The Illuminati has been featured widely in fiction over the years. In movies, video games and books, the secret society has been connected time and again with the idea that something ‘else’ going on behind the scenes, or at least that’s what we’re led to believe – thanks to Hollywood and authors who use its secretive order to create wild tales for the masses. The truth of the matter is that although the Illuminati does exist as a secret fraternal order, it did not come to power of its own accord and certainly the power of the so-called Illuminati factions of today is nowhere near what most people would think.
Having been formed in Germany in the latter half of the 18th century and modelled after the Freemasons as far as organization and structure go, the Illuminati was a very small fraternity and was initially founded due to one man’s frustration with the cost of becoming a member and the close-mindedness at his own new ideas that he found in the Freemasons. Adam Weishaupt so began his own order of brothers, intending to spread the ideas of Enlightenment as he saw them, at first calling the fraternity Bund der Perfekibilisten (Covenant of Perfectibility). The name was changed to simply the Perfectibilists before landing at what we now know as Illuminatenorden, or Order of Illuminati.
Having at its conception only five members, four students besides Weishaupt, the young fraternity needed new recruits in order to begin the work of spreading their message. Weishaupt decided to join the Freemasons in a bid to gain new knowledge and material to expand his own lodge of brotherhood. In creating a relationship with the Freemasons, Weishaupt was granted the authority to officially name his lodge and then establish new lodges under his order. By this time, the Illuminati and their openness towards the mystic were drawing large numbers of men from other fraternal organizations and had expanded their reach throughout southern Germany.
But the Illuminati in their original structure didn’t last through the political upheaval occurring throughout Europe during the Renaissance. Members that had reached positions of power in the governments of the time, boasted publicly of their power and influence and soon the public grew uneasy that a ‘secret society’ had political control of any kind. This unrest caused the decline of the original Illuminati brotherhood, but since then, many other orders have claimed to be descended from that earliest order.
Today, there are a number of fraternities that claim to have ties to the Illuminati, although all are unsubstantiated. Most of the orders claim secret knowledge and ties to the ancient fellowship to garner more recruits, meanwhile, there is no promise that joining the community will lead to any dispensation of esoteric truths. The most well-known of these is probably the Ordo Templi Orientis, or the Temple of the East, but their teachings are based around a wholly separate religion and at best the closest in common it has with the older brotherhood is its series of degrees.