The Influence and Spread of the Illuminati

FROM THE LECTURE SERIES: The Real History of Secret Societies

By Richard Spence Ph.D., University of Idaho

The ultimate vision of the Illuminati was to provide happiness and freedom to humans. But, first, they had to be made good, and this would be achieved through manipulation, deception, and even force. The Illuminati were supposed to be the perfect human beings who were superior to others. They were supposed to make all humans equal, but inside their order, there were contradictions to this lofty aim.

Image of the Freemason secret symbol showing a red wax seal with the square, the compass, and the letter G in the middle.
Many famous names became associated with the Illuminati and the great majority of Illuminati were Freemasons. (Image: Victor Moussa/Shutterstock)

Not Equal, After All

Equality and freedom were not present even among the order itself. When a recruit, also called a novice, joined the society, he or she was strictly controlled by his/her recruiter. The recruiters had complete control over what the novices read, how they thought, and even what exactly they did and thought during the day. They had to keep a detailed account of their activities and thoughts during the day. Through strict controlling, the recruiters, also known as the insinuators, knew everything about their recruits. A novice was not considered a real Illuminati until he gained initiation to the next rank, Brethren Minerva.

The next ranks were minor and major Illuminatus. There were Scotch Knights (inspired by the Masonic Scottish Rite), Epopts, Prefects, National Directors, National Prefects, and finally, the Grand Master: Adam Weishaupt himself. The people who believed in religion and patriotism did not have any place in the order. The essence of the Illuminati was absolute loyalty to the order and the superiors. Moral principles were defined by the superiors, so acts like assassination or treason were totally justified if a superior demanded so.

This is a transcript from the video series The Real History of Secret Societies. Watch it now, on Wondrium.

Who Were the Members of the Illuminati?

The garden façade of the Alte Anatomie, Ingolstadt.
Adam Weishaupt studied and worked as a professor of law at Ingolstadt University. (Image: Christian Karl/CC BY-SA 3.0/Public domain)

At first, the order had five members. According to researchers like Terry Melanson, there were 450 confirmed Illuminati. Others have estimated the number to be 600 to 2,000. In the 18th century, all the members belonged to the educated class of lawyers, academics, physicians, writers, and theologians. Also, aristocrats, like barons, counts, dukes, and princes, were among the celebrated members of the Illuminati. One of the famous members of the Illuminati was the German author, Johann Wolfgang von Goethe. ‌He was a confidential adviser to another Illuminatus, Duke Karl August of Saxe-Weimar

Lower classes did not have a place in the order. Peasants, chimney sweeps, butchers, Jews, pagans, and ex-Jesuits were not allowed to join. Most of the members were Freemasons. They also came from different countries like Austria, Hungary, Switzerland, France, Denmark, and Russia. But the majority of them were from Germany.

Learn more about the Freemasons.

The Illuminati in Other Countries

A portrait of Goethe in 1828.
German writer Johann Wolfgang von Goethe was a member of the Illuminati order. (Image: Joseph Karl Stieler/Public domain)

The Order of the Illuminati was not limited to Bavaria, nor was it limited to the west. Other Illuminati cults had also emerged in other parts of the world. In the 1500s, a fraternity emerged in what is today Afghanistan. The name was Roshaniyya or the Illuminated Ones. Founded by a Sufi warrior mystic, Pir Bāyazīd Kahn, the order had highly secretive and elaborate initiation rituals. He demanded the ousting of the secular rulers and the creating of a new world order based on the equality of all people under the ruling of an enlightened elite. The principles sound much like Illuminati propaganda.

Another group emerged around the same time in Spain, called the Alumbrados, or Aluminados. They rejected the Catholic Church’s authority and sought mystical knowledge and ecstatic union with God. This made the church officials suspect them of being the surviving members of Cathars. They believed that when someone achieved union with God, they could give in to lust and other material desires without sinning. The order was accused of involving a sex cult under cover of the order. Due to these accusations, the Inquisition banned them. One of the members was the future founder of the Jesuits, Ignatius Loyola.

Learn more about secret societies—the underworld of history.

The Illuminati in Popular Culture

The Illuminati continued to exist in popular culture. It has been mentioned in many novels and works of literature. The order appeared in literature as early as 1818, in Mary Shelley’s Frankenstein. Percy Shelley, the poet and Mary’s husband, was interested in the Illuminati. Some people think that he was the real writer of the novel. There are many parallels between the story and the real-life Illuminati. For example, the city where Victor Frankenstein created his monster is Ingolstadt, the same town where Weishaupt was born and lived. Some think that Dr. Frankenstein is Weishaupt, and the monster is Illuminati, over which he lost control. Jane Austen’s Northern Abbey, Tolstoy’s War and Peace, works of Umberto Eco, Dan Brown, and the Marvel Universe’s comic books all have references to the Illuminati and Weishaupt.

Common Questions About the Influence and Spread of the Illuminati

Q: How many members did the Illuminati have?

At first, the Illuminati order was formed with five members. Then, according to researchers like Terry Melanson, there were 450 confirmed Illuminati. Some researchers have suggested that there were 600 to 2,000 members.

Q: Who were the members of the Illuminati?

The Illuminati order exclusively consisted of the educated class like lawyers, academics, physicians, writers, and theologians. Also, aristocrats, like barons, counts, dukes, and princes, were among the celebrated members of the Illuminati.

Q: What was the Illuminati’s purpose?

The Illuminati had a grand ambition of creating an equal world for all people ruled by the superior members of the Illuminati.

Q: Who was the founder of the Illuminati?

The founder of the Illuminati was Adam Weishaupt. He was born in 1748 and studied law at Ingolstadt University. He wanted to bring happiness and equality to all people.

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