The Illuminati (plural of Latin illuminatus, “enlightened”) is a name given to several groups, both real and fictitious. Historically the name refers to the Bavarian Illuminati, an Enlightenment-era secret society founded on May 1, 1776 to oppose superstition, prejudice, religious influence over public life, abuses of state power, and to support women’s education and gender equality. The Illuminati were outlawed along with other secret societies by the Bavarian government leadership with the encouragement of the Roman Catholic Church, and permanently disbanded in 1785. In the several years following, the group was vilified by conservative and religious critics who claimed they had regrouped and were responsible for the French Revolution.
In subsequent use, “Illuminati” refers to various organizations claiming or purported to have unsubstantiated links to the original Bavarian Illuminati or similar secret societies, and often alleged to conspire to control world affairs by masterminding events and planting agents in government and corporations to establish a New World Order and gain further political power and influence. Central to some of the most widely known and elaborate conspiracy theories, the Illuminati have been depicted as lurking in the shadows and pulling the strings and levers of power in dozens of novels, movies, television shows, comics, video games, and music videos.