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:
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
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.