Proofs of a Conspiracy, by John Robison 1798

The Order of ILLUMINATI appears as an accessory to Free Masonry. It is in the Lodges of Free Masons that the Minervals are found, and there they are prepared for Illumination. They must have previously obtained the three English degrees. The founder says more. He says that his doctrines are the only true Free Masonry. He was the chief promoter of the Eclectic System. This he urged as the best method for getting information of all the explanations which have been given of the Masonic Mysteries. He was also a Strict Observanz, and an adept Rosycrucian. The result of all his knowledge is worthy of particular remark, and shall therefore be given at large.

“I declare,” says he, “and I challenge all mankind to contradict my declaration, that no man can give any account of the Order of Free Masonry, of its origin, of its history, of its object, nor any explanation of its mysteries and symbols, which does not leave the mind in total uncertainty on all these points. Every man is entitled, therefore, to give any explanation of the symbols, and any system of the doctrines, that he can render palatable. Hence have sprung up that variety of systems which for twenty years have divided the Order. The simple tale of the English, and the fifty degrees of the French, and the Knights of Baron Hunde, are equally authentic, and have equally had the support of intelligent and zealous Brethren. These systems are in fact but one. They have all sprung from the Blue Lodge of Three degrees; take these for their standard, and found on these all the improvements by which each system is afterwards suited to the particular object which it keeps in view. There is no man, nor system, in the world, which can show by undoubted succession that it should stand at the head of the Order. Our ignorance in this particular frets me. Do but consider our short history of 120 years.–Who will show me the Mother Lodge? Those of London we have discovered to be self-erected in 1716. Ask for their archives. They tell you they were burnt. They have nothing but the wretched sophistications of the Englishman Anderson, and the Frenchman Desaguilliers. Where is the Lodge of York, which pretends to the priority, with their King Bouden, and the archives that he brought from the East? These too are all burnt. What is the Chapter of Old Aberdeen, and its Holy Clericate? Did we not find it unknown, and the Mason Lodges there the most ignorant of all the ignorant, gaping for instruction from our deputies? Did we not find the same thing at London? And have not their missionaries been among us, prying into our mysteries, and eager to learn from us what is true Free Masonry? It is in vain, therefore, to appeal to judges; they are no where to be found; all claim for themselves the sceptre of the Order; all indeed are on an equal footing. They obtained followers, not from their authenticity, but from their conduciveness to the end which they proposed, and from the importance of that end. It is by this scale that we must measure the mad and wicked explanations of the Rosycrucians, the Exorcists, and Cabalists. These are rejected by all good Masons, because incompatible with social happiness. Only such systems as promote this are retained. But alas, they are all sadly deficient, because they leave us under the dominion of political and religious prejudice; and they are as inefficient as the sleepy dose of an ordinary sermon.

“But I have contrived an explanation which has every advantage; is inviting to Christians of every communion; gradually frees them from all religious prejudices; cultivates the social virtues; and animates them by a great, a feasible, and speedy prospect of universal happiness, in a state of liberty and moral equality, freed from the obstacles which subordination, rank, and riches, continually throw in our way. My explanation is accurate, and complete, my means are effectual, and irresistible. Our secret Association works in a way that nothing can withstand, and man shall soon be free and happy.

“This is the great object held out by this Association: and the means of attaining it is Illumination, enlightening the understanding by the sun of reason, which will dispel the clouds of superstition and of prejudice. The proficients in this Order are therefore justly named the Illuminated. And of all Illumination which human reason can give, none is comparable to the discovery of what we are, our nature, our obligations, what happiness we are capable of, and what are the means of attaining it. In comparison with this, the most brilliant sciences are but amusements for the idle and luxurious. To fit man by Illumination for active virtue, to engage him to it by the strongest motives, to render the attainment of it easy and certain, by finding employment for every talent, and by placing every talent in its proper sphere of action, so that all, without feeling any extraordinary effort, and in conjunction with and completion of ordinary business, shall urge forward, with united powers, the general task. This indeed will be an employment suited to noble natures, grand in its views, and delightful in its exercise.

