It was associated with various occult sects and secret orders, including the Rosicrucians and the Freemasons. The most highly organized sect, the Bavarian Order of Illuminati, was founded in Bavaria in 1776 by Adam Weishaupt, a 28-year-old professor of law. Weishaupt may have created the order because he aspired to join the Masons.
In 1780 he was joined by Baron von Knigge, a respected and high-level Mason, which enabled him to incorporate Masonic elements into his organizational structure and rites. The order failed to obtain official Masonic recognition, however, at a Masonic conference in 1782.
The Order of Illuminati was antimonarchial, and its identification with republicanism gained it many members throughout Germany. In 1784 Masonry was denounced to the Bavarian government as politically dangerous, which led to the suppression of all secret orders, including the Masons and the Illuminati. Later, the name Illuminati was given to followers of Louis Claude de St. Martin (1743–1803), French mystic, author, and founder of the Martinist sect in 1754.
The Order of Illuminati included such luminaries as Count Cagliostro and Franz Anton Mesmer . Cagliostro was initiated in 1781 at Frankfurt to the Grand Masters of the Templars, the name used by the order there. Cagliostro supposedly received money from Weishaupt to be used on behalf of Masonry in France. Cagliostro later connected with the Martinists.
Following its suppression in Bavaria, the order was revived in 1880 in Dresden under the aegis of Leopold Engel. At the turn of the 20th century, Engel’s order was resurrected as the Ordo Templi Orientis (Order of the Temple of the Orient, or OTO), with elements of Tantric mysticism and sex magic.
Famous members included the adept Aleister Crowley and Franz Hartmann, a Theosophist who had studied with a secret sect of Rosicrucians in his Bavarian hometown.
In 1906 Rudolph Steiner, philosopher, one-time Theosophist, and founder of Anthroposophy, accepted a charter from the OTO to establish a lodge named Mysteria Mystica Aeterna.
It is unlikely that Steiner ever practiced the OTO’s sex magic; nevertheless, his involvement in the OTO brought Anthroposophy much criticism. In his autobiography, Steiner refers to the OTO only as the order and describes it as “an institution of freemasonry of the so-called higher degrees.” He said he had “no intention whatever of working in the spirit of such a society” but had always respected what had arisen throughout history.
“Therefore I was in favor of linking whenever possible, the new with what exists historically. . . . I took over nothing, absolutely nothing from this society except the merely formal right to carry on in historical succession my symbolicritualistic activity,”
In esoteric lore, the Illuminati are said to be a secret order of adepts who are the enemies of the Catholic Church.
- Steiner, Rudolph. An Autobiography. Blauvelt, N.Y.: Rudolph Steiner Publications, 1977.
- Waite, Arthur Edward. A New Encyclopedia of Freemasonry. New York: Weathervane Books, 1970.
Last updated: April 13, 2016 at 20:06 pm
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