Actual Facts: Meet The Man Who Started The Illuminati

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Written by Ann Brown
Illuminati
Hip-Hop artists rap about. Movies are made about it. There are two centuries of conspiracy theories around it. But who is actually behind the Illuminati? Image by Autumn Keiko

Hip-Hop artists rap about. There are movies made about it. There have been two centuries of conspiracy theories built around it. But who is actually behind the Illuminati?

The 18th-century German thinker Adam Weishaupt is the founder of the secret society Illuminati.

Weishaupt was born in 1748 in Ingolstadt, a city in the Electorate of Bavaria (which is now part of modern-day Germany). A descendant of Jewish, he later converted to Christianity. Although orphaned at a young age, an uncle took care of his education and enrolled him in a Jesuit school. Following school, Weishaupt became a professor of natural and canon law at the University of Ingolstadt. He married and had a family. Seems normal enough. 

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But Weishaupt, among others, thought that the monarchy and the church were repressing freedom of thought.

He sought to discover another form of “illumination,” “a set of ideas and practices that could be applied to radically change the way European states were run,” National Geographic reported.

Freemasonry was already being practiced worldwide and was steadily expanding throughout Europe during this time. It attracted freethinkers. But Weishaupt  was disillusioned with many of the Freemasons’ ideas, so ultimately he decided to create his own secret society.

He wanted to offer freedom “from all religious prejudices; cultivates the social virtues; and animates them by a great, a feasible, and speedy prospect of universal happiness.” To do so he created “a state of liberty and moral equality, freed from the obstacles which subordination, rank, and riches, continually throw in our way.”

“On the night of May 1, 1776, the first Illuminati met to found the order in a forest near Ingolstadt. Bathed in torchlight, there were five men. There they established the rules that were to govern the order. All future candidates for admission required the members’ consent, a strong reputation with well-established familial and social connections, and wealth,” National Geographic reported.

Initially, the order’s membership had three levels: novices, minervals, and illuminated minervals. 

“Minerval” was in reference to the Roman goddess of wisdom, Minerva, which reflected the order’s goal to spread true knowledge, or illumination, about how society, and the state, might be reformed.

By 1782, Weishaupt’s secret order had a membership reaching 600. And it was a diverse group —  notables in Bavarian public life, students, noblemen, politicians, doctors, lawyers, and jurists, intellectuals. By the end of 1784, the Illuminati had grown to have 2,000 to 3,000 members.

As time went on, the membership levels became more complex with a total of 13 degrees of initiation, divided into three classes. 

As the Illuminati grew so did rumors and conspiracy theories about the secret society. 

“After the French Revolution began in 1789, the Illuminati were accused of desiring a similar revolt against the Bavarian regime. Some even claimed that Weishaupt had met the French revolutionary leader Robespierre. In reality, Weishaupt was more of a reformer than a firebrand revolutionary,” National Geographic reported.

FIghting within the group also began, with some key members leaving and later spreading some of the secret inner workings of the group. The ex-members also spread some falsehoods, said Weishaupt, such as the group “believed that suicide was legitimate, that its enemies should be poisoned, and that religion was an absurdity.”

As the controversy started to swirl around the Illuminati, Weishaupt lost his position at the University of Ingolstadt and was banished. “He lived the rest of his life in Gotha in Saxony where he taught philosophy at the University of Göttingen. The Bavarian state considered the Illuminati dismantled,” National Geographic reported.

But the legacy and mystery of the Illuminati live on. “The Illuminati have been fingered in recent events, such as the assassination of John F. Kennedy. Weishaupt’s ideas have also influenced the realms of popular fiction, such as Dan Brown’s Angels & Demons and Foucault’s Pendulum by Italian novelist Umberto Eco. Although his group was disbanded, Weishaupt’s lasting contribution may be the idea that secret societies linger behind the scenes, pulling the levers of power,” National Geographic reported.

Ann Brown
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Image Attribution: Hip-Hop artists rap about. Movies are made about it. There are two centuries of conspiracy theories around it. But who is actually behind the Illuminati? Image by Autumn Keiko, Hip-Hop artists rap about. Movies are made about it. There are two centuries of conspiracy theories around it. But who is actually behind the Illuminati? Image by Autumn Keiko