Journal of the Western Mystery Tradition
No. 23, Vol. 3. Autumnal Equinox 2012

In Search of the Illuminati: A Light Amidst Darkness
by K. M. Hataley

Falsehood has an infinity of combinations, but
truth has only one mode of being.
~ Jean Jacques Rousseau

The Bavarian Illuminati is certainly among the most famous, if not the most infamous, groups to emerge from the Western mystery traditions. A mere mention continues to evoke a sense of profound mystery and sinister sentiments – especially among contemporary conspiracy theorists where “commonsense distinction between fact and fiction melts away”.[1] Much confusion persists. What did the Order actually profess? What did they really do? How did they actually do it? Misinformation, disinformation, and weak scholarship “has encrusted the Illuminati such that their actual history has been obscured, even by scholars. This is a case of the image having achieved greater prominence than the reality […] Nonetheless, the broad outlines of its history are reasonably clear."[2]

For clearer insight into its history, tenets, and doctrinal foundations of the Bavarian Illuminati it is imperative we examine the historiography of the organizational and operational periods of the Order. To this end, a long term educational project has been established to translate and publish non-critical, English editions of the major authors from within the Order of Bavarian Illuminati, as it existed between May 1, 1776 and the spring of 1785 – its final historical moment and termination. Several dozen volumes are extant from the works of Johann Joachim Christoph Bode (16 January, 1731 – 13 December, 1793), Freiherr Adolph Franz Friedrich Ludwig Knigge (16 October 1752 – 6 May 1796), and Johann Adam Weishaupt (6 February 1748 – 18 November 1830). We begin by examining Knigge's documentary apology published in Hanover at the end of his Illuminati career, in 1788.

During his short life, Adolph Knigge was a prolific writer with an inquiring mind and incessant yearning for esoteric subjects. Although Weishaupt is well known as the founder of the Order, it was left to the literary genius and youthful enthusiasm of Adolphe Knigge to elucidate the doctrines, to compose the advanced degrees, to canvass for membership, and to propagate its agenda. However, in response to overwhelming public demand and pressure from authorities, Knigge wrote Philo's endliche Erklarung und Antwort auf verschiedene Anforderungen und Fragen die an ihn ergangen seine Verbidnung mit dem Orden der Illuminaten; hereafter referred to as Philo's Explanation to Various Questions Concerning His Connection with the Order of the Illuminati.

In this document Knigge presents a summary of Illuminati doctrine, philosophical and religious tenets, and sheds biographical light upon the enigmatic figure of Adam Weishaupt. Knigge discusses his role in the Order, providing an autobiographical sketch, an outline of its degree system, and describes its operational agenda and eventual demise. Knigge gives a very personal, lucid account of the Bavarian Illuminati, as well as insight into eighteenth century German Freemasonry. It is to Knigge's 'final explanation' that we turn to elucidate the possible nature and purpose of the Order.

Am Anfang

Knigge's childhood was filled with conversations about the Western mystery traditions and secret societies, apparently a very popular pastime in German society. There were strong interests throughout the German provinces in esoteric, occult, and religious subjects.[3] The Rosicrucian fraternity (among others) created controversy around secret and ancient knowledge, ideas that had circumvented mainstream Catholic and Protestant reformation currents, and instilled a desire for arcane knowledge of the Western mystery traditions among nobility, aristocrats, and German society in general. An awe of light (termed 'theology of light' by Ernst Benz), as a symbol of the Divine or God, was an established cultural construct, and in the German mind:

the discovery of magnetism and electricity supplied a new metaphor for the presence of divine power in the world from the seventeenth century onwards. The invisible power of magnetism and electricity, the attraction of opposite poles, and its dramatic manifestation in the form of lightning suggested a mysterious, powerful and awesome symbol for God.[4]

The seventeenth century saw the work of the Jesuit Athanasius Kircher (1602-1680) leading to a new pansophical understanding of God, nature, man, soul and spirit. By the mid-eighteenth century, Friedrich Christoph Oetinger (1702-1782), Prokop Divisch (1696-1765) and Johann Ludwig Fricker (1729-1766) had developed the image of light and the theology of electricity as “a doctrine relating to cosmology, anthropology and scriptural exegesis,” an attempt to conflate theological and scientific knowledge with a view to understand the ultimate, certainly ideas that would be prevalent to anyone involved in the study of the esoteric doctrines of that period.[5] Perhaps it is not so surprising that the Latin word illuminati (from illuminare, to illuminate) was to be the eventual name given to the Order, captivating the complete attention of late eighteenth century esotericists and society alike.

