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The bizarre evolution of the Illuminati

The bizarre evolution of the Illuminati

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Image of the all seeing eye

What are the first few things that come to mind when we think about the Illuminati? Conspiracy theories, JFK, the US dollar bill, aliens, The Donald? The Illuminati is a name that has passed through one ear and manifested in a mushroom cloud of controversy, conspiracy, and insanity. The hovering all-seeing-eye doesn’t blink in the wake of doubt and destruction, however, we must ask, where did the Illuminati come from? Is it all inconspicuous beings dressed in cloaks and spilling national secrets or is it a bedtime story to tell ourselves to cope with the strife of our waking world? You’ll be surprised by the answer.

1. The Order of the Illuminati

You probably think the Illuminati was created by some weird combination of aliens mixed with some ancient Egyptian origination, or some secret sect of the government meant to watch your every move. But that cannot be farther from the truth.

portrait of Adam Weishaupt

(Wikimedia Commons/ portraitindex.de)

In fact, the birth of the Illuminati stems back to the year 1776 in Bavaria, Germany to a man named Adam Weishaupt who was a professor of natural and canon law at the University of Ingolstadt. Orphaned, his uncle took him in where he was converted to Catholicism and given a thorough education. He took a liking to philosophy. His conversion and studies paved the way for his creating the most infamous organization in the world.

2. A new rationale

Weishaupt grew up under Bavaria’s strict conservative and religious views, leading him to believe that both the monarchy and church were repressing freedom of thought and by extension, the people. Others bought in on his line of thinking. Weishaupt sought out his own belief system to find a form of “illumination,” or a set of practices that could radically change the European state.

Portrait of the philosopher Jean-Jacques Rousseau

(Wikimedia Commons)

As a boy, Weishaupt grew up reading about French philosophy and absorbed the notion of thinking for one’s self and a nation that caters to social reform. As his ideas grew, he decided to join one of the most influential organizations making its way towards Europe.

3. Wannabe Freemason

Weishaupt thought to join the Freemasons, whose influence had spread over Europe and offered alternatives to freethinking. However, Weishaupt didn’t take to the Freemason group. Some believe it was because he lacked the funds to pay for his admission, others speculate that he just wasn’t feeling the hype. It was the kind of dispassion that the Freemasons were not interested in.

Reception at a Freemasons' lodge in Vien

(Photo by Imagno/Getty Images)

Instead, Weishaupt did something radical and decided to found his own secret society. His goal was to loosen the political conservatism gripping Bavaria and be free to think beyond the restrictions of religious ideas. Not a bad idea. It was through this radical idea that something extraordinary happened. A legend was born.

4. Age of free-thinkers

On May 1, 1776, the first Illuminati meeting took place in a forest near the city of Ingolstadt. There, five members attended and established the first rules under which they would govern. According to National Geographic, the goals of Weishaupt’s newfound society would carry free-thinking ideas such as offering freedom “from all religious prejudices; cultivates the social virtues; and animates them by a great, a feasible, and speedy prospect of universal happiness.”

The streets of Ingolstadt Germany

(Pixabay/ddzphoto)

To achieve his goal, Weishaupt believed it was necessary to establish “a state of liberty and moral equality, freed from the obstacles which subordination, rank, and riches, continually throw in our way.” Weishaupt never imagined his society would be so popular.

5. Cool kids only

Once the Bavarian city caught wind of Weishaupt’s secret society, people lined up to join. However, Weishaupt had a few rules of engagement. The first was, according to National Geographic, “All future candidates for admission required members’ consent, a strong reputation with well-established familial and social connections, and wealth.”

Initiation Into An English Freemasonry Lodge Around 1933

UNITED KINGDOM – JANUARY 02: Future Members Of An English Freemasonry Lodge Being Guided With Their Eyes Covered During Their Initiation, Around 1933. (Photo by Keystone-France/Gamma-Keystone via Getty Images)

Basically, Weishaupt is saying: You need the club’s permission to join the society, oh! On top of that, you need to be cool, popular and need to be friends with the rich kid. PS, you need to be rich too, otherwise, GTFO. If being approved by the Illuminati wasn’t enough, wait until you hear its hierarchy.

6. One with the goddess

At first, the Illuminati had three levels of membership: the novices, minervals, and the illuminated minervals. What the heck is a mineraval? The name takes from the Roman goddess of Minerva, who represented knowledge, wisdom, and insight and reflected “the order’s aim to spread true knowledge” and how state and society could be reshaped.

