“…In the end we are all just searching for truth, that which is greater than ourselves.” ― Dan Brown, Angels & Demons

If you’re a Dan Gerhard Brown fan, you’ll be familiar with the ancient secret brotherhood, “Illuminati”. Brown first introduced us to a Harvard symbologist, Robert Langdon in his 2000 novel,  Angels & Demons. An ambigram, “Illuminati” sets off the trigger in the chase for the truth.

Langdon, along with Vittoria Vetra, leads us on a 400 centuries old trail of ancient symbols in the hope of preventing the Illuminati’s lethal plot against the Vatican City, which is the headquarters of the Roman Catholic Church. He attempts to retrace the steps of the “Path of Illumination” in his quest to find a canister containing “antimatter”. The mystic world of sealed crypts, eerie catacombs, forsaken cathedrals, pagan signs, and the most secretive vault on Earth introduces us to an ancient anti-religious organization, the Illuminati. In the narrative, this organization is said to have been founded by Galileo Galilei, and others, as an enlightened anti-church movement.

Illuminati is a name that was given to several groups, both real and fictitious. Historically, this name refers to the Bavarian Illuminati, a secret society founded on May 1, 1776. Johann Adam Weishaupt was a German philosopher and professor who is considered as the ‘Founder of the Order of the Illuminati’. This elite group is believed to have been operational for only a decade (1776 to 1785) but enough hype and mystery was created around them, to last for centuries.

“…hoped to prove that science and religion are two totally compatible fields—two different approaches to finding the same truth.” ― Dan Brown, Angels & Demons

The Founder of Illuminati, Weishaupt strongly believed in enlightenment ideals. The word, Illuminati, is itself derived from the Latin ‘Illuminatur’, which means “enlightened.”

The “long 18th century” (1685-1815) was part of a movement called as the “Age of Reason” (or simply the “Enlightenment”). This era propagated radical thinking, which greatly influenced thinkers throughout Europe and the US who began to question traditional authority and embraced the notion that humanity could be improved through rational change. This thought process became the bedrock for Illuminati.

During this Early Modern period (also called the “long 18th century”), the Church was perceived as a symbol of orthodox dominion by many people. It only seems natural that some sects like the Illuminati (or the Perfectibilists, as they preferred to be called) wanted to (secretly) revolt against this form of supremacy as it seemed to be the very antithesis to their own beliefs.

“Faith does not protect you. Medicine and airbags… Those are the things that protect you. God does not protect you. Intelligence protects you. Enlightenment. Put your faith in something with tangible results.”Dan Brown, Angels & Demons

To be inducted into the Illuminati, aspirants were asked to follow the “Path of Illumination,” which required them to follow a series of subtle clues (or symbols) left in and around various churches, which when solved, would lead them to the meeting place. There were a total of 13 degrees of initiation, divided into 3 classes. The first culminated in the degree of Illuminatus Minor, the second Illuminatus Dirigens, and the third, that of King. By the end of 1784, the Illuminati was said to have 2,000 to 3,000 members.

Public figures like Galileo Galilei, Nicolaus Copernicus, Johann Wolfgang von Goethe,  Baron Adolph von Knigge, Mayer Amschel Rothschild and Gian Lorenzo Bernini are considered to be some of the known Illuminati members of yore.

But a mere appearance of its symbols 400 years after the society is believed to have disbanded cannot be proof that they have resurged in this century.

“It means that when organized philosophies like the Illuminati go out of existence, their symbols remain… available for adoption by other groups. It’s called transference. It’s very common in symbology. The Nazis took the swastika from the Hindus, the Christians adopted the cruciform from the Egyptians, the—” Dan Brown, Angels & Demons

A recent Malayalam movie “Lucifer, directed by Prithviraj Sukumaran and written by Murali Gopy, depicts actor Mohanlal (who plays Stephen Nedumpally) as an anti-establishment hero. Stephen, all in white, begins to wear all-black by the time the movie comes to an end, symbolising the shift from good to evil. So, what does the “Lucifer” movie have to do with “Illuminati”? Both are dissenters and explore the dichotomy of the right vs. wrong, the good vs. evil, … In the end, it is a toss between being evil and being less evil, perhaps the ‘necessary evil’ is the new good?

Ralph Waldo Emerson, the famous poet, wrote in his couplet, “For Lucifer, that old athlete, Tho’ flung from Heaven falls on his feet.”

Just as Lucifer (Satan), the fallen angel of Christian mythology, rebelled against the Creator; Stephen fights against the political bigwigs in the movie. And just as Lucifer fell down but soon gained in strength to be revered as a liberator by a few, so does Stephen fall from grace but rises from the ashes and becomes people’s protector. In a twist, towards the end of the movie, international media reports that Khureshi Ab’ram (Stephen Nedumpally in a new avatar, now relocated to a remote part of Russia) is the head of an Illuminati society.

But unlike the more common perception that Illuminati were the arch-enemy of the Catholic Church, this short-lived society did not take “vows of revenge” against the Church. They were politically-minded freethinkers, who even explored inducting women into their secret sect.

There is a thin line between faith and science. Immaculate conceptions, resurrection, parting seas,… were the earlier miracles. Science has brought in new marvels.

Arthur C. Clarke, science fiction author, observed, “Any sufficiently advanced technology is indistinguishable from magic.”

“How long has it been since someone walked on water? Modern miracles belong to science… Computers, vaccines, space stations… Even the divine miracle of creation. Matter from nothing… in a lab. Who needs God? No! Science is God!”Dan Brown, Angels & Demons

The Illuminati’s Pyramid with an Eye (the all-seeing eye), Light, and Eternal circle symbols add to the mystic aura. An owl is considered to be their actual symbol. Like so many other hoaxes, the Eye of Providence, (or the all-seeing eye of God), seen on the US $1 bill, has been taken by some to be evidence of a conspiracy involving the Founders of the United States and the Illuminati.

This secret order is rumoured to have also seeped into the current modern culture. Eminent people globally (thinkers, philosophers, actors, musicians, singers, politicians, scientists, academicians, novelists, playwrights, composers, artists, noblemen, doctors, lawyers, jurists, intellectuals, writers…the list is indeed long) are considered to be a part of this elite group. However, there is little evidence to prove about Illuminati’s continued saga. The ancient disbanded group is believed to have been absorbed into the Freemasonry (from who they had drawn a lot of their ancient practices) centuries ago.

What perhaps one needs is an unwavering faith in a conspiracy theory and a deep-seated need to fight against the establishment to see the hidden and heavily obscured signs of the Illuminati and their current contribution to world affairs.


A diligent citizen, nature enthusiast, occasional blogger, avid reader, and sporadic photographer; Kolla Krishna Madhavi likes to express her personal views with a dash of mirchi ka tadka. With 20+ years of corporate WEX, including the more recent stints at IIIT-H and Google, Madhavi opted to write full-time. She can be reached at poweryourcontent@gmail.com

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