Behold, the '70s sci-fi book series that popularized the Illuminati conspiracy

Modern notions about the Illuminati are the result of a satirical cult-classic book.

Illuminatus trilogy book cover
Robert Shea & Robert Anton Wilson
  • The historical Illuminati was a failed 18th century Bavarian secret society.
  • Current Illuminati conspiracies stem from a satirical '70s counterculture book.
  • Authors Robert Shea and Robert Anton Wilson's intent was to sow chaotic disinformation just for the satire.

The Illuminati has become a stand-in myth for every conspiratorial crackpots' idea of some omnipresent cabal pulling the strings on world affairs. Depending on who you ask, sometimes they're responsible for some two-bit celebrity's rise to fame, orchestrators of catastrophic events, or planting some head of state to power.

Whatever blame or malice is placed on the Illuminati, most rationally-minded people quickly see through this and understand it's complete nonsense.

On the subject of conspiracy in general, famed comic book writer Alan Moore, summed it up quite nicely when he said:

"The main thing that I learned about conspiracy theory is that conspiracy theorists actually believe in a conspiracy because that is more comforting. The truth of the world is that it is chaotic. The truth is, that it is not the Jewish banking conspiracy or the grey aliens or the 12 foot reptilians from another dimension that are in control."

You've got to hand it to conspiracy theorists, if there is one thing they've given us — it's that their kooky ideas make for some great fiction. This was where counterculture legend Robert Anton Wilson, inspired by the text of Principia Discordia, would begin drafting a story that would give way to the the Illuminatus! trilogy.

In writing the books, he created the conspiracy of the Illuminati that we have with us today.

The truth is more frightening, nobody is in control. The world is rudderless.

Origins of the real Illuminati

Sometimes real conspiracies exist. Warring factions vye for power and cut covert deals. Many times, organizations will arise in secret to overthrow supposed unjust governments or other ruling powers. Take conspiracy at face value and you see that every great country in this world was once just a little meandering conspiracy in a few men's minds. The original illuminati was one such failed enterprise.

In late 18th century Bavaria, scholar and university professor Adam Weishaupt formed a secret group that sought to follow in line with Enlightenment principles in lieu of the hard-line Jesuit order at the time. Ironically, the original Illuminati wanted to create a society led by science and reason as opposed to an unexamined religious mentality.

The group started in 1776, where they recruited a number of intelligent thinkers into the group. According to modern historian Reinhard Markner:

"The Illuminati managed to recruit quite a large number of influential men — princes and their councillors, high-ranking bureaucrats, university professors and other educators, writers and intellectuals."

The original order ceased to exist in 1788 and never really caught on. Markner explains that the group was pretty unremarkable for its time as there was numerous secret organizations popping up during that era.

It wasn't until some two hundred years later that Robert Anton WIlson would resurrect this run-of-the-mill society and turn it into the conspiracy we know today.

The writer once remarked,

"Everybody who has ever worked for a corporation knows that corporations conspire all the time. Politicians conspire all the time, pot-dealers conspire not to get caught by the narcs, the world is full of conspiracies. Conspiracy is natural primate behavior."

Invention of the modern Illuminati conspiracy

Illuminatus book titles

Illuminatus trilogy. Image source: Robert Shea and Robert Anton WIlson

Wilson and Shea crafted the text with the intent to bring some good old-fashioned disinformation and chaos back into the culture — just for the fun of it. They decided this would be best done by telling stories about the Illuminati.

During this time, Wilson worked as a writer and editor for Playboy. Allegedly, Wilson, along with a couple of other writers, began writing fake letters to the magazine to start talking about the elite super-secretive organization called the Illuminati. Later, they'd send more letters in contradicting what they'd just written and stirring even more intrigue.

Eventually, this culminated in the Illuminatus! trilogy, for those in the know it was a fantastic cult classic of top tier satire. Weaving nonsense from the Kennedy assassination to the deeper and more insidious nature of the Illuminati. For others, who believe this tripe… not so much. Indeed, according to Wilson:

You simply cannot invent any conspiracy theory so ridiculous and obviously satirical that some people somewhere don't already believe it.
Now no amount of sermonizing or factual evidence will help the conspiratorial fanatic. Conspiracy leads to anti-scientific thinking and a populace without any self-agency. All we can do is crack open a book (why not the Illuminatus! trilogy?) and have ourselves a good laugh on the absurd origins of the Illuminati conspiracy.

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