Illuminati is a name that refers to several groups, both real and fictitious. Historically, it refers specifically to the Bavarian Illuminati, an Enlightenment era secret society founded in the late eighteenth century. However, in modern times it refers to a purported conspiratorial organization which acts as a shadowy power behind the throne, allegedly controlling world affairs through present day governments and corporations, usually as a modern incarnation or continuation of the Bavarian Illuminati. In this context, Illuminati is often used in reference to a New World Order (NWO). Many conspiracy theorists believe the Illuminati, or the "Illuminated ones", are the masterminds behind events that will lead to the establishment of such a New World Order. Confusing the issue further is the fact that there are also several modern fraternal groups which include the word "Illuminati" in their names.

In rarer cases, the Illuminati refers to an elite set of enlightened individuals who may not cooperate but are uniquely empowered by their enlightenment, much like the intelligentsia classes of today are empowered by their education and intelligence. These are people who have become illuminated and have achieved a higher mystical understanding of the universe. Many secret societies and mystical traditions are concerned with this kind of illumination or enlightenment, such as the Rosicrucian Societies, the Martinists and the original Bavarian Illuminati.



The Illuminati, fictional  book by Dan Brown, Angels and Demons

The Bavarian Illuminati


Adam WeishauptThis movement was founded on May 1, 1776, in Ingolstadt (Upper Bavaria), by Jesuit-taught Adam Weishaupt (d. 1830), who was the first lay professor of canon law at the University of Ingolstadt. The movement was made up of freethinkers, as an offshoot of the Enlightenment, which some believe was a conspiracy to infiltrate and overthrow the governments of many European states. The group's adherents were given the name Illuminati, although they called themselves "Perfectibilists". The group has also been called the Illuminati Order, and the Bavarian Illuminati, and the movement itself has been referred to as Illuminism. In 1777, Karl Theodor, Elector Palatine, succeeded as ruler of Bavaria. He was a proponent of Enlightened Despotism and in 1784, his government banned all secret societies, including the Illuminati.

While it was not legally allowed to operate, many influential intellectuals and progressive politicians counted themselves as members, including Ferdinand of Brunswick and the diplomat Xavier von Zwack. Xavier von Zwack was also the number two man in the operation and was caught with many of the groups documentations when his home was searched. The Illuminati's members pledged obedience to their superiors, and were divided into three main classes: the first, known as the Nursery, encompassed the ascending degrees or offices of Preparation, Novice, Minerval and Illuminatus Minor. The second, known as the Masonry, consists of the ascending degrees of Illuminatus Major and Illuminatus dirigens. It was also sometimes called Scotch Knight. The third, designated the Mysteries, was subdivided into the degrees of the Lesser Mysteries (Presbyter and Regent) and those of the Greater Mysteries (Magus and Rex).

The order had its branches in most countries of the European continent; it reportedly had around 2,000 members over the span of 10 years. The scheme had its attraction for literary men, such as Johann Wolfgang von Goethe and Johann Gottfried Herder, and even for the reigning dukes of Gotha and Weimar. Internal rupture and panic over succession preceded its downfall, which was effected by The Secular Edict made by the Bavarian government in 1785.

Illuminati after 1790

Conspiracy theorists such as Ryan Burke and Morgan Gricar, have argued that the Bavarian Illuminati survived, possibly to this day, though very little reliable evidence can be found to support that Weishaupt's group survived into the 19th century. However, several groups have used the name Illuminati since to found their own rites, claiming to be the Illuminati, including the Ordo Templi Orientis (OTO) founded by Theodor Reuss and Aleister Crowley (England), Grand Lodge Rockefeller founded by David Goldman (USA), Orden Illuminati founded by Gabriel López de Rojas (Spain), The Illuminati Order and others.

Fictional Illuminati

The Illuminati is central to the plot of Dan Brown's novel Angels and Demons, in which the Illuminati brotherhood appears to resurface stronger than ever after surviving for years underground to challenge the Church's religious beliefs in a dramatic sequence centered about the Vatican City during the election of a new Pope.

Several Illuminati-based conspiracies are central to the plot of a series of novels by Robert Shea and Robert Anton Wilson, entitled: "The Illuminatus! Trilogy". This series takes place in then-present late 1960's America. Robert Anton Wilson later wrote a separate series, "The Historical Illuminatus Chronicles." Set in the eighteenth century, it gives a historical perspective on the Illuminati.

