The defunct Illuminati of Bavaria were revived by esoteric author Leopold Engel, who injected in the order references to Austrian visionary Jakob Lorber.
by Massimo Introvigne
The only Illuminati Order that existed in the 20th century as an actually functioning esoteric organization was not a direct descendant of the Bavarian Illuminati. However, many in the esoteric milieu believe that defunct secret societies are just “put to sleep” and may always be “awakened.” An attempt to “awaken” the Bavarian Illuminati was promoted in Germany by Leopold Engel (1858–1931) and Theodor Reuss (1855–1923).
To understand this “awakening,” we should mention a movement that had nothing to do with the Illuminati and was born with the revelations of the Austrian visionary Jakob Lorber (1800–1864).
Born near Maribor (now in Slovenia), Lorber trained as a teacher and for some time prepared to become a Catholic priest, but ended up choosing to devote himself exclusively to music, for which he showed a real talent since childhood. Particularly marked by the famous violinist Niccolò Paganini (1782–1840), whom he had met in Vienna in 1828, he composed several works of chamber music in the romantic style. He spent most of his life in Graz, Austria. He also read works by several classics of the Western mystical-esoteric current, including the German philosopher of nature Jakob Böhme (1575–1624) and the Swedish scientist and mystic Emanuel Swedenborg (1688–1772).
On March 15, 1840, while he was about to accept the post of deputy choir conductor at the Opera of Trieste, early in the morning, while he was still in bed, he heard a voice ordering him: “Get up, take your pen and write!” From that moment on, he dedicated the rest of his life to transcribing revelations that he claimed to receive directly from God through an “Inner Word,” compiling some ten thousand pages. His friends published eight volumes of them during his lifetime, but found a few readers only. Lorber died in 1864, without having concluded his work “The Great Gospel of John.” On his deathbed he received the last sacraments from a Catholic priest: like the Lutheran Swedenborg, the Catholic Lorber had never abandoned the church in which he was born.
Lorber’s writings include several categories of texts. “The Great Gospel of John” is intended to complement the canonical Gospels, and is presented as a detailed account of Jesus’ life narrated by Jesus himself. Other teachings on human history develop the first chapters of Genesis in an esoteric sense, prophesying a universal return to the edenic state of perfection, which at the end of times will involve and “redeem” Lucifer himself. Another category of Lorber’s writings claims to be the restitution of allegedly lost texts of early Christianity, such as a gospel on the infancy of Jesus (presented as “The Gospel of James”), or Paul the Apostle’s Letter to the community of Laodicea. Finally, Lorber’s corpus includes some works on the stars (“The Moon,” “Saturn,” and so on) and on the afterlife (“Beyond the Threshold,” “Bishop Martin,” and others).
During the 19th century, there was a significant interaction between Lorber’s readers and Spiritualist circles. Lorber’s works were progressively published in their entirety, particularly thanks to the support of an enthusiastic reader from Trieste, Gottfried Mayerhofer (1807–1877). The latter in turn received some divine communications from the Inner Word, which he continued to publish alongside Lorber’s volumes. The repressive measures of the Nazi period and World War II marked an important caesura in the activity of the movement: but “Lorber circles” and associations named after him still exist today in several countries.
An important and respected figure in the Lorberian milieu of the 19th century was musician Karl Dietrich Engel (1824–1913). Leopold Engel, his son, was born on April 19, 1858, and spent his youth in Dresden. He began his spiritual career in the Lorberian world; later, he would claim that at the age of eleven he had already read all of Lorber’s works then available. On the other hand, his schooling was rather irregular. He preferred acting, which led him to perform in several locations in Germany and Russia, although he never became a famous actor. He also proposed stage shows of hypnotism.
In 1888, at the age of thirty, Engel moved permanently to Berlin, where he began to lead a double life. He met Theodor Reuss, who introduced him to the world of occult societies. But at the same time he continued to be part of the Lorberian milieu, and between 1891 and 1893 he received from the Inner Word the “missing volume,” the eleventh, of “The Great Gospel of John.” Many Lorberians today accept it as part of Lorber’s corpus, and Engel was also one of the editors of the “canonical” edition (1911–1924) of Lorber’s work, to which his eleventh volume was added.
Although cultivating at the same time, as we shall see, interests of a completely different nature, Leopold Engel would continue at least until 1922 to receive revelations from the Inner Word, from the spirit of Lorber and, after 1913, from that of his deceased father Karl Dietrich. It is thus explained how material referring to Lorber found its way to the Illuminati organizations that recognize Engel as their co-founder. At the same time, Engel’s occult activities will cause the eleventh volume of “The Great Gospel of John” to become controversial within the Lorberian community. Some “Lorberian circles” today reject this volume, published by someone who devoted himself simultaneously to the Illuminati, as coming from the Devil. Other circles still accept it as a legitimate part of Lorber’s corpus.
This controversy dates back to 1928, when Engel published Luzifers Bekenntnisse (“The Confessions of Lucifer”), a work that he allegedly received from Lucifer himself via mediumship. In fact, the work is about the redemption of Lucifer, and is written in a Lorberian style. However, Engel’s “second life” with the Illuminati certainly departs from the Lorberian milieu and mentality in a rather obvious way.
When he met Leopold Engel in 1888, Theodor Reuss was already a familiar figure in the small world of German occultism. He was an associate of Carl Kellner (1850–1905), an Austrian businessman who promoted teachings based on Tantrism he might have learned during his travels in the East. Reuss was also in correspondence with Franz Hartmann (1838–1912), one of the most important German occultists of the time. After having been an artillery officer and medical doctor in Bavaria, Hartmann had emigrated to Denver, Colorado, where he alternated his activities as a forensic doctor with those of a medium. After the foundation of the Theosophical Society in 1875, he became an enthusiastic member and moved to its headquarters in Adyar, India. From Adyar, he kept up some correspondence with several Germans interested in Theosophy, although his own relationship with the leaders in India was deteriorating. So he returned to Germany, where he found in Kellner a generous backer.
The story of Reuss also has a darker side. After having unsuccessfully tried his luck in Germany as a singer and journalist, he moved to London, where he was also initiated into Freemasonry in 1876 and expelled in 1881 as he was in arrears with the payment of dues, and frequented socialist and anarchist circles. In 1885, he become a member of the executive committee of the Socialist League. But his political comrades considered his Masonic and occult interests exotic, and finally expelled him in 1886, believing they had unmasked him as a spy for the German police. It was after these events that Reuss returned to Berlin, where he met Engel, and where he continued for a long time, always suspected of being an agent provocateur, to frequent the anarchist and socialist milieu. In Berlin, he met Engel, and the project of “awakening” the Bavarian Illuminati began.