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On 20 January Knigge tabulated his new system of grades for the order. These were arranged in three classes:.
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Knigge's recruitment from German Freemasonry was far from random. He targeted the masters and wardens, the men who ran the lodges, and were often able to place the entire lodge at the disposal of the Illuminati. In Aachen , Baron de Witte, master of Constancy lodge, caused every member to join the order. In this way, the order expanded rapidly in central and southern Germany, and obtained a foothold in Austria.
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Moving into the Spring of , the handful of students that had started the order had swelled to about members, only 20 of the new recruits being students. In Munich, the first half of saw huge changes in the government of Lodge Theodore. In February, Weishaupt had offered to split the lodge, with the Illuminati going their own way and the chapter taking any remaining traditionalists into their own continuation of Theodore. At this point, the chapter unexpectedly capitulated, and the Illuminati had complete control of lodge and chapter. In June, both lodge and chapter sent letters severing relations with Royal York, citing their own faithfulness in paying for their recognition, and Royal York's failure to provide any instruction into the higher grades.
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Their neglect of Costanza, failure to defend him from malicious charges or prevent his expulsion from Prussia, were also cited. They had made no effort to provide Costanza with the promised secrets, and the Munich masons now suspected that their brethren in Berlin relied on the mystical French higher grades which they sought to avoid. Lodge Theodore was now independent. The Rite of Strict Observance was now in a critical state. Suspicion turned to open contempt when it transpired that Carl regarded the Stuart heir to the British throne as the true Grand Master, and the lodges of the Strict Observance all but ignored their Grand Master.
This impasse led to the Convent of Wilhelmsbad.
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Delayed from 15 October , the last convention of the Strict Observance finally opened on 16 July in the spa town of Wilhelmsbad on the outskirts of now part of Hanau. The only dissenting voices to mystical higher grades were Johann Joachim Christoph Bode , who was horrified by Martinism, but whose proposed alternatives were as yet unformed, and Franz Dietrich von Ditfurth, a judge from Wetzlar and master of the Joseph of the Three Helmets lodge there, who was already a member of the Illuminati.
Ditfurth publicly campaigned for a return to the basic three degrees of Freemasonry, which was the least likely outcome of the convention. The mystics already had coherent plans to replace the higher degrees. The lack of a coherent alternative to the two strains of mysticism allowed the Illuminati to present themselves as a credible option.
Ditfurth, prompted and assisted by Knigge, who now had full authority to act for the order, became their spokesman. Knigge's original plan to propose an alliance between the two orders was rejected by Weishaupt, who saw no point in an alliance with a dying order. His new plan was to recruit the masons opposed to the "Templar" higher degree of the Strict Observance. At the convent, Ditfurth blocked the attempts of Willermoz and Hesse to introduce their own higher grades by insisting that full details of such degrees be revealed to the delegates.
The frustration of the German mystics led to their enrolling Count Kollowrat with the Illuminati with a view to later affiliation. Ditfurth's own agenda was to replace all of the higher degrees with a single fourth degree, with no pretensions to further masonic revelations. Finding no support for his plan, he left the convent prematurely, writing to the Areopagus that he expected nothing good of the assembly.
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In an attempt to satisfy everybody, the Convent of Wilhelmsbad achieved little. They renounced the Templar origins of their ritual, while retaining the Templar titles, trappings and administrative structure. Charles of Hesse and Ferdinand of Brunswick remained at the head of the order, but in practice the lodges were almost independent.
Crucially, individual lodges of the order were now allowed to fraternise with lodges of other systems. The new "Scottish Grade" introduced with the Lyon ritual of Willermoz was not compulsory, each province and prefecture was free to decide what, if anything, happened after the three craft degrees. Finally, in an effort to show that something had been achieved, the convent regulated at length on etiquette, titles, and a new numbering for the provinces.
What the Convent of Wilhelmsbad actually achieved was the demise of the Strict Observance.
It renounced its own origin myth, along with the higher degrees which bound its highest and most influential members. It abolished the strict control which had kept the order united, and alienated many Germans who mistrusted Martinism.
Bode, who was repelled by Martinism, immediately entered negotiations with Knigge, and finally joined the Illuminati in January Charles of Hesse joined the following month. Knigge's first efforts at an alliance with the intact German Grand Lodges failed, but Weishaupt persisted. He proposed a new federation where all of the German lodges would practise an agreed, unified system in the essential three degrees of Freemasonry, and be left to their own devices as to which, if any, system of higher degrees they wished to pursue.
This would be a federation of Grand Lodges, and members would be free to visit any of the "blue" lodges, in any jurisdiction. All lodge masters would be elected, and no fees would be paid to any central authority whatsoever. Groups of lodges would be subject to a "Scottish Directorate", composed of members delegated by lodges, to audit finances, settle disputes, and authorise new lodges. These in turn would elect Provincial Directorates, who would elect inspectors, who would elect the national director. This system would correct the current imbalance in German Freemasonry, where masonic ideals of equality were preserved only in the lower three "symbolic" degrees.
