Bavarian Illuminati FAQ
A lot of references appear in some newsgroups to the "Illuminati".
I'm trying to gather together some source material on the subject, to
produce some sort of FAQ file.
Here's three articles from the "Coil's Masonic Encyclopedia",
1961, by Henry Wilson Coil, 33rd degree. This is an excellent, albeit
slightly idiosyncratic reference work. Coil had a low opinion the
Catholicism, and it shows.
Of course, this being a *Masonic* encyclopedia, the articles are
written from that viewpoint.
- Illuminati of Bavaria.
This order was first called the Order of Perfectibilists, and was
a fairly shortlived, meteoric, controversial society formed May 1,
1776, in Bavaria, by Adam Weishaupt, aided by Baron von Knigge and
others, suppressed in 1784, and entirely disappeared by the close of
the century. It was not primarily Masonic, and evidently not founded by
any Masonic authority, though it pirated or prarphrased Masonic rituals
and at one time or another had a number of prominent Freemasons in the
group. Freemasonry has received a great many denunciations from several
sources by reason of the aberrations of the Illuminati, and the enemies
of Freemasonry encouraged the idea that Illuminism and Freemasonry were
the same. For details of the lives of Weishaupt and Knigge, reference
must be made to those titles in the general text but, since Illuminism
was their creation and developed as they directed, their acts are
material and discussed here.
Adam Weishaupt, Professor of Canon Law at the University of
Ingolstadt, conceived the idea of founding an order which, by mutual
helpfulness, counsel, and philosophic discussions, would increase
morality and virtue, lay the foundation for the reformation of the
world, and oppose the progress of evil, all of which objectives were
expressed in the name, "Order of Perfectibilists" or "Perfectionists",
which was soon changed to "Illuminati", which is best translated as
"intellectually inspired". Modesty and humility seems to have been no
trait of Weishaupt, for he was one of the first to attempt to fly with
little knowledge of human aerodynamics. His ambition outweighed his
judgement; his ideals were too refined for a rude world. Like many
other promoters, Weishaupt sought the aid of Freemasonry to give his
machine both propulsion and ballast. But it dragged Freemasonry down
without helping Illuminism very much. He was too shrewd and subtle for
his own good, though such qualities gave him headway for a time.
Although he formerly belonged to the Jesuits, he secured admission to a
lodge of Freemasons in 1777. Ironically, that was named "Lodge of
We are not informed as to just how Weishaupt became associated
with Adolph Franz Friedrich Ludwid Baron Von Knigge, for the latter
lived in North Germany, was of the nobility, and, after his initiation
in 1773, showed little interest in Freemasonry. But noblemen were found
in abundance in the most fraudulent orders in Germany claiming some
Masonic connections. Weishaupt, in 1780, dispatched the Marquis de
Costanzo to propagate Illuminism in the north and Knigge probably then
first showed interest in the society. He became more and more
enthusiastic as the plan was revealed to him, and, in 1781, accepted
the invitation to visit Bavaria and receive full access to all of
Weishaupt's materials. Knigge not only completed the scale of degrees
but became a proponent of them, bringing to his aid the assistance of
Johann J. C. Bode, a prominent German Mason. The order was at first
very popular and attracted, it is said, some of the best men in Germany
and some of the worst. It had 2000 names on its rolls and spread to
France, Belgium, Holland, Denamrk, Sweden, Poland, Hungary, and Italy.
Knigge, especially, was a highly religious and intellectual man and
would have had nothing to do with that or any other order which was
anti-Christian, yet, the vicious attacks and accusations by Baruel and
Robison had great influence, and it was even charged that the
Illuminati were themselves agents of the Jesuits, though the latter
were opposing it in their usual secret manner. The Illuminati were
extremely secretive, even identifying themselves and their chapters by
assumed classical names; for examples, Weishaupt was Spartacus, Knigge
was Philo, Ingolstadt, the headquarters, was Eleusis, Austria was
Egypt, etc. Dates were given in a sort of cryptography.
The ceremonies were divided into three principal classes and those
into degrees as follows: I-The Nursery: 1. Preparatory Literary Essay;
2. Novitiate; 3. Minerval; 4. Minor Illuminatus; 5. Magistratus.
II-Symbolic Freemasonry: 1. Apprentice; 2. Fellow Craft; 3. Master; 4.
(a) Scots Major Illuminatus, (b) Scots Illuminatus Dirigens
(Directory). III-Mysteries; 1. Lesser: (a) Presbyter, Priest, or Epopt,
(b) Prince or Regent; Greater: (a) Magus; (b) Rex or King (some of
these latter degrees were never completed).
The Illuminati were finally beset by both internal and external
disorders, for Weishaupt found fault with some of Knigge's ritualistic
work and peremptorily ordered it changed, whereupon, Knigge became
disgusted and resigned in 1784. The Jesuits had fought it from the
first and eventually all priests became its active enemies and raised
so much opposition that the Elector of Bavaria supressed the Order by
edict, June 22, 1784, many Illuminati being imprisoned and some,
including Weishaupt, being forced to flee the country. Though the first
edict had been obeyed, it was repeated in March and August, 1785. Not
only Illuminism, but Freemasonry was exterminated in Bavaria and
neither ever recovered its former position. The Illuminati seem to have
completely disappeared everywhere by the end of the 18th century.
