10 Things You Might Not Know About the Illuminati

eric1513/iStock via Getty Images Plus
eric1513/iStock via Getty Images Plus

If you're a proponent of conspiracy theories, you might believe that there's a secret organization that covertly controls every aspect of society, from the banks, to the government, and even our entertainment industries. Yes, we're talking about the Illuminati, a group that supposedly consists of the world’s most powerful people. Beyonce and Jay-Z are rumored to be members (along with a host of other celebrities), and the group is said to be behind some of the last century’s most historically important events, like the assassination of John F. Kennedy. But what exactly is the Illuminati—and do they even exist? Let’s dive in to a brief history of this notorious and mysterious group.

1. The Illuminati was once a real organization.

Though there were a number of early Illuminati-like groups, things really kicked off with the Bavarian Illuminati, a secret society founded on May 1, 1776, in what was then known as the Electorate of Bavaria (part of modern-day Germany). The group was founded by Adam Weishaupt, a philosopher and professor at the University of Ingolstadt. At the school—which was heavily influenced by Jesuit doctrine—Weishaupt (a former Jesuit) had a hard time finding acceptance for his secular and liberal thinking. He wanted to connect with like-minded free-thinkers, so he decided to start his own secret society, and The Order of the Illuminati was born.

2. The Illuminati's goal was to encourage a rational society.

While there are differing descriptions of the group’s stated goals, the Illuminati's main mission was in line with the values of the Enlightenment: The group sought to promote rational thinking and knowledge. Weishaupt said that current systems "leave us under the dominion of political and religious prejudices," whereas the Illuminati “frees ... 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.”

3. The Illuminati wasn't always called the Illuminati.

Originally, Weishaupt called his group the “Perfectibilists.” However, the founder quickly realized how silly that sounded and tried out a few other names, including The Bee Order (yes, really), before eventually landing on The Order of the Illuminati.

4. The Illuminati had strict membership requirements.

The Illuminati were an exclusive group of rich, successful men; no women or Jews were admitted into their ranks. Five men, all from the University of Ingolstadt, attended that first meeting in 1776. Any new members had to be vetted and approved by the existing group. Membership requirements included being well-educated and wealthy, having a strong reputation, and coming from a good family. They also had to be 30 years old or younger—the group believed anyone older to be too conservative and rigid in their ways. The group grew quickly, though, in part because the first members joined the Freemasons, another group for independent thinkers, to recruit other men—and, at its largest, had up to 2000 members, including doctors, lawyers, politicians, and intellectuals.

5. Members of the Illuminati worked their way through levels of enlightenment.

After joining, members of The Order of the Illuminati worked their way through a series of “levels” to show their progress toward enlightenment. Originally, the Illuminati had three different “levels of enlightenment” that members could achieve: novices, minervals, and illuminated minervals. (The Owl of Minerva was the group’s original symbol; Minerva was the Roman goddess of wisdom, and the Owl of Minerva symbolizes intelligence and wisdom and was a popular icon of independent, progressive thinkers of the era.)

However, a few years after its founding, a member named Baron von Knigge revised the system into as many as 13 levels, also known as “degrees,” which were then grouped into three classes. Von Knigge had been a member of the Freemasons before turning to the Illuminati, and his system was based on that of his former group. Reaching the highest level meant a member had achieved “philosophical illumination,” according to National Geographic, and he was given the title of “king.”

6. Members of the Illuminati used pseudonyms.

All Illuminati members were given pseudonyms that represented historical or important figures. For example, Weishaupt was known as “Spartacus” and von Knigge as “Philo.” Correspondence was written in cipher and even things like town names were replaced with an arbitrary word. It’s said that when the government raided member’s homes after shutting down the organization, instructions for making invisible ink were found.