The various systems of higher degrees were dominated by the elite who could afford researches in alchemy and mysticism. To Weishaupt and Knigge, the proposed federation was also a vehicle to propagate Illuminism throughout German Freemasonry. Their intention was to use their new federation, with its emphasis on the fundamental degrees, to remove all allegiance to Strict Observance, allowing the "eclectic" system of the Illuminati to take its place. The circular announcing the new federation outlined the faults of German freemasonry, that unsuitable men with money were often admitted on the basis of their wealth, that the corruption of civil society had infected the lodges.
Having advocated the de-regulation of the higher grades of the German lodges, the Illuminati now announced their own, from their "unknown Superiors". Knigge, in a letter to all the Royal York lodges, now accused that Grand Lodge of decadence. Their Freemasonry had allegedly been corrupted by the Jesuits. Strict Observance was now attacked as a creation of the Stuarts, devoid of all moral virtue. The Zinnendorf rite of the Grand Landlodge of the Freemasons of Germany was suspect because its author was in league with the Swedes. This direct attack had the opposite effect to that intended by Weishaupt, it offended many of its readers.
The Grand Lodge of the Grand Orient of Warsaw, which controlled Freemasonry in Poland and Lithuania, was happy to participate in the federation only as far as the first three degrees. Their insistence on independence had kept them from the Strict Observance, and would now keep them from the Illuminati, whose plan to annex Freemasonry rested on their own higher degrees. By the end of January the Illuminati's masonic contingent had seven lodges. It was not only the clumsy appeal of the Illuminati that left the federation short of members.
Lodge Theodore was recently formed and did not command respect like the older lodges. Most of all, the Freemasons most likely to be attracted to the federation saw the Illuminati as an ally against the mystics and Martinists, but valued their own freedom too highly to be caught in another restrictive organisation. Even Ditfurth, the supposed representative of the Illuminati at Wilhelmsbad, had pursued his own agenda at the convent. The non-mystical Frankfurt lodges created an "Eclectic Alliance", which was almost indistinguishable in constitution and aims from the Illuminati's federation.
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Far from seeing this as a threat, after some discussion the Illuminati lodges joined the new alliance. Three Illuminati now sat on the committee charged with writing the new masonic statutes. Aside from strengthening relations between their three lodges, the Illuminati seem to have gained no advantage from this manoeuvre. Ditfurth, having found a masonic organisation that worked towards his own ambitions for Freemasonry, took little interest in the Illuminati after his adherence to the Eclectic Alliance.
In reality, the creation of the Eclectic Alliance had undermined all of the subtle plans of the Illuminati to spread their own doctrine through Freemasonry. Although their hopes of mass recruitment through Freemasonry had been frustrated, the Illuminati continued to recruit well at an individual level. In Bavaria, the succession of Charles Theodore initially led to a liberalisation of attitudes and laws, but the clergy and courtiers, guarding their own power and privilege, persuaded the weak-willed monarch to reverse his reforms, and Bavaria's repression of liberal thought returned.
This reversal led to a general resentment of the monarch and the church among the educated classes, which provided a perfect recruiting ground for the Illuminati. A number of Freemasons from Prudence lodge, disaffected by the Martinist rites of the Chevaliers Bienfaisants , joined lodge Theodore, who set themselves up in a gardened mansion which contained their library of liberal literature. Illuminati circles in the rest of Germany expanded. While some had only modest gains, the circle in Mainz almost doubled from 31 to 61 members.
The total number of verifiable members at the end of is around Weishaupt and Hertel later claimed a figure of 2, The higher figure is largely explained by the inclusion of members of masonic lodges that the Illuminati claimed to control, but it is likely that the names of all the Illuminati are not known, and the true figure lies somewhere between and 2, The importance of the order lay in its successful recruitment of the professional classes, churchmen, academics, doctors and lawyers, and its more recent acquisition of powerful benefactors.
There were notable failures. Johann Kaspar Lavater , the Swiss poet and theologian, rebuffed Knigge. He did not believe the order's humanitarian and rationalist aims were achievable by secret means. He further believed that a society's drive for members would ultimately submerge its founding ideals. Christoph Friedrich Nicolai , the Berlin writer and bookseller, became disillusioned after joining. He found its aims chimeric, and thought that the use of Jesuit methods to achieve their aims was dangerous.
He remained in the order, but took no part in recruitment. At all costs, Weishaupt wished to keep the existence of the order secret from the Rosicrucians , who already had a considerable foothold in German Freemasonry. While clearly Protestant, the Rosicrucians were anything but anticlerical, were pro-monarchic, and held views clearly conflicting with the Illuminati vision of a rationalist state run by philosophers and scientists.
