According to conspiracy theorists, the Illuminati is a powerful secret society that controls world events with the goal of creating a one-world government. The group has been accused of orchestrating everything from the French Revolution to the assassination of JFK. While these claims can be difficult to verify or debunk, the true history behind the theories may surprise you.
1. In 1776 in Bavaria, a university professor founded the Illuminati. The secret society was formed with some noble ideals such as liberty, equality, and fighting government oppression.
As opposed to the evil-driven secret society often depicted in pop culture and conspiracy theories, the Illuminati was created with the best of intentions. According to the founder, Adam Weishaupt, the aim of the group was to create “a state of liberty and moral equality, freed from the obstacles which subordination, rank, and riches, continually throw in our way.” The Illuminati opposed superstition, restriction of knowledge, abuses of state power, and religious influence on public life.
2. The Illuminati was founded with five members and rapidly grew. In eight years, it had over 2,000 members. They focused on recruiting influential and wealthy people.
As the society expanded, they focused on recruiting a particular type of candidate for membership. For instance, candidates had to have a strong reputation, well-established familial and social connections, and be rich. They preferred candidates who were willing to learn and were aged from 18 to 30. They specifically excluded women, Jews, pagans, and monks. It is believed they had between 2,000 and 3,000 members by 1784.(source)
3. Members had to meet some unusual requirements to be promoted in the Illuminati, such as providing a report on all the books they owned.
For a novice to be promoted to a higher level in the society, they had to provide information including the names of books they owned, the identity of their enemies, and the weak points of their character. They also had to promise to sacrifice all their personal interests to the interests of the society.
Another notable requirement for members was that they were encouraged to always gather information for the society. That included observing people and attempting to gather information from anyone they speak with, and writing a report on any useful information.(source)
4. One way the Illuminati expanded its power is by recruiting members from the Freemasons.
The Freemasons are another organization that is at the center of many conspiracy theories. The group had been around much longer history than the Illuminati. So, the Freemasons were already well established in Bavaria when the Illuminati was just getting started. To take advantage of the Freemason’s resources and influence, the Illuminati focused on recruiting the men that ran Freemason lodges. They were often successful, and this put the entire lodge at the Illuminati’s disposal.(source)
5. The society’s downfall came in 1787 when the Duke-elector of Bavaria made membership in the Illuminati punishable by death.
As the Illuminati expanded, some members of the society publicly boasted about their power and criticized the monarchy. As a result, the Illuminati’s existence had become common knowledge. One reason public opinion turned against the Illuminati is the group used its power unfairly to benefit its members. For instance, members of the society were in many governing bodies, and Illuminati court officials gave preferential treatment to their fellow members.
Several members were arrested, and the Bavarian police obtained some compromising evidence. It included documents that defended suicide and atheism, recipes for invisible ink, and directions for performing abortions. To show the dark side of the Illuminati’s practices, the government published the society’s documents. The documents drew condemnation from Church officials. The government then made membership in the society a capital crime.
Weishaupt fled to a different territory in Bavaria. He later wrote apologies for starting the Illuminati, renounced any connection with secret societies, and reconciled his differences with the Church.(1,2,3)
6. At the end of the 1700s, several books were released that theorized the secret society survived. They claimed its existence was covered up by an international conspiracy, and the society was behind the French Revolution.
The books included Proofs of a Conspiracy by John Robison, and Memoirs Illustrating the History of Jacobinism by Augustin Barruel. The theories in these books have been criticized for having no proof and relying on incorrect information.
But the books were very popular and were brought to the United States. This led reverends to preach sermons against the Illuminati. These sermons were printed, and the story was covered in newspapers. However, concern about the society died down in the first decade of the 1800s.(1,2)
7. Conspiracy theories about the Illuminati were revitalized in the 1960s by a writer named Robert Anton Wilson. His theories were created as a hoax with the goal of making the public more skeptical.
Wilson was a writer who wanted the public to reexamine whether they can trust the information that’s presented to them. To accomplish this, Wilson and several other writers launched a plan they called “Operation Mindf*ck.” It involved sending letters to magazines and newspapers that claimed the Illuminati was behind “all national calamities, assassinations, or conspiracies.” They also accused many public figures of being members. Some examples of the strangest claims they made were that Illuminati members included Martians and that lacking a left nipple was one telltale sign that someone was a member.
In a memo to several friends, Wilson wrote that one big risk of their plan was “the Establishment might be paranoid enough to believe some wild legend started by one of us and thereupon round up all of us for killing Abraham Lincoln.”(1,2)
8. The conspiracy theories continued to spread as the Illuminati was depicted in pop culture.
Wilson later wrote a trilogy of science fiction novels about the Illuminati. The Illuminatus! Trilogy cemented the conspiracy theories in popular culture. The Illuminati have since been referenced in a wide variety of fictional works. One of the most popular is Dan Brown’s novel Angels & Demons. Other examples include Marvel comic books, the film Lara Croft: Tomb Raider, and video games such as the Deus Ex series.(source)
9. The Eye of Providence is a symbol often used in reference to the Illuminati but has no real connection to the secret society.
The first book in The Illuminatus! Trilogy was called The Eye in the Pyramid, and the novel incorrectly claimed that this symbol was used by the Illuminati since its founding in Bavaria. Ever since, the symbol is often used in pop culture references to the Illuminati.
However, the Eye of Providence was originally a Christian symbol that represented the all-seeing eye of God. It was later adopted by the Freemasons. The real symbol used by the Illuminati was the Owl of Minerva. It depicted an owl sitting on top of an open book, which symbolized learning. It was inscribed with the letters P.M.C.V. which stand for the Latin phrase “Per Me Caeci Vident” (through me the blind become sighted).(1,2,3)
10. The idea that a powerful secret society is attempting to rule the world is among the most widely-believed conspiracy theories. A poll showed 28% of US voters believe it.
According to a 2013 poll by Public Policy Polling, 28% of US voters believe a secretive power elite with a globalist agenda is conspiring to eventually rule the world through an authoritarian world government or New World Order. For comparison, 7% believe the moon landing was faked, 20% believe there’s a link between vaccination and autism, and 21% believe a UFO crashed at Roswell New Mexico.(source)