In Marvel comics a faction of the most influential heroes of the Marvel Universe formed a group called the Illuminati which included: Charles Xavier (Professor X) founder of the X-Men; Reed Richards (Mister Fantastic) scientific genius and leader of the Fantastic Four; Tony Stark (Iron Man), millionaire inventor, Avenger and current Director of S.H.I.E.L.D; Namor (The Sub-Mariner) the king of Atlantis; and Black Bolt the king of the Inhumans.

In DC universe, Vandal Savage is known to have served as the leader of Illuminati.

In the Disney animated television show Gargoyles, the Illuminati have existed for over 1,000 years, with a heavy hand in the world of organized crime. To hint at the scope of their power and influence, the character David Xanatos is referred to as a "lower echelon member."





Angels and Demons is a bestselling mystery novel by Dan Brown. Published in 2000, it introduces the character Robert Langdon, who is also the principal character of Brown's subsequent, better-known novel The Da Vinci Code. It also shares many stylistic elements with the better known novel, such as conspiracies of secret societies, a single day time frame and the Roman Catholic Church. The story involves a conflict between an ancient group, the Illuminati, and the Roman Catholic Church.

Plot introduction

The basic plot is a classic race against time to find a hidden canister of antimatter (a highly explosive substance) and hunt down a serial killer in Rome. As its backdrop, the book debates the question about which is to be trusted - science or religion. It purports to show how the Vatican works as the plot to blow it up is uncovered during the conclave, revealing hidden secrets and mysteries as the story unfolds.

Plot summary

Angels & Demons follows Harvard symbologist Robert Langdon, as he tries to stop what seems to be the Illuminati, a legendary secret society, from destroying the Vatican City with the newly-discovered power of antimatter.

CERN director Maximilian Kohler discovers one of the facility's most respected physicists, Leonardo Vetra, murdered in his own secured, private quarters at the facility. His chest is branded with a symbol — the word "Illuminati", formed as an ambigram, using a hot iron and his eye torn out. Instead of calling the police, Kohler researches the topic on the Internet and finally gains contact with Professor Langdon, an expert on the Illuminati. Kohler requests his assistance in uncovering the murderer.

What Langdon finds at the murder scene frightens him: The symbol appears to be authentic, and the legendary secret society, long thought to be defunct, seems to have resurfaced. Kohler calls Vetra's adopted daughter Vittoria to the scene and it is later revealed that the Illuminati has also stolen a canister containing a quarter of a gram of antimatter — an extremely deadly substance with destructive potential comparable to the most powerful nuclear weapons in existence, a potential unleashed upon contact with any form of normal matter. When charged with electricity at CERN, the canister's magnetic field controls the drop of antimatter to float in a pure vacuum, ensuring safety; but when it was taken away from its electricity supply, it automatically switched to its back-up battery, which will only power it for 24 hours. The horrible truth is that the Illuminati has put the stolen canister somewhere in Vatican City, with a security camera in front of it as its digital clock counts down to the explosion.

Langdon and Vittoria make their way to Vatican City, where the Pope has recently died and the papal conclave has convened to elect the new pontiff. Cardinal Mortati, host of the election, discovers that the four Preferiti, cardinals who are the top picks in the current papal election, are missing. After they arrive, Langdon and Vittoria begin searching for the Preferiti in hopes that they will also find the antimatter canister in the process. Their search is assisted by Camerlengo Carlo Ventresca (the late pope's closest aide) and the Vatican's Swiss Guard, including Commander Olivetti, Captain Rocher and Lieutenant Chartrand.

Clues found in the Vatican Archives take Langdon and Vittoria through many tourist attractions in Rome following the so-called "path of illumination", as they seek out locations which the book calls the "Altars of Science". Each altar relates to one of the classical elements (Earth, Air, Fire and Water) which were once considered to be the only constituents of all matter. Upon reaching each Altar of Science, Langdon finds a member of the Preferiti murdered in a fashion appropriate to the element; the first was found half buried beneath a church with soil lodged in his throat (Earth), the second's lungs were pierced (Air), the third was burned alive (Fire), and the final cardinal was drowned in a large fountain (Water). Each cardinal's chest is branded with an ambigram reading Earth, Air, Fire, and Water, respectively.

