Progression of the Illuminati Ritual

By Josef Waeges, with introductory comments by Jeva Singh-Anand

It is a general misconception that the Illuminati degree structure and ritual were fully developed when it was launched in 1776. Actually, the structure continuously evolved over the course of its brief lifespan and as Knigge recounted in Philo’s Reply, many degrees had not even been written when he joined the order. In fact, the two highest degrees, Magus and Rex, were never completed. For the Magus and Rex degree, only the lectures were written, and the Rex degree reads like a list of bullet points around which the rites were to be constructed. According to Martin Mulsow (“Adam Weishaupt als Philosoph,” in Die Weimarer Klassik und ihre Geheimbünde, Würzburg, 2003), we know that this degree existed in its presently surviving form no later than 1784: the degree’s argument is fully developed in Weishaupt’s treatise Ueber Materialismus und Idealismus (1787, Grattenauer, Nuremberg). For a variety of reasons, the Rex degree was not well received in the order and ultimately spelled the end of Weishaupt‘s own career in the order.


Minerval Maxim: Quidquid agis, age prudente et respice finem. [Whatever you do, do what is prudent and consider the outcome.]

May 1, 1776.

The Order of the Perfectibilists (Illuminati) was founded.

October 31, 1777.

Weishaupt was developing the system.  It was to have 3 classes: Preparatory Class or Novice, a second class, not otherwise mentioned and a third Class called Mysteries.


Weishaupt was supposed to finish the specifications for the second class in November, but it this not materialize.


Weishaupt wrote the book for the second class, naming it the Minerval Degree. The names changed: Illuminati Degree, second degree, Minerval Class or Assembly. The first Assembly was held at Ferdinand Maria Baader’s home on Feb. 16, 1779. In mid-1779, Weishaupt delivers three booklets containing the higher degrees:



Minerval Illuminatus,

However, the Mysteries remained fragmentary.

July 7, 1781.

Knigge was made a member of the Aeropagite Council and they adopted the “Shared Decision.”  They admitted they would fail if it were not for Knigge.  This expanded the existing degrees of Minerval, Illuminatus Minor, and the basics of Illuminatus Major.  Knigge’s goal was to make the Order no longer a collection of students led by teachers. The Order’s principle was now to fight superstition, despotism and tyranny.

March 20, 1781

Weishaupt outlines a merger of the Order and Freemasonry. Minervals were to merge with apprentices, Illuminati Minors with Fellow Crafts, and Illuminati Majors with the Masters. The degree of Illuminati Dirigens existed in name only and had no content as of yet.

May 26, 1781

Weishaupt wrote to Cato (Xavier von Zwack, 1785-1843) that he was requesting a Constitution from London and that he did not like the Freemasonic degrees proposed by Knigge, but that the energy for the makeover seemed to be missing. The Aeropagites realized that the founder was not capable of integrating the Masonic system into the Order. Knigge was allowed to appoint an unlimited number of men in the Aeropagus. With the agreement of the Aeropagus Knigge divided the Freemasons and the Illuminati, building the structure above Masonry starting with Illuminatus Major. Knigge had to submit to the Aeropagus the final editing of the degrees of the Mysteries.

“Recess among the Aeropagites” December 20, 1781

Recess among the Aeropagites. The Aeropagus agreed to submit to Adam Weishaupt, but was given the power to govern the whole Order. The following Degrees were defined:




Illuminatus minor/Minerval illuminatus

Blue Masonry:


Fellow Craft,


Mysteries Class:

Illuminatus Major/Scottish Novice,

Illuminatus Dirigens/ Scottish Knight

Greater Mysteries Class:




It stipulated that no one could receive degrees higher than Illuminatus Minor without being a Freemason.

“Convention of Munich” March 21, 1782

The Illuminati broke ties with the Royal York Lodge (March 25, 1782) and established a new Masonic system over the three symbolic degrees. It established a line of Superiors. The Minerval Assemblies were to be led by Illuminati Minors. Lodges were to be led by Scottish Knights.  This made the break with Royal York official, taking some 121 lodges under its care. It decided on new Masonic system to take over the three symbolic degrees. It approved the organizational plan of Knigge as submitted January 20, 1782. This is the final system as we know it today.

