Illuminati Ambigrams Articles

The Illuminati and the Freemasons

by William Edgar, Ph.D. , Professor of Apologetics, Westminster Theological Seminary

The name literally means “illuminated ones.” There is a real group so named, but there are also imagined mythical organizations who conspire to hold power behind the surface. The real Illuminati were founded in 1776, in Ingolstadt, Bavaria, by Adam Weishaupt, the professor of canon law at the university there. Its purported purpose was  to provide a fellowship for those not inclined to support the Roman Catholic Church, or the official government. In 1784 Karl Theodore, ruler of Bavaria, banned all secret societies, including the Illuminati. It has in effect been powerless since that time.

There is a long history of secret societies, going back into the ancient world of the Greeks and Romans, and with parallels in Asia (there were branches of Buddhism which functioned as clandestine reform groups). But the modern form emerged in the 17th century in England, with the “Free-Thinker” movement, which opposed the church and believed in the virtues of nature and human reason. In France the famous Encyclopedia (1765) included the article, “Libre-Penseur,” describing skeptics who shared the Enlightenment philosophy of anti Roman Catholicism.

There may be a connection between the Illuminati and the Freemasons, although such a bond is difficult to document. We know of one meeting in 1782 where there was an Illuminati representative at a Freemason convention at Wilhelmsbad, Hesse, Germany, under the protection of the duke of Brunswick. The Freemasons date back at least to the 16th century. They practiced Enlightenment values, including the equality of men, belief in a Supreme Being, and the performance of charitable activities. While local practices differ, often loyalty to the Masons is signified by an oath, and the promise of loyalty to the brothers.

Freemasonry is a world-wide fraternal organization, which has from time to time endured criticism and even persecution. In more modern times conspiracy theorists have suspected Freemasons of wanting world domination, or of already secretly running the world from behind the scenes. Some of their most common symbols include the forget-me-not flower and the “all-seeing eye,” derived from Egyptian mythology [a version of which is represented on the Great Seal of the United States – although most likely not as a concession to Masonry; it was introduced by Congress Secretary Charles Thomson, not a Freemason, as the idea of the “Eye of Providence”].

The connection of Freemasons and the Illuminati is claimed by British author John Robinson who wrote a book in 1798 connecting various groups as a conspiracy against “all the religions and governments of Europe.” His book and another by the Abbot Augustin Barruel point the finger against the Bavarian intellectual Adam Weishaupt as spreading the ideology of the Enlightenment through his secret society, the Order of the Illuminati. Both authors, royalists, argued that the French Revolution was somehow caused by these groups, and in so doing mobilized a strong conservative opposition to them. They argued the Illuminati conspired to “turn contented peasants from Religion to Atheism, from decency to dissoluteness, from loyalty to rebellion.”

The idea of secret groups contributing to the spirit of the French Revolution is not altogether groundless. The more rationalist Freemasons and the Illuminati certainly were a threat to the European oligarchies who depended on the Roman Catholic Church for legitimation. Historians agree that various secret societies spread anti-monarchist ideas, and were in general opposed to the Church, which they saw as holding back progress, freedom, and scientific development. However, to imagine that they were the principal cause of the French Revolution, or that they were successful shadow organizations behind the existing governments is to create a counter-history that had no basis in fact.


The impression given in the novel, Angels and Demons, that groups like the Illuminati have penetrated deep into the British Parliament or the United States Treasury, in a plan to establish a New World Order, and, of course, their ancient pact to destroy Vatican City, is pure fantasy. To his credit, Dan Brown does end up showing the Illuminati as no longer existing, except in the minds of certain demented individuals. But it does show how fascinating the entire subject is to modern readers. The Freemasons, on the other hand, are a large and significant fellowship of “brothers” who pledge loyalty to one another and perform acts of charity. While there are no doubt Masons who hold to anti-establishment ideologies, the vast majority of them are the furthest thing from conspiratorial.



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