Who were the Bavarian Illuminati?

Minerval
A symbol commonly used by the Bavarian Illuminati, depicting the Owl of Minerva sitting on top of a book

In most conspiracy theories regarding a “New World Order” or a secret society of the global elite that controls the entire world, a group that is frequently mentioned or suspected is the “Illuminati.” However, aside from the stereotypical assumptions that the Illuminati are a secretive cult-like group bent on world domination, they are in fact based on a real-life group of people, referred to as the Bavarian Illuminati.

Adam Weishaupt, the founder of the Bavarian Illuminati, was born on February 6th, 1748 in the city of Ingolstadt, Bavaria (Located in modern-day Germany). Weishaupt was raised and educated by Jesuits, while his godfather Baron Johann Adam von Ickstatt was the curator to the University of Ingolstadt. Interestingly, Baron Ickstatt was a large proponent towards the Enlightenment movement that took place in Europe during the 17th and 18th Centuries. Adam Weishaupt would study theology, classical religion and law, going on to become Professor of Natural and Canon Law for the university his godfather was the curator of in 1772.

Weishaupt
Adam Weishaupt

At some point Weishaupt would become initiated into the fraternity the Freemasons, supposedly at the Lodge Theodore of Good Council belonging to the Rite of Strict Observance, located in Munich in 1774. However, he would eventually found his own secret society, originally named “The Order of Perfectibilists” on May 1st, 1776. The society would later change its name to the “Ordo Illuminati Bavarensis,” otherwise known as the “Bavarian Illuminati” or the “Illuminati.” The goal of the organization is believed to have been to educate people to become more open-minded and tolerant, and to think without prejudice. This was relatively unheard of in a time when the Catholic Church dominated fields such as philosophy and science. Perhaps it was Weishaupt’s membership in the Freemasons that caused the goals and beliefs of the two societies to appear so similar, although some members of the Bavarian Illuminati believed that the church as a whole should be destroyed.

Despite this, Weishaupt himself was a Protestant (Having converted during his study of law) although that fact has often been neglected in favor of the almost Marxist ideology the Bavarian Illuminati seemed to project. For example, Weishaupt was anti-monarchy because of its despotic and authoritarian nature, and was once quoted as saying:

“Salvation does not lie where strong thrones are defended by swords, where the smoke of censers (A vessel used for the burning of incense) ascend to heaven or where thousands of strong men pace the fields of harvest.”

Since essentially every nation in Europe was ruled by a monarchy, that also made it seem as if the Bavarian Illuminati was simply an anarchist society. Many members of the group were also members of the Freemasons, and with lodges in countries such as France, Belgium, Germany, etc. the Illuminati was receiving information and spreading its influence across Europe. Oddly, this is where the infighting of the group becomes visible. Some members of the Bavarian Illuminati believed that people should think outside the church, others believed it should be eliminated outright. Some members (Like Weishaupt) were anti-monarchy, others were simply against the very concept of a nation-state.

Bavaria
Present-day Bavaria in dark green

Eventually, the Bavarian Illuminati began its downhill spiral into dissolution. In 1784 the society planned a coup against the House of Hapsburg, one of the most powerful royal families in Europe which failed and led to secret societies of any kind being banned in Bavaria. A year later in 1785 a courier traveling with Illuminati documents was killed by lightning, although his documents were intact and detailed the plans for revolution and subsequent domination of the world, along with a list of many important members, Weishaupt included. Many members were arrested, with the group disintegrating and Adam Weishaupt supposedly dying in the city of Gotha in 1830.

The Bavarian Illuminati is to this day very mysterious, especially due to the fact that it was not only very secretive but also ceased to exist in the late 1700’s, preventing much solid information about the group being preserved to the current day. Dates in particular are very troublesome, as some sources claim certain events such as the formation of the Illuminati or Weishaupt’s initiation to the Freemasons occurred in different years than others. And despite the large number of Illuminati members who infiltrated the Freemasons, it seems that the coming and going of the society had little to no effect on the Masonic order, positive or negative.

It would appear that all the hype and conspiracy theories surrounding the Bavarian Illuminati are entirely baseless, as even though the society did have high-reaching goals for humankind it achieved none of them, left no visible mark on society and only served as an interesting footnote in terms of the Enlightenment of Europe.

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