Thursday, January 2nd, 2014 | Illuminati myths
Trevor W. McKeown, the freemason webmaster at the Grand Lodge of British Columbia and Yukon, has maintained a page on the Bavarian Illuminati for a least a decade. Only infrequently has it been updated, and inaccuracies remain. Wikipedia has used it as a reliable source for many years on their own Illuminati page, likely because the most active editor for that subject is himself a Freemason. I’ve written about one egregious error before, however an assessment of the page as a whole is overdue.
The beginning pullquote from Thomas Jefferson is meant to set the reader up for what follows – that the Illuminati had good intentions and were misunderstood; nothing nefarious went on.
Much has been made about the Jefferson letter, but the pullquote that McKeown uses is in fact a misrepresentation and out of context. Below, how it was quoted (on the left), and the way it actually is (on the right).
|“As Weishaupt lived under the tyranny of a despot and priests, he knew that caution was necessary even in spreading information, and the principles of pure morality. This has given an air of mystery to his views, was the foundation of his banishment…. If Weishaupt had written here, where no secrecy is necessary in our endeavors to render men wise and virtuous, he would not have thought of any secret machinery for that purpose.”||
As Wishaupt [sic.] lived under the tyranny of a despot & priests, he knew that caution was necessary even in spreading information, & the principles of pure morality. He proposed therefore to lead the Free masons to adopt this object & to make the objects of their institution the diffusion of science & virtue. He proposed to initiate new members into his body by gradations proportioned to his fears of the thunderbolts of tyranny.
This has given an air of mystery to his views, was the foundation of his banishment, the subversion of the masonic order, & is the colour for the ravings against him of Robinson, Barruel & Morse, whose real fears are that the craft would be endangered by the spreading of information, reason, & natural morality among men
Obviously he intended to leave out the part after “pure morality” but neglected to include an ellipsis before “This has given an air of mystery to his views.” That’s a serious lapse. And seems intentional, to omit Jefferson’s accurate assessment that the Illuminati wanted to “lead the Free masons” and were engaged in the “subversion of the masonic order.”
Funny how Wikipedia’s article fails to mention the Illuminati’s overt machinations toward Freemasonry as well; what one recent Enlightenment historian correctly describes, thus:
While fiercely critical of the wider masonic movement and disdainful of masonic ritual, the order nevertheless remained inextricably entwined with freemasonry, developing rather like a parasitic plant, using the parent body as a source of sustenance and recruits and instrument for propagating its ideology.
- Jonathan I. Israel, Democratic Enlightenment: Philosophy, Revolution, and Human Rights 1750-1790, Oxford University Press, 2011, p. 836
This is no inconsequential oversight. It’s one of the main strategies of the Illuminati, in combination with subverting other secret societies, government, religious and public institutions. To leave out the modus operandi of the Illuminati - in a so-called “primer” or a supposed encyclopaedic article - is unacceptable. According to the late professor Richard van Dülmen, a modern Illuminaten expert in the strictest sense, Weishaupt’s “objective was to raise the intellectual niveau among a selected elite, those who were in a position to subvert existing institutions and promote the spirit of Enlightenment at all levels [...] a democratic model was out of the question, but the elite was still faced with the choice between a monarchy and an aristocracy” (The Society of the Enlightenment, Polity Press, 1992, p.112). The next page: “it was the deliberate intention of the league that existing societies should be systematically undermined and all important religious, governmental and, not least, didactic institutions should be infiltrated in order that they might operate in the best interests of reason.” Similarly, in his study of the Weimar Illuminati, utilizing for the first time the archives from the Swedish Box, historian Daniel Wilson dubbed it “the perfection of enlightened absolutism through conspiratorial means.”
But back to the “primer.”
The first paragraph discusses Robison and Barruel as “principal critics” (which is true) and that only recently have primary documents been translated into English, allowing for “an objective perspective on the order.” He appears to be talking about this site, as this update occurred between Dec 9, 2010 and Jan. 1, 2011, according to WayBack captures. I was the only one posting English translations of primary material back then, fleeting as it was - unless he thinks Weishaupt’s ‘Die Lampe von Diogenese’ is primary material on the Illuminati, which it isn’t.
