The Origins of the Illuminati
Pre-Weishaupt origins are given to the Alumbrados of Spain and Illuminés of France. This claim holds in name and mystical concerns, but no solid historical lineage is known. Their practice of mysticism and attempt to reinterpret communication with God through meditation, along with claims of enlightenment while living, communication with Lucifer, and sexual practices, all denote a seeming connection with later Illuminati groups, but claims of later connections of others' organizations' familiarity with these early movements are unsubstantiated.
May 1, 1776, in Bavaria, Dr. Adam Weishaupt, a professor of Canon Law at Ingolstadt University and a former Jesuit, formed a secret society called the Order of the Illuminati within the existing Masonic lodges of Germany. Since Masonry is itself a secret society, the Illuminati was a secret society within a secret society. In 1785 the Illuminati were suppressed by the Bavarian government for allegedly plotting to overthrow all the kings in Europe as well as the Pope. This much is generally agreed upon by all historians.
It has been claimed that Dr. Weishaupt was an atheist, a Cabalistic magician, a rationalist, a mystic; a democrat, a socialist, an anarchist, a fascist; a Machiavellian amoralist, an alchemist, a totalitarian and an "enthusiastic philanthropist," according to Thomas Jefferson. The Illuminati have also been credited with managing the French and American revolutions behind the scenes, taking over the world, being the brains behind Communism, continuing underground up to the 1970s, and secretly worshipping the Devil. Some claim that Weishaupt didn't invent the Illuminati, but only revived it.
The Order of Illuminati has been traced back to the Knights Templar, to the Greek and Gnostic initiatory cults, to Egypt, even to Atlantis. The one safe generalization one can make is that Weishaupt's intent to maintain secrecy has worked; no two students of Illuminology have ever agreed totally about what the "inner secret" or purpose of the Order actually was, leaving room for endless speculation. There have been sensational exposés of the Illuminati in every generation since 1776
The Rosicrucians claimed to have originated in 1407, but rose to notice in 1614 when their main text Fama Fraternitatis appeared. As a secret society, they claimed to combine the possession of esoteric principles of religion with the mysteries of alchemy. Their positions are described in three anonymous treatises from 1614 (mentioned in Richard and Giraud, Dictionnaire universel des sciences ecclésiastiques, Paris 1825), as well as in the Confessio Fraternitatis of 1615. Rosicrucians also claimed heritage from the Knights Templar.
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.
A movement of freethinkers that were the most radical offshoot of The Enlightenment — whose adherents were given the name Illuminati (but who called themselves "Perfectibilists") — was founded on May 1, 1776, by Jesuit-taught Adam Weishaupt (d. 1830), who was the first lay professor of canon law. The group has also been called the Illuminati Order, the Order of the Illuminati, and the Bavarian Illuminati. In 1777, Karl Theodor, Elector Palatine, succeeded as ruler of Bavaria. He was a proponent of Enlightened Despotism and in 1784, his 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 were supposedly drawn primarily from Masons and former Masons, and although some Masons were known to be members there is no evidence that it was supported by Freemasons. Indeed, membership in the Illuminati, unlike that in Freemasonry, did not require belief in a Supreme Being. As a result, atheists and agnostics, having only the former organization open to them, congregated disproportionately in it; this over-representation, taken along with the Illuminati's largely humanist and anti-clerical bent, likely accounts for many of the charges of atheism leveled at the alleged world conspiracy of which the Illuminati supposedly remain a part.
The Illuminati's members 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 by Alexander Gibson and Joseph Vincent respectively.
The order had its branches in most countries of the European continent; it reportedly had around 2,000 members over the span of 10 years. 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.
The Bavarian Illuminati have cast a long shadow in popular history thanks to the writings of their opponents; the lurid allegations of conspiracy 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 Templar, the Rosicrucians, the Jacobins and the Illuminati, during the course of which Barruél blamed all of what he regarded as the disasters of his times such as the French Revolution on the said groups. 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. Robison claimed to present evidence of an Illuminati conspiracy striving to replace all world religions with humanism and all nations with a single world government.
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 had Illuminati origins, as well. Writer Robert Gillette claimed that these Illuminati ultimately intend to establish a world government through assassination, bribery, blackmail, the control of banks and other financial powers, the infiltration of governments, mind control, 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 sides seem to agree that the enemies of the Illuminati were the monarchs of Europe and the Church; Barruél claimed that the French revolution in 1789 was engineered and controlled by the Illuminati through the Jacobins, and later theorists even claimed that the Illuminati were responsible for the Russian Revolution of 1917, although the order was officially defunct prior to 1789. Few historians give credence to these views; they regard such claims as the products of over-fertile imaginations.
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. The symbols of the All-seeing Eye and the unfinished pyramid in the Great Seal of the United States are cited as an example of the Illuminati's ever-present watchful eye over Americans.
While Weishaupt's group did not survive into the 19th century, several groups have since used the name Illuminati to found their own rites, claiming to be the Illuminati. Groups describing themselves as Illuminati say they have members and chapters (lodges) throughout the world.
About the time that the Illuminati were outlawed in Bavaria, the Roman Catholic Church prohibited its members from joining Masonic lodges, on pain of excommunication. This was done as a general edict, since the Church believed many lodges to have been infiltrated and subverted by the Illuminati, but was not able to accurately ascertain which ones. Cardinal Ratzinger (later to become Pope Benedict XVI) stated, in a document by the Sacred Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith on November 26, 1983, that the "Church's negative judgment in regard to Masonic associations remains unchanged since their principles have always been considered irreconcilable with the doctrine of the Church and, therefore, membership in them remains forbidden. The faithful, who enroll in Masonic associations are in a state of grave sin and may not receive Holy Communion."
According to Principia Discordia and several other Discordian works, the Bavarian Illuminati was revived or rediscovered in the 20th Century under the leadership of Mordecai Malignatus (Robert Anton Wilson, who also wrote about the group under the pennames Mordecai the Foul and Reverend Loveshade). In the original Steve Jackson Games card game Illuminati and in the trading card game Illuminati: New World Order that it is based on, the Bavarian Illuminati is an enemy organization of the Discordians.