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Perfectibilists: The 18th Century Bavarian Order of the Illuminati

Perfectibilists: The 18th Century Bavarian Order of the Illuminati

by Terry Melanson

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Presenting an advanced and authoritative perspective, this definitive study chronicles the rise and fall of the Order of the Illuminati, a mysterious Enlightenment-era guild surrounded by myth. Describing this enigmatic community in meticulous detail, more than 1,000 endnotes are included, citing scholars, professors, and academics.


Presenting an advanced and authoritative perspective, this definitive study chronicles the rise and fall of the Order of the Illuminati, a mysterious Enlightenment-era guild surrounded by myth. Describing this enigmatic community in meticulous detail, more than 1,000 endnotes are included, citing scholars, professors, and academics. Contemporary accounts and the original documents of the Illuminati themselves are covered as well. Copiously illustrated and featuring biographies of more than 400 confirmed members, this survey brings to light a 200-year-old mystery.

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The 18th Century Bavarian Order of the Illuminati

By Terry Melanson

Trine Day LLC

Copyright © 2009 Terry Melanson
All rights reserved.
ISBN: 978-1-937584-10-8


Early Events

Do you realize sufficiently what it means to rule — to rule in a secret society? Not only over the lesser or more important of the populace, but over the best of men, over men of all ranks, nations, and religions, to rule without external force, to unite them indissolubly, to breathe one spirit and soul into them, men distributed over all parts of the world? ... And finally, do you know what secret societies are? What a place they occupy in the great kingdom of the world's events? Do you think they are unimportant, transitory appearances?

— Adam Weishaupt

A Chronological Overview

In general, if at all, it is customary for an author to include a chronology toward the end of the book rather than near the beginning. In the case of the Illuminati, however, and since the historical record of the Order between the years 1776 and

1787 may indeed be unfamiliar to many, an explication of the sequence of events will, I believe, be useful.

1748 — February 6. Johann Adam Weishaupt is born (d. 1830) of Westphalian parents in Ingolstadt, Bavaria. Fittingly, the Weishaupt family name first appeared in nearby Baden and was anciently associated with tribal conflicts around the area.

1753 — Weishaupt's father, Johann George Weishaupt (b. 1717) dies. He is adopted by his liberal godfather, Johann Adam Baron von Ickstatt, professor and rector of the University of Ingolstadt and a member of the Privy Council.

While growing up, Weishaupt was educated by the Jesuits, and was also "accorded free range in the private library of his godfather, the boy's questioning spirit was deeply impressed by the brilliant though pretentious works of the French 'philosophers' with which the shelves were plentifully stocked." Inside Ickstatt's library (comprising over 4200 volumes) Weishaupt blossomed into an adept bibliophile, immersing himself in study — law, economics, politics, history, religion, and philosophy — and voraciously devouring volume after volume. He was naturally attracted to the books of a forbidden nature — e.g., those volumes from Ickstatt's collection which the latter kept after the censor of the University library had them rejected as inappropriate, blasphemous, or dangerous.

1763 — At age fifteen Weishaupt is sufficiently advanced enough to study philosophy and history at the University of Ingolstadt.

1768 — Graduating from the University of Ingolstadt, Weishaupt is conferred a doctorate of law on January 10; his dissertation was on the topic of Ius civile privatum. He serves for four years as a tutor and catechist.

1772 — Weishaupt is appointed as professor of civil law at the University of Ingolstadt.

1773 — July 11. Against the wishes of Ickstatt, Weishaupt marries Afra

Sausenhofer from Eichstatt.