Langdon discovers that the Preferiti were abducted and killed by an unnamed Hassassin. In hot pursuit, Captain Olivetti is killed by the assassin, who kidnaps Vittoria, planning to rape and kill her. Langdon manages to find Vittoria just in time. During a scuffle with the assassin, Langdon figures that Janus, the Illuminati leader is coming to brand the camerlengo himself with a sixth brand. When Langdon is about to lose the fight, Vittoria escapes and attacks the Hassassin. With Langdon's help, they manage to throw him from the tower's balcony, killing him. Langdon and Vittoria arrive at St. Peter's Basilica just in time to meet Maximillian Kohler, who has just arrived to confront the camerlengo. Langdon strongly believes that Kohler is Janus on a suicide mission to kill the camerlengo. The security police burst into the camerlengo's study just in time and kill Kohler, believing him to be Janus. Before he dies, Kohler gives Langdon a tape that he claims reveals the truth of the entire situation.

With time on the canister running out, the Swiss Guard begins to evacuate the Basilica. As he is exiting the church, the camerlengo apparently goes into a trance and rushes back into the Basilica, claiming that he has received a vision from God revealing the location of the antimatter canister. With Langdon and a few others in pursuit, the camerlengo ventures deep into the catacombs beneath the Basilica and finds the canister tucked away in a small box. Langdon and the camerlengo retrieve the antimatter and get in a helicopter with only 5 minutes to spare. The camerlengo manages to parachute safely onto the roof of St. Peter's just as the canister explodes harmlessly in the sky. Langdon's fate is not immediately known, as there was not a second parachute on board the helicopter. The crowd in St. Peter's Square look in awe as the camerlengo stands triumphantly before them. Because of his 'divine vision' and heroism in saving the Church, the conclave unknowingly elects the camerlengo as the new Pope. Robert Langdon survived the explosion and landed in the Tiber River near Tiber Island, which is famous for its reputation as an island blessed with miracles of healing. He is hurt, but not seriously.


Pope Pius painting, Vatican City


Langdon returns to St. Peter's and views the tape with the College of Cardinals. Langdon, Vittoria, and the cardinals confront the new Pope in the Sistine Chapel, where the truth is finally revealed. Shortly before the events of the novel, the Pope was scheduled to meet with Leonardo Vetra concerning his research at CERN. Vetra, a devout Catholic, believed that science was capable of establishing a link between man and God, a belief that was manifested by his research on antimatter. Vetra's beliefs caused great discomfort to the camerlengo, who firmly believed that the Church alone, not science, should dictate the lives of the Christian faithful. While discussing Vetra, the Pope reveals his support is due to science having created him a miracle: a son. Horrified at this, the camerlengo (assistant) ran away from the Pope before he can finish explaining and took refuge in the catacombs where the camerlengo claims he had a vision of a vengeful God that inspired his plan. He poisoned the Pope and, under the guise of an Illuminati master (Janus), he recruited the Hassassin, a killer fueled by the same zeal and animus towards the Church as his ancestors during The Crusades, to kill Vetra, steal the antimatter, and kidnap and murder the Preferiti just as the papal conclave was set to convene. The camerlengo planted the antimatter in St. Peter's and feigned his last-minute "vision" from God in order to be seen as a hero and the savior of Christendom by believers everywhere. The Illuminati thus had no actual role in any of the novel's events, and its "involvement" was merely a ploy engineered by the camerlengo to cover his own plans. As Langdon suspected from the very beginning, the order of the Illuminati was indeed long extinct.

As one final twist, it is revealed that Camerlengo Ventresca was the birth son of the late Pope, conceived through artificial insemination. Suddenly overcome with grief and guilt at having caused so much death, especially that of his own father, Ventresca soaks himself in oil and incinerates himself before a crowd of onlookers in St. Peter's Square. The conclave elects Cardinal Mortati as the new pope.

Langdon and Vittoria retire to the Hotel Bernini. Lieutenant Chartrand delivers a letter and package to Langdon from the new Pope. The package is the 'Illuminati Diamond' brand, which is loaned indefinitely to Langdon.


Robert Langdon - Tom Hanks
Leonardo Vetra 
Vittoria Vetra 
Camerlengo Carlo Ventresca 
Cardinal Saverio Mortati 
Commander Olivetti 
Captain Rocher 
Maximilian Kohler 
Gunther Glick and Chinita Macri 
Lieutenant Chartrand 
Cardinal Ebner 
Cardinal Lamassé 
Cardinal Guidera 
Cardinal Baggia 

Fact and fiction behind the book

For more information on these elements of the book, refer to the following articles:

Lockheed Martin X-33, an aircraft described early in the book 

Freemasonry, a fraternal organization which the Illuminati supposedly merged into 
Great Seal of the United States, Background on the symbol included on the U.S. one dollar bill, discussed in chapter 31 of the book. 