7. The Illuminati were exposed by one of their own.

The original Bavarian Illuminati was in existence for less than a decade, from 1776 to 1785. A former member named Joseph Utzschneider was responsible for shutting them down. Utzschneider wrote a letter to the Grand Duchess of Bavaria that outed the group and their progressive beliefs (though it’s likely some of his claims were exaggerated). The Grand Duchess told her husband, the Duke of Bavaria, who first issued an edict in 1784 that banned the creation of any society not previously authorized by law, and then followed that up a year later with a new rule in 1785 that explicitly banned the secret society, and in 1787, membership was made punishable by death. The group was disbanded and Weishaupt was banished from Bavaria. According to most experts, this was the end of the Illuminati, though there are hundreds of conspiracy theories that suggest the group is very much still alive and running.

8. Conspiracy theories about the Illuminati began almost as soon as the order was shut down.

In 1797, physicist, mathematician, and later-in-life conspiracy theorist John Robison published a book called Proofs of a Conspiracy, in which he accused The Order of the Illuminati of infiltrating the Freemasons and helping to start the French Revolution.

This book eventually made its way to George Washington, a Master Mason, who had just wrapped up his time as president. After reading it, Washington wrote a letter intending to dispel the threat of the Illuminati, though his simply addressing the group only stoked conspiracy theories.

Similar writings and accusations followed, and public chatter about Illuminati conspiracies would die down and flare up again throughout the next centuries. There are dozens if not hundreds of conspiracy theories claiming that The Order of the Illuminati is still very much alive and well, and that they’re quietly working under the radar to establish a New World Order (the idea that a small group of very powerful people are working behind the scenes to put in place an authoritarian government that would rule the whole world). There is zero proof of that.

9. According to conspiracy theories, some of the world's biggest stars and historical figures are members of the Illuminati.

There are rumors that some of the world’s biggest pop stars and Hollywood celebrities are actually members of the Illuminati. Dr. Dre, Madonna, Bono, Justin Bieber, Nicki Minaj, Eminem, Whitney Houston, Katy Perry ... the list goes on, but at the top sit Jay-Z and Beyoncé. In all of these cases, it’s speculated that these stars owe their success to the help of the secret organization. (It’s relevant to note here that Beyoncé shut down those rumors in the first verse of her 2016 song “Formation”: “Y’all haters corny with that Illuminati mess.”) And it’s not just modern-day entertainers; historical figures such as Thomas Jefferson, Franklin D. Roosevelt, Henry Kissinger, Winston Churchill, and John D. Rockefeller are rumored to have been involved with the Illuminati, too.

10. Rumor has it the Illuminati headquarters is located at Denver International Airport.

Since opening in 1995—more than a year late and $2 billion over budget—the Denver International Airport has found itself at the center of a variety of Illuminati-related conspiracy theories. The airport has a time capsule set to be opened in 2094 that’s emblazoned with icons of a Masonic square and compass, a symbol of the Freemasons—and, by conspiratorial extension, the Illuminati. There are also plaques stating that DEN was funded by the "New World Airport Commission" (hmmm, sounds an awful lot like New World Order, doesn’t it?) and rumors that the airport sits above a secret, underground Illuminati headquarters where the world’s elite will live after the apocalypse. The whole thing is wild speculation, but DEN has leaned into the theories—check out its #DENFILES website for some fun information.

Looking to Downsize? You Can Buy a 5-Room DIY Cabin on Amazon for Less Than $33,000

Five rooms of one's own.
Five rooms of one's own.
Allwood/Amazon

If you’ve already mastered DIY houses for birds and dogs, maybe it’s time you built one for yourself.

As Simplemost reports, there are a number of house kits that you can order on Amazon, and the Allwood Avalon Cabin Kit is one of the quaintest—and, at $32,990, most affordable—options. The 540-square-foot structure has enough space for a kitchen, a bathroom, a bedroom, and a sitting room—and there’s an additional 218-square-foot loft with the potential to be the coziest reading nook of all time.