Final Degree System of the Illuminati Order.
I. Preparatory Class
1. Novice.
2. Minerval.
3. Illuminatus Minor. Lesser Illuminati.

II. Freemasonic Class
1. Apprentice – Fellowcraft – Master. (Symbolic Freemasonry).
2. Illuminatus Major. Greater Illumiati or Scottish Novice.
3. Illuminatus Dirgens. Scottish Knight.

III. Mysteries Class
1. Lesser Mysteries
a) Presbyter. Priest.
b) Regent or Princeps. Prince.

2. Greater Mysteries
a) Magus or Philosophus. Magician or Philosopher.
b) Rex or Doceten. King or Docetist(1).
(1)Comment by Jeva: Scholars, such as Dr. Monika Neugebauer-WölkDr. Martin Mulsow, and Reinhard Markner agree that “Doceten” is derived from Docetism (from the Greek δοκεῖν [dokein: seem, appear]). Docetism, which is related to Gnosticism and Adoptionism, argues that the physical body of Christ was an illusion or phantasm, because an infinite and eternal God cannot die. A variant of docetism teaches that Jesus was not the deity descended, but a human being who had been chosen to teach the Gospel to his disciples. Docetism was rejected as heresy by the First Council of Nicea in 325.

7 thoughts on “Progression of the Illuminati Ritual

  1. I was going to ask you about that “Docetism” bit, and why you had it differently, but hadn’t gotten around to it. Glad to know that there’s an agreement here.

    When I first read that in the Neugebauer-Wölk article, it was quite a shock. The first thing I thought is that some factions of conservatism today are going to have a field day with this explicit linking to gnosticism if and when the final degrees are ever published to a wider audience.

    Weishaupt’s debt to Wolff and Leibniz is quite large, however, and many who concentrate on French philosophes are unaware of those sources and where they sometimes got their ideas. There’s a body of scholarly research now focused on the degree to which Leibniz was influenced by Lurianic kabbalists of his day. In particular, see the fascinating work of Allison Coudert:

    And it goes without saying that the birth of the Kabbalah in the 12th and 13th centuries, France, coincided – in time and space – with the gnostic-dualist resurgence in groups such as the Cathars or Albigensians. The great Gershom Scholem wrote much on this. Both seemingly separate movements in fact had great influence on each other, and it continued well into the days when Leibniz was imbibing some of this material.

  2. I’m very glad that you pointed that out to me when we were discussing the Rex degree on your blog, Terry. The degree’s argument is fully developed in Weishaupt’s “Ueber Materialismus und Idealismus,” which I have already downloaded from google books, but haven’t had the time to read yet. Mulsow states that Charles Bonnet is the major influence for the Rex, calling the argument “sensualist idealist.”

    The degree stumped Ernest II and alienated Weishaupt’s confidants — again. And just how “occult” these Illuminati were is currently a lively debate in the various occultist forums. Philosophically and ideologically, there is some common ground, also as far as the various degree systems are organized. But as far as the curricula, reading lists, rituals and practices are concerned, the differences are large enough to not classify them as an “occult” order — at least not at this point in time. The whole field of academic Illuminati research seems to have only recently gained any serious momentum, and that primarily in Germany.

    In the English speaking world, it’s you, Marco, Josef, a few guys in British Columbia, and a few other scattered individuals — and me? I’m primarily a language professional, not a trained historian.