July 21. Pope Clement XIV dissolves the Jesuit Order. Weishaupt becomes the first layman to occupy the chair of canon law; the prestigious position had been held by Jesuits for the previous 90 years. Weishaupt's new title, "Chair of Ecclesiastical Law and Practical Philosophy," was procured by Ickstatt, "in pursuance of an anti-Jesuit staffing policy." However, the University continued to employ some former members of the dissolved Society of Jesus — in many cases, there was simply no choice. In particular, since the necessary qualifications in others were lacking, the Jesuits continued as masters of the faculty of theology. But Ickstatt had made a great mistake in allowing this to occur, for immediately the Jesuits began to conspire. By now Weishaupt's liberal views had already become apparent to faculty and students alike. Weishaupt therefore became their number-one enemy; his appointment to the chair of canon law was in no way acceptable. The Jesuits found some allies in the law department, and soon many University professors began protesting against Weishaupt's nomination. Ickstatt responded by issuing a formal complaint to the Bavarian Elector about the insubordination of his professors. Three titular heads of the faculty of law, in turn, countered Ickstatt by accusing him of nepotism in the appointment of his adopted son Weishaupt, and that the latter had formed a faction with Ickstatt's nephew, Joseph Edler von Weinbach (professor and dean of the faculty of law in Ingolstadt) and the Curator himself. The quarrel within the institution continued, and at one point deteriorated to such an extent that Weishaupt was even denied his salary.

1775 — Weishaupt is promoted to dean of the faculty of law, replacing Ickstatt's nephew.

1776 — May 1. Weishaupt founds the Order of the Illuminati with an original membership of five:

Weishaupt (Spartacus); Franz Anton von Massenhausen (Ajax) and Max Edler von Merz (Tiberius), his pupils at Ingolstadt before the Order existed; a law student, Bauhof [Bauhoff, or Baubof] (Agathon), of whom little else is known; and Andreas Sutor (Erasmus Roterodamus). These disciples, "soon vying with their master in impiety, he judged them worthy of being admitted to his mysteries, and conferred on them the highest degree that he had as yet invented. He called them Areopagites, installed himself their chief, and called this monstrous association The Order of Illuminees. ... It was on the first of May, 1776, that the inauguration was celebrated." (Areopagites — in the sense of a tribunal or council of Judges, and in the connotation of "believers" in Illuminism; alluding to the Greek Areopagus and the subsequent conversion to Christianity of "Dionysius the Areopagite," by Paul, in Acts 17:34.)

The Order was secret, hierarchical, and heavily modeled on the Jesuits. "The Illuminati first assumed the name of Perfectionists" [that is, Perfectibilists; Ger. Perfectibilisten], writes the 19th century historian Friedrich Christoph Schlosser. And "to the theological shield of the Jesuits inscribed with the phrase, 'Extension of the Kingdom of God,' they set up in opposition a philosophical standard emblazoned with the words 'Perfection of Man.'" Perfectibilists, however, sounded bizarre and not sufficiently mysterious; Weishaupt quickly changed the name to the Order of the Illuminati (Illuminatenordens) — chosen, perhaps, because of the "image of the sun radiating illumination to outer circles." The Order was therefore always represented in communications between members as a circle with a dot in the center.

The concept of the perfection or perfectibility of man is an old one, and has had a wide range of adherents in the last three thousand years. Weishaupt could have drawn inspiration from any one — more likely a multitude — of these traditions while initially naming his Order. In terms of religion, mysticism and the occult, Perfectibilists have been associated with antinomianism, sects adhering to the teachings of Dionysius the Areopagite, the Hesychasts, the Jansenists, the Fraticelli, the Brethren of the Free Spirit, the Anabaptists, the Quakers, the Beghards, the Cathars or Albigensians, and the Familists.

1777 — March. In Munich, Weishaupt is initiated into Freemasonry at the Strict Observance Lodge Zur Behutsamkeit, under the alias Sanchuniathon. In the context of Weishaupt's initiation into this Lodge, Reinhart Koselleck wrote,

In the Strict Observance the disappearance of the leadership into the "unknown," evolved into a social myth that helped increase the weight of the arcanum and the moral self-control associated with it. The "great unknown" were always present somewhere, but everywhere at the same time, and, like the "vanished" of the Illuminati, who secretly sought to occupy that void, they could at any time sit in judgment on the members' conduct and demeanour. In the German lodges the original compulsory secrecy had, as it were, hypostatized itself. It had yielded to a trend towards mystification, promoting faith in an omnipotent, secret, and direct rule beyond the State.

