The Bavarian Illuminati
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 of Palatinate, succeeded as ruler of
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.
The order had its branches in most countries of the European continent; its members were reportedly around 2,000 members in 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. 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 (1789) was engineered and controlled by the Illuminati through the Jacobins, and later theorists even claimed their responsibility for the Russian Revolution (1917), although the order was officially shut down before 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
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
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 Fowl and Reverend Loveshade). In the original Steve Jackson Games card game Illuminati and in the trading card game Illuminati: New World Order that's based on it, the Bavarian Illuminati is an enemy organization of the Discordians.