Conspiracy theories have surrounded the Illuminati for more than 200 years. Its history is in itself shrouded in mystery with some people associating it with the crusades while others link it to 14th-century elite scholars such as Ignatius of Loyola. However, the first organization that named itself Illuminati or The Illuminatus as they called themselves only appeared in the 18th Century state of Bavaria with too little power to control world events as conspiracy theorists have made it sound. The founders were oppressed, banished and nearly forgotten as were their ideologies. Here is a look at ten forgotten facts about the real Bavarian Illuminati.
1 Adam Weishaupt Started It
Johann Adam Weishaupt was born on Feb 6th, 1748 to a law professor who died five years later leaving young Weishaupt to be raised by his grandfather who was coincidentally another law professor. Being an intellectual, Weishaupt’s grandfather taught him about the need for reason and individualism over tradition and religion leading to Weishaupt’s love for the idea of illumination or the age of reason as it was known at the time. He went to Jesuit school and being a smart student, he earned his doctorate in law at the age of 20, but that same year, the pope disbanded the Jesuits allowing Weishaupt to start teaching canon law instead of secular law at the University of Ingolstadt. It was a hard job because the university management was made of Catholic clerics who did not agree with the teachings of enlightenment forcing Weishaupt to seek another platform to spread his beliefs.
He considered joining the Freemasons at the time, but he realized they were not as independent from religion as he wanted so he reached to like-minded young men among his friends and students. The first night, he only managed to convince a group of 5 young men. Older people were most likely compromised by religion at the time, so he opted to deal with his fellow young men instead. They met in the forest with torches forming the founding fathers of the Order of the Illuminati. The gave each other code names with Weishaupt choosing the name Spartacus.
2 They Were Banned Before the French Revolution
There have been many rumors over the last two centuries claiming that Illuminati was behind the French revolution, but that was not a very possible occurrence. The French revolution started in 1789, four years after the banning and subsequent fall of the Illuminati and there are other reasons why Illuminati has no place in the revolution. First. Weishaupt was not a revolutionary, the claim that he met the leader of the French revolution to discuss a change of regime is implausible because he spent most of his time in books and only related with former Illuminati members after the fall of the group because he hated the political elites.
Secondly, The Illuminati was banned, and the Bavarian royalty issued the death penalty on anyone that joined it in 1785 alongside freemasonry after banning all other secret societies in Bavaria a year earlier. All known members of the order were either arrested or forced to flee while all documents relating to their constitution were confiscated. Their popularity dwindled even further throughout Europe as details from their records showed support for atheism, abortion, and formation of an Illuminati order for women. They became a mockery considering the strong Catholic beliefs in Europe at the time.
3 It Was Banned After Just Ten Years of Existence
The Illuminati has been the center of state conspiracy theories all over the world for over 200 years now, but the order of the Illuminati as ordained by Weishaupt didn’t even survive its first decade. After its launch in 1776, Weishaupt’s small order grew slowly attracting about 30 members if the first year. Their ideas, however, became attractive to many intellectuals and a few intellectual nobles leading to a sharp increase in membership to about 600 in 1782. It was initially limited to his friends and students but nobles soon came on board, and this became a big problem because some freemasons that came were government informants.
Barron Von Knigge, a former freemason came on board and introduced new ideas including code names and 13 levels of initiation to ensure that those that joined were true believers. However, Freemasons started bothering Weishaupt leading to fights that led to Knigge’s exit. It is not clear who sold them out, but after Knigge’s departure, someone wrote a letter to the government displaying Illuminati as an anti-government society that posed a threat to the state.
4 Illuminati Had Three Classes Divided Into 13 Stages of Membership
Illuminati was started at a wrong time for freethinkers and anti-religious activists, so each member had to earn a spot at the high table. To be a member, you had to prove your worth in terms of class and wealth and also prove that you were a freethinker ready to accept illumination. The five founding fathers did not have many stages at first, initiates, novices, and Illuminatus. Freemasons, however, made the order more complicated dividing the lowest stage into initiates, novices, minervals, and Illuminatus minor which confirmed eligibility for membership.
The second stage which was made of junior approved members was made of the apprentice, fellow, master and Illuminatus major and Dirigens who were allowed to recruit and accept recruits. The third classes reserved for the elite only were made of Priests, Prince, magus and finally the king. These complicated stages were meant to ensure total dedication to the cause, but they were still betrayed in 1784. New Illuminati groups can, however, be found online with only an email as the requirement for membership.