“And what is this general object? THE HAPPINESS OF THE HUMAN RACE. Is it not distressing to a generous mind, after contemplating what human nature is capable of, to see how little we enjoy? When we look at this goodly world, and see that every man may be happy, but that the happiness of one depends on the conduct of another; when we see the wicked so powerful, and the good so weak; and that it is in vain to strive, singly and alone, against the general current of vice and oppression; the wish naturally arises in the mind, that it were possible to form a durable combination of the most worthy persons, who should work together in removing the obstacles to human happiness, become terrible to the wicked, and give their aid to all the good without distinction, and should by the most powerful means, first fetter, and by fettering, lessen vice; means which at the same time should promote virtue, by rendering the inclination to rectitude, hitherto too feeble, more powerful and engaging. Would not such an association be a blessing to the world?

“But where are the proper persons, the good, the generous, and the accomplished, to be found? and how, and by what strong motives, are they to be induced to engage in a task so vast, so incessant, so difficult, and so laborious? This Association must be gradual. There are some such persons to be found in every society. Such noble minds will be engaged by the heart-warming object. The first task of the Association must therefore be to form the young members. As these multiply and advance, they become the apostles of beneficence, and the work is now on foot, and advances with a speed encreasing every day. The slightest observation shows that nothing will so much contribute to increase the zeal of the members as secret union. We see with what keenness and zeal the frivolous business of Free Masonry is conducted, by persons knit together by the secrecy of their union. It is needless to enquire into the causes of this zeal which secrecy produces. It is an universal fact, confirmed by the history of every age. Let this circumstance of our constitution therefore be directed to this noble purpose, and then all the objections urged against it by jealous tyranny and affrighted superstition will vanish. The Order will thus work silently, and securely; and though the generous benefactors of the human race are thus deprived of the applause of the world, they have the noble pleasure of seeing their work prosper in their hands.”

Such is the aim, and such are the hopes of the Order of the Illuminated. Let us now see how these were to be accomplished. We cannot judge precisely of this, because the account given of the constitution of the Order by its founder includes only the lowest degree, and even this is suspected to be fictitious. The accounts given by the four Professors, even of this part of the Order, make a very different impression on the mind, although they differ only in a few particulars.

The only ostensible members of the Order were the Minervals. They were to be found only in the Lodges of Free Masons. A candidate for admission must make his wish known to some Minerval; he reports it to a Superior, who, by a channel to be explained presently, intimates it to the Council. No notice is farther taken of it for some time. The candidate is carefully observed in silence, and if thought unfit for the Order, no notice is taken of his solicitation. But if otherwise, the candidate receives privately an invitation to a conference. Here he meets with a person unknown to him, and, previous to all further conference, he is required to peruse and to sign the following oath.

“I N. N. hereby bind myself, by mine honor and good name, forswearing all mental reservation, never to reveal, by hint, word, writing, or in any manner whatever, even to my most trusted friend, any thing that shall now be said or done to me respecting my wished-for-reception, and this whether my reception shall follow or not; I being previously assured that it shall contain nothing contrary to religion, the state, nor good manners. I promise, that I shall make no intelligible extract from any papers which shall be shewn me now or during my noviciate. All this I swear, as I am, and as I hope to continue, a Man of Honor.”

The urbanity of this protestation must agreeably impress the mind of a person who recollects the dreadful imprecations which he made at his reception into the different ranks of Free Masonry. The candidate is then introduced to an Illuminates Dirigens, whom perhaps he knows, and is told that this person is to be his future instructor. There is now presented to the candidate, what they call a table, in which he writes his name, place of birth, . age, rank, place of residence, profession, and favorite studies. He is then made to read several articles of this table. It contains, 1st. a very concise account of the Order, its connection with Free Masonry, and its great object, the promoting the happiness of mankind by means of instruction and confirmation in virtuous principles. 2d. Several questions relative to the Order. Among these are, “What advantages he hopes to derive from being a member? What he most particularly wishes to learn? What delicate questions relative to the life, the prospects, the duties of man, as an individual, and as a citizen, he wishes to have particularly discussed to him? In what respects he thinks he can be of use to the Order? Who are his ancestors, relations, friends, correspondents, or enemies? Whom he thinks proper persons to be received into the Order, or whom he thinks unfit for it, and the reasons for both opinions. To each of these questions he must give some answer in writing.

