The Birthplace of the Illuminati
The Illuminati was a secret society founded in 1776 by Adam Weishaupt (1748-1830), a professor of ecclesiastical law at the University of Ingolstadt, in Bavaria. On May 1, inside one of the university’s buildings and in the utmost secrecy this very controversial organization was born. Only three people were present at the first meeting, Weishaupt and two students, Anton von Massenhausen and Max Edler von Merz. Weishaupt chose the name Illuminati because he was inspired by “the Sun’s image that shines” and as their symbol he chose the owl, symbol of Minerva, the Roman goddess of knowledge, corresponding to the Greek Athena.
His liberal views, inspired by the philosophical works of the French Enlightenment, propelled him to take action and establish this secret organization that would gradually gain strength and direct its energy against despotism and the bigotry of the Church. Numerous myths and conspiracy theories have centered on the alleged survival of the organization to date and its alleged activities, which include the French Revolution, the struggle against the Catholic Church, and aspirations toward world domination. The original intention of the Illuminati was certainly its spread to all social classes and a main objective to weaken the Church and abolish the Bavarian monarchy, which would be replaced by a liberal, democratic government.
Secret Codes and Aliases
They knew that was a goal difficult to achieve and that their survival would not be at all easy. For this reason they took a series of security measures. They originally introduced a cryptographic code that would allow them to communicate with relative safety. This code consisted of replacing the twenty-three letters of the Latin alphabet with numbers, according to a predefined “key”. According to researchers, the Illuminati used at least two more cryptographic alphabets. As is easily understood, to ensure complete secrecy the members were required to communicate with pseudonyms. All aliases derived from historical and mythological figures, mainly from ancient Greece and Rome. For himself, Weishaupt chose Spartacus, the gladiator who led the great rebellion of slaves against the Roman Empire in 73 BC.
The other two members of the original core chose the names Ajax (Massenhausen), the mythical hero of Salamis, and Tiberius (Merz), after the famed Roman emperor. Apart from the use of pseudonyms, the organization also invented its own calendar. The expansion of the organization in conservative Bavaria in the eighteenth century was not easy and the response of the people was not as expected. In 1777 Weishaupt joined the Masonic lodge in Munich, seeking new members among their ranks. From 1777 to 1780, about sixty people were members of the Illuminati, but internal conflict began to plague the organization, mainly due to lack of funds.
In 1780 the situation changed when former Mason and alchemist Baron Franz Friedrich Knigge joined the organization. His experiences as a Mason and his contacts with the Rosicrucians as well made him valuable to the Illuminati, who were undergoing a period of internal crisis. Knigge quickly rose to the top of the organization’s hierarchy and became Weishaupt’s right hand. In 1781, the organization was growing rapidly and succeeded in enlisting many Freemasons in its ranks. Until 1784, the organization counted more than two thousand members, including Goethe and Herder. However, the increasing number of members was a development that marked the beginning of the end. Knigge’s ambition for more power made him irrational and he threatened to report the organization’s secrets to the Jesuits and Rosicrucians. As a result, the disagreements between Weishaupt and Knigge were exacerbated so far as the organization was threatened with dissolution.