For a long time, I never really thought about the Illuminati as something other than a conspiracy theorist’s obsession. Then, the Marvel Universe got its Illuminati, and It felt weird. I was looking into some of those comics the other day and I thought that I maybe should look into it. Maybe I could learn something? (spoiler: I did)
Who Created the Illuminati?
Through history, we can find multiple references to movements built around the idea of enlightenment like with the Alumbrados in Spain during the 15th century or les Illuminés in France during the 17th century. But the Order of the Illuminati we are talking about was created in Bavaria.
Founded on May 1, 1776, by a professor of law at the University of Ingolstadt named Adam Weishaupt, this secret society was formed with the goal of combating the influence of religion in society. He was apparently inspired by the great “Age of Reason.”
The religious and political conservatism that dominated Ingolstadt at the time was at odds with Weishaupt’s vision. He believed that society should not be constrained by religious dogma, and he sought to create a realm of intellectual freedom, critique, and open dialogue. Inspired by the ideals of the Freemasons and French Enlightenment philosophers, Weishaupt aimed to foster a safe space for discussion and free thought.
The Growth and Influence of the Illuminati
The Illuminati’s early members consisted of Weishaupt’s most talented law students, carefully chosen by him. The society expanded rapidly, its members disseminating radical ideas that challenged established norms.
Notably, the Illuminati established a network of informants who gathered information about the behavior of state and religious figures, amassing a wealth of data that could be used to support their teachings.
The Illuminati even went to recruit Freemasons and prevalent intellectual figures of the time–it seems at least, there’s not an official list of members available today. The order’s expansion may have reached between 2,000 and 3,000 members across various regions, including France, Hungary, Italy, and Poland.
The End of the Illuminati and the Birth of Conspiracy Theories
Just a decade after the Illuminati’s creation, Bavarian authorities infiltrated the society due to intercepted “radical” writings that challenged the state’s authority. In 1785, the Bavarian government banned the Illuminati, leading to its disbandment. Weishaupt lost his position at the University of Ingolstadt and was banished from the city.
Following its dissolution, the Illuminati’s legacy transformed into one of the most enduring conspiracy theories in modern history. Despite historians debunking the notion that the order continued to operate in secret after its banishment, conspiracy theorists have connected the Illuminati to various historical events, from the French Revolution to modern-day tragedies like the September 11 attacks.
The Illuminati’s reputation for being a shadowy and powerful organization has been perpetuated through literature, films, and popular culture. It has been portrayed as a secretive puppet master controlling global events behind the scenes. Yet, the reality of the Illuminati remains rooted in its historical context—an intellectual movement seeking to challenge religious and political conservatism and promote knowledge and free thought.
If you want to read about other popular conspiracy theorists’ subjects, I recently wrote about the first UFO Sighting.