The secret cult may have died long ago, but it continues to appear in popular culture in various forms
Lucifer, the Mohanlal-starrer Malayalam movie, triggered a controversy recently when a group of Christian organisations in Kerala protested against it, saying it promotes Satanic worship. According to some Christian literature, Lucifer is a fallen angel, the one expelled from heaven. In the movie, directed by actor Prithviraj Sukumaran, Stephen Nedumpally, the protagonist played by Mohanlal, often refers to himself as devil. There are symbols used in the movie that’s linked to Satanic worship and secret cults. One of them is the Owl of Minerva, the symbol of the Illuminati, the 18th century secret cult (Minerva is the Goddess of Wisdom in the Roman mythology).
The Illuminati has been featured in popular culture extensively. The Illuminatus! Trilogy by American authors Robert Shea and Robert Anton Wilson is a series of three novels that deals with the subject. It treads through both historical facts and conspiracy theories. A more recent and popular depiction of the Illuminati is in Angels and Demons, the best selling novel by Dan Brown, which introduced the character Robert Langdon, the Harvard symbolist who was played by Tom Hanks on the screens. The book opens with the murder of CERN physicist Leonardo Vetra with an ambigram of the word illuminati branded on his chest. Professor Langdon’s investigation leads the reader to the dark history of Illuminati and its imagined continuing presence both within and outside the Catholic Church. So who actually are the Illuminati?
Where it all started
The group was founded in Bavaria in 1776 by Adam Weishaupt, an anti-clerical professor. He established it as a secret society modelled on the Freemasons with a hierarchy and mysterious rituals. The society’s main goals were to oppose superstition, promote enlightenment values and curtail the influence of the Church in society and check the abuses of state power. The mission statement of Weishaupt’s Illuminati was, “by the mutual assistance of its members, to attain the highest possible degree of morality and virtue, and to lay the foundation for the reformation of the world by the association of good men to oppose the progress of moral evil.”
Bavarian ruler Charles Theodore, abetted by the Catholic Church, outlawed the Illuminati, like other secret societies, and crushed them in the late 18th century. But the Illuminati not just survived as an idea, but also developed as a myth. Along with it, there are several conspiracy theories such as the Illuminati was behind the assassination of U.S. President John F Kennedy. Some believe the French Revolution’s Jacobins were driven by the ideals of the Illuminati. After the French Revolution began in 1789, the Illuminati were accused of desiring a similar revolt against the Bavarian regime. Some even claimed that Weishaupt had met the French revolutionary leader Robespierre.
What made them different was the way they operated. They used symbols, such as the owl, used code names and they had their own hierarchy such as Novice, Minerval, and Illuminated Minerva. A Novice preparing to reach the title of Minerval, for example, had to submit a report on the books he owned, the identity of his enemies, and the weak points of his character. Upon initiation as a Minerval, he had to promise to sacrifice all personal interests to those of the society. The popular perception is that several rich families in the West were connected to the Illuminati. Mayer Amschel Rothschild, a German Jewish banker and the founder of the Rothschild banking dynasty who is also called the founding father of international finance, was one of the original members of the Order. Their perceived threat and influence was so great that George Washington once wrote a letter on the dangers posed by the cult.
The new world order
There are no historical records that suggest the Illuminati is now present. But according to some conspiracy theories, there’s a New World Order, a secret government of global elites which is controlling the global affairs through their rule and the illuminati are a part of it. A former Canadian defence minister had said recently that the illuminati is real. But there are no facts available to suggest that such a world order is existing. But the group continues to appear in popular culture, the latest being the Mohanlal movie.