Other political, social, and cultural forces were also at work. Vernon Stauffer states that:

in the third quarter of the eighteenth century Bavaria was a land where sacerdotalism reigned supreme. Religious houses flourished in abundance; the number of priests and nuns was incredibly large. So easy were the ways of life in that fertile country that a lack of seriousness and intensity of feeling among the masses flung open the door for superstitious practices which made the popular religion little better than gross fetishism. So-called 'miraculous' images were commonly paraded through the streets; innumerable statues and sacred relics were exposed to the gaze of crowds of the faithful; the patronage of the saints was assiduously solicited. Among the educated there was a widespread conviction that the piety of the people was ignorant and that their trustful attitude made them the prey of many imposters.[6]

Concurrent with these forces were the rise and growth of education, especially among the elite. From this development arose the formulation of a standard German language, consequently fuelling the progress of German literature, arts and science. The German Enlightenment "was not so much a distinct and defined philosophy" as a cultural climate "that created an intellectual community" that was "being embraced by middle-class Germans throughout many regions".[7] This was the historical period referred to as the German Enlightenment, although in Germany it was called Aufklarung, a word denoting the clearing of cloudy skies bringing sunshine, and implying the process of becoming more enlightened to the reality of man, nature and God.

Knigge was born into this cultural milieu: a cultural and socio-political sensibility combined with common sense conversations on esoteric and mystery tradition topics. All of it made a powerful impression on the young Knigge. He says, as a youth:

I was also stricken with our era's great disease at an early age: a yearning for secret connections and orders. Even as a child in my father's house, I heard enthusiastic talk about Freemasonry and the secret sciences, because it was then all the rage, and my father, who certainly never managed to create gold, was nonetheless surrounded by people who spoke about the philosopher's stone and similar matters.[8]

As a school boy, he banded together with a few classmates to form a secret society of their own. He wrote:

I attached a silver cross to a thread and looped it through a button hole, and with several other young men, drew up laws on a half sheet of paper, which were more innocent – to say the least – and certainly no less effective than the laws of some larger secret societies.[9]

His fascination with secret societies and ancient knowledge followed him to university, and later into Freemasonry, where he joined the Strict Observance Lodge in Cassel, in 1772. His financial circumstances and rebellious nature prevented him from progressing in the lodge as quickly as he desired. He began to study on his own, becoming fascinated with the Strict Observance and the Order of the Knights Templar. His move to Hanau in 1777 proved to be more fortunate. The local baron was in the process of establishing a new lodge. He was eager to promote the few Masons scattered through the town in order to fill up the vacant lodge offices. Thus, having "achieved acceptance into the higher order," Knigge proceeded to dedicate himself completely to the study and propagation of esotericism, Freemasonry and its tenets of equality and liberty. It was his involvement in Freemasonry and his desire to unite Masonry for the purpose of the betterment of humanity that led to Knigge's involvement with the Bavarian Illuminati.

Und Es Ward Licht

The Illuminati cannot be called an ancient organization by any standard, and until Knigge's involvement, they were rather insignificant and ill-disposed. Historical records place the foundation of the order to May 1, 1776. It was founded by Adam Weishaupt, a professor of canon law at the University of Ingolstadt, as a reaction to "the conflict between the Catholic Counter-Reformation and the Enlightenment in Bavaria."[10] Weishaupt founded a student league that he called the Order of the Most Perfectibles, later the Orden Illuminaten, “to serve as an organization to defend the reading of Enlightenment literature and related academic doctrine.”[11] This society, or Order, was designed to be kept secret, and the student members were bound by oaths to keep the existence of the Order, and its activities, completely out of public view. However, the order grew to include former pupils of Weishaupt, now active in Bavarian political and economic life.[12]

One former student was Franz Xaver Zwackh (1756-1843) who undertook a recruiting trip to northern and western Germany, where he met and recruited Knigge into the Order of the Illuminati, in 1780. A few months before meeting Zwackh, Knigge made the acquaintance of the Marquis de Constanza, known as Diomedes among the Illuminati. He was a Freemason, disillusioned with the state of Freemasonry in the German states and frustrated by his own efforts to unite the various lodges under a common, greater cause. This was a sentiment wholeheartedly shared by Knigge:

