The Illuminati is one of the world’s most well-known secrets. People know about its existence, but to what extent, and does it still exist today?
Plenty of resources talk about the Illuminati, but even after two centuries, little is known about the elusive society.
This makes sense, considering that it was supposed to be a secret organization that counted the world’s brightest people as its members.
According to rumors, German astronomer Johann Elert Bode, English philosopher Francis Bacon, Spanish priest and saint Ignatius of Loyola, and German poet Johann Wolfgang von Goethe were part of this mysterious and very exclusive group.
Illuminati: What’s in a Name?
Illuminati comes from the Latin Illuminatus, meaning “revealed” or “enlightened.” The term is used to refer to people or groups who are unusually enlightened.
In the context of the Illuminati, enlightened refers to people who didn’t just take the church’s word for everything.
Because Catholic Church held so much power in Europe during the Middle Ages, people who questioned the church were considered scientific, rational, and possessing higher human intelligence, hence, the word enlightened.
When the 16th century rolled in, there was already dissent against the Catholic Church. Opposition resulted in the rise of Protestantism.
A century later, the first group associated with the Illuminati was born.
Bavaria: The Birthplace of the Illuminati
On May 1, 1776, law professor Adam Weishaupt founded the Order of the Illuminati in Ingolstadt, Bavaria. The organization’s goal was to provide members with a safe space to question the teachings and rules of the Catholic Church without danger of persecution.
Weishaupt was inspired by Freemasonry and wanted to join one of the oldest fraternities in the world. However, he was so disillusioned by many of their ideologies that he decided to continue his quest for knowledge and form his own group.
The professor wasn’t against religion per se, but he opposed how the Catholic Church was strong-arming its followers. The church controlled Europe’s belief system while simultaneously collecting money through tithes and services like baptism and marriage.
Just like most Bavarians at that time, Weishaupt was raised as a Catholic. He was born to Jewish parents who converted to Catholicism.
Weishaupt became an orphan early in life so his uncle raised him and enrolled him in a Jesuit school.
Weishaupt was eternally curious and a consummate reader. As a young boy, he voraciously read about the French Enlightenment.
It was then that Weishaupt realized that the church and monarchy were suppressing freedom of thought.
Forming the Illuminati
Weishaupt organized the first Illuminati meeting in a forest near Ingolstadt on May 1, 1776. The professor gathered four other men to set the ground rules for admission into the ultra-exclusive group.
The membership requirements were stringent: members must come from wealth with established familial and societal connections.
By 1782, the organization is believed to have had over 600 members. They were noblemen, politicians, doctors, lawyers, and some literary greats, including von Goethe and Freiherr Adolph Franz Friedrich Ludwig Knigge.
Two years later, the secret organization already had between 2,000 and 3,000 members. Some members came from as far as France, Hungary, Italy, and Poland.
As the group grew bigger, the Illuminati became less covert. Of course, it didn’t help that Weishaupt and Knigge were butting heads.
Knigge was eventually driven out of the organization. But disgruntled member Joseph Utzschneider marked the end of the Illuminati in Bavaria.
Utzschneider, an influential entrepreneur, wrote a letter to the Grand Duchess of Bavaria, spilling the secrets of the Illuminati. Some of what he wrote were true, but it was also peppered with lies.
According to Utzschneider’s letter, the Illuminati believed religion was absurd, suicide was justifiable, and enemies must be poisoned.
The Bavarian government issued several edicts calling for the ban of the Illuminati. The final edict ruled that the death penalty must be imposed among members of the secret organization.
Weishaupt was banished in 1787, and the Illuminati was dismantled. Or was it?
The Illuminati Legacy
Bavaria is still considered a largely Catholic state though it no longer possesses the same overwhelming and conservative nature that it had in the 18th century. Two-thirds of the population are Christians belonging to either the Roman Catholic or Evangelical Lutheran groups.
A minority of Bavarians still believe that the Illuminati exists to this day and continue to meet in Ingolstadt. It is also believed to have spread around the world.
In Ingolstadt, there are Illuminati walking tours as tourists are curious about the organization.
Some visitors are there because they believe the organization continues to exist and was behind some of the biggest events in the world.
The French Revolution
The French Revolution started in 1789, just two years after the Illuminati in Bavaria was banned and Weishaupt was banished. But the conspiracy theory that the Illuminati was behind the French Revolution sprung from European conservatives.
British physicist and mathematician John Robinson and French publicist and former Jesuit priest Augustin Barruel published reports that the Illuminati was planning to enlighten the world by infiltrating institutions and subverting the teachings of the church and monarchy.
Historians call the conspiracy theory nonsense, but British conservatives during those times believed it.
The French Revolution wasn’t the only large-scale event attributed to the Illuminati.
The Irish Rebellion
For nearly five months in 1798, the United Irishmen fought to overthrow the Kingdom of Ireland and free themselves from British rule. The uprising is known as the Irish Rebellion of 1798 and was inspired by the French and American revolutions.
The rebellion failed to become a national revolution. Instead, the British promptly quashed minor uprisings in different parts of the country.
Some British leaders who believed in the Illuminati conspiracy theory found similarities between the hierarchical organization of the United Irishmen and the secret organization.
The Illuminati was said to have three classes and 13 ranks, from initiate to the king.
