Monday, April 11, 2022

#AtoZChallenge2022: I is for Illuminati

The A to Z of Conspiracy Theories: I is for Illuminati

This one is obvious.  So obvious in fact that I debated on whether or not to do it in favor of some other "I" entry.  But that would be doing a disservice really.

The term "Illuminati" brings up images of secret meetings of the ultra-rich and powerful in dark rooms plotting the power plays of the world.  

The "real" Illuminati was the Bavarian Illuminati, an Enlightenment-era secret society founded in the 18th Century.  They were a secret society and they did have ideas on how to better the world.  Like many secret societies they started and fizzled out in a matter of time.  Their legacy has largely been in rumor and conspiracy and, let's be honest, outright fiction.

While the intentions of the original Illuminati might have been good, the fictionalized Illuminati really captured people's imaginations.  None more so than writers Robert Shea and Robert Anton Wilson in their "The Illuminatus! Trilogy" which if I remember right is made up of five books.  That sounds on point, to be honest.  I remember seeing ads for it in Dragon magazine from the Science Fiction and Fantasy Book Club.   And I remember with much annoyance when people in various Usenet groups would discover "Fnord" and try to be all funny and cool.  

The rumors and fiction of the Illuminati grew over the years and were popularized by Shea & Wilson books and other popular books by Dan Brown (remember when everyone was reading him?) seem to be far more interesting than what is more likely the truth.  Not that there is a secret group of people that control the world, nor that there is no one controlling world, but rather there are sever groups out there that fancy themselves as the modern Illuminati and they are all working in their own self-interest and often cross-purposes to each other to really get anything done.

Or to quote the great Alan Moore:

“The main thing that I learned about conspiracy theory, is that conspiracy theorists believe in a conspiracy because that is more comforting. The truth of the world is that it is actually chaotic. The truth is that it is not The Iluminati, or The Jewish Banking Conspiracy, or the Gray Alien Theory.

The truth is far more frightening - Nobody is in control.

The world is rudderless.”


Following the steps of Shea & Wilson, but honestly more into the steps of Umberto Eco I have always wanted to have the character investigate a conspiracy theory to it's ultimate source.  The proverbial head of the beast, only to discover there is no head and the beast has been dead for a while.  I call these "anti-endings" and they are like what you read in "The Dream-Quest of the Unknown Kadath" or even in the TV series "The Prisoner."   It's just sometimes they are interesting (Kadath, "Foucault's Pendulum") others they are frustrating (Prisoner).

Finding the Illuminati in a game should be a never-ending quest. Find a group that seems to be in charge and very powerful only to learn they take their orders from someone else. 

Plus it is convenient and, like Moore says, comforting to think there is one monolithic organization in control. But it is also not great for a game.  Think back to the X-Files.  Had they uncovered the alien conspiracy in Season 3, what would they do next?

The Illuminati really doesn't exist.  But that might be exactly what they want you to think!

The NIGHT SHIFT RPG is available from the Elf Lair Games website (hardcover) and from DriveThruRPG (PDF).


Tim Knight said...

My gateway drug into the wild world of insane conspiracy theories, thanks to reading The Illuminatus! Trilogy as a teenager.

The Illuminati have "popped up" (unseen) in the background of many of my superhero games since, but the players never came close to realising this, which was both a vindication of my choice of Big Bad and slightly frustrating that I never got to do the Scooby-Doo "unmasking" scene with them.

PT Dilloway said...

In some Marvel comics some of the smartest heroes have formed an Illuminati type group, which I think may even be part of the next Dr. Strange movie.

I largely agree with Moore that the world is chaotic. For some people these conspiracy theories take the place of religion in providing a way to explain what really can't be explained.

Dick McGee said...

Nonexistent as they are the Illuminati did, at least, bring us Steve Jackson's excellent Illuminati game and its many sequels and spinoffs. Arguably makes them the best of all the wretched nonsense you've covered so far. :)

Arlee Bird said...

I've often heard of the illuminati. Some aspects of the concept I think might have some credence. It seems like I've heard some connection between the Masons and the illuminati. I don't know, but overall I'm not particularly concerned if this secret group exists or not.

Arlee Bird
Tossing It Out

Timothy S. Brannan said...

@Dick McGee, "wretched nonsense" HAHAHA! I love that. That about sums it up really.

Astrid said...

This is so interesting! I'd heard of the Illuminati because I have dissociative identity disorder and most people in that community seem to have (or claim to have) a history of ritual abuse/mind control and for this reason believe in this conspiracy. That quote about no-one being in control really is so fascinating - and frightening.

Pun Isaac said...

My favorite take on the Illuminati is the one that appears in the DC Comics Time Masters miniseries. In it Rip Hunter and team deal with the organization which is basically Vandal Savage's way to shape society.