I looked at the great host of Freemasons – men from all walks of life, among them so many noble, wise, active, powerful, wealthy men united by an esprit de corps, who did not know to what purpose; divided among themselves, unable to agree on opinions, without knowing who was groping in the dark the furthest, and this prevented them from working together for the benefit of humankind – what would they be able to achieve, had they been able to distinguish between speculations and actions, leaving some to the opinions of every single member, but directing others, according to certain principles, to work for the benefit of humanity and their brothers in particular, directing them according to laws that would make them faithfully stand by each others side, to pluck true merit from the dust, promote goodness and greatness through their secret influence, have every member work for the benefit of the state according to the measures of his abilities, since a closer brotherliness would give them the opportunity to better know people from all classes and rule them without hateful compulsion. Such ideas were familiar to us, and I preoccupied myself with them.[13]

"I am resolved to develop a new system with a circle of trusted, good brothers, scattered throughout Germany," he told the Marquis de Constanza. Knigge was resolved to approach a select few Masons whom he trusted to join him in his effort to unify and redirect Freemasonry. It was then that the Marquis revealed to him that such an organization already existed:

Why waste your efforts to create something new, there is a society that has already accomplished what you seek and which is able to satisfy your thirst for knowledge and your eagerness to be active and useful; a society that is powerful and educated enough to do and teach everything you demand? It is in this secret nature, where this society's greatest strength can be found; the unbroken preservation of the secret proves that the organization consists of solid, faithful persons, and as far as their operations are concerned, there are many things that occur in the world, whose outer effects are visible, but not their mainsprings.[14]

It is clearly evident that such sentiment played into the youthful lust for secret societies and ancient knowledge that formed an essential part of Knigge's character and social upbringing, Knigge remarking that Weishaupt's letters "did not fail to hit the mark, to inflame me for the cause of the order."[15]

In the further course of this conversation, the Marquis de Constanza, who, along with Zwackh, was on a mission to recruit members in the Germany's Protestant states, claimed that this secret society, the Order of Bavarian Illuminati, had been responsible for the large scale proliferation of Enlightenment philosophy throughout the courts of Germany. Knigge enthusiastically petitioned for membership and, by July 1780, was initiated into the Order. His first task was to recruit new members and to set up seed schools in five districts in the German states.

[...] I already had my eye on the best men in all Freemasonic systems known to me, since I had planned to present them with my design for reforming Freemasonry, I invited them all to partake in the connection with the Illuminati, and in a short time, I had recruited a large number of noble, well-bred, learned, and important men [...] Considering the state of Freemasonry at the time and the very low hopes of having accomplished anything great at the convention [Wilhelmsbad], all these men eagerly sought this connection which I described in a favourable manner.[16]

He soon found himself the victim of his own success. In his districts, the Order of Illuminati soon swelled to several hundred members, and he found that administering these districts – and delivering on the promises he made his recruits – became a nearly impossible mission. He began to realize that the men whom he had recruited were now demanding "to receive, but no one wanted to give [...]."[17] Knigge's health soon deteriorated and his resources depleted. However, he persevered under the power of his sincere desire to bring enlightenment and liberty to humanity and civilization.

Adam Weishaupt painted a picture in the most brilliant colours when he described the Illuminati as:

a society, which by the finest and most secure means achieves the goal, to ensure the victory of virtue and wisdom over folly in the world, to achieve the most important discoveries in all areas of science, to mold its members into noble and great persons, and to ensure certain rewards even in this world for their perfection, to protect them from persecution, ill fate, and oppression, and tie the hands of any kind of despotism.[18]

Weishaupt promised nothing less than Heaven on earth to the members of this secret society, who in financial, political, and spiritual security would work for the enlightenment and liberation of humankind. Backed by Weishaupt's word of honour, Knigge presented the order's goals and influence in even more glowing terms, "Where he [Weishaupt] promised Elysium, I, true to my temper, promised Paradise."[19] Delivering on these promises, however, was easier said than done.