The Rosicrucians were not above promoting their own brand of mysticism with fraudulent seances. A conflict became inevitable as the existence of the Illuminati became more evident, and as prominent Rosicrucians, and mystics with Rosicrucian sympathies, were actively recruited by Knigge and other over-enthusiastic helpers. Kolowrat was already a high ranking Rosicrucian, and the mystic Prince Charles of Hesse-Kassel had a very low opinion of the rationalist higher grades of the Illuminati.
Through this mouthpiece, the Illuminati were accused of atheism and revolutionary tendencies. In April Frederick the Great informed Charles of Hesse that the Berlin lodges had documents belonging to the Minervals or Illuminati which contained appalling material, and asked if he had heard of them. All Berlin masons were now warned against the order, which was now accused of Socinianism , and of using the liberal writings of Voltaire and others, alongside the tolerance of Freemasonry, to undermine all religion.
In November the Three Globes described the Illuminati as a masonic sect which sought to undermine Christianity and turn Freemasonry into a political system. Their final anathema, in November , refused to recognise any Illuminati as Freemasons. In Austria, the Illuminati were blamed for anti-religious pamphlets that had recently appeared. The Rosicrucians spied on Joseph von Sonnenfels and other suspected Illuminati, and their campaign of denunciation within Freemasonry completely shut down Illuminati recruitment in Tyrol. The Bavarian Illuminati, whose existence was already known to the Rosicrucians from an informant, were further betrayed by the reckless actions of Ferdinand Maria Baader, an Areopagite who now joined the Rosicrucians.
Shortly after his admission it was made known to his superiors that he was one of the Illuminati, and he was informed that he could not be a member of both organisations. His letter of resignation stated that the Rosicrucians did not possess secret knowledge, and ignored the truly Illuminated, specifically identifying Lodge Theodore as an Illuminati Lodge. As the Illuminati embraced Freemasonry and expanded outside Bavaria, the council of the Areopagites was replaced by an ineffective "Council of Provincials".
The Areopagites, however, remained as powerful voices within the Order, and began again to bicker with Weishaupt as soon as Knigge left Munich. Weishaupt responded by privately slandering his perceived enemies in letters to his perceived friends. More seriously, Weishaupt succeeded in alienating Knigge. Weishaupt had ceded considerable power to Knigge in deputising him to write the ritual, power he now sought to regain. Knigge had elevated the Order from a tiny anti-clerical club to a large organisation, and felt that his work was under-acknowledged.
Weishaupt's continuing anti-clericalism clashed with Knigge's mysticism, and recruitment of mystically inclined Freemasons was a cause of friction with Weishaupt and other senior Illuminati, such as Ditfurth. Matters came to a head over the grade of Priest. The consensus among many of the Illuminati was that the ritual was florid and ill-conceived, and the regalia puerile and expensive. Some refused to use it, others edited it.
Weishaupt demanded that Knigge rewrite the ritual. Knigge pointed out that it was already circulated, with Weishaupt's blessing, as ancient. This fell on deaf ears. Weishaupt now claimed to other Illuminati that the Priest ritual was flawed because Knigge had invented it. Offended, Knigge now threatened to tell the world how much of the Illuminati ritual he had made up.
Knigge's attempt to create a convention of the Areopagites proved fruitless, as most of them trusted him even less than they trusted Weishaupt. In July Knigge left the order by agreement, under which he returned all relevant papers, and Weishaupt published a retraction of all slanders against him.
The final decline of the Illuminati was brought about by the indiscretions of their own Minervals in Bavaria, and especially in Munich. In spite of efforts by their superiors to curb loose talk, politically dangerous boasts of power and criticism of monarchy caused the "secret" order's existence to become common knowledge, along with the names of many important members. The presence of Illuminati in positions of power now led to some public disquiet.
There were Illuminati in many civic and state governing bodies. In spite of their small number, there were claims that success in a legal dispute depended on the litigant's standing with the order. The Illuminati were blamed for several anti-religious publications then appearing in Bavaria. Much of this criticism sprang from vindictiveness and jealousy, but it is clear that many Illuminati court officials gave preferential treatment to their brethren. In Bavaria, the energy of their two members of the Ecclesiastical Council had one of them elected treasurer.
Their opposition to Jesuits resulted in the banned order losing key academic and church positions. In Ingolstadt, the Jesuit heads of department were replaced by Illuminati. Alarmed, Charles Theodore and his government banned all secret societies including the Illuminati. Weishaupt had fled and documents and internal correspondence, seized in and , were subsequently published by the government in Between and , Augustin Barruel 's Memoirs Illustrating the History of Jacobinism and John Robison 's Proofs of a Conspiracy publicised the theory that the Illuminati had survived and represented an ongoing international conspiracy.
This included the claim that it was behind the French Revolution.
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Both books proved to be very popular, spurring reprints and paraphrases by others. Their sermons were printed and the matter was followed in newspapers. Concern died down in the first decade of the s, although it revived from time to time in the Anti-Masonic movement of the s and 30s. Enter your email below and we'll send you another email. Create a new password. Thirdparty Emails Sign up for this list to receive special deals and promotions from our carefully screened partners that we think may be of interest to you.
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