The Independent Magazine for Freemasons
By: Josef Wäges & Reinhard Markner
The Bavarian Order of Illuminati* was formed in 1776 by Adam Weishaupt, Professor of Canon Law at the University of Ingoldstadt. Since it was a largely covert organisation, there is no way of knowing how large or small it was at its height. The avowed aim was to increase the morality, virtue and happiness of humanity across the whole world. The Order however, was suppressed by the Bavarian government in 1788, largely at the behest of the Jesuits, so it only existed for twelve years. Nonetheless, modern Freemasonry has received a good deal of unjustified criticism because of its aims and practices and anti-masons often encourage the belief that the Illuminati were part of mainstream Freemasonry in order to justify criticism of the Craft.
This is a very well-produced hardback book, printed in a typeface which is easy to read, with good illustrations several of which occupy a whole page. It begins with a historical summary, showing that the whole system of eight Degrees (Novice; Minerval; Illuminatus Minor; Illuminatus Major; Knight; Priest; Regent; and King) was created by Adam Weishaupt together with Baron von Knigge. This was a period when Freemasonry in England was in the period of schism between the ‘Moderns’ and the ‘Antients,’ whose rituals had been exposed in Three Distinct Knocks (1760) and Jachin & Boaz (1762), just fifteen years before the creation of the Illuminati. A comparison of the Masonic rituals of the two systems is very interesting.
The three Masonic Degrees as modified and used by the Order have never been published before. They are fascinating from a historical point of view and they are full of valuable messages for the interpretation of modern Freemasonry. The Illuminati despised the mainstream Freemasonry of the time, which they said had become: ‘… a meeting place of indolent and vile men, gathered together without discrimination’ (p. 119) , who call: ‘themselves Freemasons, but who have learnt nothing more than a few hieroglyphs that they do not understand in exchange for money wasted’ (p. 127). The Preparatory Essay lists eight reasons why Freemasonry cannot improve mankind followed by eight reasons why the Illuminati could. Their aim was to set up in competition with regular Masonic Lodges, or to:
‘secretly acquire a voting majority in those lodges and attempt either to reform or dismantle them’ (p. 212).
The commitments of the members were considerable. Lodges were held at least once a month (p. 161) and, ‘in some towns weekly meetings are arranged’ (p. 162). The Brethren were asked to write monthly essays (p. 113). All the Brethren were also advised to:
‘… read diligently and think about what you have read. Above all, use your own mind, not someone else’s’ (p. 66).
The rituals include some beautiful language and they must have been very impressive to see performed. I was, however, struck by the lack of esoteric or mystical content, which the name “Illuminati” had led me to hope for.
Also included are a lot of instructions to the members at all levels. These advocate continual reporting upwards on every member in the minutest detail.
‘… nothing should be too trivial for the observer […] since nature in fact tends to reveal the most in the smallest detail.’ (p. 294).
The Secret Censor was told that he: ‘… must examine both their good and their evil side’ (p. 115). ‘To ensure that everything is reported, every member of the Magistracy had to keep a detailed diary’ (p. 112). There were forms to be completed and: ‘promotions to the higher degrees mostly depended on these reports’ (p. 126). ‘No-one is promoted until he is exactly as we want him to be’ (p. 328). The Illuminatus Minor had to supervise two or more Minervals and ‘He must visit them, or they must visit him, daily if possible’ (p. 85). One is left with the impression of obsessional micro-management and control.
There were also many instructions on how to influence worldly affairs:
‘Military schools, academies, book printers, book sellers, cathedral chapters, or any other institutions that influence education and government should never be ignored, and the Regents should unremittingly design plans for setting about gaining control over them’ (p. 321).
However, they were not entirely honest with their members:
‘… it is sometimes necessary to let the subordinates assume (but without resorting to untruths) that we secretly direct all other orders and Masonic systems, or that the most powerful monarchs are ruled by the Order.’ (p. 318).
Their avowed aims may have been of the most laudable and noble kind but the means they chose to achieve them involved interference with the political and religious order of the whole world in a covert and underhand manner. They sought to organise and control the whole of humanity for its own good, but they were to be the judges of what that good was. The possibilities for corruption and abuse of power in such a system ring alarm bells in the reader’s ears. One is left asking why, if the aims were so worthy, did they not argue openly for their cause rather than promoting it in secret.
The book is a very good read and I recommend it wholeheartedly.
* Not to be confused with the Illuminati of Avignon.
Reviewed by Tony Baker
Lewis Masonic (2015)
ISBN 978 0 85318 493 5
Hardback 447 pages, 25 illustrations £25.00