The Illuminati is the name used for several groups, real and fictitious. Most commonly it refers specifically to the Bavarian Illuminati, an Enlightenment secret society founded in the late eighteenth century. However, nowadays it refers to a purported shadowy conspiratorial organization which is reputed to secretly control world affairs, usually a modern incarnation or continuation of the Bavarian Illuminati. In this context, Illuminati is often used in reference to a New World Order (NWO). Many Conspiracy theorists believe the Illuminati (The People of The Light), or illuminated ones, are the masterminds behind events that will lead to a New World Order.

In rarer cases, the Illuminati refers to a purported elite set of enlightened individuals who may not cooperate but are uniquely empowered by their enlightenment, much like the intelligentsia are empowered by their education and intelligence. These are people who have become illuminated and have achieved a higher mystical understanding of the universe. Many secret societies and mystical traditions promise illumination or enlightenment, such as the original Bavarian Illuminati.

Pre-Weishaupt origins are given to the Alumbrados of Spain and Illuminés of France. This claim holds in name and mystical concerns, but no solid historical lineage is known. Their practice of mysticism and attempt at communication with God through meditation, along with claims of enlightenment while living, communication with Lucifer, and sexual practices, all denote a seeming connection with later Illuminati groups, but claims of later connections of other organizations' familiarity with these early movements are unsubstantiated.

The Rosicrucians claimed to have originated in 1407, but rose to notice in 1614 when their main text Fama Fraternitatis appeared. As a secret society, they claimed to combine the possession of esoteric principles of religion with the mysteries of alchemy. Their positions are described in three anonymous treatises from 1614,[2] as well as in the Confessio Fraternitatis of 1615. Rosicrucians also claimed heritage from the Knights Templar

Later, the title Illuminati was applied to the French Martinists, which had been founded in 1754 by Martinez Pasqualis, and to their imitators the Russian Martinists, headed about 1790 by Professor Schwartz of Moscow; both were occultist cabalists and allegorists, absorbing eclectic ideas from Jakob Boehme and Emanuel Swedenborg.

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 in Ingolstadt (Upper Bavaria), 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, and the Bavarian Illuminati, and the movement itself has been referred to as Illuminism. In 1777, Karl Theodor, Elector Palatine, succeeded as ruler of Bavaria. He was a proponent of Enlightened Despotism and in 1784, his government banned all secret societies, including the Illuminati and the Freemasons.

While it was not legally allowed to operate, many influential intellectuals and progressive politicians counted themselves as members, including Ferdinand of Brunswick and the diplomat Xavier von Zwack.[1] 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 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 claims 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, consists of the ascending degrees of Illuminatus Major and Illuminatus dirigens. It was 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 by Alexander Gibson and Joseph Vincent respectively.

The order had its branches in most countries of the European continent; it reportedly had around 2,000 members over the span of 10 years. The scheme had its attraction for literary men, such as Johann Wolfgang von Goethe and Johann Gottfried Herder, and even for the reigning dukes of Gotha and Weimar. Internal rupture and panic over succession preceded its downfall, which was effected by The Secular Edict made by the Bavarian government in 1785.

Illuminati after 1790
Conspiracy theorists (like David Icke and Was Penre) have argued that the Bavarian Illuminati survived, and perhaps even exist today, though very little reliable evidence can be found to support that Weishaupt's group survived into the 19th century. However, several groups have used the name Illuminati since to found their own rites, claiming to be the Illuminati, including the Ordo Templi Orientis (OTO) of Theodor Reuss and Aleister Crowley (England), Grand Lodge Rockefeller of David Goldman (USA), Orden Illuminati[2] of Gabriel López de Rojas (Spain), The Illuminati Order[3] and others.

Cultural effect
The Bavarian Illuminati have cast a long shadow in popular history thanks to the writings of their opponents; the allegations of conspiracy that have coloured 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, during the course of which Barruél blamed all of what he regarded as the disasters of his times such as the French Revolution on the said groups. 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 in 1789 was engineered and controlled by the Illuminati through the Jacobins, and later theorists even claimed that the Illuminati were responsible for the Russian Revolution of 1917, although the order was officially defunct prior to 1789. Few historians give credence to these views; they regard such claims as the products of over-fertile imaginations.

Conspiracy theorists highlight an alleged link between the Illuminati and Freemasonry. They also suggest that the United States' founding fathers—some of whom were Freemasons—were rife with corruption from the Illuminati, and that the symbols of the All-seeing Eye and the unfinished pyramid in the Great Seal of the United States are an example of the Illuminati's ever-present watchful eye over Americans.

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 throughout the world. About the time that the Illuminati were outlawed in Bavaria, the Roman Catholic Church prohibited its members from joining Masonic lodges, on pain of excommunication.

According to Principia Discordia, the Bavarian Illuminati were revived or rediscovered in the 20th century under the leadership of Mordecai Malignatus. In the original Steve Jackson Games card game Illuminati and in the trading card game Illuminati: New World Order that is based on it, the Bavarian Illuminati are an enemy organization of the Discordians. These games were based on a work of fiction by Robert Anton Wilson and Robert Shea entitled the Illuminatus! Trilogy, which collected a large number of past and contemporary references to the Illuminati and helped popularize interest in them from the 1970s through the present.

The British writer David Icke also claims that the Illuminati secretly manipulate world events, citing bloodline connections between the British Royal Family, the Windsors and Mountbattens, and United States Presidents and, he says, a connection to the Illuminati.

American writer Joshua Seraphim traces the Illuminati as a thread of various secret societies which all have central occult teachings in common, citing their origins in ancient Egypt. According to Seraphim, secret societies that constitute what he coins the "Illuminati Heritage" intentionally release disinformation to the underground and mainstream media, going at great lengths to influence modern day conspiracy theories, diverting attention from their own immensely secret Brotherhoods.

The idea of a secret brotherhood known as the Illuminati is currently deep-rooted in popular culture. The Illuminati were for example used in the fiction novel by Dan Brown called Angels & Demons. According to Brown the Illuminati was originally founded by scientists, amongst others Galileo Galilei, who had become infuriated with the refusal of the Catholic Church to accept their work, merely condemning their research as heresy. Interestingly enough, the poet John Milton is also included by Brown.

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