In the next paragraph McKeown actually “appropriates” my listing of Illuminaten experts, without citation. Again, side by side comparison (left: him; right: me):
|Serious students should consult Amelia Gill’s 2008 translation of Weishaupt’s Die Lampe von Diogenese, Peggy Pawlowski’s 2004 doctoral thesis, ‘Der Beitrag Johann Adam Weishaupts zur Pädagogik des Illuminatismus’, and the works of such German historians as Reinhart Koselleck, Richard van Dülmen, Hermann Schüttler, Reinhard Markner, Monika Neugebauer-Wölk, Manfred Agethen, and Christine Schaubs.||Bavarian Illuminati can be studied in an objective manner, and indeed has for quite sometime. Starting with René Le Forestier who received his PhD in history in 1914 for his masterpiece ‘Les Illuminés de Bavière et la Franc-Maçonnerie Allemande’; and more recently, Peggy Pawlowski’s 2004 doctoral thesis, ‘Der Beitrag Johann Adam Weishaupts zur Pädagogik des Illuminatismus’. And in Germany, historians such as Reinhart Koselleck, Richard van Dülmen, Hermann Schüttler, Reinhard Markner, Monika Neugebauer-Wölk, Manfred Agethen, and Christine Schaubs have contributed a wide body of literature on the Bavarian Illuminati.|
In the html code, he actually does cite me (but it was commented out afterwards). I can’t figure out how to post code blocks in this version of wordpress, so the image of the html code is below.
Bad form, to say the least. According to the unseen html comments, he was going to write that my site had “detailed, accurate information” and intended to link to the page. If I was cited properly, I wouldn’t have a problem. Keeping his initial attribution there but unviewable doesn’t make sense.
We’re not done with the second paragraph. The first sentence makes an unusual assertion: “This webpage summarizes what was known about the Bavarian Illuminati to the English-speaking world, up until the mid-twentieth century.” We’re in the 21st century now, and since McKeown mentioned my list of Illuminaten experts, he surely was informed where legitimate information is to be found. If you’re not going to take advantage of this, then a proper title would be: “Primer on earlier, obsolete, writings sympathetic about a perceived history of the Illuminati before the advent of modern, academic, specialized, archival Illuminaten research.”
The third paragraph scoffs at Robison for being not particularly well-versed in the German language – true – and that he and Barruel didn’t provide context or proper citation. Barruel’s translations were much more faithful to the originals, however, and in fact he did cite his source, name of the book/magazine and titled section, but in the typical style of the time that didn’t identify from what page exactly. In wasn’t until the 19th century that professional historians cultivated more stringent methodology. Moreover, Rene Le Forestier, the great French historian of 18th century occult/templar masonry and the Illuminati, had even reluctantly given Barruel his due, writing that the latter read everything there was to be read on the Illuminati, understood the German language completely, that his translations were genuine and “more serious and more precise” than Robison, and had conducted a “complete expose” through a “meticulous analysis of the Original Writings” (Le Forestier, p. 687).
Paragraph four begins with the fact that Weishaupt drew ex-Jesuit antagonism from the University after he was appointed professor of Canon law, before becoming a Freemason. The next sentence informs us, correctly, that Weishaupt decided to join the masons in 1777. But the lodge in Munich he was initiated into wasn’t the “Lodge Theodore of Good Council (Theodor zum guten Rath)” as claimed, but the Strict Observance Lodge ‘Zur Behutsamkeit.’ They were two separate lodges: Theodore worked degrees from Royale York de l’Amitié in Berlin, while Zur Behutsamkeit (Weishaupt’s lodge) was of the Strict Observance, chartered in 1773/75 and ceasing operations in 1783 after the Wilhelmsbad conference and the official end of Strict Observance. The lodge Theodore of Good Council, after Wilhelmsbad, opted for the Illuminati-promoted Eclectic Rite.
Paragraph five is accurate, especially when he writes “Until recently, the best English exposition on the Order was found in Chapter III of Vernon L. Stauffer’s New England and the Bavarian Illuminati.” No hint as to what has appeared recently that qualifies as a good English “exposition on the Order,” although it seems he’s got wind of the Illuminatus major ritual being posted online.
Next there’s a sidebar that is hardly different from what he wrote before on Johann Jakob Lanz. He still writes, incorrectly, that Lanz was a “non-Illuminati secular priest.” Once again, take a look at my article on this for the real story: “Lang” or “Lanz”: Myths about the “Myths”. Paragraph two, in the sidebar, then goes on a tangent that the (Illuminati) papers found on Lanz’s body has been overstressed. In some circles, yes. Truly bad conspiracies have been perpetuated to the effect that Lanz was on his way to Paris to deliver the orders for the commencement of the French Revolution. It’s made up whole-cloth. In the above article, however, I recounted exactly where Lanz was going, what his mission was, and the contents of the documents found on him when he died. Furthermore, the importance of the Lanz Illuminati documents was this: after the evidence uncovered from Lanz it was clear that the Illuminati were still recruiting and plotting, even after the second edict. Karl Theodor was furious and issued his third edict (August 16, 1785) with the threat of severe punishments. The fourth edict was exactly two years later in 1787, and contrary to McKeown, it wasn’t the last. The fifth and last edict was on November 15, 1790, and repeated the threat of capital punishment from 1787 for continued activity in the Order. (See my book for details on the Edicts, and partial translations of four of them, the last included.)