Knigge was now in charge of several hundred students, and since he had not advanced to any of the higher degrees in the Order, he was not in a position to install subordinate leaders who could have shared his weighty load. When he wrote to Weishaupt that the seed schools under his care were in danger of falling apart, for a variety of reasons, Weishaupt revealed his great secret:

The order does not yet exist, only in my mind. Only the lower class, the seed school, has been established in a few Catholic Provinces; but I have assembled the most magnificent materials en masse for the higher degrees. Would you forgive my little fraud? I have long yearned to worthy collaborators for this great work, but have found none, other than you, who penetrates into the spirit of the system as deeply as I do and is so conscientiously and tirelessly active. You, then, are the man whom Heaven has brought into my life for my happiness. I place myself entirely into your hands. I will send you all my documents. You shall develop the whole thing, modify it according to your judgement, and entrust the history of the foundation with as many of your members as you deem necessary, to ease your burdens and to assist me as counsels. I no longer wish to be chief, but to be your subordinate.[20]

Weishaupt promised to send his materials to Knigge so that he could develop these degrees. He also invited Knigge to travel to Bavaria so he could meet with the other leaders of the Order, the Areopagites. Weishaupt's revelation of a "little fraud"' placed Knigge into a rather peculiar dilemma. He had been working under the assumption that the Illuminati were a well-established organization whose degree system was already in existence. He had not imagined he would be tasked with developing it himself. Seeing the progress his own Provinces had made, keeping in mind the promises he had made his subordinates, and admiring Weishaupt's vision and tireless zeal, he was resolved not to abandon the work. He agreed to travel to Bavaria, meet with Weishaupt and the Areopagites, and develop the higher degrees for the Order of Illuminati. Knigge wrote to Weishaupht:

I am resolved not to desert you. The lust for secrets has never been my main motivation, but the desire to be active and useful on behalf of what is good, has always been the end of my desires. I see the best opportunity for this here, and therefore I am indifferent as to whether the order is old or new or merely a project. To the contrary, the latter is closer to my desires, because now everything can be better tailored toward the Protestant regions and the connection to the Freemasons. I find this consideration all the more important, since so many persons feel so strongly about it, and are already united in the cause through their esprit des corps, expected so much of the Masonic hieroglyphs, that he sentiment, to explain the symbols according to our system and at last guide all of Freemasonry toward our exalted purpose and bring it under guidance, could not be ignored.[21]

Knigge's system included three classes: the seed school, Masonry, and the Mysteries. Each class was divided into two subsections. The seed school, divided into Novitiates and Minervals, was designed to introduce students to the philosophical principles of the Order and to ensure that these students were sufficiently receptive to its mission. The Freemasons and Regents were the Order's business arm and administrators, while the Mysteries Class was dedicated to educating the students and to engage in speculative thought. Knigge elaborated that:

[...] the Minervals were to be pupils and students; the Freemasons, educated, worldly men and businessmen, the priests, scholars and teachers; the Regents, leaders and directors; and finally, the members of the Higher Mysteries degree, speculative seers, who had withdrawn into a philosophical retirement after they had been active in the world long enough.[22]

The Greater Mysteries class was to be put off until the order was more established, according to an agreement with the Areopagites. While Knigge was a member of the Illuminati, this class was never developed.

There has been much talk about the Illuminati's supposedly evil intentions. Weishaupt, in his pamphlet A Brief Justification Of My Intentions To Illuminate The Latest Original Writings, vehemently defended the Order's philanthropic goals, stating that an impartial reader could find nothing in the Illuminati documents (which had been published by order of the electoral government in Munich) that was dangerous or pernicious. In fact, he says, people should "regard these writings as a valuable contribution to the science of psychology, to the knowledge of the human heart."[23]

Even Knigge defended the Illuminati's aims, despite the fact that in 1783 he had not left the order on good terms.

In his description of the Priest degree, which closely draws from the mysteries of the Christian faith, he outlined them as follows:

[...] to raise humanity back to its original dignity; to raise morality to its highest degree through wise education; to introduce a general regimen of morals, so that anyone could remain faithful to virtuousness from his inner conviction that only virtue can bring happiness, without coercion; to bind all people to one another with the bonds of brotherhood; to remove all immediate conditions causing poverty, need, and the fight against depravity and immorality by enabling us to govern ourselves and consequently do without all artificial institutions, constitutions and positive laws.[24]

The goals, according to Knigge, were to raise humanity through education to a moral and spiritual condition, in which human beings could govern themselves without artificial constraints and laws, and poverty, crime, and immorality would disappear. In other words, he proposed a system that would nonviolently lead to the elimination of all systems. It was a paradox with which he was never fully at ease, and later in life, he lost all interest in secret societies and systems whatsoever.

