect the wearer or their possessions.

The other common everyday reference to eyes is in the context of envy or “evil eye”. Egyptians, whether ancient or presenty-day, believe in the power of other people’s envy to harm them, through the envious ogling of their perceived good, whether material or god-given – personal charms, beauty or attributes and talents included! So they ask for protection from envy with exhortations such as: “May the eye of the envious one be blinded.” (“Ein el Hassoud Fiha ‘Oud”)

(photo: lirak.free)

These ideas come across in the many sayings revolving around the eye, such as:

“My eyes” = “My precious one”

“Oh, light of my eyes” = “Precious to me as my ability to see”

“Put your finger in someone’s eyes” = “Challenge or confront them”

“The Eye of Rationality” = “The penultimate in rationality, reasonableness”

“The Eye of Truth” = “The essence of the truth in a certain matter”

Some proverbs:

The Eye Can Never Get Higher than the Brow  =  El Ein Ma Te3lash 3an el Hageb

S/He Put His Finger in The Eye of .. (someone)  =  7at Soba3o Fi Ein Eltekhin

My Most Fervent Wish  =  “Muna 3enaya”

To Give a Hard Time to Someone (familiar)  =  “Talla3 3eyno!”