Statue of the Greek Goddess Athena

(Getty Images)

The establishment held significant promise, and by 1782, the Order of the Illuminati had over 600 members, including some prominent figures such as Baron Adolph Knigge, who was not only a writer and Freemason but also became a leading member in Weishaupt’s organization. He was a part of the big leagues.

7. The “Perfectibilists”

Though his aims for personal knowledge was noble, his organization was also rebellious. He called his members “Perfectibilists,” and really, his aim for universal knowledge was to replace Christianity with a religion of reason. Inside the order, members pledged obedience to their superiors. Weishaupt’s society expanded, and soon Illuminati members were scouting in Masonic lodges where they recruited Baron Freiherr von Knigge.

Portrait of Baron Freiherr von Knigge

(Wikimedia Commons)

It was Knigge who took the society seriously from the get-go and was responsible for the extremely elaborate constitution belonging to the order (though it was never realized because, you know, Weishaupt wanted all the credit). As the “secret society” grew, so did high rising tensions.

8. Codename: Spartacus

Let’s face it, the so-called “secret society” isn’t much of a secret — everyone knew about it. Not only did wealthy patrons join in the ranks of the Illuminati, but so did noblemen, politicians, doctors, lawyers, and jurists, and by the end of 1784, there were over 2,500 members in the Order. The majority of it was due to von Knigge who helped spread the organization.

George Washington as a Freemason

This 1866 vintage illustration depicts George Washington as a freemason.

As the Order of the Illuminati spread, the two high-rollers even gave themselves “secret” code names. Weishaupt was dubbed “Spartacus” while Knigge was “Philo.” Because of the amount of joining members, the three-tier system turned to thirteen different degrees of initiation, which was divided into three classes. Weishaupt and Knigge were obviously the top of the classes: King. Soon, however, the Order of the Illuminati would soon crumble.

9. Bad influence

Next door, France isn’t looking too hot. By 1789, the French Revolution sparked outrage through the country, making people bloodthirsty and guillotining the heads of monarchs and noblemen. German leaders were visibly gulping in their thrones and wondered if their country would suffer the same fate.

The "Angels and Demons" tour: the secret meeting spots of Dan Brown's "Illuminati" in Rome, Italy in February, 2005

(Photo by Eric VANDEVILLE/Gamma-Rapho via Getty Images)

Rumors began circulating about the Order of the Illuminati, one of which was that Weishaupt is conspiring with the French to start a revolution in Bavaria. Rumors even spread that Weishaupt spoke to Robespierre, the famous French revolutionary leader. Weishaupt tried to explain that he was more of a gentle reformer than a fiery revolutionary. Of course, that falls on deaf ears, especially on the ears of pedantic royalty.

10. Club Judas

As the French Revolution thrived, pressure began to grow within the organization. Weishaupt and Knigge continuously fought about the organizations and procedures of the order, one that made Knigge lift his middle finger and called it quits, leaving Weishaupt to the demise of the destruction of his society.

The "Angels and Demons" tour: the secret meeting spots of Dan Brown's "Illuminati" in Rome, Italy in February, 2005

(Photo by Eric VANDEVILLE/Gamma-Rapho via Getty Images)

He had a Judas in his wake, and his name was Joseph Utzschneider, a jealous ex-member who single-handedly (for real though) rocked the Illuminati’s foundation and made it crumble. Like all haters, Utzschneider decided to point the finger, and he did so by yanking at the skirts of the Grand Duchess of Bavaria. He wrote her a letter.

11. Blood-boiled royal

His letter contained “supposed” secrets on the order and began to mix truth with the lies. National Geographic reports Utzschneider told the Grand Duchess that the Illuminati believed in suicide, advertised that they should poison their enemies, and promoted religion as an absurdity. Yesh, bitter much? Looks like someone’s feeling a bit salty.

Portrait of Joseph von Utzschneider

(Wikimedia Commons)

The cherry? Utzschneirder suggested that the order was conspiring against Bavaria with the backing of Austrian powers. That got the Grand Duchess’s blood boiling. She revealed what she learned through Utzschneider’s letter to her husband, the Duke-Elector of Bavaria. The pot was no longer simmering — it was now boiling and evaporating.

12. Whipped

If getting tattled by an ex-member of the Illuminati wasn’t bad enough, try having to face the Grand Duchess herself. The Duke-Elector of Bavaria, (though its been suggested to be more of a fanciful pushover than a ruler) got his rear-end kicked into gear. His wife yanked his ear and demanded that he do something about the Order of the Illuminati.

