The Illusion of Control: The Priory of Sion & the Illuminati

From New Dawn Special Issue 2 (May 2006)

This whole secret society business is a slippery one. What is a secret society? How far back do they go? Human beings have been forming exclusive clubs ever since the first moment they developed enough intelligence to distinguish differences among their fellow human beings. Women had their own club, the warriors had another, and the priests still another.

In ancient Egypt the simple act of reading was considered sacred knowledge, meant only for the priest caste. Not even the Pharaoh knew how to read. Imagine the leader of an entire country being dependent on a small sect lurking behind the scenes in order to enact even the simplest of proclamations. How would such a country ever survive?

Perhaps this is what poet T.S. Eliot meant when he wrote in 1936, “You have to consider that any esoteric occult ritual is today socially acted out by the daily publishing and consuming of newspapers.” The simple act of reading would have been considered a magical ritual to the “uninitiated” of ancient Egypt. Therefore, merely by reading these words, you can consider yourself part of the original Inner Circle. How does it feel to be illuminated?

It always serves the purpose of the Inner Circle to keep as much knowledge away from the profane as humanly possible. If you’re dependent on me to interpret the holiest of sacred texts, then my job security is quite higher than it would be otherwise, isn’t it? The job of any priest caste is to convince the underlings that God (i.e., the Mysteries) is accessible only through them.

For example, Jesus was not officially made divine until the Council of Nicea voted on the issue in 325 CE.1 Amusingly, Jesus almost lost out on this, the Heavyweight Championship Title of the Cosmos, by only a few votes. It was necessary to transform Jesus into the Son of God because the Church wished to maintain control over the image of Godhood in the minds of the masses.

If Jesus isn’t divine, why do people need to flock to our Church leaders who act as a direct conduit to Him? No one goes to Church every Sunday to talk to Gandhi, no matter how many great deeds he performed in his lifetime. Nobody ever sees Gandhi in a tortilla or on a billboard on the side of the freeway. Such devotion does not exist for kind-hearted philanthropists like Martin Luther King or Mother Teresa. No, the only game in town is divinity, and if you don’t have that you don’t have a Church, and if you don’t have a Church you don’t have parishioners, and if you don’t have parishioners you don’t have money flowing into the coffers of the Vatican on a daily basis. Simply put, the Council of Nicea had to trademark the image of God, and the only way to do it was to make Jesus “theirs,” to make him divine. Those who dared to remove the thin veil of divinity from Jesus, particularly in the fourteenth century, were burned at the stake.

Unfortunately for the Church, the Gnostics and the Knights Templar were doing just that. Both organisations could be considered remnants of the Essenes, a hermetic secret society of Jews who flourished in Palestine from the second century BCE to the first century CE. Questioning the divinity of Jesus is one of the main reasons these “secret societies” were considered to be so dangerous. This is what forced them to go underground and develop secret signs and handshakes in order to pursue the rigours of genuine knowledge as opposed to the dogma of religious belief.

The significance of the Essenes’ philosophy is a central teaching embedded in the Rose Croix degrees of Scottish Rite Freemasonry, particularly the 17th degree. In his encyclopedic book Morals and Dogma, which concerns itself with the esoteric roots of Freemasonry, Albert Pike writes extensively about the Essenes and their connection to Jesus. Pike believed that Jesus himself was an initiate of the Essenes.

Thus, we see the need for secret societies emerge from two different impulses: one group feels the need to control, while the other feels the need to defend themselves against control. The Hegelian dialectic as warfare between opposing human impulses… between opposing secret societies. Fortunately, as William Burroughs once said, “Control is controlled by its need to control.”2 Some people need to feel as if they are in control every second of the day; this requires knowing what other people are doing at all times instead of tending to their own business. But if one is clever enough, it’s not difficult to control the controllers while allowing them to maintain the illusion they’re still calling the shots.

Knowing the enemy is on your trail, it’s sometimes necessary to create false fronts – red herrings, as it were – to keep the controllers off-balance and confused. When a lizard knows it’s being pursued by a predator, it will often shed its tail in order to distract its would-be killer. The predator will waste time pouncing on the tail; meanwhile, the lizard is scurrying off into the underbrush, where it can recoup and wait to reemerge, far stronger than before.

The same is true of secret societies. It’s sometimes necessary to create faux secret societies in order to capture the public’s attention, while the real important deeds are being performed in the shadows. What’s the use of a secret society even your mother is fully aware of?