Founder of the Illuminati of Bavaria, born at Inglstadt, 1748,
died 1811. He was educated in law and attained the rank of Professor in
1772 at the University of Ingolstadt. He had been educated by the
Jesuits but acquired a dislike for them, and in his professional life,
he was soon in conflict with the whole clergy, partly because he held
the chair of Canon Law, which had always been held by an ecclesiastic.
In conferences with his students in whom he planted liberal ideas on
religion and philosophy, and he soon conceived of a close association
of enlightened or intellectual persons who might advance the moral and
intellectual qualities of themselves as well as others. This idea
materialized as the Illuminates or Illuminati, who at first had no
connection with Freemasonry. In 1777, he was admitted to Lodge Theodore
of Good Counsel (translated by some as Lodge Theodore of Caution) at
Munich, and from that time, he sought to interrelate the affairs of his
Illuminati with Freemasonry.
He soon formed an association with Baron von Knigge, an able and
upright man from north Germany, and the two might have accomplished
their objectives and some good had it not been for the opposition of
the Jesuits (who were still powerful though banished from Bavaria) and
the Roman Catholic clergy. Moreover Weishaupt and Knigge could not
agree upon some of the latters' ritualistic interpretations. From the
literature on the subject of Illuminism and from the caustic remarks of
Masonic writers, we might suppose that this order or movement lasted a
long time, but the whole drama opened with the organization of the
Perfectionists in 1766 and, 18 years later in 1784, the Bavarian
government banned all secret associations. The next year, Weishaupt was
discharged from his position at the University and banished from the
country. He fled to Gotha and found asylum with Duke Ernest of that
little city, remaining there until his death in 1811. In Gotha, he
published a number of works, those on Illuminism being: "A Picture of
Illuminism", 1786; "A Complete History of the Persecutions of the
Illuminati in Bavaria", 1785 (only the first of two planned volumes
published); "An Apology for the Illuminati", 1786; "An Improved System
of Illuminism", 1787, and others.
The most objective writers on the subject give Weishaupt credit
for being of high moral character and a profound thinker, and it is
worth noting that his associate, Knigge, spoke with great respect of
his intellectual powers. It appears, however, that he was the victim of
at least two powerful forces, first, the vindictive hate of the Church
of Rome and the Bavarian government and, secondly, his own inadequate
judgement of how to launch a revolutionary and more or less secret
movement such as Illuminism. He was really employing methods of the
Jesuits, for his whole order seems to have been composed of spies and
counter spies, and only those most adept at scheming and trickery were
advanced. The candidates all had pseudonyms, that of Weishaupt being
Spartacus, and those who became too inquisitive about matters as to
which their suspicions were aroused were turned out. If the purpose had
been philosophic, ethical, or for the improvement of the mind or
salvation of the soul, it need never to have been quite so secretive,
and from the Masonic standpoint, Weishaupt was not justified in using
the Fraternity as the vehicle for his scheme, good or bad, though he
had ample precedents on all sides.
Knigge, Baron von (Adolph F. R. L.)
German Freemason and, in part, founder of the Bavarian Illuminati.
He was born near Hanover in 1752, and died at Bremen in 1796. He was
initiated in a lodge of the Strict Observance at Cassel in 1772, but,
for a time, seemed uninterested in the Society, thogh later becoming
one of the foremost German writers on the subject. He published "On
the Jesuits, Freemasons, and Rosicrucians, 1781, anon.; "Essay on
Freemasonry", 1784; "Contribution towards the latest history of the
Order of Freemasons", 1786; and "Philo's final Declaration", 1788. He
also wrote many non-Masonic works, one being "On Conversation with
Men", towards the end of his career and after a sad experience with the
Illuminati and disappointment with the Strict Observance, causing him
therein to devote much space to secret societies and denunciation of
Freemasonry. The most interesting and significant part of Knigge's
career was his participation with Weishaupt in the promotion of the
Bavarian Illuminati, he being almost an equal party.
A look at the Harvard University Library Catalog shows that there
was an Illuminati panic in New England in the late 1790's.
After that, very few people seem to have had Illuminism on their
minds. In the 1950s and 60's, about the only people who seem to mention
it were the John Birch Society.
In the mid-70's, Robert Shea and Robert Anton Wilson restarted
popular speculation with their fictional "Illuminatus!" trilogy. This
mixes actual history with conspiracy theory and pure invention, and
very deliberately produces doubts in the reader's mind as to the
nature of reality - a technique which the authors refer to as "guerilla
ontology", in pursuit of "Operation Mindf*ck." They were apparently
turned on to Illuminism by some of the correspondance they received
while working as letters column editors at Playboy magazine.
At the core of Illuminatus! is an aeons-old conflict between the
conspiracies representing the forces of order, bureaucracy, and
repression, represented by the Illuminati, and the conspiracies
representing the forces of chaos, spontaneity and freedom,
representing by the Erisians (followers of Eris, the Greek goddess of
discord). The plot involves every conspiracy you've ever heard of,
many you havent, monomaniacal midgets, golden submarines, giant squid,
ancient Atlantis, zombie Nazi stormtroopers, and a good deal of sex.