Portrait of Karl Theodor Kurfurst

(Wikimedia Commons)

After all, when you get a letter from an ex-member claiming that a secret society was planning a revolution, who wouldn’t want to sound the alarm? Already in boiling water from trying to sell the southern part of Bavaria for the Austrian Netherlands, the Duke-Elector thought it best to listen to wifey.

13. What’s the secret password? Banishment

At first, the changes were subtle. Before the Duke’s hands were full with his dealings in exchanging parts of Bavaria for the Austrian Netherlands, he set a decree banning the creation of any kind of society not previously authorized by the law. The Illuminati thought eh, we’re already an established club? What’s the Duke going to do, shut us down?

Gavel on desk

Gavel on desk. Isolated with good copy space. Dramatic lighting. (Getty Images)

Yes. In fact, that is exactly what he was going to do. Sweating under his powdered wig and fresh off his Bavaria-Austrian mishap, the Bavarian Sovereign decided to ban Weishaupt’s club in 1785. Obvious resistance followed. They could kill the organization, but they couldn’t kill their ideas. 

14. Pink-slipped

Not only was the order prohibited, but if anyone so much as thought about joining the Illuminati, they faced the death sentence if arrested.  Weishaupt was the one sweating now, and because he was the ringleader of the order, many grew fearful of his involvement. What do the Illuminati members do now? Jump ship?

Hand giving a pink slip

Business illustration of a hand giving a pink slip (Getty Images)

Eventually, the attention became too hot to handle and Weusgauot lost his job at the university. He was forced to go on the run. As Weishaupt ran, the authorities made a surprising discovery within the order’s headquarters. It was the stuff born out of a Dan Brown novel. 

15. Anarchy is sexy

The streets of Ingolstadt swarmed with Bavarian police as they made numerous arrests and infiltrated the society’s lodges and meeting spaces. Inside, the police found “highly compromising” documents, according to National Geographic, “including a defense of suicide and atheism, a plan to create a female branch of the order, invisible ink recipes, and medical instructions for carrying out abortions.”

Old manuscript

Detail of an old medieval manuscript in sepia, shallow depth of field

So, apart from giving the thumbs up for suicide, the push for atheism, a female role within the organization, a cool recipe for disappearing ink. All were considered quite scandalous finds that did not paint the Illuminati in a positive light in the eyes of the public. 

16. Dead and gone

There was enough evidence to convince the Duke of conspiracy against, not only the state, but the sanctity of religion. By August 1787, the Duke made a final decree that it was illegal for anyone to become a member of the Illuminati. Ouch. With the Illuminati members disbanded and scattered, most would assume that would be the end of the iconic cult. Guess again.

Freight-hopping a train

(Donald Harrison/flickriver.com/ Wikimedia Commons)

An unemployed exile Weishaupt headed towards Gotha in Saxony, where he became a philosophy professor at the University of Gottingen. The Order of the Illuminati ended, and so did the radical ideas belong to Adam Weishaupt. Or so the Bavarian government thought.

17. A brave new world?

Since the disbandment of the Order of the Illuminati, there have been speculations suggesting that Weishaupt continued his secret society and took his ideas underground, where his religion of knowledge could continue to flourish. If the group would ever gain political power, it might have closely represented a totalitarian but universal government.

Symbol of the The Bavarian Illuminati secret society (1776-1785) members were from Freemasonry, accused of conspiracy, detail of a one dollar bill colorized document

UNSPECIFIED – JANUARY 04: Symbol of the The Bavarian Illuminati secret society (1776-1785) members were from Freemasonry, accused of conspiracy, detail of a one dollar bill colorized document (Photo by Apic/Getty Images)

Think of it,  a place where there are no borders, no qualms between one nation or another, but simply one order of global rule. It would be called the New World Order. Since the order had disappeared from the public’s eye, the meaning of the Illuminati took on a new light.

18. Illuminati 2.0

Though there is a record of Weishaupt starting over and putting his secretive past behind him, there are also rumors suggesting he continued his work. It wasn’t until the turn of the 20th century that the Illuminati’s name would return to the public discourse.

