- This is an article about groups called Illuminati. For information on the games, see Illuminati (game) and Illuminati: New World Order. For the novels, see The Illuminatus! Trilogy.
The Illuminati is the name of many groups, modern and historical, real and fictitious, verified and alleged. Most commonly, however, The Illuminati refers specifically to the Bavarian Illuminati, described below. Most alleged and fictitious uses refer to a shadowy conspiratorial organization which controls world affairs behind the scenes, usually a modern incarnation or continuation of the Bavarian Illuminati. Illuminati is sometimes used synonymously with New World Order.
Since Illuminati literally means 'enlightened ones' in Latin, it is natural that several unrelated historical groups have identified themselves as Illuminati. Often, this was due to claims of possessing gnostic texts or other arcane information not generally available.
The designation illuminati was also in use from the 15th century, assumed by enthusiasts of another type, who claimed that the illuminating light came, not by being communicated from an authoritative but secret source, but from within, the result of exalted consciousness, or "enlightenment".
Alumbrados of Spain
To the former class belong the alumbrados of Spain. The historian Marcelino Menéndez Pelayo found the name as early as 1492 (in the form aluminados, 1498). but traced them to a Gnostic origin, and thought their views were promoted in Spain through influences from Italy. One of their earliest leaders, born in Salamanca, a labourer's daughter known as La Beata de Piedrahita, came under the notice of the Inquisition in 1511, as claiming to hold colloquies with Jesus and the Virgin Mary; some high patronage saved her from a rigorous denunciation. (Menéndez Pelayo, Los Heterodoxos Espanioles, 1881, vol. v.). Ignatius Loyola, while studying at Salamanca in 1527, was brought before an ecclesiastical commission on a charge of sympathy with the alumbrados, but escaped with an admonition. Others were not so fortunate. In 1529 a congregation of naive adherents at Toledo was subjected to whippings and imprisonment. Greater rigors followed, and for about a century the alumbrados sent many victims to the Inquisition, especially at Cordoba.
Illuminés of France
The movement (under the name of Illuminés) seems to have reached France from Seville in 1623, and attained some following in Picardy when joined (1634) by Pierce Guerin, curé of Saint-Georges de Roye, whose followers, known as Gurinets, were suppressed in 1635.
A century later, another, more obscure body of Illuminés came to light in the south of France in 1722, and appears to have lingered till 1794, having affinities with those known contemporaneously in Britain as 'French Prophets', an offshoot of the Camisards.
A different class were the Rosicrucians, who claimed to originate in 1422, but rose into notice in 1537; a secret society, that claimed to combine with the mysteries of alchemy the possession of esoteric principles of religion. Their positions are embodied in three anonymous treatises of 1614, mentioned in Richard and Giraud, Dictionnaire universel des sciences ecclésiastiques. Paris 1825. Rosicrucians also claimed heritage from the Knights Templar and Priory of Sion.
Later, the title Illuminati was applied to the French Martinists which had been founded in 1754 by Martinez Pasqualis, and to their imitators the Russian Martinists, headed about 1790 by Professor Schwartz of Moscow; both were occultist cabalists and allegorists, absorbing eclectic ideas from Jakob Boehme and Emanuel Swedenborg.
The Bavarian Illuminati
A short-lived movement of republican freethinkers, the most radical offshoot of the Enlightenment, to whose adherents the name Illuminati was given, (but who called themselves "Perfectibilists"), was founded on May 1, 1776 by the ex-Jesuit Adam Weishaupt (d. 1830), professor of canon law, and Baron Adolph von Knigge, in Ingolstadt, Bavaria (now Germany). The group has also been called the Illuminati Order, the Order of the Illuminati, and the Bavarian Illuminati.
In the conservative state of Bavaria, where the progressive and enlightened elector Maximilian III Joseph von Wittelsbach was succeeded (1777) by his conservative heir Karl Theodor, and which was dominated by the Roman Catholic Church and the aristocracy, such an organization did not last long before it was suppressed by the powers that be. In 1784, the Bavarian government banned all secret societies including the Illuminati and the Freemasons. The structure of the Illuminati soon collapsed, but while it was in existence many influential intellectuals and progressive politicians counted themselves as members.
Its members, drawn primarily from Masons and former Masons, pledged obedience to their superiors, and were divided into three main classes: the first, known as the Nursery, encompassed the ascending degrees or offices of Preparation, Novice, Minerval and Illuminatus Minor; the second, known as the Masonry, consisting of the ascending degrees of Illuminatus Major and Illuminatus dirigens, the latter also sometimes called Scotch Knight; the third, designated the Mysteries, was subdivided into the degrees of the Lesser Mysteries (Presbyter and Regent) and those of the Greater Mysteries (Magus and Rex). Relations with masonic lodges were established at Munich and Freising in 1780.
The order had its branches in most countries of the European continent, but its total numbers never seem to have exceeded two thousand. The scheme had its attraction for literary men, such as Goethe and Herder, and even for the reigning dukes of Gotha and Weimar. Internal rupture preceded its downfall, which was effected by an edict of the Bavarian government in 1785.
