The Illuminati. Central to almost every movie about a global secret organization, we’ve watched Nicholas Cage protect the Declaration of Independence from them, Tom Hanks foil an Illuminati plan to annihilate the Vatican, and countless more defend the world against undercover plots masterminded by the centuries-old collective.
The intrigue surrounding the Illuminati stems from their secretive and anti-governmental nature, and you’ll be hard-pressed to find a school textbook covering them. But are the Illuminati real, and could they still exist today?
What is the Illuminati?
In the year 1776, the world was undergoing profound change. The United States was in the last stages of the Revolutionary War and busy signing the Declaration of Independence – but in Bavaria, Germany, a silent war was raging.
Much like many other nations at the time, the Catholic Church presided over all affairs in the country, leading with traditional creationist values. However, these were the years of the Scientific Revolution, and scientists sought to understand the natural world in the hopes of understanding God’s mind. Science and religion became deeply intertwined, as the Church hoped to incorporate scientific ideas into an overarching Catholic narrative.
Adam Weishaupt, a law professor and prominent freethinker, opposed the absolute control of the Church and had progressive views on sex equality in the context of education; according to him, women should be educated and seen as equal, and the repression of free thought led by the Church was a problem. Voicing such criticisms of the Church led to extensive clashes, and Weishaupt quickly realized a collective of rationalist freethinkers would be opposed were it to go public.
So, on May 1, 1776, Weishaupt formed a secret society with four other members, aiming to create a progressive collection of freethinkers that would “enlighten” them from prejudices and release them from the perceived chains of religion. Their exact goal remains unclear – some state the Illuminati was directly made to combat religion and foster Weishaupt’s rationalist views in its place, while others state it was to simply promote equality and freedom of thought in society.
Soon, the society grew across Europe, particularly after a prominent German diplomat became involved and began recruiting from the Freemasons, an organization from which Weishaupt drew significant inspiration.
After a few years, such a large society became known to governments, and the radical views of Weishaupt led to his removal from the University of Ingolstadt and the banning of all illegal societies in 1784; the Illuminati was subsequently declared a branch of the illegal Freemasonry organization and banned in 1785. Weishaupt fled Bavaria shortly after.
Led by Carl Theodore, ruler of Bavaria, the government began seeking out members of the Illuminati and prosecuting them, and in 1787, being a member of the society became punishable by the death penalty. Plagued by internal dissent and public mistrust of the order, this declaration is considered the final blow to the secret organization.
Does the Illuminati still exist?
Despite what you may be told, there is currently no evidence to suggest the original order still exists, nor is there evidence of any modern organizations having any ties to the original group.
In 1797 and 1798, a series of books were published suggesting the Illuminati survived the purge and that they were implicated in the French Revolution. The works contributed to significant public concern over the survival and activities of the secret Illuminati, and eventually evolved into anti-Masonic discourse, but this eventually dissolved.
In the present day, many groups reference links to the original Illuminati, but these are unsubstantiated and likely a ruse to attract membership. However, conspiracy theorists still love to postulate on what the group could be doing should it still exist – is it now trying to usurp world powers? Are they connected to the also-secret Rothschild global enterprise, that seemingly owns everything? Did they replace all the birds with surveillance drones? Maybe we’ll never know.