The Illuminati (plural of Latin illuminatus, "enlightened") is a name given to several groups, both real and fictitious. Historically, the name usually refers to the Bavarian Illuminati, an Enlightenment-era secret society founded on 1 May 1776. The society's goals were to oppose superstition, obscurantism, religious influence over public life, and abuses of state power. "The order of the day," they wrote in their general statutes, "is to put an end to the machinations of the purveyors of injustice, to control them without dominating them." The Illuminati—along with Freemasonry and other secret societies—were outlawed through edict by the Bavarian ruler Charles Theodore with the encouragement of the Catholic Church, in 1784, 1785, 1787, and 1790. In the several years following, the group was vilified by conservative and religious critics who claimed that they continued underground and were responsible for the French Revolution.
Adam Weishaupt (1748–1830), founder of the Bavarian Illuminati
Many influential intellectuals and progressive politicians counted themselves as members, including Ferdinand of Brunswick and the diplomat Xavier von Zwack, who was the Order's second-in-command. It attracted literary men such as Johann Wolfgang von Goethe and Johann Gottfried Herder and the reigning dukes of Gotha and Weimar.
In subsequent use, "Illuminati" refers to various organisations which claim or are purported to have links to the original Bavarian Illuminati or similar secret societies, though these links are unsubstantiated. They are often alleged to conspire to control world affairs, by masterminding events and planting agents in government and corporations, in order to gain political power and influence and to establish a New World Order. Central to some of the most widely known and elaborate conspiracy theories, the Illuminati have been depicted as lurking in the shadows and pulling the strings and levers of power in dozens of novels, films, television shows, comics, video games, and music videos.
The Owl of Minerva perched on a book was an emblem used by the Bavarian Illuminati in their "Minerval" degree.
Adam Weishaupt (1748–1830) was a professor of Canon Law and practical philosophy at the University of Ingolstadt. He was the only non-clerical professor at an institution run by Jesuits, whose order had been dissolved in 1773. The Jesuits of Ingolstadt, however, still retained the purse strings and some power at the University, which they continued to regard as their own. Constant attempts were made to frustrate and discredit non-clerical staff, especially when course material contained anything they regarded as liberal or Protestant. Weishaupt became deeply anti-clerical, resolving to spread the ideals of the Enlightenment (Aufklärung) through some sort of secret society of like-minded individuals.
Finding Freemasonry to be expensive, and not open to his ideas, he founded his own society which was to have a gradal system based on Freemasonry, but his own agenda. His original name for the new order was Bund der Perfektibilisten, or Covenant of Perfectibility (Perfectibilists), later changing it because it sounded too strange. On 1 May 1776 Weishaupt and four students formed the Perfectibilists, taking the Owl of Minerva as their symbol. The members were to use aliases within the society. Weishaupt became Spartacus. Law students Massenhausen, Bauhof, Merz and Sutor became respectively Ajax, Agathon, Tiberius and Erasmus Roterodamus. Weishaupt later expelled Sutor for indolence. It was not until April 1778 that the order became the Illuminatenorden, or Order of Illuminati, after Weishaupt had seriously contemplated the Bee order.