You can opt for three larger rooms if you're willing to skip the kitchen and bathroom.Allwood/Amazon

The construction process might not be a great idea for someone who’s never picked up a hammer, but you don’t need an architectural degree to tackle it. Step-by-step instructions and all materials are included, so it’s a little like a high-level IKEA project. According to the Amazon listing, it takes two adults about a week to complete. Since the Nordic wood walls are reinforced with steel rods, the house can withstand winds up to 120 mph, and you can pay an extra $1000 to upgrade from double-glass windows and doors to triple-glass for added fortification.

Sadly, the cool ceiling lamp is not included.Allwood/Amazon

Though everything you need for the shell of the house comes in the kit, you will need to purchase whatever goes inside it: toilet, shower, sink, stove, insulation, and all other furnishings. You can also customize the blueprint to fit your own plans for the space; maybe, for example, you’re going to use the house as a small event venue, and you’d rather have two or three large, airy rooms and no kitchen or bedroom.

Intrigued? Find out more here.

[h/t Simplemost]

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10 Facts About Real Genius On Its 35th Anniversary

Val Kilmer stars in Martha Coolidge's Real Genius (1985).
Val Kilmer stars in Martha Coolidge's Real Genius (1985).
Sony Pictures Home Entertainment

In an era where nerd is a nickname given by and to people who have pretty much any passing interest in popular culture, it’s hard to imagine the way old-school nerds—people with serious and socially-debilitating obsessions—were once ostracized. Computers, progressive rock, and role-playing games (among a handful of other 1970s- early '80s developments) created a path from which far too many of the lonely, awkward, and conventionally undateable would never return. But in the 1980s, movies transformed these oddballs into underdogs and antiheroes, pitting them against attractive, moneyed, successful adversaries for the fate of handsome boys and pretty girls, cushy jobs, and first-place trophies.

The 1985 film Real Genius ranked first among equals from that decade for its stellar cast, sensitive direction, and genuine nerd bona fides. Perhaps fittingly, it sometimes feels overshadowed, and even forgotten, next to broader, bawdier (and certainly now, more problematic) films from the era like Revenge of the Nerds and Weird Science. But director Martha Coolidge delivered a classic slobs-versus-snobs adventure that manages to view the academically gifted and socially maladjusted with a greater degree of understanding and compassion while still delivering plenty of good-natured humor.

As the movie commemorates its 35th anniversary, we're looking back at the little details and painstaking efforts that make it such an enduring portrait not just of ‘80s comedy, but of nerdom itself.

1. Producer Brian Grazer wanted Valley Girl director Martha Coolidge to direct Real Genius. She wasn’t sure she wanted to.

Following the commercial success of 1984’s Revenge of the Nerds, there was an influx of bawdy scripts that played upon the same idea, and Real Genius was one of them. In 2011, Coolidge told Kickin’ It Old School that the original script for Real Genius "had a lot of penis and scatological jokes," and she wasn't interested in directing a raunchy Nerds knock-off. So producer Brian Grazer enlisted PJ Torokvei (SCTV) and writing partners Babaloo Mandel and Lowell Ganz (Splash, City Slickers) to refine the original screenplay, and then gave Coolidge herself an opportunity to polish it before production started. “Brian's original goal, and mine, was to make a film that focused on nerds as heroes," Coolidge said. "It was ahead of its time."

2. Martha Coolidge’s priority was getting the science in Real Genius right—or at least as right as possible.

In the film, ambitious professor Jerry Hathaway (William Atherton) recruits high-achieving students at the fictional Pacific Technical University (inspired by Caltech) to design and build a laser capable of hitting a human-sized target from space. Coolidge researched the subject thoroughly, working with academic, scientific, and military technicians to ensure that as many of the script and story's elements were correct. Moreover, she ensured that the dialogue would hold up to some scrutiny, even if building a laser of the film’s dimensions wasn’t realistic (and still isn’t today).