A note on the same page quotes Weishaupt as saying of his Strict Observance Lodge, "I believed that I was under the strictest observation of many persons not known to me; towards this end I sought to fulfil [sic] my duties most accurately, because nothing seemed as certain to me as that none of my actions went unnoticed."

What Koselleck was referring to by "'vanished' of the Illuminati," was the Order's equivalent of the "Unknown Superiors" or "Secret Chiefs" of the Strict Observance. Illuminatus Johann Joachim Christoph Bode explains:

We had not among us, properly speaking, secret chiefs; but recourse was had to a plan by which all exhortations to duty and blame for misconduct were not conveyed immediately from a known superior, whom his subordinates knew to be a man of like passions and frailties with themselves, but as if from a higher and invisible hand (!!). This was the persona mystica, Basilius, with which name all the answers to the (Q.L.) quaestiones lociamong us were subscribed.

By the middle of 1779 Weishaupt's Insinuators gained complete control of the Munich Lodge, and it was regarded as part of the Order of the Illuminati.

1780 — February 8. Weishaupt's wife dies.

July. Baron von Knigge is initiated into the Order. Knigge, a prominent Strict Observance Freemason, was well-connected to the court of Hesse-Kassel and Weimar. He subsequently restructured the Order and recruited many important members: "the notion of restricting the field of recruiting solely to the young was abandoned, and this phase of the propaganda was widened so as to include men of experience whose wisdom and influence might be counted upon to assist in attaining the objects of the order."

Speculation was rampant in Masonic circles throughout Europe regarding the authenticity of the Illuminati — still mythical and ethereal to the uninitiated. In November, not knowing that Constantin Marquis de Costanzo was indeed a member of the Illuminati, de Lagoanère, a Master of the Chair for the Royal YorkLodge in Munich, had asked the former if he was aware of a "Society of the Illuminati," whose ambition was the domination of Freemasonry.

1781 — Ex-Jesuit Ignatius Franciscus Franck [Ignaz Franck] (1725-1795), in a sermon, is the first to publicly attack the Order of the Illuminati. He accuses the masonic "traitors," the "brothers of Judas," of preparing the way for the Antichrist.

The Rosicrucians, the enemies of the Illuminati, had in the meantime built themselves up into a formidable power. Since 1779, in Aufklärung Berlin, the capital of Prussia, the conservative/obscurantist Golden and Rosy Cross had maneuvered in the shadows with great success. Operating under various aliases (Heliconus, Ophiron, Chrysophiron), Johann Christoph Wöllner, a friend of Ignaz Franck, was the Supreme Director at the head of an expanse of Rosicrucian initiates, which included 26 Circles and a total of 200 adepts. His immediate subordinate in the Order, Johann Rudolf von Bischoffwerder, had won for the Rosicrucians none other than Prince Frederick William of Prussia (the future

King Frederick William II); the latter was initiated on August 8, 1781 at Charlottenburg Palace, and was given the ceremonial name of Ormesus Magnus. Wöllner gave "the initiation oration. Bischoffwerder became the immediate superior of the royal novice and was henceforth the inseparable companion of the prince."

Baron von Knigge, probably at the behest of Weishaupt et al., publishes his Über Jesuiten, Freymaurer und deutsche Rosencreuzter [On Jesuits, Freemasons, and German Rosicrucians]. Klaus Epstein provides an interesting quote from the pamphlet. The Rosicrucians,

... lacking the slightest familiarity with ordinary science, brought together by some unscrupulous rascal, or stimulated by some incomprehensible book, have sought to climb the cliffs of mystical wisdom. Their folly, which culminates in taking everything for revelation which is merely incomprehensible, has proved contagious. Some want to talk with spirits to learn what satisfies their passions; others want to get rich by that most miserable of arts, alchemy; while others want to find a universal medicine which allows them to live a long life in abundance and earthly joys. They are deeply preoccupied with perpetuating the existence of their most useless selves.

