Only five people were present at the first meeting of the order, but it grew rapidly and only a few years later it had chapterhouses all over Germany, Austria, France, Italy, Hungary and Switzerland. Weishaupt and his co-conspirators, notably Baron Knigge and a lawyer named Zwack, had soon established a network of agents around Europe that infiltrated courts and other places of power and reported back useful gossip and information to Weishaupt.
The Illuminatis true goals were shrouded in mystery. Because of Weishaupt's strong anti-clerical and anti-royalistic views, some have assumed that the Illuminati were some sort of proto-communistic organization dedicated to bringing about a proletarian revolution. Others have seen them as anarchists, or descendants of the Cathars, or the Knights Templar and the Assassins of Hassan En Sabbah, the "Old Man on the Mountain", with whom the Knights Templar were rumored to be in contact with.
Yet others have seen them as Satanic agents dedicated to nothing less than the domination of the planet and the bringing about of the Kingdom of Satan on Earth. It is true that Weishaupt's plans certainly was hostile to the Church of Rome and the monarchies of Europe, and that he seemed to harbor what would today be called "socialistic" leanings, but Weishaupt wasn't an atheist or agnostic. There is little doubt that Weishaupt was a deeply religious man in his own way. Weishaupt said in a speech held shortly before the French revolution:
This statement has often been taken as to mean that Weishaupt was in fact a sort of communist, and in a sense perhaps he was. One could think the above quote a statement by Trotsky. However, as the Illuminati's true goals has always been disputed it is difficult to find out what exactly was the political, if such a dirty word may be used, or ideological raison d´etre of the order. Of course, the easiest way to be able to make an educated guess is to study the actions of the order, as we will here. In the year 1784 the Illuminati attempted a coup against the Hapsburgs, but the plot was revealed by police-spies that had infiltrated the order on orders from the king. This led to the total ban of all secret societies in Bavaria, and membership was punishable by death. This edict was signed in June 1784. Weishaupt was forced to flee to a neighboring province in February 1785 and in March another edict was passed, this one specifically outlawing the Illuminati.
The Illuminati was forced to go underground in Bavaria and had to move its revolutionary efforts elsewhere. Disaster again struck for the order when in July 1785 lightning struck an Illuminati courier, a man named Lanz, and killed him and the horse he was riding. It is said that both Lanz and the horse was charred to coal, but the saddlebags were almost intact. In them was found extensive documents that outlined the Illuminati's plans for world domination and revolution, and also named several high ranking Illuminati members, among them Zwack and Weishaupt. Zwack was arrested and his home raided in October 1786. Weishaupt's activities after 1790 are disputed, several different versions of his life after 1790 exists. In Robert Anton Wilson and Robert Shea's famous trilogy Illuminatus!, for instance, it is suggested that Weishaupt traveled to America and assumed the role of George Washington.
Others claim that Weishaupt died in obscurity in 1830. I have chosen to continue to try and trace the alleged influence of the Illuminati in the following years as it is possible, however unlikely it may seem to those who take a conventional view of history, that Weishaupt was directing things from behind the scenes. The French revolution of 1789 has been widely attributed to the machinations of the Illuminati, and it's role has been described as everything from "negligible" to "sole cause". Both statements are an exaggeration, but it cannot be denied that several persons who were intensively involved in the revolution was active members, among others the Comte de Mirabeau, famous author, orator, Freemason and arch-enemy of the Marquis de Sade.
Mirabeau is reported to have said in a speech at the international Freemason convention in Wilhelmsbad in 1782 that he was a member of an organization that was influenced by the Knights Templar, and that their goal was to destroy the Church and the monarchy so that the "Religion of Love" could be established in France. Of course, the Illuminati was not the only secret revolutionary conspiracy around. There were plenty of others in these turbulent years just before the revolution. For instance, the Marquis de Luchet, who were opposed to the Illuminati but supportive of the revolution, said in a speech:
These inner conflicts among those who supported the revolution was also seen in other secret societies in France during this period. By the year 1788 almost every lodge of Freemasons in Europe, as well as all courts, been infiltrated by the agents of the Illuminati. Despite this many of the established lodges in France remained loyal to the king, and only a few took part in the revolution. It is interesting to note that the very first time anyone saw revolutionaries wearing the Phrygian cap, supposed symbol of the Illuminati and the Phrygian mysteries, was at the forced interruption of a theatrical performance of Le Suborneur by the Marquis de Sade on Monday the 5th of March 1792.
Oddly enough, no-one (except for a brief passage in Wilgus´ Illuminoids) has to my knowledge suggested that the infamous Marquis was a member of the Illuminati. Sometimes it seems that every famous person throughout history has been pointed out as a member. It is like Ambrose Bierce wrote about the Freemasons in his The Devil's Dictionary:
The history of the
Illuminati, or it's supposed history as traced by various people, is
much like Bierce's´ satirical comment.
This statement suggests that the Illuminati had ties to both the Cathars and the Knights Templar. Under the later period of the revolution the influence of the Illuminati becomes marked. The red Phrygian caps are used as symbol of the revolutionaries, the symbol of the Illuminati, the eye in the triangle, is present on many revolutionary documents printed in these days. Two years after Ludwig XVI failed escape attempt, on the 21st of January 1793, he was executed, and it is said that when the kings head fell an old man cried from the crowd; "De Molay, thou art avenged!" De Molay was the leader of the Knights Templar who was burned at the stake for witchcraft in March 1314 by the machinations of Philip the Fair and Pope Clement V.
It should perhaps be mentioned that before his execution De Molay was held prisoner in the Bastille, the first "victim" of the Revolution. After the French revolution the Illuminati faced new difficulties, partly because of the confused political and social situation in France, and partly because the rest of the royal houses of Europe panicked when they realized what had happened in France and banned all secret societies. Persecutions of Freemasons and Rosicrucian's began, and in 1792 an ex-grandmaster of a Knights Templar inspired organization was lynched in Versailles by an angry mob. Suspicion of all secret societies was widespread, and increased when Robinson's Proofs of a Conspiracy was released in 1798. This volume contained an outline of the orders supposed survival after it's suppression as the German Union, and how it had engineered the Revolution.
The book caused widespread fear in Europe and New England, and was one of the main reasons for the ban against secret societies in most of Europe. After the rise of Napoleon Bonaparte the days of the Illuminati in France were numbered. Most of the existing Lodges of Freemasons and other secret societies were infiltrated by the agents of Napoleon, who made sure to remove all possible subversive organizations in order to consolidate his power. Most conventional historians will argue that the Illuminati, if it survived at all after the events of 1785-86, now was utterly crushed. Historians of the more unconventional kind have argued that the Illuminati continues to thrive and influence the world even today.