Adam Weishaupt was, according to Knigge, a driven, honourable, and intelligent man. However, he was also difficult to work with. He was well respected by the citizens of his hometown of Ingolstadt, Bavaria. He lived a modest, morally impeccable life, and conducted his business affairs faithfully. He enjoyed a reputation as a scholar and was considered wisde among his peers. Knigge admired him as a profound thinker, whose brilliant mind was always hungry for knowledge that was not easily available in Bavaria. To a large extent, the Bavarian education system was still firmly in the grip of former members of the then disbanded Jesuit order. It was not easy to obtain academic books by non-Catholic authors or books that were at odds with the doctrines of the Roman Catholic Church. His tireless, selfless dedication for the greater cause and the Illuminati was, Knigge speculated, spurred by Weishaupt's sense of self-worth.

On the other hand, while Weishaupt was able to overcome great obstacles with strength and courage, insignificant bickering and minor obstacles tended to discourage him. He was also a man who demanded strict obedience. The Areopagites, who were at odds during Knigge's visit to Bavaria, complained that Weishaupt was despotic and fickle:

He believes himself to be chief of all men, a Messiah, and treats no one with justice, only those for flatter him. Such a man he elevates to the Heavens for a while. However, a minor circumstance, a lack of blind devotion to his whims, can lower the noblest man in his esteem, while on the other hand a little cow-towing and homage will assure even the most crooked head his unlimited trust.[25]

Knigge ascribed these flaws to Weishaupt’s Jesuit upbringing, his sense of self-worth escalating into egomania as the Order suddenly expanded in size and influence, and fuelled by his all-consuming dedication to the Order. However, even his admiration for Weishaupt as a thinker and philanthropist was not sufficient to prevent the schism between the two men that would ultimately lead to Knigge’s resignation from the Illuminati.

When Knigge travelled to Bavaria to meet with Weishaupt and the Areopagites, he was given the task to develop the Order’s degree system. According to the written agreement between the parties, Knigge’s drafts of the degrees were to be reviewed by the Areopagites, then approved and further revised by Weishaupt, and then distributed to the lodges. Further revisions were only to be made during a subsequent convention of the Illuminati. Knigge waited a long time to hear back from the Areopagites after he submitted the drafts, and when he complained about this Weishaupt replied, “The whole thing must not be held back by the slothfulness of these persons. Please institute these degrees as you have designed them without giving it a second thought.”[26]

However, soon after these degrees were distributed to the Illuminati lodges, Weishaupt sent revisions to Knigge with the demand that they be instituted at once. Knigge replied that this was not only counter to the agreement all parties had signed in Bavaria, but also pointed out that this process involved significant logistical problems – as all degrees had to be copied by hand and properly authenticated – and furthermore was indicative of a weak, inconsistent government that could call the Order’s integrity into question. These arguments did not impress Weishaupt in the least and, in spite of his earlier pledge to subordinate to Knigge, he now insisted on absolute obedience. A bitter factional quarrel ensued, and Knigge saw no other choice than to withdraw from the Order altogether.


Knigge's apology, Philo's Explanation to Various Questions Directed Concerning His Connection with the Order of the Illuminati, is highly revealing. It offers important and unexpected insights into the history and structure of the Bavarian Illuminati, as well as German Freemasonry in the late eighteenth century. It also contains a brief autobiographical sketch of one of Germany's most important thinkers and writers of the 1700s, Freiherr Adolph Franz Friedrich Ludwig Knigge (1752-1796), who, under the assumed name Philo, expanded the program of the Bavarian Illuminati exponentially and adjusted this secret society to the Freemasonic system, in an effort to unite and influence German Freemasonry and society. Furthermore, Knigge renders an insightful character sketch of Adam Weishaupt along with a narrative of the events leading to the falling out between Weishaupt and Knigge, and his subsequent resignation from the Illuminati.

The reader must decide for him or herself, whether the Illuminati, as Knigge described them, were a sinister or benevolent organization. Knigge himself, though he never was at odds with the Order's aims, ultimately became disillusioned with secret societies altogether. However, his influence on the Order's organization and proliferation cannot be denied.

