A Bavarian Illuminati Primer

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Adam Weishaupt founded the Illuminati of Bavaria on May 1, 1776 on the principles of his early training as a Jesuit. Originally called the Order of the Perfectibilists, "its professed object was, by the mutual assistance of its members, to attain the highest possible degree of morality and virtue, and to lay the foundation for the reformation of the world by the association of good men to oppose the progress of moral evil." (1)

Adam Weishaupt was born February 6, 1748 at Ingoldstadt and educated by the Jesuits. His appointment as Professor of Natural and Canon Law at the University of Ingoldstadt in 1775, a position previously held by an ecclesiastic, gave great offense to the clergy. "Weishaupt, whose views were cosmopolitan, and who knew and condemned the bigotry and superstitions of the Priests, established an opposing party in the University.... This was the begining of the Order of Illuminati or the Enlightened...."(2) Weishaupt was not then a Freemason; he was initiated into Lodge Theodore of Good Council (Theodore zum guten Rath), at Munich in 1777.

Most information regarding the rituals and objectives of the order is derived from papers and correspondence found in an illegal search of Xavier Zwack's home in 1786 and a search of Baron Bassus's castle of Sondersdorf in Bavaria in 1787. (3)

Status as a Mason was not required for initiation into the Order of Illuminati since the fourth, fifth and sixth degrees of Weishaupt and Baron Von Knigge's system practically duplicated the three degrees of symbolic Freemasonry. Although Knigge claimed to have a system of ten degrees, the last two appear never to have been fully worked up.(4)

"The Order was at first very popular, and enrolled no less than two thousand names upon its registers.... Its Lodges were to be found in France, Belgium, Holland, Denmark, Sweden, Poland, Hungary, and Italy. Knigge, who was one of its most prominent working members, and the auther of several of its Degrees, was a religious man, and would never have united with it had its object been, as has been charged, to abolish Christianity. But it cannot be denied, that in the process of time abuses had crept into the Institution and that by the influence of unworthy men, the system became corrupted; yet the course accusations of Barruel and Robison are known to be exaggerated, and some of them altogether false.... The Edicts (on June 22, 1784, for its suppression) of the Elector of Bavaria were repeated in March and August, 1785 and the Order began to decline, so that by the end of the eighteenth century it had ceased to exist.... it exercised while in prosperity no favorable influence on the Masonic Institution,nor any unfavorable effect on it by its dissolution."(5)

Coil describes the Order as a "short lived, meteoric and controversial society"(6) while Kenning refers to it as a "mischievous association".(7) In his own defence, Weishaupt did say:
"Whoever does not close his ear to the lamentations of the miserable, nor his heart to gentle pity; whoever is the friend and brother of the unfortunate; whoever has a heart capable of love and friendship; whoever is steadfast in adversity, unwearied in the carrying out of whatever has been once engaged in, undaunted in the overcoming of difficulties; whoever does not mock and despise the weak; whose soul is susceptible of conceiving great designs, desirous of rising superior to all base motives, and of distinguishing itself by deeds of benevolence; whoever shuns idleness; whoever considers no knowledge as unessential which he may have the opportunity of acquiring, regarding the knowledge of mankind as his chief study; whoever, when truth and virtue are in question, despising the approbation of the multitude, is sufficiently courageous to follow the dictates of his own heart, - such a one is a proper candidate." (8)
"The tenor of my life has been the opposite of everything that is vile; and no man can lay any such thing to my charge." (9)

As regards any information derived from celebrated anti-mason, John Robison (10):
"In the (London) Monthly Magazine for January 1798 there appeared a letter from Bottiger, Provost of the College of Weimar, in reply to Robison's work, charging that writer with making false statements, and declaring that since 1790 'every concern [sic] of the Illuminati has ceased.' B?ttiger also offered to supply any person in Great Britain, alarmed at the erroneous statements contained in the book above mentioned, with correct information.(11)

Following is a short list of the more notable members (12):
Adam Weishaupt, Professor
Adolph Von Knigge, Baron
Baron von Zwack, Lawyer, judge and electoral councillor
Nicolai, Bookseller
Westenrieder, Professor
Hertel, Canon
Thomas Bassus, Baron
Dietrich, Mayor of Strasbourg
Johann Bode, Privy councillor
William, Baron von Busche
Saint Germain de Constanzo, Marquis
Ferdinand of Brunswick, Duke(*)
Ernest of Gotha, Duke(*)
Johann W. Goethe, author(*)

In the following year, 1785, Weishaupt was deprived of his professorship and banished with pension from the country. He moved to Gotha where he died in 1811.