The Novice and his Mentor are known only to each other; perhaps nothing more follows upon this; if otherwise, the Mentor appoints another conference, and begins his instructions, by giving him in detail certain portions of the constitution, and of the fundamental rules of the Order. Of these the Novice must give a weekly account in writing. He must also read, in the Mentor’s house, a book containing more of the instructions of the Order; but he must make no extracts. Yet from this reading he must derive all his knowledge; and he must give an account in writing of his progress. All writings received from his Superiors must be returned with a stated punctuality. These writings consist chiefly of important and delicate questions, suited, either to the particular inclination, or to the peculiar taste which the candidate had discovered in his subscriptions of the articles of the table, and in his former rescripts, or to the direction which the Mentor wishes to give to his thoughts.

Enlightening the understanding, and the rooting out of prejudices, are pointed out to him as the principal tasks of his noviciate. The knowledge of himself is considered as preparatory to all other knowledge. To disclose to him, by means of the calm and unbiassed observation of his instructor, what is his own character, his most vulnerable side, either in respect of temper, passions, or prepossessions, is therefore the most essential service that can be done him. For this purpose there is required of him some account of his own conduct on occasions where he doubted of its propriety; some account of his friendships, of his differences of opinion, and of his conduct on such occasions. From such relations the Superior learns his manner of thinking and judging, and those propensities which require his chief attention.

Having made the candidate acquainted with himself, he is apprised that the Order is not a speculative, but an active association, engaged in doing good to others. The knowledge of human character is therefore of all others the most important. This is acquired only by observation, assisted by the instructions of his teacher. Characters in history are proposed to him for observation, and his opinion is required. After this he is directed to look around him, and to notice the conduct of other men; and part of his weekly rescripts must consist of accounts of all interesting occurrences in his , whether of a public or private nature. Cossandey, one of the four Professors, gives a particular account of the instructions relating to this kind of science. “The Novice must be attentive to trifles: For, in frivolous occurrences a man is indolent, and makes no effort to act a part, so that his real character is then acting alone. Nothing will have such influence with the Superiors in promoting the advancement of a candidate as very copious narrations of this kind, because the candidate, if promoted, is to be employed in an active station, and it is from this kind of information only that the Superiors can judge of his fitness. These characteristic anecdotes are not for the instruction of the Superiors, who are men of long experience, and familiar with such occupation. But they inform the Order concerning the talents and proficiency of the young member. Scientific instruction, being connected by system, is soon communicated, and may in general be very completely obtained from the books which are recommended to the Novice, and acquired in the public seminaries of instruction. But knowledge of character is more multifarious and more delicate. For this there is no college, and it must therefore require longer time for its attainment. Besides, this assiduous and long continued study of men, enables the possessor of such knowledge to act with men, and by his knowledge of their character, to influence their conduct. For such reasons this study is continued, and these rescripts are required, during the whole progress through the Order, and attention to them is recommended as the only mean of advancement. Remarks on Physiognomy in these narrations are accounted of considerable value.” So far Mr. Cossandey.

During all this trial, which may last one, two, or three years, the Novice knows no person of the Order but his own instructor, with whom he has frequent meetings, along with other Minervals. In these conversations he learns the importance of the Order, and the opportunities he will afterwards have of acquiring much hidden science. The employment of his unknown Superiors naturally causes him to entertain very high notions of their abilities and worth. He is counselled to aim at a resemblance to them by getting rid by degrees of all those prejudices or prepossessions which checked his own former progress; and he is assisted in this endeavour by an invitation to a correspondence with them. He may address his Provincial Superior, by directing his letter Soli, or the General by Primo, or the Superiors in general by Quibus licet. In these letters he may mention whatever he thinks conducive to the advancement of the Order; he may inform the Superiors how his instructor behaves to him; if assiduous or remiss, indulgent or severe. The Superiors are enjoined by the strongest motives to convey these letters wherever addressed. None but the General and Council know the result of all this; and all are enjoined to keep themselves and their proceedings unknown to all the world.

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Methinks I am a conspiracy theorist. Art thou? Thou block, thou stone, thou worse than senseless thing, for whilst thou slept didst this become a badge of honor. Informed dissent shall always prevail, wherefore art thou worthy, or art thou this unwholesome fool in the group conformity experiment herein?

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