We know that there is no other social institution during the eighteenth century that provoked as much negative criticism as the Illuminati, and because of its involvement with German Freemasonry, the connection between the two organizations has remained suspicious well into modernity. The tensions initiated in Catholic Europe in 1738 with the papal condemnation of Freemasonry, along with the post-Illuminati writings of Abbe Barruel and John Robison (ironically, a Freemason), continue to feed conspiracy paranoia narratives and theories, albeit without strong historical evidence or substance. It is clear the Illuminati existed for a short nine year period, but never existed as a cohesive and construed system or repository of ancient Western mystery traditions.

Perhaps Manly Hall has put it best (regarding the mystery traditions) when he writes in The Lost Keys of Freemasonry:

True Freemasonry is esoteric; it is not a thing of this world. All we have here is a link, a doorway, through which the student may pass into the unknown. Freemasonry has nothing to do with form save that it realizes form is molded by and manifests the life it contains. [...] The true Mason realizes that the work of the Mystery Schools in the world is of an inclusive rather than an exclusive nature, and that the only lodge which is broad enough to express his ideals is one whose dome is the heavens, whose pillars are the corners of creation, whose checker-board floor is composed of the crossing currents of human emotion and whose altar is the human heart. Creeds cannot bind the true seeker for truth. Realizing the unity of all truth, the Mason also realizes that the hierarchies labouring with him have given him in his varying degrees the mystic spiritual rituals of all the Mystery Schools in the world, and if he would fill his place in the plan he must not enter this sacred study for what he can get out of it but that he may learn how to serve.[27]

Adolphe Knigge, the boy that had "attached a silver cross to a thread and looped it through a button hole," made it clear that the ideals of love and the light of reason did not conflict with the aims and objectives of the Order of Illuminati. But, he was unable to actualize the ideals and virtues he so proudly confessed, and simply retired from all secret and fraternal societies to live out his life as a country recluse. Today, historians can only speculate what may have transpired if Knigge had fulfilled his vision of uniting the Western mystery traditions and German Freemasonry under the canopy of the Order of Illuminati. If one can believe what Knigge wrote then both systems seemed destined to fulfil the Great Work of service to humanity.

It seems fairly clear from Philo's Explanation to Various Questions Concerning His Connection with the Order of the Illuminati that Adolphe Knigge was committed to a serious study, and perpetual practice, of the Western mystery and esoteric traditions. The need for secrecy among the members of the Illuminati was not the result of a conspiratorial agenda, but rather born of the need to keep their beliefs secret for political reasons alone.[28] It appears that genuine humanitarian interests concerned Knigge and the Order. Ironically John Robison, in Proofs of a Conspiracy, quotes internal documents discussing their object or purpose. These are are of tremendous value in confirming Knigge's affirmation of the humanitarian and educational objectives of the Order. They are worth quoting at length:

This is the great object held out by this Association [Bavarian Order of the Illuminati] : and the means of attaining it is Illumination, enlightening the understanding by the sun of reason, which will dispel the clouds of superstition and of prejudices. The proficients in this Order are therefore justly named the Illuminated. And of all Illumination which human reason can give, none is comparable to the discovery of what we are, our nature, our obligations, what happiness we are capable of, and what are the means of attaining it. […] And what is this general object? The happiness of the human race (sic). [ …] removing the obstacles to human happiness, become terrible to the wicked, and give their aid to all the good without distinction […] promote virtue […] would not such an Association be a blessing to the world? […] The Order will thus work silently, and securely; and though the generous benefactors of the human race are thus deprived of the applause of the world, they have the noble pleasure of seeing their work prosper in their hands.[29]

Knigge, in his response and defense to the criticisms leveled against his association with the Illuminati, replied:

[…] there is no shortage of little men who are all too eager to pin a tail on us, no matter how much I would like to walk my own life quietly and peacefully, it so happened that I learned from my friends that people from various backgrounds spend idle hours to find whatever they could ascribe to Philo in order to cast my reputation in an evil, suspicious light.[30]
It is also interesting that, despite the public outrage against the Illuminati and those involved, Knigge's published volume Practical Philosophy of Social Life or the Art of Conversing with Men, became a classic volume on social customs and etiquette, eventually spreading from Europe to the Americas in other editions and translations."[31]