1782 — July 16. The Congress of Wilhelmsbad convened at the summer retreat of William I, the ruler of the principality of Hanau, who subsequently became William IX, Landgrave of Hesse Kassel in 1785. This was probably the most significant event of the era as far as any official coalition between secret society factions.

At Wilhelmsbad, near the city of Hanau in Hesse Cassel, was held the most important Masonic Congress of the eighteenth century. It was convoked by Ferdinand, Duke of Brunswick, Grand Master of the Order of Strict Observance ... there were delegates from Upper and Lower Germany, from Holland, Russia, Italy, France, and Austria; and the order of the Illuminati was represented by the Baron Von Knigge. It is not therefore surprising that the most heterogeneous opinions were expressed.

Nesta Webster provides a more sinister view:

[I]t was not until the Congrès de Wilhelmsbad that the alliance between Illuminism and Freemasonry was finally sealed. ... What passed at this terrible Congress will never be known to the outside world, for even those men who had been drawn unwittingly into the movement, and now heard for the first time the real designs of the leaders, were under oath to reveal nothing. One such honest Freemason, the Comte de Virieu, a member of Martiniste Lodge at Lyons, returning from the Congrès de Wilhelmsbad could not conceal his alarm, and when questioned on the "tragic secrets" he had brought back with him, replied: "I will not confide them to you. I can only tell you that all this is very much more serious than you think. The conspiracy which is being woven is so well thought out that it will be, so to speak, impossible for the monarchy and the Church to escape from it." From this time onwards, says his biographer, M. Costa de Beauregard, "the Comte de Virieu could only speak of Freemasonry with horror."

Count François-Henri de Virieu (1754-1793) could very well have been alluding to the Illuminati when he referred to this grand conspiracy. Baron von Knigge and Baron von Ditfurth were at the Congress recruiting with great force, and the final objective of the Order would have at least been whispered about among those in the higher ranks of the masonic associations there present. In any case, de Virieu was one of the 35 delegates from across Europe present at the gathering, representing the Province of Auvergne in France.

The main purpose of the convention was to decide the fate of the Strict Observance. Duke Ferdinand of Brunswick had set forth the agenda, in 1780:

(1) Is the origin of the Order an ancient society? (2) Are there really Unknown Superiors, and if so, who are they? (3) What is the true aim of the Order? (4) Is this aim the restoration of the Order of Templars? (5) In what way should the ceremonial and rites be organized so as to be as perfect as possible? (6) Should the Order occupy itself with secret sciences?

Templarism was a corrupter. As early as the 1730s, Freemasons were theorizing that masonry stemmed directly from the Knights Templar. The theory persisted with increasing elaboration until an order within Freemasonry had been created to officially propagate the doctrine: the Strict Observance. This attracted a large number of aristocrats who naturally thought it only proper that masonry claim lineage from a knightly order. However, pomp and pageantry concealed a more sinister secret. Besides the single vow swearing absolute obedience to "unknown superiors," by 1755 the Strict Observance proposed the takeover of orphanages (for financial gain), the founding of military academies (for control of the noble class), and infiltration of the government. Members were sworn to uphold these principles. The Wilhelmsbad Congress was thus convoked to either banish the teaching outright, or confirm and adopt its principles. The former was the final decision. The Bavarian Illuminati quickly snatched up the rebuked members of the Strict Observance for their own Order — the marrying of two revolutionary societies. The Illuminati's membership increased significantly from the ranks of the now forbidden Strict Observance.


Excerpted from Perfectibilists by Terry Melanson. Copyright © 2009 Terry Melanson. Excerpted by permission of Trine Day LLC.
All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
Excerpts are provided by Dial-A-Book Inc. solely for the personal use of visitors to this web site.

Meet the Author

Terry Melanson is the owner and developer of the popular online Illuminati Conspiracy Archive and has been writing about the Illuminati since 2000. He lives in Moncton, New Brunswick.

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