Most mainstream Americans – indeed, mainstream citizens of any country – would be amazed at how many obscure secret societies are operating under their noses at all times. Some of these societies are insignificant, others quite powerful. From their names alone, most people wouldn’t be able to separate the wheat from the chaff. For example, have you ever heard of The Royal Order of the Jesters? How about The Mystic Order of the Veiled Prophets of the Enchanted Realm? Or the Order of the Trapezoid? Or the Royal Order of Quetzalcoatl?

By now, almost everybody has heard at least a whisper of such secret societies as the Priory of Sion and the Illuminati. They were real organisations, that much is certain, but in both cases their actual influence was very short-lived.

The Priory of Sion

As anybody who has read the best selling novel The Da Vinci Code already knows, the Priory of Sion is said to be an ancient secret society that has controlled world affairs for centuries. In truth, the man who started the Priory of Sion in 1956 was a rightwing confidence man named Pierre Plantard who was eventually imprisoned over allegations concerning fraud, embezzlement, and child corruption. His reputation as a charlatan was established early on. A French police report in 1941 states:

Plantard, who boasts of being in contact with numerous men of politics, appears to be one of those illumines and pretentious young people, heads of more or less fictitious groups, wanting to give themselves importance and who take advantage of the current movement in favour of youth to attempt to get themselves taken into consideration by the government.3

Plantard loved to weave tall tales about the Priory, boasting an impressive list of Grand Masters that stretched all the way back to the fourteenth century, perhaps even earlier. Alchemists like Nicolas Flamel and Robert Fludd, scientists like Leonardo da Vinci and Isaac Newton, and accomplished novelists like Victor Hugo and Jean Cocteau, were all High Muckety-Mucks at one point or another, according to the good Monsieur Plantard.

Plantard even claimed the Priory of Sion linked back to the Knights Templar and the Crusades. The Priory, however, is actually far younger. Researchers Lynn Picknett and Clive Prince determined that although the Priory “was established in 1956, it draws almost exclusively on late-nineteenth-century material for its history and folklore, suggesting that whoever the shadowy figures were behind Plantard and the Priory, they belonged to that era.”4 After a great deal of detective work, Picknett and Prince determined that a group of French synarchists were the true architects of the Priory of Sion myth.

The concept of synarchy was developed in the late nineteenth century by Joseph Alexandre Saint-Yves as a response to the anarchist movement so prevalent in Europe at that time:

Saint-Yves’s concept of synarchy was essentially a reaction to the rise of anarchy and therefore its opposite – a highly ordered method of government based on what he believed were universal laws and principles. Everything and everybody has its place and purpose; harmony is achieved by keeping to that place and fulfilling that purpose, whereas any circumvention of those natural laws leads to disaster. Everyone has to remain in his or her allotted station in life. (Papus likened the individual’s relationship to a nation or race to the cells’ relationship to the body. As each was preordained to fulfil a specific function, attempting to do anything else would only cause problems for both the individual and the organism as a whole.)

His works outlined an ambitious, visionary program for establishing synarchy in France and beyond. Each state must be highly organised at every level, with everyone in his or her own specific place; otherwise anarchy would triumph. Challenging one’s status would not be tolerated.5

Picknett and Prince choose to believe the synarchist influence, and therefore the Priory influence, has been influential to this very day in forging a European Union.

Though Picknett and Prince both admit the Priory story is a hoax, they suspect it is a hoax “in the same way that intelligence deceptions are hoaxes.”6 They believe the Priory is a mask the synarchists have worn over the years for various reasons. In 1956 the purpose was to act “as a front for groups plotting Charles de Gaulle’s return to power […]. Later, in the 1960s, it was revived with a new purpose, a misinformation exercise” that popularised the myth of an existing bloodline of Jesus Christ for the purpose of diverting “other esoteric groups from seeking out certain archives.”7

The truth of Picknett and Prince’s theories is impossible to know; some simply do not wish to know. For many people, the truth does not matter. After all, the theories of Picknett and Prince were colourful enough to pique the imagination of Dan Brown, who based his novel The Da Vinci Code, in part, on their 1997 book The Templar Revelation: Secret Guardians of the True Identity of Christ.

Dan Brown and Plantard are very similar in some ways. Brown, like Plantard, has a vivid imagination and a gift for telling an exciting tale. Plantard, like Brown, employed almost every significant historical figure and esoteric organisation, such as the Knights Templar, in order to make his myth seem palatable. But if Plantard was right, that the Priory links all the way back to the Knights Templar, the connection is a tenuous one. The two organisations are as much connected as a severed tail is to a panicked lizard.