The "Angels and Demons" tour: the secret meeting spots of Dan Brown's "Illuminati" in Rome

(Photo by Eric VANDEVILLE/Gamma-Rapho via Getty Images)

In modern day, the Illuminati has become intrinsically related to everything humanity can’t explain or understand. How did this come about? What made the Illuminati so darn popular? How did it go from a simple idea rebelling against a conservative religious country to the assassination of JFK or, hell, celebrity recruits? The whereabouts just might make you laugh in absurdity or laugh from the stupidity.

19. Peace, love, and chaos

Let’s clear up a few things: yes, the Order of the Illuminati was a real secret society. But no, they will not be coming after you after reading this article (or the beloved writer who dived into a rabbit-hole of research). No, you conspiracy-loving fanatics, the Illuminati is long gone, but their name sure hasn’t disappeared.

Business Underworld

Two businesspeople meeting in an isolated place. (Getty Images)

why? One of the reasons deals with suspicion, doubt, and distrust toward the government. It all started in the peace, love, and chaos of the 1960s. when scandal gripped the nation and made us a question since then, who and what to trust. It was within the “Mad Men” era that we began to see through the glamour and into the eyes of reality. 

20. Counter-culture riot

The Bavarian Illuminati has been long gone since the end of the 18th century. Finished, caput, extinguished — there is no evidence of the order resurfacing or keeping face with the influences of today’s social agenda. Of course, there are always those who enjoy creating chaos and stirring the proverbial pot.

Scary eyes staring through blinds in monochrome close up

(Getty Images)

In an era of “counter-culture mania, LSD, and interest in Eastern philosophy” the era of peace brought about a cultural phenomenon that would bring the Illuminati (at least, in the name) back to life, and it came in a small, printed text called Principia Discordia, AKA “a parody text for a parody faith.”

21. Parodies of parody

Described as “a parody text for a parody faith” the movement, called Discordianism, was created by a group of anarchists and philosophers to entice its readers to worship the goddess of chaos, Eris. The movement was established to stir “civil disobedience, practical jokes, and hoaxes.” Sounds cultish, maybe because it is? It was thanks to one man.

Image of conspiracy theorist Robert Anton Wilson

(Wikimedia Commons/Flickr)

Of course, the book never amounted to anything other than a curiosity, however, one writer made one prominent principle in the text not just popular, but immortal, creating the foundation for all conspiracy theories, and his name was Robert Anton Wilson. Not so much a myth or a legend, but simply, a man. 

22. Cue the organ

Whether it was due to boredom or the sincere notion that the government was too conservative, controlling, and untrustworthy, Wilson and another writer decided to “shake things up” by sending out a stream of misinformation out to the public and create stories with the Illuminati as its main character. This was something akin to a Science Fiction blockbuster.

Group of hackers at work with graphic user interface around

(Getty Images)

Cue the organ and start playing the beginning notes to Bach’s Toccata and Fugue in D minor, because the Illuminati was about to rise from the dead. If that wasn’t bad enough, you’ll never guess which famous men’s magazine helped push the Illuminati’s revival. His iconic involved long ears and a pair of shades. 

23. Playboy sellouts

It was while working with Playboy magazine that Wilson and his co-writer, Kerry Thornley, decided to send fake anonymous letters to the gentleman’s magazine with the aim to further spread the message of disorder and chaos. What was a better way to infiltrate the minds of the American people? Why through the centerfold of course!

Magazines # 3 XXXL

“New York City, USA – December 13, 2012: Stacks of magazines with sexy women on the outside of a street-side newsstand on Broadway Upper West.” (Getty Images)

According to BBC, Wilson and Thornley’s letters described the elite group and their goals, while at the same time sent contradicting letters that would debunk their previous submissions, causing public mayhem. Whether it was through mainstream media outlets or word-of-mouth Wilson and Thornley were aiming for complete chaos, and they succeeded.

24. #Fakenews

The point of the letters was to cause an uproar of suspicion, and for the public to ask themselves, “what is it that I’m reading?” “Can I trust this source?” (sound familiar?). Wilson and Thornley’s mischief didn’t stop there. With the Order of the Illuminati spilling from the lips of their readers, they decided to take it one step farther and take the subject to paperback publishers.

Illuminati highlighted

A close up of the word: Illuminati in a dictionary, highlighted in yellow and showing part of its definition. (Getty Images)

Next thing they knew, The Illuminatus Trilogy was born — and with it, modern conspiracy. We were all a fan of something. Whether it was comic books, Star Wars, or a sport, but The Illuminatus Trilogy takes the cake. It was because of the book series that the Illuminati made a comeback, among other things. 

