The Spanish Alumbrados: Origin of the Term ‘Illuminati’
The Iluminados, Perfectibilists and the Bee Order
Helena P. Blavatsky’s Theosophical Glossary (published in 1892), references the term “Illuminati,” and defines it from Latin, as a reference to the “Enlightened,” or the initiated adepts† (Lat. adeptus. “an expert”). An illuminati describes a circle of Adepts and Magi, and cannot refer to a group of financiers, elite bureaucrats, and technocrats as in the distortions of popular culture and conspiracy theory. One may therefore properly designate, e.g., the Twelve Disciples of Christ in the New Testament, an Illuminati. Theosophist, H.P. Blavatsky explains the term to be of Zoroastrian origin, and uses this term to describe a clandestine group of chiefs she refers to as the “real Rosicrucians.”§ The term is the past participle of illuminare, meaning to “light up,” or “illuminate.” The plural term, “Illuminati” (Lat. illuminatus; Ital. Illuminato) was originally applied to a 16 c. Spanish mystic sect, called the Alumbrados (Spanish. “Enlightened”), or Aluminados, led by Sister María de Santo Domingo, or La Beata de Piedrahita (a Spanish mystic c. 1485 – c. 1524). This term later, under Illuminés, spread to France from Seville of Andalusia, Spain in 1623; and joined in a cause with the Guérinets under Pierre Guérin in 1634. Another little known group of Illuminés arose in south France, whom were called “French Prophets.” They were an off-shoot of the Camisards (French Protestant militants) of the Bas-Languedoc and Cévennes regions, from circa 1722-1794. The Alumbrados were first recorded in 1492 Spain, and had three edicts issued against them by the Catholic Inquisition. Josef Wäges explains in his book, The Secret School of Wisdom, an early version of Knigge’s Preparatory Essay for potential recruits, alludes to these condemned mystics, the Illumines of Spain persecuted by the Spanish inquisition, as the possible precursors of the Illuminati. He also states as said though, that there is no evidence that Weishaupt took any deeper interest in the history of the Alumbrados. The Alumbrados were mainly active in Castile and Andalusia.
Besides the similarity in name, we can establish that there is no historical or organizational link to the Illuminati of Ingolstadt, Bavaria (repressed in 1785) founded in 1776. Before the name ‘Illuminati’ was finally adopted in 1778, founder of the ‘Order,’ Adam Weishaupt initially began with his idea of a ‘School of Humanity.’ Discarding this idea, he drafted up a new secret society, and its members were to be called ‘Perfectibilists,’ “believers in the possible, constant improvement of human nature and society.” He contemplated on the name ‘bee order,’ or ‘bee society,’ an allusion to the Eleusinian mysteries, before adopting the name ‘Illuminati’ in 1778. Adam Weishaupt taught by Jesuits, though abhorring the Society of Jesus, closely examined its structure and constitutions; and thus utilized elements from Catholic religious orders, the Greek mysteries and Freemasonry to add to the sophistication in creating rules, titles and degrees, continuing to emphasize the idea of the Perfectibilist (improvement of self-knowledge and constant self-scrutiny of one’s own flaws). Adam Weishaupt emulated and valued the systems and philosophy of the ancient mysteries and arcane disciplines, and was inspired by his readings of the Avesta and demonstrates to be a product of his time, i.e., Enlightenment thinking. Weishaupt held deistic and republican ideals, defining ‘enlightenment’ and ‘illumination’ in the theosophical and secular or “intellectual” and moral sense.
§H.P. BLAVATSKY ON HIDDEN ILLUMINATI SAYS THE SECRET KNOWLEDGE OF THE ANCIENT CHALDEANS SURVIVES
source. an excerpt from H.P. Blavatsky, A Few Questions to Hiraf, The Spiritual Scientist, July 1875, published four months prior to the founding of the Theosophical Society (for more see The Adoration of Wisdom and Education among the Illuminati and Theosophists).
