The symbolism of an eagle can be seen from ancient Egypt, the Holy Roman Empire, to modern day America. What does it mean, though? Why have so many nations chosen an eagle as their national symbol or used it in the form of heraldry?
The explanation commonly given is that it symbolizes strength, courage, and immortality. That’s a reasonable explanation but there’s more to it than that. To understand the deeper meaning, you have to trace the history of this form of symbolism back to ancient Egypt.
The symbolism of the eagle and the eagle as a form of heraldry date into predynastic Egypt. This came in the form of an emblem known as a serekh and was used to indicate the influence of a regime or to identify military allegiances. Eventually, a falcon symbolizing Horus became standard. Horus was an Egyptian Sun god and his association with heraldry represented the hope that the bright Sun god Horus would lead them into battle and shine his light favorably upon them. Of course, the meaning of this symbol changed in time but that’s the original meaning and usage as far as it can be traced.
The book A Bridge To Light, which is given to 32° degree Freemasons upon the completion of the Scottish Rite degrees, provides an explanation which resonates with the historical usage in ancient Egyptian heraldry.
“Among the Egyptians, the eagle was the emblem of the wise man because his wings bore him above the clouds into the purer atmosphere and nearer to the source of light, and his eyes were not dazzled with that light. Since the eagle also represented the great Egyptian Sun god Amun-Ra, it is a symbol of the infinite Supreme Reason or Intelligence.” — (A Bridge To Light pg. 134.)
The eagle symbolizes strength, courage, and immortality. Alternatively, the eagle can be said to symbolize wisdom and the Sun god Amun-Ra or more accurately, Horus.
The double-headed eagle has also been used by various nations and is the main symbol of Scottish Rite Freemasonry. What does the double-headed eagle symbolize? Simply put, it symbolizes the perceived duality of the Sun relative to Earth ( Day/Night — Light/Darkness) or duality itself. You could say that it represents driving order from chaos, light from darkness, or truly understanding the difference between good and evil i.e. Genesis 3:22. That’s what it symbolizes in Freemasonry, at least, but the meaning as it relates to various nations is obviously debatable.