25. Conspiracy revival

You would think with a name like The Illuminatus Trilogy, the novels would be an utter flop and stand right next to the local Walmart’s Harlequin novels, but that is not how it flushed out Instead, the trilogy was a cult success.

All Seeing Eye pyramid on back of dollar bill american money

All Seeing Eye pyramid on the back of the dollar bill (Getty Images)

Published in 1975, the novels discussed the unexplained, or the “unsolved” mysteries of US history such as the JFK assassination, the mystery behind the Eye of Providence, and the various “cover-ups” committed by the US government.  It became such a huge success that the series was made into a stage play in Liverpool and helped launched the careers of British actors, Bill Nighy and Jim Broadbent.

26. Illuminati today

Thanks to the shenanigans of two mayhem-causing lunatics, the Illuminati has become a place where every unsolved mystery, and topic of suspicion roost. Even major marketers like Taco Bell have capitalized on its growing popularity. Look it up, it’s a real thing. Turns out Taco Bell might have some secrets of their own…or do they?

Image of Dan Brown's "Angels and Demons"

(Flickr/Nikunj Lodhia)

Thanks to their Illuminati revival, their ideas inspired novels such as Dan Brown’s Angels and Demons, and Umberto Eco’s Foucault’s Pendulum and continues to shake the foundation of trust not only in government but also mainstream media. Today, the most popular Illuminati theories revolve around world-famous celebrities, US tragedies, and political affairs.

27. Bey-spiracy

One theory that links to Illuminati 2.0 is the insane notion that celebrities are a part of the secret organization and are using their music to boast about their membership. Celebrities such as Jay-Z, Beyoncé, and Kanye West climb the top of the Illuminati list.

Democratic Hillary Clinton Campaigns In Final Stretch Of Election

(Photo by Brooks Kraft/ Getty Images)

When asked if they are officiated with such a group, the answer was the same and claim it was “ridiculous” to believe so. Beyonce even clapped back in her 2015 single Formation lyrics, singing, “Ya’ll haters corny with that Illuminati mess.” However, like most conspiracies, many would point a finger and exclaim that’s what they want you to think! It’s nothing compared to the most recent theories regarding the Illuminati.

28. All a sham

The British Broadcasting Station reports that half the general US public believes in at least one conspiracy theory. The most popular belonging to the world of politics which includes the US Intelligence Services are responsible for the tragedy of 9/11 or the Obama “birther” conspiracy, which asserts that 44th President Barack Obama’s place of birth was a cover-up by the US government.

Image of woman shushing

Finger on lips – silent gesture (Getty Images)

However, there is a logical explanation as to why the public could believe, or at least lends some credence to, conspiracies theories. From a psychological standpoint, there are a number of reasons that conspiracy theories catch on, one of which is tapping into our paranoia of the unknown. 

29. Psycho-analyze me

According to Viren Swami, professor of social psychology at Anglia Ruskin University, there are one or two reasons as to why the public would believe conspiracy theories as credible fact. The first is the obvious “people are crazy” scenario, where those who sincerely believe in the far-fetched realities of their society are “suffering from some sort of psychopathology.”

Doctor consulting male patient, working on diagnostic examination on men's health disease or mental illness, while writing on prescription record information document in clinic or hospital office

(Getty Images)

Swami adds that the theories could provide rationality during a stressful or confusing point of time and are perhaps coping mechanisms for those who lack power or agency to challenge their government or enact the changes they wish to see. With a lack of power comes the need to implement a coping mechanism. Finding comfort in a world without control.  

30. E.T. phone home

Whether you believe in the Illuminati or conspiracy theories where lizard people roam among us, or the assassination of JFK was plotted by US Intelligence, you can take comfort in knowing one singular fact: there was a real Order of the Illuminati.

Gold All Seeing Eye or Radiant Delta isolated on black background. Masonic symbol, Great Architect of the Universe. Goldeneye, inscribed in a triangle, with rays around

Gold All Seeing Eye or Radiant Delta isolated on black background. Masonic symbol, Great Architect of the Universe. Goldeneye, inscribed in a triangle, with rays around

You can also take comfort in knowing that their influences do not control our ways of life and that they have been disbanded since the turn of the 19th century. However, we’ll leave one haunting shadow of a doubt for you conspirators out there: The Bavarian Illuminati may be dead, but that doesn’t mean there isn’t a new society still recruiting. Check out their official website. That will put your noodle in a twist.