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Illuminati myths-“Master Conspiracy” Redux

Seal of the Illuminati-controlled Munich Lodge St. Théodore du bon Conseil (St. Theodor vom guten Rat), c. 1780. Of note, top center, is the owl of Minerva, the symbol of the Illuminati
Seal of the Illuminati-controlled Munich Lodge St. Théodore du bon Conseil (St. Theodor vom guten Rat), c. 1780. Of note, top center, is the owl of Minerva

The New American website has posted a slightly redacted version of William H. McIlhany’s 1996 article which appeared in the September 16, 1996 issue of The New American. (The original can be read here, which, in turn, appears to be based on one of McIlhany’s presentations).
I first became aware of McIlhany’s writings on the Illuminati in 2000. At the time I was very impressed by what I read, and immediately realized that his information on the real Bavarian Illuminati was more thorough than most. However, my own knowledge on the subject is a bit more advanced than it was some nine years ago. So with that in mind, here are some exaggerations and/or misrepresentations which struck me as I reread the article at The New American for the first time in years.

“Kölmer” and the Origin of the Lesser and Greater Mysteries of the Illuminati

According to McIlhany, Weishaupt was “instructed by a mysterious occultist named Kölmer.” The only problem I have with this statement is that it is not qualified with “alleged” or “purported.”
The Kölmer legend first appeared in Volume III of Abbé Augustin Barruel’s tome against Philosophes, Freemasons, the Illuminati and the Jacobins. He related it rather tentatively as a rumour going round, and as a possible way of explaining the ostensibly advanced nature of Weishaupt’s mysteries.

