Who are the members of Illuminati

Illuminati in Germany: The True Story of the Secret Society

No Masonic order has achieved as fame as the Illuminati. The grip on world domination is imputed to them. The roots of the conspiracy are in Bavaria.

If you enter the term "Illuminati" on Google, you get over 39 million hits. Most address the secret plan of a global elite to create a New World Order through the strategic use of mind control, assassinations and triangles. As the header of one of these websites, "The Vigilant Citizen", proclaims: "It is not words or laws that rule the world, but symbols."

The King and the Masons

There are sinister machinations behind the world of apparitions in which we live. Once you realize this, it falls like scales from your eyes that Lady Gaga is a puppet of the Illuminati. Why else should she form a triangle with her thighs and cover one eye in one of her video clips? (...)

John Dickie, born in 1963, is a historian and teaches Italian at University College London. Based on his main focus, he writes about secret societies as an author. With his book "Omertà - the whole history of the Mafia: Camorra, Cosa Nostra and 'Ndrangheta" he has already presented a historical analysis of the Mafia. His book "The Freemasons - The Most Powerful Secret Society in the World" will be published on September 23, 2020 by S. Fischer Verlage. This text is an extract from it.Photo:Mikael Buck

All of this is miles away from the true story of the Illuminati, who originated in Germany, where Freemasonry developed similarly to France. Berlin, the Prussian capital, was home to one of the Brotherhood's international figureheads: King Frederick II of Prussia, a friend of Voltaire.

At the end of the 1730s, when Freemasonry was in disrepute for being subversive, the then Prince Friedrich got excited about it. And after he became king, he made her stand out. But Friedrich's interest waned when Freemasonry became a fad and more and more people crowded into the boxes. (...)

Freemasonry was already widespread in Germany by the 1780s. As in France, however, it was also a bitter disappointment to those who had hoped that all the Masonic talk of brotherhood, tolerance and common sense would actually have a positive impact on the world as a whole.

The political climate was seething across Europe, and some got the impression that the lodges had shirked their responsibility in the fight of the Enlightenment against superstition and despotism. In Germany as in France it looked as if Freemasonry had already passed its heyday.

The founding of the Illuminati

One man who shared this opinion was Adam Weishaupt, a young university professor from Ingolstadt in Bavaria. In response, he formed a secret society whose influence was modest and whose lifespan was short, but which would become the most notorious variant of Freemasonry of all time. Not so long ago, Weishaupt had converted to the most radical ideas of the French Enlightenment and has since dreamed of a secret society that would put an end to despotism and superstition.

"The improved system of the Illuminati": The order was founded in 1776 by the philosopher Adam Weishaupt in Ingoldstadt. (Source: Goran Basic / ullstein bild)

His plans took shape in 1776 when he accepted his favorite students into what would soon become the Illuminati Order. The new group consisted of only five members, but its aim was nothing less than the creation of an empire of freedom, justice and reason for the whole world. Unfortunately, there were contradictions in Weishaupt's plan which would hinder the group for the entire duration of its short existence.

Their universal goals did not go well with the fact that their real message was known only to a select inner circle. Furthermore, Weishaupt's ideal Illuminatus was supposed to reconcile an extremely independent critical spirit with unconditional obedience to the order's hierarchy.

The highest level: "Areopagus"

Weishaupt aimed for a three-tier organization. The young apprentices at the bottom were watched by the leaders as they took their first steps. On the second stage, consecrated to "Minerva", the followers were to go through an intensive and wide-ranging study. Only the brightest and best would reach the third stage, the "Areopagus" (named after a council of elders in ancient Athens), where they would learn the true intentions of the Illuminati and work out a strategy.

"Phryne before Areopagus": The painting by Jean-Leon Gérôme shows a conveyed scene in the Council of Athens. (Source: imago images)

But this organizational scheme remained little more than a plan. The Illuminati grew painfully slowly in the early years. (...) After [Weishaupt] had joined a Templar lodge in Munich, he came up with the tactic that would finally make his secret society known beyond Bavaria and also more than a few dozen members: The Illuminati would infiltrate Masonic lodges and they would infiltrate their intentions subject.

