The Illuminati and Angels & Demons FAQ – Do the Illuminati Really Exist?
by Massimo Introvigne
Angels & Demons by Dan Brown is the latest bestselling novel claiming that the Illuminati were, or are, an important and powerful secret society. Is this only a novel?
Not according to Dan Brown himself. He claims in his Web site that: “Secret societies
like the Illuminati go to enormous lengths to remain covert. Although many classified
intelligence reports have been written on the brotherhood, few have been published.
Conspiracy theories on the Illuminati include infiltration of the British Parliament
and U.S. Treasury, secret involvement with the Masons, affiliation with covert Satanic
cults, a plan for a New World Order, and even the resurgence of their ancient pact
to destroy Vatican City. Separating Illuminati fact from fiction can be difficult
on account of the massive quantities of misinformation that has been generated about
the brotherhood. Some theorists claim this plethora of misinformation is actually
generated by the Illuminati themselves in an effort to discredit any factual information
that may have surfaced. This concealment tactic – known as ‘data-
But the existence of the Illuminati is an historical fact, isn’t it?
Yes, it is. The Order of the Illuminati was established on May 1, 1776 at the University
of Ingolstadt, then part of the Kingdom of Bavaria, in Germany, by a professor of
law called Adam Weishaupt (1748-
Were the Illuminati part of Freemasonry?
Not originally. Weishaupt was quite critical of Freemasonry and wanted to establish
a different order with different rituals. He, however, failed to produce rituals
interesting enough to attract a significant number of followers, and in February
1777 decided to be initiated as a Freemason in a Munich Masonic lodge known as Zur
Behutsamkeit (“The Prudence”). In 1780, a prominent German Freemason, Baron Adolf
Franz Friedrich Ludwig von Knigge (1752-
In a way, yes. The new ritual was quite successful, and the Illuminati were able
to recruit some 2,500 members both in Bavaria and various European countries, not
a small number by the standard of esoteric orders in general. On the other hand,
the Illuminati’s political aim was not achieved. Between 1784-
Wasn’t there something sinister in the Illuminati’s activities?
Yes. Their political activities were not confined to legal means. In October 1786
the police raided the home of a prominent member of the Illuminati, the diplomat
Franz Xavier von Zwack (1755-
But didn’t the Illuminati claim a much older origin than 1776?
Yes, they did. Weishaupt originally claimed that the Illuminati originated with the
last King of Persia who was a Zoroastrian by religion, Yadzegerd III (†651 d.C.),
although he confused him with Yadzegerd II (†457 d.C., King of Persia from 438 to
457), and built a whole genealogy listing many famous historical characters. When
Knigge joined the Order, he asked Weishaupt for evidence of this genealogy. Weishaupt
wrote back in January 1781 that the genealogy was an “innocent lie”, in fact needed
because not many would have joined a newly established order (see René Le Forestier,
Les Illuminés de Bavière et la franc-
What about the Knights Templar? Weren’t they somewhat involved, too?
Yes, according to Knigge’s genealogy. In fact, at that time the Knights Templar were
claimed as ancestors by the German Freemasonry as a whole. When modern Freemasonry
came from its original United Kingdom to continental Europe, many European nobles
were not prepared to join an order whose real origins were in the professional corporations
of “free masons”, including architects, building contractors but also common stonemasons.
In 1736, André Michel de Ramsay (1686-
But weren’t the Illuminati the driving force behind the French Revolution?
Not really. Anti-
But wasn’t the back part of the Great Seal of the United States, the one we still see on the dollar bill, a symbol of the Illuminati?
No, no matter how many books (and movies) claim it. The pyramid and eye symbol is
never found among the Illuminati. Actually it is not even a Masonic symbol, although
there are similar symbols in Freemasonry, where a fascination with Egypt was widespread
in the 18th and 19th century. The particular pyramid used in the Great Seal was derived
from Pyramidographia, a book published in 1646 in London by John Greaves (1602-
Didn’t many always accept the theory, however, that the Illuminati were leading the world or, at least, the U.S.A.?
Not before 1975. From the mid-
What about the Skull and Bones, the famous fraternal society of Yale’s students and alumni? One hears frequently that it is part of the Illuminati…
No relation. The Skull and Bones was established in 1832 by William Huntington Russell
But didn’t an Order of the Illuminati exist in the 20th century, too?
Yes. Within the framework of the German occult revival at the end of the 19th century,
Leopold Engel (1858-
Who was Leopold Engel, exactly?
An interesting character. He was a member of the inner circle of the loosely organized
movement including the followers of the Austrian Christian visionary and mystic Jakob
Do Engel’s Illuminati still exist?
Yes. Although persecuted in Nazi Germany, the Illuminati were able to survive in
Switzerland, particularly thanks to the efforts of Felix Lazerus Pinkus (1881-
Can we characterize the Illuminati, as Dan Brown would have it, as a conspiracy to destroy the Vatican and its power in the name of reason and science?
As mentioned earlier, the names of famous scientists mentioned as Illuminati are
part of mythical genealogies with no historical basis. The Illuminati were mostly
recruited among lawyers, governmental officers, and even liberal clergymen, with
very few scientists, if any. Weishaupt’s Illuminati taught to their new members a
rather tame version of the Enlightenment philosophy, quite close to the ideas of
Immanuel Kant (1724-
Were, or are, the Illuminati a very powerful order?
Certainly not today. The main aim of the Stein group, reduced to less than a dozen
members, is to survive. Engel’s group did not have any particular power. It had a
certain cultural influence and initiated two distinguished novelists, Gustav Meyrink