It is not known, and it would be difficult to discover, whether Weishaupt ever had a master, or whether he is himself the great original of those monstrous doctrines on which he founded his school. There exists, however, a tradition which on the authority of some of his adepts we shall lay before the reader.
According to this tradition, a Jutland merchant, who had lived some time in Egypt, began in the year 1771 to overrun Europe, pretending to initiate adepts in the antient mysteries of Memphis. But from more exact information I have learned that he stopped for some time at Malta, where the only mysteries which he taught were the disorganizing tenets of the antient Illuminees, of the adopted slave; and these he sedulously infused into the minds of the people. These principles began to expand, and the island was already threatened with revolutionary confusion, when the Knights very wisely obliged our modern Illuminee to seek his safety in flight. The famous Count (or rather mountebank) Cagliostro is said to have been a disciple of his, as well as some other adepts famous for their Illuminism in the county of Avignon and at Lyons. In his peregrinations, it is said, he met with Weishaupt, and initiated him in his mysteries. If impiety and secrecy could entitle a person to such an initiation, never had any man better claims than Weishaupt. More artful and wicked than Cagliostro, he knew how to direct them among his disciples to very different ends.
Whatever may have been the fact with respect to this first master, it is very certain that Weishaupt needed none.
- In Memoirs Illustrating the History of Jacobinism, Real-View-Books reprint (1995), pp. 402-3.
Unfortunately, Barruel gave no citation nor provided a single clue as to which of Weishaupt’s adepts had recounted the story. Furthermore, Barruel’s book is the first instance in print of the Kölmer speculation, and all subsequent authors afterwards who have repeated it are relying solely on this one passage. Count Le Couteulx de Canteleu’s Les Sectes et Sociétés Secrètes draws attention to it (adding that Kölmer may be identical to Cagliostro’s alleged Master, Altotas), while Nesta Webster reiterated both Le Couteulx de Canteleu and Barruel.
In any case, Barruel was correct when he added the caveat that, in truth, Weishaupt needed no Master.
We now know much about Weishaupt’s influences - from philosophers such as Wolff, Leibniz, Bonnet, Locke, Meiners and Feder; to the precise number of books (4212 volumes) he had full access to in the library of his godfather Ickstatt - that “a Kölmer” is totally unnecessary. Ickstatt’s library may have been one the largest personal collections in Europe. Having free roam amongst the stacks, Weishaupt became an eclectic and a precocious bibliophile (see Perfectibilists, p. 16 and n.6 on p. 41).
Meiners, Christoph (1747 Warstade, Germany – 1810 Göttingen, Germany) Noms de Guerre: Dicearch/Belisar (December 1783, Illuminatus Major)
Christoph Meiners (1747 Warstade, Germany – 1810 Göttingen, Germany) Noms de Guerre: Dicearch/Belisar (December 1783, Illuminatus Major)
Books were constantly being recommended to his initiates. Most of his “mysteries” had in fact been culled from choice sections among the writings of Meiners and Feder (who in turn became Illuminati themselves), Rousseau, Leibniz and Wolff. And while Nesta Webster gives credence to the Kölmer myth on the basis that some of the Illuminati mysteries reference such things as Fire Worship, Zoroastrianism, and the Mysteries of Eleusis; the plain fact is the very idea for such a thing stems from the contemporary religious studies of Meiners, a fellow philosopher whom Weishaupt admired.
German Illuminati expert Monika Neugebauer-Wölk, writes:
From the outset, the Illuminaten Order evidently regarded itself as a competitor in an emporium … Between 1777 and 1779, Weishaupt developed the foundations of a grade system, initiatory rites, and a language using geographical and historical terminology…
For this purpose, two texts on the history of religion by the Göttingen professor of philosophy Christoph Meiners (1747-1810) were fundamental, namely Über die Mysterien der Alten, besonders über die Eleusinischen Geheimnisse (1776) and De Zoroastris vita, institutis, doctrina et libris Commentatio prior (1778). Meiners portrayed the ancient mysteries as a double initiation of believers. Superstitious notions were conveyed in the “Lesser Mysteries”, while in the “Greater Mysteries” the veil of superstition was torn away and those deemed worthy were initiated into the truths of rational understanding of God. Weishaupt accordingly drafted first texts for the Lesser and Greater Mysteries of the Illuminaten – “The religion of reason” as a mystery of an esoteric league –, and this idea was the starting point of the Illuminaten “order-system.”The presentation of the mystery grades, above all the form of the initiations and the temple, was conceived as an adaptation of the “fire-worship” of Zarathustra. The worldly struggle of the Illuminaten was related to the dualistic struggle between good and evil as cosmic principles. In June 1778, Weishaupt first dated an Order letter from “Eleusis” rather than “Ingolstadt”; simultaneously he began to use an ancient Persian calendar for dates. In this early phase, when Weishaupt was solely in charge, the secret society of the Illuminaten was conceived as a mystery league on the basis of the Enlightenment’s understanding of the history and criticism of religion.
- Monika Neugebauer-Wölk, “Illuminaten” entry, in Dictionary of Gnosis & Western Esotericism, ed. Wouter J. Hanegraaff, Brill Academic Publishers, 2005, p. 593.
As early as January, 1778, we find Weishaupt recommending Meiners to his trusted student/disciple/initiate, Franz Xaver von Zwack (Cato). “[R]ead … Various Philosophic [Writings] from Meiners, in three parts,” Weishaupt writes. “In the latter, one finds a treatise on the Eleusinian mysteries, that will bring you great enlightenment” (in Einige Originalschriften des Illuminatenordens, pp. 198-9).
The entire nomenclature of the Lesser and Greater Mysteries of the Illuminati follows the pattern of what Meiners had written on the subject, who thought that it was only the Epopt of the Greater Mysteries who finally became privy to the final secret, lifting the veil of superstition: that the Gods were only men who had become deified.


McIlhany writes that members entered the “top-level circle of initiates as an Illuminatus Major, just below the position of Rex held by Weishaupt.”
Illuminatus Major wasn’t a top-level degree. They were the Masters of the Minervals, but that is about it. After that came Illuminatus Dirigens, Epopt, Regent, Magus, and then Rex or Man-King (Docetist). Weishaupt’s position was General, below that was his Areopagites, National Superiors, Provincials and Prefects.

Insinuating Brethren

McIlhany: “The secret police of the Order killed anyone who tried to inform the authorities about the conspiracy. This band was known as the ‘Insinuating Brethren’ and had as its insignia an all-seeing eye.”
1) The Illuminati did not assassinate anyone; there were quite a few defectors and denunciators, who did quite a bit of damage, but no one was murdered because of it. 2) I’ve searched for any reference, but of all the primary material - contemporary and reliable secondary ones (Le Forestier, Schüttler, Dülmen, Engel et al.) - consulted, the all-seeing eye is never once mentioned, let alone suggested that the Bavarian Illuminati had adopted it as a symbol. On the contrary; the sigil of the Illuminati was the owl of Minerva. Other prominent symbols included a pyramid painted on the floor of the Lodge during Minerval ceremonies, elements from Egypt, Greece and Rome intermingled, and the seven stars of Pleiades with the crescent moon.