ORIENTAL AND EUROPEAN ROSICRUCIAN ADEPTS AND ORIGINS
“Rosicrucianism . . . was but a sect after all, one of many branches of the same tree. . . . the dogmas and formulae of certain sects differ greatly. Springing one after the other from the great Oriental mother-root, they scattered broadcast all over the world, and each of them desiring to out-rival the other by plunging deeper and deeper into the secrets jealously guarded by Nature, some of them became guilty of the greatest heresies against the primitive Oriental Kabalah. While the first followers of the secret sciences, taught to the Chaldaeans by nations whose very name was never breathed in history, remained stationary in their studies, having arrived at the maximum, the Omega of the knowledge permitted to man, many of the subsequent sects separated from them, and, in their uncontrollable thirst for more knowledge, trespassed beyond the boundaries of truth and fell into fictions. . . . As the primitive Christian religion divided, in course of time, into numerous sects, so the science of Occultism gave birth to a variety of doctrines and various brotherhoods. So the Egyptian Ophites became the Christian Gnostics, shooting forth the Basilideans of the second century, and the original Rosicrucians created subsequently the Paracelsists, or Fire Philosophers, the European Alchemists, and other physical branches of their sect. (See Hargrave Jennings’ Rosicrucians.) To call indifferently every Kabalist a Rosicrucian, is to commit the same error as if we were to call every Christian a Baptist on the ground that the latter are also Christians. The Brotherhood of the Rosy Cross was not founded until the middle of the thirteenth century, and notwithstanding the assertions of the learned Mosheim, it derives its name neither from the Latin word Ros (dew), nor from a cross, the symbol of Lux. The origin of the Brotherhood can be ascertained by any earnest, genuine student of Occultism, who happens to travel in Asia Minor, if he chooses to fall in with some of the Brotherhood, and if he is willing to devote himself to the head-tiring work of deciphering a Rosicrucian manuscript – the hardest thing in the world – for it is carefully preserved in the archives of the very Lodge which was founded by the first Kabalist of that name, but which now goes by another name.
The founder of it, a German Ritter [i.e. a Knight, a member of the German nobility], of the name of Rosencranz, was a man who, after acquiring a very suspicious reputation through the practice of the Black Art in his native place, reformed in consequence of a vision. Giving up his evil practices, he made a solemn vow, and went on foot to Palestine, in order to make his amende honorable at the Holy Sepulchre. Once there, the Christian God, the meek, but well-informed Nazarene – trained as he was in the high school of the Essenians, those virtuous descendants of the botanical as well as astrological and magical Chaldaeans – appeared to Rosencranz, a Christian would say, in a vision, but I would suggest, in the shape of a materialized spirit.
The purport of this visitation, as well as the subject of their conversation, remained for ever a mystery to many of the Brethren; but immediately after that, the ex-sorcerer and Ritter disappeared, and was heard of no more till the mysterious sect of Rosicrucians was added to the family of Kabalists, and their powers aroused popular attention, even among the Eastern populations, indolent and accustomed as they are to live among wonders. The Rosicrucians strove to combine together the most various branches of Occultism, and they soon became renowned for the extreme purity of their lives and their extraordinary powers, as well as for their thorough knowledge of the secret of secrets. As alchemists and conjurers they became proverbial. Later . . . they gave birth to the more modern Theosophists, at whose head was Paracelsus, and to the Alchemists, one of the most celebrated of whom was Thomas Vaughan (seventeenth century), who wrote the most practical things on Occultism under the name of Eugenius Philalethes. I know and can prove that Vaughan was, most positively, “made before he became.” The Rosicrucian Kabalah is but an epitome of the Jewish and the Oriental ones, combined, the latter being the most secret of all. The Oriental Kabalah, the practical, full, and only existing copy, is carefully preserved at the headquarters of this Brotherhood in the East, and, I may safely vouch, will never come out of its possession. Its very existence has been doubted by many of the European Rosicrucians. One who wants “to become” has to hunt for his knowledge through thousands of scattered volumes, and pick up facts and lessons, bit by bit. Unless he takes the nearest way and consents “to be made,” he will never become a practical Kabalist, and with all his learning will remain at the threshold of the “mysterious gate.” The Kabalah may be used and its truths imparted on a smaller scale now than it was in antiquity, and the existence of the mysterious Lodge, on account of its secrecy, doubted, but it does exist and has lost none of the primitive secret powers of the ancient Chaldaeans. The lodges, few in number, are divided into sections and known but to the Adepts; no one would be likely to find them out, unless the Sages themselves found the Neophyte worthy of initiation. Unlike the European Rosicrucians – who, in order “to become and not to be made,” have constantly put into practice the word of St. John, who says “Heaven suffereth violence and the violent take it by force,” and who have struggled alone, violently robbing Nature of her secrets – the Oriental Rosicrucians (for such we will call them, being denied the right to pronounce their true name), in the serene beatitude of their divine knowledge, are ever ready to help the earnest student struggling “to become” with practical knowledge, which dissipates, like a heavenly breeze, the blackest clouds of sceptical doubt.”
For more information see Josef Wäges below who is working with others on a digital collection of Adam Weishaupt’s writings. See also Professor of History at UC Davis, Kathryn Olmsted.
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Posted updated 4/13/2020