  3. I wrote about Bonnet’s influence in my book as well. It’s Bonnet’s Palingenesis theory that was an influence. This also squares with the cyclic evolutionary catastrophism theories of Boulanger of which it was recommended for illuminati initiates (his L’Antiquité devoilée, 1766) – the fact that disasters and floods in mankind’s past may be the source of religious myths or that it made us need to make up religion out of comfort or necessity. Professor Jonathan Israel has a really good chapter on the Illuminati in his 2010 tome “Democratic Enlightenment.” He’s a masterful linguist in German, French, Italian and Spanish. Thus he goes to the primary source on everything he discusses; and his range is incredible. Anyway, he analysed the degree content as well as Weishaupt’s philosophy books and cites Boulanger, d’Holbach and Helvetius as being particularly influential, more so than Rousseau. In my own book I also draw attention to the fact that Weishaupt had “translated and put into circulation (1789 and 1794, respectively) his own German version of a large part of the first volume of Monde Primitif, by Antoine Court de Gébelin.” Specifically: “Saturn, Mercur und Hercules: Drey morgenländische Allegorien” (1789) and “Ueber den allegorischen Geist des Altertums” (1794). These were “Allégories orientales, ou le Fragment de Sanchoniaton qui contient l’histoire de Saturne, suivie de celles de Mercure et d’Hercule et de ses douze travaux, avec leur explication pour servir à l’intelligence du Génie symbolique de l’antiquité” and “Du Génie allégorique et symbolique des Anciens” from Volume one of Gebelin’s “Monde Primitif.” This is significant because Gebelin was known almost as a mystic Rousseau and read by both rationalists and occultists. He was in the Neuf Soeurs lodge with Benjamin Franklin. The primitivist “golden age” theories in “Monde Primitif” had a great impact on masons and philosophers alike during the Enlightenment. He spoke much about the Eleusinian and Egyptian mysteries too.

    I compiled the most comprehensive list of “Recommended reading for Illuminati initiates” in my book. Recommended “[m]ostly by Weishaupt himself, in correspondences to his subordinates; see Einige Originalschriften des Illuminatenordens, pp. 32-34, 49, 172, 176-177, 180, 198-200, 209-212, 239-240, 328-330; Peggy Pawlowski, doctoral dissertation, Der Beitrag Johann Adam Weishaupts zur Pädagogik des Illuminatismus, pp. 221-23.” I list them all with a short overview of the contents of each work. When you guys publish the Rituals and Doctrines I plan on looking for overt influences from the books in the master list. In those days more often than not plagiarism was accepted as much as paraphrasing, so it shouldn’t be hard to find more than a few confirmed cribbings.

  4. I was aware of the Court de Gébelin translation, and that’s one of the many things that has puzzled me, because “Le Monde Primitif,” which has been used in histories of the Tarot cards well into the 20th Century, even after Kaplan put an end to that. In “Nachtrag …” Weishaupt writes that he’d experimented with alchemy (or something to that effect) but that he felt it had been a waste of time and energy. In the ritual, he denounces such practices, and drawing a careful distinction between the Illuminati and the Illuminees, pointing out that the Illuminati’s orientation was rationalistic. Then 4 years after the last Illuminati lodge closes, he publishes Court de Gebelin. I’m not trying to catch you in a contradiction; I found those sources have pointed out quite easily and thanks to google books, they are now part of my digital library.

    So while they embraced hermetic philosophy, they rejected practices, right? This may place their higher degrees in what is loosely called “Western mysticism,” but not quite qualify them as a “magical order.” I’m saying “may” at this point, because until the translation is done — and that moment is fast approaching — I won’t have the time to research that as in-depth as I need to.

  5. Last lodges go silent in early 1788, according to the Monika article, with no explanation or formal reason why.

    My point was more to highlight the eclectic range of the influences. Even though he translated Gebelin while in exile, he surely had consumed Monde Primitif in the 1770s and 80s just as many of the Masons in Europe at the time. Saint Martin was even recommended to Illuminati at one point. Contradictions all around, especially since Saint-Martin was put in a row with the hidden Jesuits/Cryptocatholic-theosophers almost immediately – by Bode in particular – when his work was translated and circulated in Germany in the early 1780s.

    It’s operative occultism that was forbidden. You won’t find a hint of it anywhere even if you translate every conceivable primary document.The stuff that the OTO et. al. do as a matter of course, whose ancestry traces to the Gold and Rosy Cross, Asiatic Brethren, Swedenborgian Illuminism, Illumines d’Avignon, Martinism and later Mizraim rites. All the antagonists of the Illuminaten and vice versa.

    You’re right that Weishaupt experimented with occultism in his early years, and admits as much in his Introduction to his Apology. I have a French translation here by Lionel Duvoy (which also includes Faber’s entire degree book). Alchemical transmutation, spirit invocation, Kabbalah incantation, and playing the lottery (!) were some of the follies he admits to.

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