De-mystifying the Illuminati and its conspiracy theories

The symbol of an eye within a triangle is known as the Eye of Providence and is believed by conspiracy theorists to be an Illuminati symbol. (Pixabay pic)

In Malaysian bookstores, it is strangely easy to find locally published books spewing out bizarre rantings about shadowy organisations aiming to take over the world through the use of Hollywood and other ridiculous means.

Aside from the Freemasons who have been accused of everything under the sun, the Illuminati is a group that tends to be the focus of conspiracy theorists, local and foreign.

So, what exactly is the Illuminati and why are some people so obsessed with it?

Well, in 1776, the power of the traditional institutions and the church was being challenged by ideals of rationalism, religious freedom and universal human rights.

That same year, the American Revolution was breaking out, fuelled by these same ideals which continued to inspire people across the world.

In the German state of Bavaria, one Professor Adam Weishaupt found it difficult to discuss and spread these secular ideas.

To have an avenue to freely criticise the church’s and government’s conservatism, he established the Illuminati, or The Order of Perfetibilists.

People sometimes confuse the Illuminati for the Freemasons; the two groups do indeed have some connection.

Initially starting off as a stoneworkers’ guild in the late Middle Ages, the Freemasons had since become promoters of the ideals of knowledge and reason.

While theoretically a secret order, it was more accurately an open secret, with many rich, powerful people joining and undergoing secretive initiation rituals.

Weishaupt joined the Freemasons while recruiting members for his own group.

He would give himself the code name Spartacus, after the leader of a Roman slave revolt.

Adam Weishaupt founded the Illuminati to freely discuss with like-minded people his ideas of reason and religious freedom. (Wikipedia pic)

An early member, Baron Adolph Knigge, became an important Illuminati recruiter and through his efforts, brought influence and increased membership to the Illuminati.

By 1784, the Illuminati had about 600 members in its ranks and Thomas Jefferson, an American Founding Father and the third President, said Weishaupt was an inspiration to him.

Back in Europe, European monarchs and the church were growing increasingly wary of the possibility of trouble in their own states.

Like the Freemasons, the Illuminati was an open secret at this point, with religious and political figures fearing that they were plotting to destroy the government and the church.

The strange thing is, the Illuminati was not against religion in the least, but believed in having a secular government.

In any case, the Bavarian government collected records on suspected Illuminati members, especially those with important positions in government and universities.

In 1784, the Duke of Bavaria issued a decree banning all secret societies, and that was rather surprisingly, the abrupt end of the group.

Weishaupt shuffled off into exile and that was it.

That is, at least, the historical side of things accepted by rational people.

In the minds of conspiracy theorists, the Illuminati survived and is now a powerful and nefarious organisation.

Illuminati conspiracy theories have been around since the 18th century and the group has been accused of being a Satanic, Zionist, Masonic, Catholic and or atheistic conspiracy.

How it is all of that simultaneously is left to be seen.

Conservative authors have said that the French Revolution was the result of an Illuminati plot; American preacher Jedidah Morse claimed the government was being undermined by the group.

Whichever version conspiracy theorists believe, they generally agree the organisation controls world events.

However, there really is no evidence the Illuminati survived or went underground, let alone control and orchestrate world events.

Its brief existence is well-documented in government and Freemason records, and everything about it can be accessed through official archives.

In most of the conspiracy theories, the Illuminati, a massive sinister group, has a very bad habit of putting hidden symbols and clues to their existence in the media.

Virtually every pop culture icon has been accused of being an Illuminati agent at some point, with hand signs and triangles said to be the giveaway.

Celebrities have however caught on to the conspiracy theories and some have played around with it for a good laugh, with Lady Gaga swearing to Lucifer on Jimmy Kimmel and Katy Perry joking about selling her soul to the Devil.

Why a secret society would be so desperate to tell the world of its existence and its evil plans is generally left unexplained.

In any case, while the Illuminati may no longer exist, the ideas that spurred Weishaupt to start the group still do.

The Illuminati was nothing more than a symptom of the desire for a freer society, a desire that was already taking root long before 1776 and would continue to live on to this day.