3. One element of Real Genius that Martha Coolidge didn’t base on real events turned out to be truer than expected.

From the beginning, the idea that students were actively being exploited by their teacher to develop government technology was always fictional. But Coolidge learned that art and life share more in common than she knew at the time. “I have had so many letters since I made Real Genius from people who said, 'Yes, I was involved in a program and I didn’t realize I was developing weapons,'" she told Uproxx in 2015. “So it was a good guess and turned out to be quite accurate.”

4. Val Kilmer walked into his Real Genius audition already in character—and it nearly cost him the role.

After playing the lead in Top Secret!, Val Kilmer was firmly on Hollywood’s radar. But when he met Grazer at his audition for Real Genius, Kilmer decided to have some fun at the expense of the guy who would decide whether or not he’d get the part. "The character wasn't polite," Kilmer recalled to Entertainment Weekly in 1995. "So when I shook Grazer's hand and he said, 'Hi, I'm the producer,' I said, 'I'm sorry. You look like you're 12 years old. I like to work with men.'"

5. The filmmakers briefly considered using an actual “real genius” to star in Real Genius.

Among the performers considered to play Mitch, the wunderkind student who sets the movie’s story in motion, was a true genius who graduated college at 14 and was starting law school. Late in the casting process, they found their Mitch in Gabriel Jarrett, who becomes the third generation of overachievers (after Kilmer’s Chris and Jon Gries’s Lazlo Hollyfeld) whose talent Hathaway uses to further his own professional goals.

6. Real Genius's female lead inadvertently created a legacy for her character that would continue in animated form.

Michelle Meyrink, Gabriel Jarret, Val Kilmer, and Mark Kamiyama in Real Genius (1985).Sony Pictures Home Entertainment

Michelle Meyrink was a staple of a number of ‘80s comedies, including Revenge of the Nerds. Playing Jordan in Real Genius, she claims to “never sleep” and offers a delightful portrait of high-functioning attention-deficit disorder with a chipper, erratic personality. Disney’s Chip 'n Dale: Rescue Rangers co-creator Tad Stones has confirmed that her character went on to inspire the character of Gadget Hackwrench.

7. A Real Genius subplot, where a computer programmer is gaming a Frito-Lay contest, was based on real events.

In the film, Jon Gries (Napoleon Dynamite) plays Lazlo Hollyfeld, a reclusive genius from before Chris and Mitch’s time who lives in a bunker beneath their dorm creating entries to a contest with no restrictions where he eventually wins more than 30 percent of the prizes. In 1969, students from Caltech tried a similar tactic with Frito-Lay to game the odds. But in 1975, three computer programmers used an IBM to generate 1.2 million entries in a contest for McDonald’s, where they received 20 percent of the prizes (and a lot of complaints from customers) for their effort.

8. One of Real Genius's cast members went on to write another tribute to nerds a decade later.

Dean Devlin, who co-wrote Stargate and Independence Day with Roland Emmerich, plays Milton, another student at Pacific Tech who experiences a memorable meltdown in the rush up to finals.

9. The popcorn gag that ends Real Genius isn’t really possible, but they used real popcorn to simulate it.

At the end of the film, Chris and Mitch build a giant Jiffy Pop pack that the laser unleashes after they redirect its targeting system. The resulting popcorn fills Professor Hathaway’s house as an act of revenge. MythBusters took pains to recreate this gag in a number of ways, but quickly discovered that it wouldn’t work; even at scale, the popcorn just burns in the heat of a laser.

To pull off the scene in the film, Coolidge said that the production had people popping corn for six weeks of filming in order to get enough for the finale. After that, they had to build a house that they could manipulate with hydraulics so that the popcorn would “explode” out of every doorway and window.

10. Real Genius was the first movie to be promoted on the internet.

A week before Real Genius opened, promoters set up a press conference at a computer store in Westwood, California. Coolidge and members of the cast appeared to field questions from press from across the country—connected via CompuServe. Though the experience was evidently marred by technical problems (this was the mid-1980s, after all), the event marked the debut of what became the online roundtable junket.