The Illuminati 

Illuminati, designation in use from the 15th century, assumed by or applied to various groups of persons who claimed to be unusually enlightened. The word is the plural of the Latin illuminatus

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Early illuminati

According to adherents, the source of the “light” was viewed as being directly communicated from a higher source or due to a clarified and exalted condition of the human intelligence. To the former class belong the Alumbrados (Spanish: “enlightened”) of Spain. Spanish historian Marcelino Menéndez y Pelayo first finds the name about 1492 (in the form aluminados, 1498) but traces them back to a gnostic origin and thinks their views were promoted in Spain through influences from Italy. One of their earliest leaders—indeed, some scholars style her as a “pre-Alumbrado”—was María de Santo Domingo, who came to be known as La Beata de Piedrahita. She was a labourer’s daughter, born in Aldeanueva, south of Salamanca, about 1485. She joined the Dominican order as a teenager and soon achieved renown as a prophet and mystic who could converse directly with Jesus Christ and the VirginFerdinand of Aragon invited her to his court, and he became convinced of the sincerity of her visions. The Dominicans appealed to Pope Julius II for guidance, and a series of trials were convened under the auspices of the Inquisition. Her patrons, which by then included not only Ferdinand but also Francisco Cardenal Jiménez de Cisneros and the duke of Alba, ensured that no decision was taken against her, and she was cleared in 1510.

St. Ignatius of Loyola, while studying at Salamanca (1527), was brought before an ecclesiastical commission on a charge of sympathy with the Alumbrados, but he escaped with an admonition. Others were not so fortunate. In 1529 a congregation of unlettered adherents at Toledo was visited with scourging and imprisonment. Greater rigours followed, and for about a century the Alumbrados afforded many victims to the Inquisition, especially at Córdoba.

The movement (under the name of Illuminés) seems to have reached France from Seville in 1623. It attained some prominence in Picardy when joined (1634) by Pierre Guérin, curé of Saint-Georges de Roye, whose followers, known as Guerinets, were suppressed in 1635. Another body of Illuminés surfaced in the south of France in 1722 and appears to have lingered till 1794, having affinities with those known contemporaneously as “French Prophets,” an offshoot of the Protestant militant Camisards.

Of a different class were the Rosicrucians, who claimed to have originated in 1422 but achieved public notice in 1537. Their teachings combined something of Egyptian Hermetism, Christian gnosticism, Jewish Kabbalaalchemy, and a variety of other occult beliefs and practices. The earliest extant writing which mentions the Rosicrucian order was the Fama Fraternitatis, first published in 1614 but probably circulated in manuscript form somewhat earlier than this. It recounts the journey of the reputed founder of the movement, Christian Rosenkreuz, to Damascus, Damcar (a legendary hidden city in Arabia), Egypt, and Fès, where he was well received and came into possession of much secret wisdom. He returned finally to Germany, where he chose three others to whom he imparted this wisdom and thus founded the order. Later the number was increased to eight, who separated, each going to a separate country. One of the six articles of agreement they adopted was that the fraternity should remain secret for 100 years. At the end of 120 years the secret burial place and the perfectly preserved body of the founder were discovered by one of the then members of the order, along with certain documents and symbols held in very high esteem by Rosicrucians. The sacred vault was re-covered, the members of the order dispersed, and the location of the vault was lost to history. The Fama ends with an invitation to “some few” to join the fraternity. Among those believed to have been associated with the order were German alchemist Michael Maier, British physician Robert Fludd, and British philosopher and statesman Sir Francis Bacon.

Later Illuminati

After the suppression of Weishaupt’s order, the title Illuminati was given to the French Martinists, founded in 1754 by Martinez Pasqualis and propagated by Louis-Claude de Saint-Martin. By 1790 Martinism had been spread to Russia by Johann Georg Schwarz and Nikolay Novikov. Both strains of “illuminated” Martinism included elements of Kabbalism and Christian mysticism, imbibing ideas from Jakob Böhme and Emanuel Swedenborg.

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