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Monday, October 20, 2008

The Bavarian Illuminati

Researchers seriously interested in the history, philosophy, activities and social phenomenon of the 18th century Bavarian Illuminati—at least in the English speaking world—have long been frustrated by the dearth of material about the Order that could be trusted. It says much that the overwhelmingly cited sources of information about Adam Weishaupt's secret society all have their own agendas to flog. Abbé Augustin Barruel's Memoirs Illustrating the History of Jacobinism sought to identify the Templars, the Freemasons and the Illuminati as the nefarious architects of the atheistic French Revolution. Sources like the Catholic Encyclopedia, not surprisingly, stress the anti-clerical, anti-Jesuit aspects, while Nesta Webster modernized and enlarged the conspiracy theory genre, with the Illuminati at the center. And John Robison's Proofs of a Conspiracy asserted that it was evil, European, Grand Orient style, irregular, non-Anglo Saxon Freemasonry that was trying to do nefarious and dirty dealings to the Church and Europe's monarchs, and NOT the virtuous Freemasonry that was flourishing in Old Blighty.

The challenge in seeking the details about the Bavarian order is to separate the verifiable from the daffy, and the true historian from the perennially nervous. The tireless Trevor McKeown on the Grand Lodge of British Columbia & Yukon website has an outstanding online article on the Bavarian Illuminati, as does author Terry Melanson at the Illuminati Conspiracy Archive. Melanson has expanded his research into a book, available in November, called Perfectibilists: The 18th Century Bavarian Order of the Illuminati. Conrad Goeringer on the American Atheists site also has a good article, The Enlightenment, Freemasonry, and The Illuminati.

A few months ago, I lamented on The Masonic Society forum that, while Weishaupt wrote several works about the Illuminati, which were subsequently published by the Bavarian government to expose the secret revolutionary activities of the Order, there is no English translation of them. This seems like a glaring gap in knowledge for researchers who can't speak German, and frankly astonishing in the wake of Dan Brown's silly but hugely popular Angels & Demons, in which an absurd representation of the Illuminati is presented. Perhaps as the movie version of the book comes to theaters in the spring, maybe some enterprising publisher or German student will remedy this.

In the meantime, Terry Melanson seems to have started to answer the call. In September, he started the website Bavarian Illuminati: Home of the Original Writings of the illuminati. So far he has posted the first part of Some Original Writings Of The Order of the Illuminati, found during a search of former Court Councillor Xavier von Zwack, who was the second in command of the Order at the time of its dissolution by Bavarian authorities. Melanson explains that he is actually working from a French translation, and the works comprise hundreds of pages, so expect slow-going (and perhaps burnout before its completion). He is to be commended for taking up the task. For a group that has had so much legend heaped upon it, and untold fears of its supposed ongoing influence in the world, it's astonishing that it has taken more than two centuries for these documents to slowly start trickling out to a wider audience.

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