In 1901, the second real Order of the Illuminati was founded by Reuss and Engel. But its claims of historical continuity with the Bavarian Illuminati quickly collapsed.
by Massimo Introvigne
In the previous article of this series we met Leopold Engel, an esoteric author inspired by the Austrian visionary Jakob Lorber, and Theodor Reuss, a socialist occultist with a dubious fame as a spy for the German police. The meeting of these two very different characters led to the foundation of the second Order of the Illuminati, which claimed to be an “awakening” of the original Bavarian Illuminati but had no genealogical connection with them.
Largely because of the events related to his difficult collaboration with the famous English occultist Aleister Crowley (1875–1947), Reuss in later life tried to backdate the foundation of the various esoteric orders in which he was involved. Part of these claims is that in 1880 he caused the Illuminati of Bavaria to come back to life by founding (or “awakening”) a “Ludwig Lodge.” The date, however, was false.
The new Illuminati were a cooperative venture between Engel and Reuss, and the two only met in 1888. Between 1891 and 1893, Engel was too busy in transcribing his Lorberian revelations collected, as mentioned in the previous article, in the eleventh volume of “The Great Gospel of John,” and it is unlikely that he had time to devote to the Illuminati. Even the often-mentioned date of 1893 for the founding of Engel’s and Reuss’ Illuminati is doubtful.
Reuss and Engel discussed the project around 1895 with Reuss’ friend Carl Kellner, who did not seem very interested in the project, nor in Engel himself. Kellner’s sensibility was directed toward Eastern religions, and Lorber’s mystical Christianity could not but prove indigestible to him.
The only sure traces of esoteric activities involving Engel in the 1890s are the publication of a journal of Spiritualism and occultism of which he served as editor, Das Wort, beginning in 1894 (which would later have as a subtitle “Organ of the Order of the Illuminati”), and the founding on May 25, 1896, of a Union of German Occultists, with about ten members between Berlin and Dresden. On August 30, 1896, Reuss, Engel, and Hartmann were listed among the founders of the German branch of the Theosophical Society.
It is likely that Engel and Reuss began using “Order of the Illuminati” to refer to some of their activities in 1896, when an anonymous “History of the Order of the Illuminati” (Geschichte des Illuminaten-Ordens) was printed in Bitterfeld, as a 28-page pamphlet not to be confused with the large volume of the same title that Engel would sign in 1906. Who the author of the pamphlet is remains controversial, but several clues point to Reuss.
In this brochure, we find one of the most impressive mythical histories of the Illuminati. The order is said to have originated in India and Egypt in ancient times. In Greece, Ulysses, with Circe as “High Priestess,” and even Aristotle were part of it. Later, Christian Rosenkreutz, the mythical central figure of the Rosicrucian legend, joined the Illuminati, and they were allegedly found among a variety of groups that had in common only names similar to “Illuminati.”
They included the 16th-century Spanish alumbrados part of a heterodox Catholic mysticism, and the illuminés of Jansenism. This led to the Illuminati of Bavaria, whose legacy would have been transmitted in the New Continent to the American president Thomas Jefferson (1743–1826), the main author of the Declaration of Independence of the United States, and to secret societies later established within American universities, and in Europe to certain German families, which would therefore be able to “awaken” the order if they wanted to. The pamphlet was also distinctly anti-Catholic and mentioned that fighting Catholicism was a constant concern of modern Illuminati.
Thus, a fourfold claim was born, that will be passed on to later mythmakers. First, that the Illuminati have been fighting since ancient times for freedom of conscience and against obscurantism, epitomized by the Catholic Church. Second, that the Illuminati are far older than the Illuminati of Bavaria. Third, that they have something to do with the Declaration of Independence and American universities. Fourth, that they have never ceased to exist until the present day. The last statement will soon be put to good use by Reuss.
Since 1899, the Illuminati were mentioned in Das Wort as an existing organization, although Reuss and his circle also promoted a variety of other occult orders. On March 12, 1901, seven people, including Engel, were invited by Reuss to meet and put in writing their decision to reopen the Ludwig Lodge of the Order of the Illuminati, which had been founded in Munich in 1880, with Reuss as Worshipful Master. As mentioned, the date of 1880 was fictitious.
Originally, Reuss claimed that he had authority to confer Masonic degrees from the Illuminati of Bavaria. When this caused a strong reaction by German Masonic authorities, always concerned that clandestine or bogus Masonic lodges could be established, Reuss admitted on July 3, 1901, that he could not prove he had Masonic credentials coming from the Illuminati, but he had some coming from “fringe” Masonic groups interested in occultism.
This statement did not please Engel, who later stated in his 1906 book that he “trusted the word of a person, whose name I prefer to keep quiet for magnanimity [Reuss]. This man claimed to possess documents that came from the Order [of the Illuminati of Bavaria]; thus he became the leader of a number of good people who were only waiting for a leader to give new life to the Order in sleep. But I quickly discovered that I was the victim of an impostor: the documents did not exist, except those that anyone can find at an antiquarian bookseller’s.”
Engel, again according to his reconstruction of the affair published in 1906, understood that “in order to avoid passing for a swindler, it was necessary to create what had been claimed to exist, because those who had trusted me would hardly be convinced that I myself had been the victim of my own credulity and lack of discernment, all the more so since I had made them pay membership fees.” He then set to work to “create” an Order of the Illuminati, with the full knowledge that it would have no “genealogical” connection to the Illuminati of Bavaria.
It was not the first time that Reuss and Engel quarreled, nor was it the first time they reconciled when, in 1902, they decide to collaborate on the launch of a new magazine, Oriflamme.
Engel remained the person mostly responsible for the Illuminati. Despite the subsequent construction of mythologies, the order was never very important. It was one of many German para-Masonic groups in an occult milieu full of far more fierce competitors. It had a ritual inspired by that of the Illuminati of Bavaria, from which its six degrees were taken with the addition of a seventh for the top leaders.
Some source mentioned ten degrees, but this was because before embarking on the path of the Illuminati, initiation was required into the first three degrees of Freemasonry, as it was for the Illuminati of Bavaria in Knigge’s version. To an “inner circle,” formally organized in 1912, the new Illuminati proposed some notion of theurgy, that is, of evocation of spirits, which largely came from a novel Engel had published in 1911, Mallona: Der Untergang des Asteroiden-Planeten. Because of Engel’s connection with Lorber, the novel has been kept in print in Lorberian circles, and gives its author a minor role in the history of German science fiction.