Back to the main text, in paragraph six McKeown goes on about Barruel and Robison again, that they were conservatives allied to the old regime and refused to take at face value the professed good intentions of the Illuminati’s Enlightenment goals against “the dominion of superstition and prejudice.” This is true: they did indeed not take it at face value. The Illuminati were a secret society, not authorized by law, intent on infiltrating into the very core of the socio-political system. Lofty talk about reason and morality was trumped by overt subterfuge: a parasitical organism preying upon every lodge and every official institution within reach. That’s a fact that cannot be brushed aside, even if you agree with the “ends justifies the means.” The paragraph ends with this little tidbit:
Where Weishaupt and Knigge promoted a freedom from church domination over philosophy and science, Robison and Barruel saw a call for the destruction of the church. Where Weishaupt and Knigge wanted a release from the excesses of state oppression, Robison and Barruel saw the destruction of the state. Where Weishaupt and Knigge wanted to educate women and treat them as intellectual equals, Robison and Barruel saw the destruction of the natural and proper order of society.
That they “wanted to educate women and treat them as intellectual equals” was pulled straight one of thin air by McKeown. The Illuminati were not feminists! Far from it. In fact, there are only a few mentions of women in the original writings and degree work. One explicit reference was to form an Order for Women and use them as spies while providing “voluptuous pleasure for the Freemasons” - akin to an in-lodge masonic whore house. So much for being treated as equals. It’s true this Order of Women would also be educated in the same manner as their Masters, but that was only one class; the second class of women would be devoted to “debauchery.” The other significant mention is when Illuminati regents are admonished to flatter them; women display weakness for vanity and sensuality and in their hands lies influence upon a good part of the world (directive “VI” in Instruction B for the Regent degree).
Paragraph seven is misinformed as well. McKeown writes: “Status as a freemason was not required for initiation into the Order of Illuminati.” In the lower degrees one didn’t have to be a mason, but to be received into a class higher than Illuminatus minor it was required.
Paragraph eight is a quote from mason Albert Mackey’s old 19th century masonic Encyclopedia. McKeown, again using a set of ellipses, erases any mention of the Illuminati’s machinations toward masonry. Mackey (left), McKeown (right):
|Adopting Masonry only as a means of its own more successful propagation, and using it only as incidental to its own organization, it exercised while in prosperity no favorable influence on the Masonic institution, nor any unfavorable effect on it by its dissolution.||…. it exercised while in prosperity no favorable influence on the masonic institution, nor any unfavorable effect on it by its dissolution|
Paragraph nine: “Weishaupt was later appointed a professor at the University of Gottingen, remaining there until his death on 18 November 1830.” False. He never had a teaching job after leaving Ingolstadt, and he didn’t remain in Göttingen until his death in 1830; it was Gotha where he lived and died in exile.
Paragraph ten amounts to mason Henry Wilson Coil describing the Illuminati in one manner, mason George Kenning in another, and a quote from Weishaupt in his own defence.
Paragraph eleven tells us that Karl August Böttiger wrote against some of the accusations in John Robison’s Proofs of a Conspiracy. True enough, but Böttiger was himself a member of the Illuminati, and neglected to say so. Of course he would defend his brothers in arms. And while Böttiger was eager to state that after 1790 “every concern [sic] of the Illuminati has ceased,” he actually cooperated with J. J. C. Bode on extending the Order under various guises. Böttiger’s mention of 1790 is significant, for:
In 1787 the Order is officially abolished generally, but then Bode starts a reform of the Order, from 1790 under the name “Deutsche Freimaurerbund.” In 1793 Bode dies and Reinhold takes over the general leadership. The name of the Order is transformed now into “Bund des Einverständnisses” or “Moralischen Bund der Einverstandenen.” One of his closest associates in this project, which aims at the reform of the masonic ritual system, is [Illuminatus] Schröder. This reform, next organised within the [years] 1793/4 founded “Engbund,” whereby all higher degrees are abolished, is now known as Schröders, but the team working of it also included [Illuminati] Reinhold (and Herder). In 1809, Reinhold becomes a member of the Lodge “Luise zur gekrönten Freundschaft” in Kiel, of which he remains the Master until his death in 1823.