Wouter Hanegraaff says that "esotericism in all its forms was extremely fashionable during the eighteenth century, culminating in a very large wave dominated by illuminism and mesmerism during its final decades."[32] Linkages between the Order and the Enlightenment have yet to be fully studied. Indeed, another irony in the conspiracy debate is that it appears the only "real" survivor, and pan-European (or international) organization to have any "actual" representation into modernity, is the Ancient, Free and Accepted Masons.[33] A more comprehensive, realistic and rounded understanding will result from researches into the surviving works from members of the Illuminati. Until that time of veracity arrives it is mere conspiracy hullabaloo dominating contemporary conspiracy narratives about the Bavarian Illuminati. If one is to believe what Knigge wrote to be sincere and honest, then it becomes difficult to understand the contemporary sinister reputation of the Illuminati among conspiracy theorists. It is hoped the eventual translation of source-works will provide English scholars (professional and amateur), and those who delight in conspiracy theorizing, with more accurate information and data with which to approach a comprehensive, accurate historical understanding of the role of the Illuminati in eighteenth-century Germany. And to this end: a light of reason amidst the darkness to further our understanding of the roots and transmission of the Western mystery traditions in the twenty-first century.

Kevin M. Hataley is a Canadian researcher, writer and director of the Bavarian Illuminati Translation Project. To learn more send requests to:



1. Michael Barkun, A Culture of Conspiracy: Apocalyptic Visions in Contemporary America, 29.

2. Ibid., 46.

3. Kocku von Stuckrad, Western Esotericism: A Brief History of Secret Knowledge, 100.

4. Nicholas Goodrick-Clarke, The Esoteric Uses of Electricity: Theologies of Electricity from Swabian Pietism to Ariosophy, 69.

5. Ernst Benz, The Theology of Electricity: On the Encounter and Explanation of Theology and Science in the 17th and 18th Centuries, 95.

6. Vernon Stauffer, New England and the Bavarian Illuminati, 142-143.

7. Hagen Schulze, Germany: A New History, 86-89.

8. Adolphe Knigge, Philo's endliche Erklarung und Antwort auf verschiedene Anforderungen und Fragen die an ihn ergangen seine Verbidnung mit dem Orden der Illuminaten, 5.

9. Ibid., 6.

10. W. J. Hanegraaff, A. Faivre, R. van den Broek, J.-P. Brach, Dictionary of Gnosis and Western Esotericism, 590.

11. Ibid., 590.

12. Ibid., 591.

13. Adolphe Knigge,Philo's endliche Erklarung und Antwort auf verschiedene Anforderungen und Fragen die an ihn ergangen seine Verbidnung mit dem Orden der Illuminaten, 9-10.

14. Ibid., 11.

15. Ibid., 12.

16. Ibid., 12-17.

17. Ibid., 14.

18. Ibid., 12-13.

19. Ibid., 14.

20. Ibid., 18.

21. Ibid., 19.

22. Ibid., 38.

23. Adam Weishaupt, A Brief Justification of My Intentions to Illuminate the Latest Original Writings, 6.

24. Adolphe Knigge, Philo's endliche Erklarung und Antwort auf verschiedene Anforderungen und Fragen die an ihn ergangen seine Verbidnung mit dem Orden der Illuminaten, 38.

25. Ibid., 44.

26. Ibid., 39.

27. Manly P. Hall, The Lost Keys of Freemasonry, 16-18.

28. Monika Neugebauer-Wolk, Der Esoteriker und die Esoterik, 219-222.

29. John Robison, Proofs of a Conspiracy, 38.

30. Adolphe Knigge,Philo's endliche Erklarung und Antwort auf verschiedene Anforderungen und Fragen die an ihn ergangen seine Verbidnung mit dem Orden der Illuminaten, 3.

31. Baron Knigge, Practical Philosophy of Social Life or the Art of Conversing with Men, 2-7.

32. Wouter J. Hanegraaff, Esotericism and the Academy, 220.

33. See: Margaret Jacob, The Enlightenment as Lived: Late Eighteenth Century European Masonic Reformers. Margaret Jacob, The Radical Enlightenment. Kocku von Stuckrad, Western Esotericism: A Brief History of Secret Knowledge, 117-118.