Altars of Science

The book fictionalizes a story about the Altars of Science in Rome, consisting of four locations, each representing the four elements—earth, air, fire and water—which are believed to be "the Path of Illumination", a trail to the meeting place of the Illuminati in Rome.

According to the book, the "altars" were hidden as religious artwork in order to avoid the wrath of the Vatican and secure the secrecy of the Illuminati. The artworks that make up the Four Altars were all sculpted by Gian Lorenzo Bernini.

Though the book is not clear where exactly the meeting place was, it is stated to be within the famed Castel Sant'Angelo.

The book lists the artworks as:

Earth—Habakkuk and the Angel in Chigi Chapel of Santa Maria del Popolo 
Air—West Ponente at Saint Peter's Square 
Fire—The Ecstasy of St Teresa sculpture at the church of Santa Maria della Vittoria 
Water—The famous Fountain of Four Rivers at Piazza Navona 


Besides the "Angels And Demons & The Illuminati" ambigram, the title of the book is also presented as an ambigram on the hardcover book jacket, and also on the inside cover of the paperback versions. The words 'Fire', 'Water', 'Earth' and 'Air' all appear in the book as ambigrams as well, and the 'Illuminati Diamond' mentioned in the book is also an ambigram- the 4 elements arranged in the shape of a square.


Angels and Demons has a page on the topic of Divergence from reality. The book's first edition contained notably numerous errors of location of places in Rome, as well as incorrect uses of Italian language. Some of the language issues were corrected in the following editions.  Angels and Demons caused some irritation due to the author's device of publishing a claim of the factual content of the book, backed up by acknowledgments of thanks to bodies such as CERN and references on the author's web site apparently confirming these statements. Although implausible plot devices are a common feature of adventure stories, the concern lies in how much detail the author was seeking to suggest was true, and, more importantly, how the more naive reader might be misled. For example, the existence of the Illuminati is not disputed as historical fact, but the plot of the book suggests that many famous figures throughout history were part of it, some of whom predate the organization.

Aside from the explicit introduction, the style of the book is that various fictional experts will expound on factual issues. This literary device suggests to the reader that what is being told is intended to be factual. An example of the confusion here are the anti-matter discussions, where the book suggests that anti-matter can be produced in useful and practical quantities and will be a limitless source of power - CERN themselves refute this and note on their web site FAQ: "I was hoping antimatter would be the future answer to our energy needs... No, the true answer is that it will never happen simply because of the entropy problem... It is not a matter of 'more research' or 'more advanced technology' to find ways around these limitations." Antimatter requires a great deal more energy to create than can be extracted from it.

One egregious historical error is that of the Assassin remembering how the Crusaders had destroyed the "Temples" of the "gods" of his people. In reality, the Assassins came from a Muslim background, and therefore had no gods, but only one God, Allah, who is not worshipped in Temples, but in Mosques, which are not temples but prayer-houses.

Dan Brown has since been acknowledged as a poor researcher of history in a court case relating to The Da Vinci Code. In a telling comment on Vatican procedure, which is of disputed accuracy, he claims "Occasionally, research is simply a matter of finding the proper printed resource." and explains he used a single book as his source.

The pilot of the special plane tells Langdon that at 60,000 ft altitude he is 30% lighter (presumably in level flight, where it is not true) and this caused him to have "altitude sickness", whereas the term usually refers to problems due to low pressure at altitude.

Film adaptation

In 2003, Sony acquired the movie rights to Angels & Demons along with The Da Vinci Code in a deal with author Dan Brown. In May 2006, following the film release of The Da Vinci Code, Sony hired screenwriter Akiva Goldsman, who wrote the film adaptation of The Da Vinci Code, to adapt Angels and Demons. On April 11, 2007 it was revealed that Tom Hanks would reprise his role as Robert Langdon and that he will reportedly receive the highest salary ever for an actor, though this is not confirmed. Filming was originally to begin in February 2008 for a release in December 2008, but because of the 2007 Writers Guild of America strike, production was pushed back for a May 15, 2009 release. Shooting will begin on June 5, 2008, where three weeks will be spent at Rome and the Vatican City for exterior scenes. The rest of the film will be shot at Sony Pictures Studios, where production can easily halt if the Screen Actors Guild strikes in July.

Illustrations in the book

The book contains several ambigrams created by John Langdon. Due to the popularity of "Angels & Demons" containing ambigrams which seemed to be of the reader's interest, it lead to a reprint of John Langdon's book on ambigrams entitled Wordplay.











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