So what is the Illuminati? All of the questions you've been too scared to ask until now...
What is the Illuminati? Forget Shakespeare's "to be or not to be". This is the question that has had all of us scratching our heads in utter bewilderment for centuries on end. If you're anything like me, then you've heard a lot of mysterious tittle-tattle about the group that lurks in the shadows, supposedly pulling the strings and levers of power, but you still don't quite know what exactly they represent.
Well, wonder no more, because the Illuminati wasn't always just some crazy phantom. In fact, it used to be a very real group with incredibly ambitious goals. Namely, to take over the world. So, did the impenetrable group actually achieve world domination? Are they really responsible for JFK's assassination? And, most importantly, is Beyoncé really a member? All the questions you've been too scared to ask are right here...
What is the Illuminati?
People who talk about the original Illuminati are referring to the Bavarian Illuminati, a secret society that operated from 1776 to 1785. Founded by Adam Weishaupt, a German law professor who believed in Enlightenment ideas, the Illuminati sought to educate members in reason, philanthropy, and other secular values so that they could influence political decisions when they eventually came to power. Yes, that's right. The secret society wanted to take over the world. They had a big job on their hands though; in the early days, the group consisted of just a small number of people and later had to join Freemason lodges to recruit extra members. Not to mention, even at its height, it had only somewhere between 650 and 2,500 members. Needless to say, the group's goals often overreached its means...
So what did the Illuminati believe?
The society's main goals were to oppose superstition, obscurantism, religious influence over public life, and abuses of state power. They explained this in their general statutes when they wrote: "The order of the day is to put an end to the machinations of the purveyors of injustice, to control them without dominating them." In addition, they promoted a worldview that reflected the ideals of the Enlightenment, like rational thought and self-rule, and sought to upset powerful institutions like the monarchy.
The Illuminati's beliefs led them to do some bizarre things; they were paranoid about keeping their identities secret and used spy-like protocol to avoid being found, including symbols like the owl and pseudonyms for members. They were also rather specific about who joined their ranks; in the beginning, the members allegedly didn't trust anyone over 30 because they claimed these people were too set in their ways.
Did they get to control the world?
Despite us all remembering them hundreds of years later, the Illuminati never actually managed to take over the world... we think. While historians tend to think that the group were only mildly successful, others say the secret society actually did steal power and still control us to this very day. So, what's the truth of the matter? Many historians state that it's difficult to separate the Illuminati's success from that of the Freemasons, but what we do know is that the group is rumoured to have had some influential members who were powerful in their own right, such as German author and statesman Johann Goethe. In addition, their revolutionary ideas spread to other groups like the French Revolution's Jacobins and many people still talk about them to this very day. Ultimately, their success can't realistically be measured, but if they are still prevalent today, you can assume they were much more than a mere historical curiosity.
Why did the real Illuminati disappear?
In 1785, the Duke of Bavaria Karl Theodor banned all secret societies and instituted serious punishments for anyone who joined them. This meant that the Illuminati was more or less wiped out and almost all of their secrets were disclosed or published - but the legend lived on. After the disappearance of the group, they became a mysterious part of the past, with myths about them spreading around society. Some of the creepiest stories about them include the idea that they secretly run the US (believers cite the "all-seeing eye" on the back of the $1 bill to back this idea up), their spooky headquarters are in an underground bunker beneath Denver Airport (complete with unsettling murals and statues) and they are responsible for major historical events like the JFK assassination and Napoleon's defeat at the Battle of Waterloo.
How do we all know about them today?
It is perhaps not the work they did in reality, but the conspiracy theories that helped the Illuminati legend live on. One most famous of the rumours was authored by physicist John Robinson in 1797 and accuses the group of infiltrating the Freemasons, as well as Augustin Barruel in 1797 who egged on the theory that they were behind the French Revolution. It's possible that we also hear so much about them due to the Founding Fathers addressing the threat posed by the Illuminati back in the day; in 1798, George Washington wrote a letter saying that he believed the danger had been avoided - but this only acted to bolster the myth and make them even more famous. In the panic caused by books and sermons about them, Thomas Jefferson was even accused of being a member.
Why do people still believe in them today?
What is the Illuminati up to these days? Well, nothing, we think... But it's true that there are still people out there who believe in them and the ideas they promoted to this very day. In the mid 1970s, the myth received a boost from The Illuminatus Trilogy, three novels written by Robert Shea and Robert Anton Wilson. This trilogy, which depicted the group with a satirical detachment, helped put the members back on the map and is potentially the reason so many of us know about them today. Soon enough, the group were a staple of popular culture, even appearing in Dan Brown's extremely popular novel Angels and Demons. According to a survey by Uscinski, most Americans living in the 21st century don't believe in the Illuminati - but that's not to say they don't continue to speculate.
Which celebrities are in the Illuminati?
Over the years, it's been heavily rumoured that some of our very own famous faces are members of the Illuminati. The list of celebrities includes Jay Z, Beyoncé, Kayne West, Justin Bieber, Al Gore, the Pope and Barack Obama. Is it true? Needless to say, at this moment in time there has been no official confirmation of these Chinese whispers.
So, there you have it: every you ever wanted to know about the unfathomable group of masterminds that call themselves the Illuminati. Are they controlling us right now? We'll never know...