|Jedidiah Morse, 1761- 1826|
Skeptical about that claim? Well, 2012 was the same year that Ke$ha released the video for her song "Die Young," in which Ke$ha and some sexy Goths gyrate and grope each other in front of a light-up pentagram as pink inverted crosses flash on the screen. Shocking reveal: Ke$ha has the Eye in the Pyramid symbol on the seat of her unitard! Commenters on YouTube said the video proved she was one of the Illuminati. Or maybe she was just trying to spice up a pop song with a controversial video...
Or perhaps you remember 2009, when Lady Gaga's video for "Bad Romance" caused a stir. It's mostly remembered for its vinyl costumes, choreographed dancing, and shoes by Alexander McQueen. But perhaps it was secretly about Lady Gaga dedicating herself to the will of the Illuminati and the goat-god Baphomet? Well, at least that's what some people online thought.
I probably just revealed a lot about my taste in music and also my skepticism about the Illuminati. I can hear some of you ask: "But who are the Illuminati?" Many people believe they are a secret organization determined to rule the world, but their real history is less impressive. The Order of the Illuminati was a secret society (similar to the Masons) founded in Bavaria in 1776. Based on the principles of the Enlightenment, the Illuminati were dedicated to reason, rationality, and the end of political tyranny. They were opposed to monarchy, religion, and superstition. Membership in the group grew for several years until the ruler of Bavaria banned secret societies in 1785.
That was the end of the Illuminati, but their reputation lived on in two books: John Robison's Proof of a Conspiracy Against All the Religions and Governments of Europe (1797) and Augustin Barruel's Memoirs Illustrating the History of Jacobinism (1797). Both books claimed the Illuminati were secretly behind the French Revolution, and that they wanted to overthrow the established social order in Europe. It wasn't true, but the shadowy, elusive (and non-existent) Illuminati gave the elites of Europe something to project their fears on.
We can blame a man named Jedidiah Morse for spreading the concept of the Illuminati to the United States. Morse was a conservative Congregationalist minister in Charlestown, Massachusetts and delivered a sermon warning against the Illuminati in May of 1798. It was only the first of several sermons he wrote about them. Here is a sample of his April 25, 1799 sermon, titled "A Sermon Exhibiting the Present Dangers and Subsequent Duties of the Citizens of the United States":
"It has long been suspected that Secret Societies, under the influence and direction of France, subversive of our religion and government, existed somewhere in this country. This suspicion was cautiously suggested from this desk... with a view to excite a just alarm, and to put you on your guard against their secret artifices. Evidence that this suspicion was well founded, has since been accumulating, and I now have in my possession complete and indubitable proof that such secret societies do exist, and have for many years existed in the United States. I have my brethren, an official, authenticated list of the names, ages, places of nativity, professions, etc. of the officers and members of a Society of Illuminati..."Morse didn't actually reveal any names in that sermon, though. Still, sermons were a form of popular literature at the time and Morse's sermons about the Illuminati were published in multiple editions, gaining a wide readership. He was instrumental in spreading the idea of the Illuminati, and conspiracy theories in general, to the United States. I guess it's another of those historic firsts we always like to brag about in Massachusetts.
Although Morse was wrong about the Illuminati, I do think it's helpful to understand the time he wrote in. The American Revolution had ended but there was a lot of internal conflict in the United States. The Puritan church had split into warring conservative and liberal factions, which eventually gave us the Congregational and Unitarian churches. Ministers were losing the influence they once had over New England society and the mercantile and laboring classes gaining more power. On a national level, the country was split between Federalists who wanted a strong central government and anti-Federalists who wanted the states to have more power.
There was a lot of conflict, Jedidiah Morse was anxious, and he needed someone to blame. In 1692 the Puritans blamed Satan and a conspiracy of witches for their problems; a century later Morse blamed the Illuminati.
Some of these conflicts persist into the present day, as does the idea of a shadowy group of Illuminati who are trying to manipulate world affairs. The Illuminati were not widely discussed for most of the 20th century, but Robert Anton Wilson and Kerry Thornley changed that in 1968. Wilson and Thornley were Discordians, members of a parody religion dedicated to Eris, the Ancient Greek goddess of chaos. They two men decided
“...that the world was becoming too authoritarian, too tight, too closed, too controlled”. They wanted to bring chaos back into society to shake things up, and “the way to do that was to spread disinformation. To disseminate misinformation through all portals – through counter culture, through the mainstream media, through whatever means. And they decided they would do that initially by telling stories about the Illuminati.”
At the time, Wilson worked for the men’s magazine Playboy. He and Thornley started sending in fake letters from readers talking about this secret, elite organisation called the Illuminati. Then they would send in more letters – to contradict the letters they had just written. (BBC.com, "Accidental invention of the Illuminati conspiracy")Wilson also later wrote Illuminatus!, a trilogy of comedic novels about the Illuminati and other secret societies trying to take over the world. Wilson and Thornley wanted people to question their reality and think for themselves. Unfortunately, their prank had the opposite effect. People took their joke seriously and began to believe the Illuminati were real.
And they still do. There are people in America who secretly believe the Illuminati control the media, the government, and the economy. They also think the Illuminati reveal themselves through the secret symbols that they use, many of which are from Freemasonry or ceremonial magic. They'll probably even think I wrote this blog post because I am an Illuminatus.
I'm not, but we live in a society that increasingly believes in conspiracy theories. And it all started with a minister in Charlestown, Massachusetts.