Despite the organization's lifespan, the Bavarian Illuminati have cast a long shadow in popular history, thanks to the writings of their opponents. The lurid allegations of conspiracy theory that have colored the image of the Freemasons have practically opaqued that of the Illuminati. In 1797 Abbé Augustin Barruél published Memoirs Illustrating the History of Jacobinism outlining a vivid conspiracy theory involving the Knights Templars, the Rosicrucians, the Jacobins and the Illuminati. Simultaneously and independently, a Scottish Mason and professor of natural history named John Robison started to publish Proofs of a Conspiracy Against all the Religions and Governments of Europe in 1798. When he saw the similar work done by Barruél, he included large quotes from the latter's work. Robison claimed to present evidence of an Illuminati conspiracy striving to replace all religions and nations with humanism and a single world government, respectively.
More recently, Antony C. Sutton suggested that the secret society Skull and Bones was founded as the American branch of the Illuminati. Others think Scroll and Key has illumnati origins, as well. Robert Gillete has claimed that these Illuminati ultimately intend to rule the world through assassination, bribery, blackmail, the control of banks and other financial powers, the infiltration of governments, and by causing wars and revolution to move their own people into higher positions in the political hierarchy.
Thomas Jefferson, on the other hand, claimed they intended to spread information and the principles of true morality. He attributed the secrecy of the Illuminati to what he called "the tyranny of a despot and priests".
Both seem to agree that the enemies of the Illuminati were the monarchs of Europe and the Church. Barruél claimed that the French revolution (1789) was engineered and controlled by the Illuminati through the Jacobins, and later conspiracy theorists have also claimed their responsibility for the Russian Revolution (1917), although the order was officially shut down in 1790. Very few historians give credence to these views; they regard such claims as the products of overfertile imaginations.
Illuminati after 1790
Several sources suggest that the Bavarian Illuminati survived, and perhaps even exists today. Conspiracy theorists highlight the link between the Illuminati and Freemasonry. It is also suggested that the United States' founding fathers – some being Freemasons – were rife with corruption from the Illuminati. Often the symbol of the all-seeing pyramid in the Great Seal of the United States is cited as an example of the Illuminati's ever-present watchful eye over us.
The truth is probably much more mundane. The United States' seal has never been a Masonic or Illuminati symbol. Its design was submitted by Pierre Du Simitiere to the committee of Thomas Jefferson, Benjamin Franklin, and John Adams. Of the four, only Franklin was a Freemason, but his ideas for design were not accepted by the committee. The all-seeing eye was a classical symbol of the time, but the eye atop a pyramid seems to be an invention of Du Simitiere, and approved by the committee.
Very little reliable evidence can be found to support that Weishaupt's group survived into the 19th Century. However, several groups have used the infamy of the Illuminati since to found their own rites, claiming to be the Illuminati, including the Ordo Illuminatorum, Die Alten Erleuchteten Seher Bayerns, The Illuminati Order, and others.
The Illuminati in popular culture
The historical Illuminati have had several influences on popular culture, not all of them entirely serious:
- Illuminatus! by Robert Shea and Robert Anton Wilson is a three-book science fiction series published in the 1970s, which is regarded as a cult classic in the hacker community. The occult group Illuminates of Thanateros can be safely assumed to have named itself inspired by this book and claims heritage to the Illuminati at least in spirit.
- Two games from Steve Jackson Games are based on the mythos: Illuminati and its trading card game reincarnation Illuminati: New World Order. "Secret conspiracies are everywhere, and where can you find the only truth? Certainly not in the game of Illuminati" states the advertising.
- Umberto Eco's Foucault's Pendulum is a labyrinthine novel about all sorts of secret societies, including the Illuminati.
- Deus Ex, a video game, features the Illuminati.
- Angels and Demons (German title: Illuminati, Dutch het Berlini Mysterie), by Dan Brown, is about an Illuminati order plot against the Catholic Church.
- The Illuminati was featured in a couple episodes of the Walt Disney animated series Gargoyles, but it played a background role for the most part.
- The Principia Discordia, the infamous holy book of Discordianism, includes the Illuminati as one of the Greyface forces opposing Discordians.
- A small belief movement believes the Illuminati are a group of aliens that hold humanity on strings and control everything. This movement reads much like a science fiction novel (and was probably derived from one).
- In Simon Wests movie "Lara Croft: Tomb Raider" (2001) a group of high society 'bad guys' call themselves Illuminati, developing a plan to rule the world.
- The movie National Treasure features both the Illuminati and the Freemasons.
- Yoshitoshi ABe's first anime series, Serial Experiments Lain, a cult classic in the technologically literate circles of anime fandom, features some references to the Illuminati and the Majestic 12 as a partial explanation of strange events.
- 1911 Encyclopædia Britannica: "Illuminati"
- America's Secret Establishment: An Introduction to the Order of Skull & Bones — Antony C. Sutton (Trine Day, LLC, 2003)
- Behold a Pale Horse — Cooper, Milton William (Light Technology Publishing, 1991)
- The Cosmic Conspiracy — Deyo, Stan (Adventures Unlimited Pres, Illinois, 1994)
- The Illuminati 666 — Sutton, Josiah William (Teach Services, Inc, New York, 1983).
- Proof of a Conspiracy Against all the Religions and Governments of Europe — Robinson, John A.M. (New York, 1798)
- alt.illuminati FAQ
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