Does anyone know anything about the sources of the Illuminati mythology?

I've heard that they're a group of people who are secret masterminds and have done some dreadful things, but is it based on real history or prior myths?

  • Much of the modern mythos may derive from the fiction of Robert Anton Wilson. I do recall he makes a connection with the Freemasons, who are an actual, secretive society.
    – DukeZhou
    Commented Dec 29, 2016 at 19:24
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    @DukeZhou The Illuminati were (are?) also an actual 18th century society, a Bavarian offshoot of Freemasonry.
    – yannis
    Commented Dec 29, 2016 at 19:40
  • @Yannis Bavarian? There are even French Illuminati. "Illuminati" is an Italian word meaning "Enlightened ones." It refers more to the higher degrees of Freemasonry than it does to Freemasons from a certain region. See Grand Orient Freemasonry Unmasked.
    – Geremia
    Commented Jan 1, 2017 at 21:14
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    I was referring to the group that first used the term in their name @Geremia. Yes, others have also used the term, variously. Also, it comes from Latin, not Italian.
    – yannis
    Commented Jan 2, 2017 at 3:34
  • @Yannis When you say Bavarian, are you referring to Adam Weishaupt?
    – Geremia
    Commented Jan 2, 2017 at 15:33

2 Answers 2


The following work on Freemasonry gives a broad overview of its historical development: from its origins in the era of Solomon's Temple up to the 19th century, with an emphasis on Freemasonry's plans of the past few centuries for the destruction of the Catholic Church:

Regarding Freemasonry's symbolism, see:

  • 7
    The question asks specifically about Illuminati, rather than Freemasonry. It might be helpful if you could add a brief explanation to clarify why resources on Freemasonry would answer a question about Illuminati?
    – femtoRgon
    Commented Jan 2, 2017 at 17:06

15th century

The Illuminati is based upon fact. The word dates back to the fifteenth century and simply means "enlightened". The designation was applied to various groups and people who claimed to be enlightened.

Britannica encyclopedia

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 (“revealed” or “enlightened”).

Italy, Spain, France

The origins of the earliest illuminati probably lie in Italy during the 1400s, before spreading to France via Spain.


The term was used in Spain about the end of the fifteenth century, but probably originated from an Italian Gnostic source. All kinds of people, many of them charlatans, claimed to belong to the Illuminati. In Spain those who assumed the label had to face the rigor of the Inquisition, and many of them moved to France as refugees in the early seventeenth century.


However, this group were "not quite" known as the illuminati, but the aluminados.

Britannica encycopedia

Spanish historian Marcelino Menéndez y Pelayo first finds the name about 1492 (in the form aluminados, 1498)

The Bavarian Illuminati

On May Day 1776 another group of the same name was formed by Adam Weishaupt. However this group was banned by an edict of the Bavarian government in 1785, and no evidence that it continued in secret can be found, though there are conspiracy theorists that adhere to the thesis that the illuminati survived by going underground, and possibly even that the origins of the illuminati predate the fifteenth century word itself.

Britannica encycopedia

The movement suffered from internal dissension and was ultimately banned by an edict of the Bavarian government in 1785. Some members were imprisoned, while others were driven from their homes. Weishaupt was stripped of his chair at Ingolstadt and banished from Bavaria. After 1785 the historical record contains no further activities of Weishaupt’s illuminati, but the order figured prominently in conspiracy theories for centuries after its disbanding. It was credited with activities ranging from the instigation of the French Revolution to the assassination of U.S. Pres. John F. Kennedy, and the notion of an all-knowing cabal of ancient masters remained a powerful image in the popular consciousness into the 21st century.

One conspiracy theory posits that the Illuminati instigated the French revolution. If there is any truth in this, it is quite simply a case of illuminist ideas being picked up on by occultists in France. This is not to say that the occultists are a part of the same organisation.


However, illuminist ideas spread to occultists in France and helped in building support for the French Revolution.

Other Illuminati

The title Illuminati was later given to French Martinists


The title Illuminati was later given to the French Martinists, followers of the French mystic Louis Claude de St. Martin (1743-1803), known as "le philosophe inconno."

Final answer

The source for the original Illuminati and its branches in different languages is in the dictionary dating back to the fifteenth century. Out of all the different groups that have used the title, the group that conspiracy theorists mostly use to draw upon is Adam Weishaupt's Bavarian Illuminati. Whilst there have been groups using the title dating back to the 1400s, and groups that formed after the disbandment of the Bavarian Illuminati, the notion that the Bavarian Illuminati predates the fifteenth century word itself, or has survived in secret, is mostly thought to be a conspiracy theory with no supporting evidence.

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