5 They Were Not Opposed to Religion
Modern conspiracy theorists portray the Illuminati as a hotbed of Satanism and antichrist views, but Weishaupt did not think like that. He was himself educated as a Jesuit and the descendant of Jewish converts, he believed religion was influential in the society, but he never liked the way the state was using it at the time. The church was in charge of the education system in most parts of enlightenment Germany at the time and did not give people room to make their own choices.
The Catholic clerics at the university suppressed his writings and opposed his views regarding freethinking and science. The church working together with the state told the people what they could read, what curriculum could be taught in school and even banned any questioning of the existing laws and religion. He also hated the way religion created divisions and classes forcing some people to appear as second-class citizens.
6 They Believed in Freedom of Speech
Today, whenever Illuminati is mentioned, the first idea in people’s head is a group lurking in the shadows aiming to create a one world power that will take away all our rights. This idea was born in Bavaria when the state labeled Illuminati as a threat to liberalism. The Illuminati was also falsely linked to Jacobinism which caused the great state of terror that cracked down on people’s rights and killed many people during the French revolution.
There is however no evidence linking Weishaupt or his followers to Maximilien Robespierre who was in charge of that oppressive regime. The Illuminati was later accused of being behind the assassination of John F Kennedy, the 911 attacks as a way of continuing their war on democracy. Experts on the Weishaupt’s works agree that this is a false image of the Illuminati.
7 It Was Composed of Only Intellectuals
Today, conspiracy theorists seem to associate every influential figure with Illuminati without considering their educational background and approach to the use of reason, but most of the so-called Illuminati members could not get into Weishaupt’s Illuminati. The beginning of Illuminati was tough for Weishaupt because he could not get like-minded people. He was afraid of recruiting fellow professors at Ingolstadt university because they were ardent Catholics who could not support his ideas that opposed the oppressive grip of the church on the society.
His first followers were just like-minded friends and students whom he knew to be freethinkers. He sought to register his society with the Freemasons for a chance to get more powerful intellectuals, but Freemasons were universal, and some members were not up to his standards. He instead went on a poaching spree into Freemasonry gaining the membership of Freemasons from all over Europe. The Elites and the church, however, managed to suppress the Illuminati and Freemasons totally in the end.
8 Their Symbol Was the Minerva Owl Not the All-Seeing Eye
Conspiracy theorists associate the pyramid and the all-seeing eye as seen on the US dollar bill like the symbol of the Illuminati, but this is far from true. The Illuminati had humble beginnings, and they needed to prove themselves as the bridge to the real knowledge in the dark. The church and authorities at the time were accused of suppressing knowledge and science, so Weishaupt chose the Minerval owl which represented the ability to see in the dark.
Their symbol also had an open book signifying the uncovering of all knowledge, learning new things and acquiring intellectual independence. There are about two known symbols located from Weishaupt’s past works with letters PMCV standing for “Per Me Caeci Vident” translated to “through me, the blind become enlightened.” It is believed to have been the badge of the Minervals.
9 Women, Jews, & Pagans Could Not Join the Illuminati
Weishaupt was born to Jewish parents that had converted to Catholicism and become intellectual members of the society, but antisemitism was still part of the community in Bavaria and Jews were primarily regarded as second-class citizens. This was actually against the teachings of equality in Illuminati, but acceptance was vital to the growth of the order, and these three groups had to be banned for the group to sell to the Freemasons.
Although Illuminati advocated for the education of women and their equal treatment to men, they did not allow them as members of the Illuminati for the same reason. Education for women in Bavaria was suppressed, and very few were ever allowed in the Jesuit controlled universities. Illuminati only accepted good Christian men with proper education and wealth and opened to being freethinkers.
10 Their Initial Name Was the Perfectibilists
Weishaupt had a smaller vision than the real potential of his invention from the beginning. When he first met with the first four members of the Illuminati, he just called them perfectionists or Perfectibilists referring to a group of people that believed that human beings could achieve perfection intellectually. This name was however not universal or attractive enough to him, so he changed it to the order of illuminated dons or the enlightened.
That gave them a connection to traditional scholars with similar views to theirs like Galileo. Illuminati or Illuminatus as many know it was attractive even to the freemasons leading to its expansion to include the elites and nobles around Europe. Since being banned in Bavaria, many organizations have come up over the years claiming to be a resurrection of Weishaupt’s Illuminati, but none has revived these original ideas.