The JFK Assassination
By the 20th century, the Illuminati had reportedly spread worldwide — so much so that it was apparently behind President John F. Kennedy’s assassination on November 22, 1963.
It was one of the most daring murders in the world against a massive political giant — a U.S. president and scion of one of the most influential political families in the country.
What was JFK’s link to the Illuminati? He was the only Catholic U.S. president until the election of President Joseph Biden in 2020. His Catholicism threatened the Illuminati, at least, if conspiracy theorists were to be believed.
However, JFK’s assassination is teeming with conspiracy theories. Authorities concluded that ex-Marine Lee Harvey Oswald acted alone when he shot and killed JFK. Many didn’t believe the authorities.
While there was no dispute that Oswald did the deed, there were many arguments regarding who was behind it. Aside from the Illuminati, some experts also suspected the CIA, organized crime groups, and even Cuban exiles.
Plans To Overthrow the Thai Monarchy
One of the most recent conspiracies about the Illuminati is believed to have happened in Asia. In a way, this supports reports that the organization is out for world domination.
In Thailand, the opposition party Future Forward was linked to the Illuminati.
The party was accused of sedition for allegedly planning to overthrow the royals after much prodding from the anti-monarchy secret group.
The court dismissed the charge in 2020, although the party is still facing a number of charges that may result in its dissolution.
Thai royalists also found similarities between Future Forward’s logo, which is a detached orange triangle, with that of the Illuminati, which is known as the Eye of Providence — an eye within a triangle.
Like the other conspiracy theories, no evidence suggests the Illuminati still exists and that Future Forward is a branch of the mysterious international assembly.
Does the Illuminati Exist Today?
The answer to whether the Illuminati still exists depends on who you ask. For conspiracy theorists, they continue to operate in the shadows.
After all, what’s the point of being a secret organization if people know about it?
Historians are less likely to make a definite statement about its current existence. Instead, they prefer to make categorical statements based on evidence.
With social media and the omnipresence of smartphones, it takes a lot of cunning and resolution to hide the existence of the Illuminati. In their early existence, they would meet in the forest, Weishaupt’s home, or in clandestine taverns.
Today, it would be hard not to capture an image of such a meeting, especially when some members are high-profile.
Some eagle-eyed fans noticed symbols used by many of today’s celebrities that suggest they are enlightened.
Some speculate that the King and Queen of Music, Jay Z and Beyonce, are members of the elusive group.
Jay Z was rumored to be an Illuminati because of his famous Roc Nation hand signal that looks like a triangle.
It didn’t help that Jay Z was featured on Rick Ross’ “Free Mason” rap and spewed the following lyrics: “I said I was amazing. Not that I’m a Mason… I’m red hot. I’m on my third 6. But a devil I’m not.”
Beyonce addressed the rumors without setting the record straight. She sang in her “Formation” song: “Y’all haters corny with that Illuminati mess.”
Other celebrities on the supposed Illuminati membership list are former president Donald Trump, Madonna, LeBron James, Lindsay Lohan, Kim Kardashian, Rihanna, and Kanye West.
At this point, an Illuminati meeting might as well be a concert.
Modern Illuminati: A Practical Joke?
The Bavarian Illuminati was real. There is ample evidence that it existed. However, the same cannot be said of the succeeding events attributed to the secret organization.
What’s absurd is that modern Illuminati conspiracies may have stemmed from a practical joke, according to a BBC report.
The joke is detailed in a book called Principia Discordia. BBC described the manuscript as a parody text for a parody faith that is Discordianism, a philosophy centered on Eris or Discordia, the goddess of chaos.
Writer Robert Anton Wilson became an agent of chaos when he decided to spread misinformation through Playboy magazine, where Wilson worked as an editor.
He and Kerry Thornley, one of the authors of Principia Discordia, started writing letters and telling stories about the secret and elite organization known as the Illuminati.
They also wrote letters contradicting their previously written missive providing evidence about the Illuminati.
This gave birth to Wilson’s The Illuminatus! Trilogy, which he co-wrote with journalist Robert Shea.
Though fictional, the books mentioned historical events like the death of JFK, Robert F. Kennedy, and Martin Luther King Jr. They hinted that secret organizations were behind them.
Somehow, a handful of people believed the conspiracies mentioned in the fictitious trilogy.
According to Viren Swami, a professor of social psychology, some people are naturally susceptible to believin in conspiracy theories.
In a BBC article, Swami said, “There’s no one profile of a conspiracy theorist. There are different perspectives of why people believe in these theories, and they’re not necessarily mutually exclusive — so the simplest form of explanation is that people who believe in conspiracy theories are suffering from some sort of psychopathology.”
This is how we end up with people believing in the empire of Tartaria or the hollow earth theory.
The Illuminati Lives On
Even if Weishaupt’s Illuminati was disbanded over 200 years ago, people still talk about the secret organization.
It lives on because people want to have a simple explanation for things that don’t have adequate conclusions. But, of course, it’s also an intriguing concept that’s easy to buy into.
Whenever a major event occurs, and authorities haven’t provided concrete answers, it’s easier to believe that the Illuminati is behind it. This is because people want things to make sense.
Whether or not the Illuminati ended in the 18th century, the Illuminati lives on, even if it’s just in people’s minds.
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