- Jan A.M. Snoek, “What Does The Word ‘Religious’ Mean in Reinhold’s ‘Religious Freemasonry,’” in Jan Assmann, Sibylle Meyer (eds.), Egypt: Temple of the Whole World : Studies in Honour of Jan Assmann, BRILL, 2003, p. 413
According to Illuminaten expert Hermann Schüttler, Böttiger was a member of Bode’s re-imagined Illuminaten (Deutsche Freimaurerbund) and was also afterwards involved with Schröder’s ‘Engbund’; see Die Mitglieder des Illuminatenordens 1776-1787/93 (Munich: Ars Una 1991), p. 27.
I quoted the same passage from Snoek, in my book, to highlight the fact that a real effort was attempted to extend the life of the Illuminati - one which, however, is markedly different from conspiracy theory on the subject.
After the Snoek quote and corroboration from other sources, I concluded with:
So, from the Illuminati to the German Masonic Union, we have another step in the transformation of the remnants of the Order. When Bode died, however, Carl Reinhold took the reigns. This time the new name for the remaining vestiges of the Illuminati was the Bund der Einverstandenen (Federation of Truth and Friendship). Prominent members were Illuminati Johann G.H. Feder (whom Weishaupt had practically idolized), Karl A. Böttiger, Ludwig T. Spittler, and Johann J. Bellermann. But a parallel development was Illuminatus Friedrich L. Schröder’s ritual reform called Engbund. This was in keeping with Bode’s original plan — as you’ll recall it’s the reason he went to Paris in 1787 to dispense with the mystical rites in Freemasonry, and replace them with a more rationalist creed. And, just like Illuminatus Roettiers de Montaleau’s re-institution of Masonry and the Grand Orient of France after the revolution, another Illuminatus — Schröder — was also responsible for the restructuring of Freemasonry in Germany. …
If there was indeed any real continuity of Bode‘s version of the Illuminati, then the above mentioned people and rites need to be investigated more thoroughly using archival material of the Lodges belonging to the late eighteenth century Eclectic Union, the Bode Masonic Union, and Schröder’s Engbund; and the personal correspondences and/or family archives of those individuals associated with the Illuminati trio of Bode, Reinhold and Schröder — even Böttiger, Spittler, and Bellermann (Perfectibilists, p. 133).
Next in McKeown’s article is a short list of members which he says are “unconfirmed”: Weishaupt, Knigge, Nicolai, Westenrieder, Hertel, Thomas Maria de Bassus, Johann Simon Mayr, Dietrich, Bode, [Christian Wilhelm] von [dem] Bus[s]che, Saint Germain, de Constanzo, Ferdinand of Brunswick, Ernst II of Gotha, Johann W. Goethe. It’s slightly different from his previous lists on older versions of the page, but we have confirmation that all were members of the Illuminati, except for Mayr and Saint Germain. Someone asked once about Saint-Germain being a member and I responded with an extensive post, Re: “Concerning the Count of Saint-Germain,” which may be of interest.
I don’t take issue with the remainder of the article. In fact, his concluding sections titled “After the Illuminati,” “Illuminati predecessors,” and “Illuminati claimants” are largely accurate and more thorough than his grasp of Bavarian Illuminati history proper.
Illuminati History (in English)
McKeown mentions that, for further info, one should consult a bibliography found in Vernon Stauffer’s New England and the Bavarian Illuminati. Stauffer’s list is good for directing one to primary material, however most of it still remains in German - which will be rectified in the near future through the joint effort of translator Jeva Singh-Anand, and editors Josef Waeges and Reinhard Markner.
In the meantime, however, there are some good English sources on Bavarian Illuminati history; scholars who use the primary documents for their knowledge base. It amounts to a chapter here and there, but taken together, one can get a complete and accurate picture.
In no particular order:
- Friedrich Christoph Schlosser, History of the eighteenth century and of the nineteenth till
the overthrow of the French empire: With particular reference to mental cultivation and progress, Vol. IV (London: 1845), pp. 472-502 [Archive.org link]
- Translated from German, this is still one of the most complete and detailed English accounts that can be read.
- Monika Neugebauer-Wölk, “Illuminaten” entry in Dictionary of Gnosis & Western Esotericism, ed. Wouter J. Hanegraaff, Brill Academic Publishers, 2005, pp. 590-597
- She’s one of the modern experts on the Illuminaten, so this entry is packed full of the most recent research. Despite the ostensible short length, the pages in this monumental Dictionary contain two columns with small type. All the essential (up-to-date) details are included.