The Encyclopaedia Britannica refers to the Illuminati "cells" in an article on eighteenth century Italy as "republican freethinkers, after the pattern recently established in Bavaria by Adam Weishaupt." (13) and as a "rationalistic secret society" in an article on Roman Catholicism.(14) Depending on your perspective,the lack of any detailed information on the Illuminati in the current edition of the Encyclopaedia Britannica can be ascribed to their current power and secretiveness or to the much simpler explanation that the editors found the order to be of little importance in the flow of history and social development.

John M. Roberts claims that "The Illuminati were the first society to use for political subversion the machinery of secret organization offered by free masonry ... through the craft they began to spread."(15) while Robert Gilbert feels that Christopher McIntosh "overestimates the strength and significance of the Illuminati."(16)

Serious researchers are directed to the following partial list of the many books and pamphlets written by Weishaupt:
A Picture of the Illuminati, 1786.
A Complete History of the Persecutions of the Illuminati in Bavaria, 1786.
An Apology for the Illuminati, 1787.
An Improved System of the Illuminati, 1787.

The United Grand Lodge of England Library catalogue includes:
P.4. Adam Weisshaupt, Uber den allgorischen Geist des Alterthums. Regensburg, 1794. 8vo.

The Illuminati

Documented evidence would suggest that the Bavarian Illuminati was nothing more than a curious historical footnote. Certainly, this is the opinion of Masonic writers. Conspiracy theorists though, are not noted for applying Occam's razer and have decided that there are connections between the Illuminati, the Freemasons, the Trilateral Commission, British Emperialism, International Zionism and (if you read the writings of Jack T. Chick of Chino California) communism, that all lead back to the Vatican in a bid for world domination. Believe what you will but there is no evidence that any Illuminati survived its founders.

William Westcott, in exchange for the Swedenborg Rite, received membership in the "Order of the Illuminati" from Theodor Reuss in 1902. Documentation is not available, nor is any explanation or description of this "Order" given. (17)

Eliphas Lévi made the following unsubstantiated juxapositions in 1913: "... it was this same memory handed on to secret associations of Rosicrucians, Illuminati and Freemasons which gave a meaning to their strange rites...." (18)
"...under the names of Magic, Manicheanism, Illuminism and Masonry...." (19)
"The maniacal circles of pretended illuminati go back to the bacchantes who murdered Orpheus. (20)
"Long before there was any question of mediums and their evocations in America and France, Prussia had its illuminati and seers, who had habitual communications with the dead." (21)

There is a secret correspondence belonging to the reign [of King Frederick William] which is cited by the Marquis de Luchet in his work against the illuminati..."(22)

Note that Lévi was a member of the Societas Rosicruciana in Anglia (SRIA), along with; P.B. Randolph, Theodor Reuss, Frederick Hockley [1809-1885] and William Carpenter [1797-1874], as well as Freemasons; John Yarker, Arthur E. Waite, E. Bulwer-Lytton, and Dr. W.Wynn Westcott.

Other Illuminati

HesychastsHesychasm is a form of Eastern Christian monastic life requiring uninterrupted prayer. Dating from the 13th century, it was confirmed by the Orthodox Church in 1341, 1347 and 1351, and popularized by the publication of the "Philokalia" in 1782.

Alumbrados (Spanish for 'enlightened') Members of a mystical movement similar to the French Guerinets, in 16th century Spain; for the most part they were reformed Jesuits and Franciscans. They believed that the human soul could enter into direct communication with the Holy Spirit and, due to their extravagant claims of visions and revelations, had three edicts issued against them by the Inquisition. Ignatius of Loyola, founder of the Jesuits in 1534 and composer of the 'Constitutions" of the Society of Jesus, has written nothing that would suggest he was in sympathy with the Alumbrados.(8) The name translates as 'illuminati' in Italian but the name is the only similarity with the later Bavarian Illuminati.

Geurinets, 17th century France.

"Illuminaté d'Avignon", formed by Don Antoine Joseph de Pernetti and the Polish Count Starost Grabianca in Avignon, France in 1770 (Kenning says 1787); moved to Montpellier as the "Acadamy of True Masons" in 1778. Although Kloss claims they were in existence in 1812, they would appear to have disappeared in the French Revolution.

Illuminated Theosophists or Chastanier's RiteA 1767 modification of Pernetti's "Hermetic Rite" that later merged with the London Theosophical Society in 1784.

Concordists: A secret order established in Prussia by M. Lang, on the wreck of the Tugendverein ("Tugendverein", German for the Union of the Virtuous), which latter Body was instituted in 1790 as a successor of the Illuminati, and suppressed in 1812 by the Prussian Government, on account of its supposed political tendencies.

