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THE SEAL IS THE NATIONAL TREASURE

In an effort to counteract the efforts of Internet conspiracy theorists and blockbuster movie fans, Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice on Tuesday inaugurated a new exhibition to commemorate the 225th birthday of the Great Seal of the United States and trace the history and evolution of the symbolism. Contrary to the plot of the National Treasure movies, it does not contain clues to a fabulous hidden treasure, but is rather the nation's stamp of authority, sovereignty and power. The seal will remain at the State Department, but the interactive exhibit is designed to travel, and curators hope it will dispel the rumors and educate Americans about the real meaning of the symbols. In the meantime, here are some highlights:

The myths

- The seal proves the domination of the United States by a powerful, quasi-religious cult. The Ancient Scottish Rite of Freemasonry is a perennial favorite of conspiracy theorists as some Founding Fathers were Masons and the seal uses several Masonic symbols.

- The seal draws on Satanism or polytheistic ritual to promote a universal new world order under which Earth would be ruled by a single omnipotent government.

- The repeated references to 13 - the number of steps in the unfinished pyramid, stars in the constellation over the eagle's head, arrows in the eagle's claw, stripes on the eagle's shield, letters in the phrase Annuit Coeptis - demonstrate the power of 13 American families.

- There are two seals: one in which the eagle's head faces the arrows for times of war and another in which the eagle's head faces the olive branch for times of peace.

Official story

- Known Masons like the first U.S. president, George Washington, and Benjamin Franklin had no role in designing the final seal, which uses elements of traditional heraldry, such as the unfinished pyramid to symbolize a work in progress, arrows for war and an olive branch for peace. Masons share some of those symbols, but they have never been exclusively the domain of the order.

- The phrase Novus Ordo Seculorum below the Roman numerals for 1776 at the base of the pyramid translates as "A New Order of the Ages" that began with independence and does not imply the United States will be the lynchpin of a sinister "New World Order." Also, the words Annuit Coeptis ("Providence favors") and the eye of providence that hovers over the pyramid refer to unexpected interventions of fate that assisted the colonists.

- References to 13 refer to the number of colonies that formed the original United States.

- The government is sticking to the story that there is just one.

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