- Christopher McIntosh, The Rose Cross and the Age of Reason: Eighteenth-Century Rosicrucianism in Central Europe and its Relationship to the Enlightenment, State University of New York Press, 1992 , pp. 100-13
- The history of the Golden and Rosy Cross of the 18th Century is inextricably tied to the history of the Bavarian Illuminati. Both secret societies spied on each other and spared no opportunity when it came to conspiring against one another - bitter enemies in every sense of the word. McIntosh’s book - a reworking of his PhD thesis on the subject - has a really good chapter which lays out the “polemical stance” of both parties: “The Polemical Stance of the Gold- und Rosencreuz,” pp. 91-113.
- Richard van Dülmen, The Society of the Enlightenment, Polity Press, 1992, pp. 104-118
- Another Illuminaten expert. Since Dülmen’s seminal Der Geheimbund der Illuminaten hasn’t yet been translated into English, this book will have to do. A nuanced discussion of the Illuminati occurs within the chapter called “Clubs and Political Associations,” pp. 82-127.
- Klaus Epstein, The Genesis of German Conservatism, Princeton University Press, 1966
- This really should be read all the way through, because it deals with Germany during the days of the Illuminati, through the French Revolution and up until Napoleon. It’s indispensable for a proper understanding of the politics, the Enlightenment and Enlightened Absolutism, the German Aufklärung and the reaction against it, and the birth of the modern conspiracy theory. In particular, see Chapter 2: “Masons, Illuminati, & Rosicrucians,” pp. 84-111 and Chapter 10: “The Conspiracy Theory of the Revolution,” pp. 503-546.
- Reinhart Koselleck, Critique and Crises: Enlightenment and the Pathogenesis of Modern Society, MIT Press, 1988.
- An English translation of Koselleck’s 1959 classic Enlightenment study, Kritik und Krise. It’s a hard book to put your finger on, but it opened wide the field of finally taking secret societies and Freemasonry seriously while discussing the objectives of the Enlightenment and the 18th-century public sphere. This review of a review of his work goes into more details. Critique and Crises discusses the Illuminati numerous times, all drawn from primary material. In particular, see Chapter 6: “The Proliferation of Indirect Power and the Schisms of Morals and Politics,” pp. 76-85; Chapter 7: “The Political Function of the Lodges and the Plans of the Illuminati,” pp. 86-97; and Chapter 10: “The Philosophy of Progress and its Prognosis of Revolution,” pp. 127-137.
- Jonathan I. Israel, Democratic Enlightenment: Philosophy, Revolution, and Human Rights 1750-1790, Oxford University Press, 2011
- Professor Israel has been accused of being obsessed with Spinoza and of trying to find Spinozism under every rock, which isn’t really that unfair of an assessment. But he does it in an incredibly intelligent and well-read manner as well as being a skilled linguist in all the major European languages. He discusses the Illuminati in the context of the “radical enlightenment” in Chapter 31: “Aufklärung and the Secret Societies (1776-1792),” pp. 822-858.
- Steven Luckert, Jesuits, Freemasons, Illuminati, and Jacobins: Conspiracy theories, secret societies, and politics in late eighteenth-century Germany, Ph.D. dissertation, State University of New York at Binghamton, 1993
- A mammoth thesis of 700+ pages. Luckert is situated squarely in the latest trend of scholars analysing conspiracy theories as a topic unto itself, but if you’re interested in the Illuminati, and can get your hands on it, you’ll find yourself devouring it completely.
- Maria Kajtar, “German Illuminati in Hungary,” Studies in Eighteenth Century Literature, eds. Szenczi and Ferenczi, Budapest 1974, pp. 325-346.
- A rare and obscure article. She’s very good when it comes to an analysis of the ideology and utopianism of the Illuminati, however some of the Hungarian members she discusses haven’t been proved to have been members - even with the benefit of the membership studies of Dülmen (1970s) and Schüttler (1990s).
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- Illuminati Conspiracy Archive
- Illuminati Conspiracy Part One: A Precise Exegesis on the Available Evidence
- Illuminati Conspiracy Part Two: Sniffing out Jesuits
- Jeva Singh-Anand’s Illuminati Blog
- Marco Di Luchetti’s “Illuminati of Bavaria”
- Perfectibilists: The 18th Century Bavarian Order of the Illuminati