Illuminates of Stockholm, The Illuminated Chapter of Swedish Rite Freemasonry is currently composed of approximately 60 Past or current Grand Lodge officers who have received the honorary 11th degree.

Die Alte Erleuchtete Seer Bayerns Allegedly founded in 1947 by employees of the Munich newspaper, Suddeutsche Zeitung, there are unsubstantiated claims to a longer lineage. With some 100 members in Bavaria, Baden-Wurttenburg and Thuringia, they have disavowed ritual, and keep organised structure to a minimum. World League of IlluminatiAllegedly the singer and druggist Theodor Reuss "re-activated" the Order of Illuminati in Munich in 1880. Leopold Engel founded his World League of Illuminati in Berlin in 1893. From these two sprung the Ordo Illuminatorum which was still active in Germany as late as the mid-1970s. Much research has been compiled by Peter-R. Koenig.

(1) Albert G. Mackey, "Encyclopedia of Freemasonry", Richmond, Virginia: Macoy Publishing. 1966, p.474.
(2) Albert G. Mackey, "Encyclopedia of Freemasonry", Richmond, Virginia: Macoy Publishing. 1966, p.1099.
(3) Charles William Heckethorn, "The Secret Societies of all ages and Countries" [in two volumes], London: George Redway. 1897 p.310.
(4) Albert G. Mackey, "Encyclopedia of Freemasonry", Richmond, Virginia: Macoy Publishing. 1966. p.475.
(5) Albert G. Mackey, "Encyclopedia of Freemasonry", Richmond, Virginia: Macoy Publishing. 1966. p.1099.
(6) Henry Wilson Coil, "Coil's Masonic Encyclopedia", New York: Macoy Publishing. 1961 p. 545.
(7) "Kenning's Masonic Cyclopaedia and Handbook of Masonic Archealogy, History and Biography", ed. Rev. A.F.A. Woodford. London: 1878. p. 326.
(8) Adam Weishaupt, "An Improved System of the Illuminati", Gotha: 1787.
(9) Adam Weishaupt (1748 - 1811), "An Apology for the Illuminati", Gotha:1787. (10) John Robison (1739 - 1805), "Proofs of a Conspiracy against all the Religions and Governments of Europe carried on in the Secret Meetings of the Freemasons, Illuminati. and Reading Societies, collected from Good Authorities", printed by George Forman for Cornelious David, Edinburgh: 1797. (531 pages).
(11) Heckethorn, p.314.
(12) Heckethorn, pp. 305 - 316.
(13) "Encyclopaedia Britannica", 15th edition. Vol. 22, p. 223, 2b.
(14) "Encyclopaedia Britannica", 15th edition. Vol. 26, p. 937, 2b.
(15) J.M. Roberts, "The Mythology of Secret Societies", New York: Charles Scribner's Sons. 1972, pp. 123-4.
(16) Christopher McIntosh, "The Rose Cross and the Age of Reason", Leiden, E.J. Brill, 1992, reviewed by Robert Gilbert in the "Transactions of Quatuor Coronati Lodge No. 2076", London: Butler & Tanner Ltd.1993 p. 241.
(17) R.A. Gilbert. "Chaos out of order: the rise and fall of the Swedenborgian Rite". "Ars Quatuor Coronatorum" Transactions of Quatuor Coronati Lodge No. 2076. Volume 108 for the Year 1995. Edited by Robert A. Gilbert. p. 134.
(18) Eliphas Lévi. "The History of Magic" Samual Weiser, Inc., New York: 1973. p. 32
(19) ibid. p. 65
(20) ibid p. 130
(21) ibid. Chapter VI: "The German Illuminati". p. 317.
(22) ibid p.317
(23) "The Spiritual Exercises of St. Ignatius", trans. by L.J. Puhl (1951); "The Constitutions of the Society of Jesus; Translated with an Introduction and a Commentary", by G.E. Ganss:1970. (*) Noted in "Man, Myth & Magic" No. 50, p. 1404. Ellic Howe. BPC Publishing Ltd., London: 1970. [also source for portraits]

Additional references:

"Illuminism and the French Revolution". Edinburgh review vol. 204 pp35-60 July 1906.
"Jebediah Morse and the Bavarian Illuminati: An Essay on the Rhetoric of Conspiracy" Central States Speech Journal Fall/Winter 1988. pages 293-303.
"New England and the Bavarian Illuminati". Vernon L. Stauffer. 1918.
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