Violence and Insurrection?

The “original writings of the Order,” says McIlhany, “included detailed instructions for fomenting hatred and bloodshed between different racial, religious, and ethnic groups … instructions about the kinds of buildings to be burned in urban insurrections.”
How can I say this politely? Absolute 100% bunk!
I wonder which “original writings” McIlhany has read, because the real ones do not include anything about insurrection, violence, or racial strife. The original writings contain directives that are subtle. Things like tactics for infiltration and methods of subversion. Even when revolution is hinted at, it is only in the context of a gradualist scheme. In fact, in the degree of Illuminatus Major, Weishaupt explicitly says that sudden upheaval and violent means are to be avoided in favour of infiltrating and occupying the state from within:
…it will be necessary [sic] to divest vice of its power, that the honest man may find his recompense even in this world; but in this grand project, we are counteracted by the Princes and the Priesthood; the political constitutions of nations oppose our proceedings. In such a state of things then what remains to be done? To instigate revolutions, overthrow every thing, oppose force to force, and exchange tyranny for tyranny? Far be from us such means. Every violent reform is to be blamed, because it will not ameliorate things as long as men remain as they are, a prey to their passions; and because wisdom needeth not the arm of violence.”
“The whole plan of the Order tends to form men, not by declamation, but by the protection and rewards which are due to virtue. We must insensibly bind the hands of the protectors of disorder, and govern them without appearing to domineer.”
“In a word, we must establish an universal empire over the whole world, without destroying the civil ties. Under this new empire, all other governments must be able to pursue their usual process, and to exercise every power, excepting that of hindering the Order from attaining its ends and rendering virtue triumphant over vice.
“This victory of virtue over vice was formerly the object of Christ, when he established his pure religion. He taught men, that the path to wisdom consisted in letting themselves be led for their greater good by the best and wisest men. At that time preaching might suffice; the novelty made truth prevail; but at present, more powerful means are necessary [sic]. Man, a slave to his senses, must see sensible attractions in virtue. The source of passions is pure; it is necessary that every one should be able to gratify his within the bounds of virtue, and that our Order should furnish him with the means.
“It consequently follows, that all our brethren, educated on the same principles, and strictly united to each other, should have but one object in view. We must encompass the Power of the earth with a legion of indefatigable men, all directing their labours, according to the plan of the Order, towards the happiness of human nature—but all that is to be done in silence; our brethren are mutually to support each other, to succour the good labouring under oppression, and to seek to acquire those places which give power, for the good of the cause.”
- Translated by Barruel, op. cit., pp. 458-9 [emphasis in the original].
It is true the later degrees of Epopt and Regent expressed outright hatred of the established order with a view toward an anarchist utopian-primitivist solution. But short of taking control of the machinery of the state (gradually, methodically and surely), there was nothing in the original writings that could be construed, even by the most zealous opponent, as instructions for “fomenting hatred and bloodshed” or “about the kinds of buildings to be burned in urban insurrections.”
On the other hand, just hinting that civil society needed to be reorganized – changed, subsumed, and replaced – is akin to advocating revolution whether explicitly professed or not. And no doubt there were some correspondences and writings that did in fact go much further, but which were never discovered. We do known, for example, the most damning evidence was quickly burned before the authorities had a chance to get their hands on them.
McIlhany touches a bit on what he believes to be Illuminati influence upon the French Revolution, but of all those he mentions – Mirabeau, Orléans (Philippe Egalité), Brissot, Condorcet, Savalette, Grégoire, Garat, Pétion, Babeuf, Barnave, Sieyes, Saint-Just, Desmoulins, Hébert, Santerre, Danton, Marat, Chenier – only one was actually a bona fide confirmed member of the Illuminati: Charles-Pierre-Paul Savalette de Langes (1746-1797), Master of the Amis Réunis and of the Philalèthes.
That last revelation is part of the new evidence discussed in my book Perfectibilists.
Two years before McIlhany wrote that article for The New American, Hermann Schüttler, the world’s foremost expert on the Illuminati alive today, published for the first time the forgotten diary of J. J. C. Bode (1730-1793), the de facto second head of the Illuminati. For the first time in 200 years we now have explicit details as to what Bode was up to in Paris just two years before the Revolution, and, by his own admission, precisely who he had initiated into the cause.

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