Monday, April 11, 2011

I is for ... Illuminati

The date: May 1, 1776. The place: Ingolstadt, Bavaria. Adam Weishaupt - a professor of canon law at Ingolstadt University, a Jesuit, and a Freemason - initiates some of his fellow Masons into a new secret society. Originally, this secret-within-a-secret is to be known as "the Perfectibilists." Influenced by the ideals of the Enlightenment, they pass into history as the Bavarian Illuminati.

Influential in literary, artistic, and political circles - Goethe was among the organization's alleged 2000-strong membership - the Bavarian Illuminati nonetheless operated for less than a decade before Karl Theodor, Elector of Bavaria, banned all secret societies from his jurisdiction. Weishaupt fled; Illuminati documents were seized from the home of diplomat Xavier von Zwack and others; and the society collapsed in upon itself...

...Or did it? Persistent rumors claimed that the French Revolution had been orchestrated by the Illuminati; their shadowy influence on world affairs was denounced by no lesser a personage than George Washington, and became a favorite target of Puritan New England preachers in the early 19th century - decades after the Illuminati had supposedly ceased to be.

The Millennial fascination with secret societies, the growing anti-globalist movement, and political developments such as the PATRIOT Act have all contributed to a modern resurgence of interest in the Illuminati. Dan Brown's Angels and Demons, a bestselling book adapted into a blockbuster film, both rehashes and reimagines the swirling conspiracy theories involving the Illuminati. In so doing, it blurs truth with legend, and confuses the original Illuminati with several organizations that have adopted the name since. Not all of these have done so with a sincere adherence to Weishaupt's esoteric vision as their primary motivation; since Robert Anton Wilson, with Robert Shea, authored the Illuminatus! trilogy, that genre-bending cult classic has inspired any number of tongue-in-cheek fraternal societies on campuses all over. The Discordian Society, whose activities are somewhat unreliably recorded in Illuminati!, perpetuate and enrich the Illuminati myth even as they obscure any trail that the real Illuminati might inadvertently be leaving. This might mean that the Discordians are themselves Illuminati; of course, it's much more likely that there are no real Discordians, only people pretending to be Discordians.

That, I need hardly add, is just what the Illuminati would want you to think.

1 comment:

N. R. Williams said...

Great post. Secret Societies are good for all kinds of 'what if games.' One movie that poked fun at them was Betty Sue and I'm not even sure if that is the real title of the movie. She is struggling with a recent break up of her marriage, goes back in time to high school, and ends up at her grandparents house where her grandfather takes her to his 'Secret Society' meeting. There we are treated to ridiculous hats and funny hand greetings and she is whisked back to the present.
N. R. Williams, The Treasures of Carmelidrium.