Wilson and Shea drew heavily on Akron Darual's "History of Secret
Societies", the 'Principia Discordia' of the Erisians, many kinds of
fringe conspiracy theory, and their own imaginations. One of their
conceits is that Adam Weishaupt, founder of the Bavarian Illuminati,
secretly murdered George Washington and took his place.
Illuminatus! became an underground bestseller, and while Shea seems
to have been content to sit back and enjoy the royalties, Wilson has
worked the interest it developed into a minor industry. He has brought
out a steady stream of fiction and "non-fiction" concerning the
Illuminati and related topics, noteably the "Schrodinger's Cat"
trilogy, "The Illuminati Papers", "Cosmic Trigger - The Final Secret of
the Illuminati", and most recently the "Historical Illuminatus Series",
which is up to four books.
[The following paragraph is a personal opinion.]
I've met Wilson, and my impression is that he lacks sincerity. I
don't think he actually believes in the continuing existence of the
Illuminati, but knows he's stumbled onto a goldmine. He does seem
serious about some of the psychological theories he promotes.
A couple other works of interest are the above-mentioned "History
of Secret Societies" by Akron Daraul, and Neil Wilgus' "The
Illuminoids". HoSS tries to link together a number of groups, claiming
that the Illuminati, the Masons, the Italian Carbonari, and the
Spanish Alumburados (sp?) are all linked and can be traced back to the
Hashashins of the ancient Middle East. "The Illuminoids" is
post-Illuminatus! and basically catalogs the conspiracy theories
connected to it.
So there you have it - a short-lived, failed, 18th century secret
society, which after being forgotten for nearly 200 years, has seized
the popular imagination through the work of two men. Despite the
paranoia of some of the people on the net, there is not the slightest
shred of evidence that the Illuminati persisted past 1800.
Of course, you may think you are free to doubt me on this. :-)
W .'. Peter Trei
Wilder Lodge AF&AM
After I put this out on the net, I received a few responses. The most
interesting gives some German sources on the Illuminati. I've touched
up the English a little:
Date: Tue, 27 Oct 92 17:33:17 MEZ
From: "Roald A. Zellweger"
There is, of course, lots of material in German available on the
Bavarian Illuminati, esp from the beginning of the century, but also
from the research on the later Enlightenment in Germany, that had it's
height in the 70's.
Goethe and Herder were at times members of the Bavarian
Illuminati, and not only the Duke of Gotha, but also the Dukes of
Weimar and Brunswick, of course since it was Jesuitic in form and
heavily anti-Jesuitic in everything else...
At the end of 19th century the Illuminati-phobia was promoted and
used by the "Protokolle der Weisen von Zion" ["Protocols of the Elders
of Zion"] rsp. the literary Vorlage, a French anti-Napoleonic fiction,
and later by Ludendorff. So the Illuminati-phobia became closely
connected with Fascism's conspiracy theories.
The Illuminati no longer exist, but they influenced methods of
political conspiracy in 19th century and put the fear of a conspiracy
of masons, Jews, etc. in the views of the extreme right.
Informative is the Article Illuminaten in the Theologische
Realenzyclopedie (TRE), the large forthcoming protestant encyclopedia,
Bd.16,p.81-84, providing with the newest (serious!) literature.
Broader, but older, the article Illuminaten in Realenzyclopaedie
fuer protestantische Theologie und Kirche, Bd.9, Leipzig 1901,
p.61-68, mentioning the Spanish Alumbrados as using the same name and
existing later in France. The Realenzyclopaedie 3rd Edition is a very
serious work of late 19th century Historical Research and of course
from the viewpoint of German Kulturprotestantism.
Sources could be found sub Knigge and Weishaupt in Wolfsohns
Freimaurerbibliographie, Vienna (20's or early 30's). Useful is the
Internationales Freimaurerlexikon (Vienna 1932). Both Works are from
a (low-degree) masonic viewpoint and esp the latter apologetic against
Ludendorff's conspiracy theory.
Edited sources are: Jan Reichold (ed.): Die Illuminaten. Quellen
und Texte zur Aufklaerungsideologie des Illuminatenordens, Berlin
((former) DDR) 1984, commentary part of course influenced by Marxism
and GDR-ideology, but solid text edition.
Richard van Duelman: Der Geheimbund der Illuminaten, Stuttgart
If you haven't access to the lexica and could send me a Fax or
snail-mail address, I could send you copies from the articles in
Roald A. Zellweger
Institut fuer Spezialforschungen
Platz der Goettinger Sieben 2
phone : +49-551-39 7127
fax : +49-551-9 75 88
Minor bits & bobs:
Steve Jackson Games has a rather nifty conspiracy table top game
called Illuminati, based on the books.
There is a live-action version called GURPS Illuminati, played at
finer SF and gaming conventions.
The "Puzzling Evidence" segment of the film "True Stories",
without mentioning the Illuminati explicitly, gives an entertaining
insight into the mind of a conspiracy theorist.