The Illuminati

The same can be said of the Illuminati, a secret society formed in Germany by the dean of the faculty of law at Ingolstadt University on May 1, 1776. According to Masonic historian Manly P. Hall, Weishaupt’s secret society sprang out of the academic setting in which he worked every day: “There can be no doubt that Adam Weishaupt found himself in the midst of scholastic plotting and counterplotting. To him, the campus of the university was a microcosm of the world, and the conspiracies which flourished in the school symbolised the larger strife between reactionary and progressive factions.”8

Anyone who has had the slightest contact with modern academia can sympathise with Weishaupt’s position. The struggle between conservative and progressive factions has never been more Machiavellian than now. In this context I am by no means using the traditional political terms of “conservative” and “progressive.” In fact, the conservative factions in academia are, for the most part, represented by people who would be considered “liberal” by the outside world; alas, their liberal views do not extend toward their students. They are authoritarians who wish to control the minds of their students with extreme regimentation and useless rules. It is this same type of authoritarianism that Weishaupt found himself up against in the 1700s.

Two Freemasons named Baron Adolf von Knigge and Johann Joachim Christoph Bode helped Weishaupt form the Illuminati for the purpose of combating this authoritarian strain, not only in academia but in German society in general. The Illuminist Order never boasted more than two thousand members at a time, but these members were the brightest and most influential intellectuals of the day. However, their political goals did not constitute the entire purpose of the organisation; these goals were merely a natural outgrowth of their esoteric philosophies. As Hall states:

Certainly there was an undercurrent of things esoteric, in the most mystical sense of that word, beneath the surface of Illuminism. In this respect, the Order followed exactly in the footsteps of the Knights Templar. The Templars returned to Europe after the Crusades, bringing with them a number of choice fragments of Oriental occult lore, some of which they had gathered from the Druses of Lebanon, and some from the disciples of Hasan Ibn-al-Sabbah, the old wizard of Mount Alamut.

If there was a deep mystical current flowing beneath the surface of Illuminism, it is certain that Weishaupt was not the Castalian Spring […]. Weishaupt emerged as a faithful servant of a higher cause. Behind him moved the intricate machinery of the Secret Schools. As usual, they did not trust their full weight to any perishable institution. The physical history of the Bavarian Illuminati extended over a period of only twelve years. It is difficult to understand, therefore, the profound stir which this movement caused in the political life of Europe. We are forced to the realisation that this Bavarian group was only one fragment of a large and composite design […].

The ideals of Illuminism, as they are found in the pagan Mysteries of antiquity, were old when Weishaupt was born, and it is unlikely that these long-cherished convictions perished with his Bavarian experiment. The work that was unfinished in 1785 remains unfinished in 1950.9

Indeed, just as it remains unfinished today. Like a magician waving a handkerchief in order to distract his audience from the shenanigans occurring in the shadows, the Secret Schools sometimes find it necessary to feed bread and circuses to the profane in order to satiate their uncontrollable need to feel in control at all times.

Bread and circuses can take many forms. Recently, they’ve taken the form of pulp best sellers and multi-million dollar movies. In the past, they took the form of sermons and impressive stained glass windows and bells ringing atop church steeples all across the countryside. The opium of the masses is constantly morphing and adapting to the times.

          Control is controlled by its need to control.  

This article was published in New Dawn Special Issue 2.
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1. Michael Baigent, Richard Leigh and Henry Lincoln, Holy Blood, Holy Grail, (Dell, 1983).
2. William S. Burroughs, Dead City Radio (Island Records, 1990).
3. Lynn Pickett and Clive Prince, The Sion Revelation (Simon & Schuster, 2006), p. 65.
4. Lynn Pickett and Clive Prince, The Sion Revelation (Simon & Schuster, 2006), pp. 317-18.
5. Ibid, pp. 338-39.
6. Ibid, p. 429.
7. Ibid, p. 430.
8. Manly P. Hall, The Adepts In the Western Esoteric Tradition Vol. IV: Masonic Orders of Fraternity (Philosophical Research Society, 1950), pp. 76-77.
9. Ibid, pp. 78-80.
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About the Author

ROBERT GUFFEY is a lecturer in the Department of English at California State University – Long Beach. His most recent book is a journalistic memoir entitled Chameleo: A Strange but True Story of Invisible Spies, Heroin Addiction, and Homeland Security (OR Books, 2015). He is also the author of a collection of novellas entitled Spies and Saucers (PS Publishing, 2014). His first book of nonfiction, Cryptoscatology: Conspiracy Theory as Art Form, was published by TrineDay in 2012. He’s written stories and articles for numerous publications, among them The Believer, The Los Angeles Review of Books, Flavorwire, The Mailer Review, New Dawn and Postscripts.

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