In 1902, before becoming “international,” the “second” Illuminati met a much more famous esoteric organization, the Hermetic Order of the Golden Dawn.
by Massimo Introvigne
As mentioned in the previous article, unlike the original Illuminati of Bavaria, the “second” Illuminati of Theodor Reuss and Leopold Engel were a minor organization, one among many other German and international para-Masonic societies. Nor did they have any ambition or influence on politics.
Most of Reuss’ activities after 1902 did not deal with the Illuminati but with the Ordo Templi Orientis, and his conflicts and reconciliations with Aleister Crowley. Reuss is also an important figure in the history of Western sex magic, but most of its teachings in the field were not imparted through the Illuminati. It was Engel who, after the break with Reuss, tried to ensure a legal existence to the Order of the Illuminati, registering it as an association in accordance with German law in 1903 in Dresden, and publishing in 1906 his History of the Order of the Illuminati, where he told his readers that, if there were false claims in the Illuminati, they were Reuss’ fault.
In 1902, however, it seemed for a short moment that the Illuminati may acquire an international importance by aligning themselves with a larger and more prestigious British organization, the Hermetic Order of the Golden Dawn. The Golden Dawn had been founded in 1888 in London by Samuel Liddell “MacGregor” Mathers (1854–1918), William Wynn Westcott (1848–1925) and William Robert Woodman (1828–1891), and had among its most famous members the poet William Butler Yeats (1865–1939). In the 1890s and 1900s, the Golden Dawn was plagued by a series of problems, which traced back to an original flaw.
In 1887 Westcott, a medical doctor, had announced to a group of friends, all fellow Freemasons and members of one of the competing Rosicrucian organization, the Societas Rosicruciana in Anglia founded between 1865 and 1866 by Robert Wentworth Little (1840–1878), that he had come into possession of a coded manuscript that gave, among other things, indications how to track down in Germany a certain Anna Sprengel, in turn a link with the Unknown Superiors, mysterious characters who would represent the reality of a secret organization behind the myth of the Rosicrucians.
Westcott claimed to have found Sprengel’s address, to have written to her, and to have obtained the authorization of the Unknown Superiors to found an order in England placed under their authority, the Golden Dawn.
In spite of the great influence it exerted on art and literature, the Golden Dawn rested on a mystification: there was no Anna Sprengel, and Westcott had simply invented the whole story. It was Aleister Crowley, who had been initiated into the Golden Dawn in 1898 and had immediately engaged in trying to overthrow its leaders, who in 1900 revealed the deception. At this stage, it seemed to Westcott that salvation could come from Germany. Did not an Order of the Illuminati exist there, which claimed to be in possession of ancient and mysterious secrets? And could not this order certify, even if post factum, that Westcott had been authorized by the Unknown Superiors to establish the Golden Dawn?
Westcott went on a pilgrimage to Germany in 1902, and met Engel and Reuss. To ingratiate himself with them, he appointed the two respectively “Magus Delegatus Primus” and “Magus” of a German Societas Rosicruciana, which would survive until 1907 and was authorized to operate by the Societas Rosicruciana in Anglia.
Westcott also initiated his new German friends into a couple of “fringe” Masonic orders, the Rite of Swedenborg (which did not actually derive from the Swedish mystic) and one of the many versions then in circulation of the “Egyptian” rites known as Memphis and Misraïm. In return, Engel initiated Westcott into the Order of the Illuminati and appointed him “Regent” of an English branch, which at the time of course did not exist.
Westcott also promised to support the struggling Illuminati financially. Engel and Reuss quarreled over how to spend the British money even before it materialized, and the quarrel led to a definitive separation. Money from Britain never arrived, though, as Westcott, having returned to London, quickly realized that the two Germans enjoyed a reputation even worse than his own, and were linked to stories of “clandestine” Masonic activities that might cause him to be expelled by the Grand Lodge of London of Freemasonry. On October 16, 1902, Westcott thus decided to terminate the short existence of the British Illuminati.
Even without Westcott’s money, the Illuminati managed to survive in Germany, but their success was modest. In addition to a lodge in Dresden, which will close its doors in 1924 for lack of members, the lodge Adam Weishaupt zum Licht am Rhein was founded in 1910 in Cologne, followed by the lodge Adam Weishaupt zur Pyramide, established in 1912 in Berlin.
It was another activity that allowed Engel to make ends meet. The leader of the Illuminati began writing short stories for the dime novels, popular weekly low-priced issues that, preceding modern comic books, which by the beginning of the 20th century were selling by the tens of thousands in the United States and Europe, but had their true European center in Germany, where large publishers printed in several languages. Very often their stories were anonymous or signed with fictitious names.
Engel rarely signed with his own name, using more often “L. Eckardt,” for popular series such as the Roman-Perlen, the Moderne Zehnpfennig-Bibliothek, and the Kleinen Kriminal-Bucher. During World War I, he also wrote heroic stories of German soldiers and airmen. Based among other things on papers of Reuss, who followed the literary career of his former friend, Helmut Möller and Ellic Howe in their 1986 biography of Reuss Merlin Peregrinus: Vom Untergrund des Abendlandes confidently attributed forty-six dime novel titles to Engel, forty of them between 1911 and 1920. Likely, he wrote many more.
Meanwhile, Engel continued to be considered a member of the Lorberian community. In 1921, the spirit of his deceased father informed him that success will come only after his death, when his spirit will pass on from the spiritual world decisive teachings to humanity.
On the other hand, Engel did manage to keep the Illuminati alive, with some 100 members in Germany and abroad. The fact that he had been able to recruit some correspondents in other countries, enabled Engel to establish in Berlin in 1926 an organization pompously called the World League of the Illuminati. In 1929, he opened a functioning lodge outside Germany in Zurich, Switzerland, aptly named after William Tell.
It became the largest Illuminati lodge in the world, with some fifty members, including the wealthy Jewish left-wing economist Felix Lazerus Pinkus (1881–1947), who will later establish a Psychosophical Society, and his disciple Karl Brodbeck (1880–1955), a Swiss socialist who in 1948 will publish a study on Masonic systems and the Illuminati of Bavaria. Brodbeck became the “Provincial” and “Guardian” of the Swiss branch of the Illuminati.
Some new members were initiated in Germany too, including occult novelists Gustav Meyrink (1868–1932) and Franz Spunda (1890–1963). It was the last consolation for Engel, who died on October 8, 1931.