Officials, journalists, academics

Shortly after the Illuminati had brought their first lodge under their control, in January 1780, [the noble journalist Adolph Knigge] from the house of Hanover was won over to the cause. (...) Several princes and dukes joined [the order], as well as a number of members of the lower nobility. The majority of the members were government officials, journalists and academics. Businesspeople were put off by the extraordinarily demanding curriculum of the educational program.

The most famous Illuminat of all was less averse to studying: the writer and Secret Councilor of Grand Duke Karl August of Saxe-Weimar-Eisenach, Johann Wolfgang von Goethe. However, it is possible that Goethe only joined the order to keep an eye on society for the ruler.

Illustration of the Goethe drama Faust from 1873: The poet was a member of the Illuminati. (Source: Archives-Zephyr / Leemage / imago images)

The Illuminati grew despite being in a state of change. Knigge, who officially only belonged to the second tier of the organization, wrote desperate letters to Weishaupt saying he wanted to find out more. He had been forced to hold off its members as soon as they asked to be rewarded for their studies and to gain access to higher degrees and more knowledge. Weishaupt replied, ashamed, that the Order of Illuminati was still being established, and in 1781 invited Knigge to Bavaria to work out an appropriate program with him.

Goal: infiltration of the German states

The ensuing discussions confirmed Weishaupt's final goals: through the Masonic lodges, the Illuminati would infiltrate the highest ranks of the various German states by providing their regents with advisers who were supposed to steer the government in an enlightening direction. If the masses had only discovered their own potential for self-realization, Weishaupt prophesied, "Princes and nations would peacefully disappear from the face of the earth, mankind would be a family and the world a haven of sensible people".

The Illuminati were a non-violent conspiracy. The only problem was that its members were neither aware of exactly what the society they had conspired to create, nor of the methods by which it was supposed to be created.

It didn't last long. Knigge left at the end of 1783, exhausted from the endless arguments with the presumptuous Weishaupt. Some conservative members defected in the spring of 1784 and informed the Bavarian authorities. Secret societies were banned in June of that year, and the Illuminati were explicitly condemned as "treasonous and hostile to religion" the following March. Weishaupt fled Bavaria and his organization fell apart.

The irony of fate

When the scandal was exposed, most ex-Illuminati were stunned by the fuss. Only a small minority had reached the Areopagus, the innermost sanctuary of the Brotherhood. For the majority, the Order was just a better book club. There may have been Illuminati in influential positions in the German courts, but they did not have enough influence to implement Weishaupt's program - mainly because they had no idea that there was such a thing as a program.

It is probably an irony of fate that, of all people, such a hapless conspirator like Adam Weishaupt unintentionally gave birth to one of the most comprehensive of all conspiracy myths and contributed to the fact that the conspiracy theory as it is today could emerge at all.

The story of the Illuminati fired the imagination of conservative clergymen and academics, who in no time brewed a downright Illuminati panic by portraying Weishaupt's followers as godless "sodomites" and murderous enemies of society. Autocratic governments now had the cue they needed to crack down on all kinds of Freemasons and liberal ideas.

The original fear of the Illuminati grew into a deep-seated horror of subversive secret societies. Suddenly an idea came back everywhere that seemed to have been forgotten since the 1740s: Freemasons are the keepers of dangerous secrets. Thanks to the Illuminati, the fears of Masonic secrecy became many times more insidious. The Freemasons tried in vain to counter the allegations that their brotherhood was subversive and conspiratorial by pointing to the large number of good Freemasons and their fundamental loyalty to the established authorities. (...)

The panic fear of the Illuminati helped the conspiracy theories about the Freemasons defy any evidence to the contrary. At the same time, the fragmentation of Freemasonry meant (...) that it no longer had a unified voice that could effectively defend itself against the most egregious accusations. And this at a time when a political earthquake in France made the allegations all the more egregious.