Murdoch’s Illuminati: The “Expanded Canvas” of National Geographic Magazine
By Terry Melanson (9/8/2016)
A Rupert Murdoch company purchased a 73% controlling interest in National Geographic Magazine in September 2015. In November they layed off 180 employees in what The Washington Post called the “biggest layoff in its history.” Several fact-checkers were also sacked.
One article in the July/August issue of National Geographic History definitely could have used some fact-checking.
The most egregious errors in the piece, written by Isabel Hernandez, are the following:
“Born in 1748 in Ingolstadt, a city in the Electorate of Bavaria (now part of modern-day Germany), Weishaupt was a descendant of Jewish converts to Christianity.”
“Weishaupt initially thought of joining a lodge. Disillusioned with many of the Freemasons’ ideas, however, he became absorbed in books dealing with such esoteric themes as the Mysteries of the Seven Sages of Memphis and the Kabbala, and decided to found a new secret society of his own.”
“Over the following years, Weishaupt’s secret order grew considerably in size and diversity, possibly numbering 600 members by 1782. They included important people in Bavarian public life, such as Baron Adolph von Knigge and the banker Mayer Amschel Rothschild, who provided funding.”
Johann Adam Weishaupt was born a Catholic like his father, grandfather and great-grandfather. Before Jeva Singh-Anand (translator of the complete rituals of the Illuminati) died last year, he shared with me what he had been learning about Weishaupt’s ancestry. The records show that Weishaupt’s family were solid Catholics all the way back to the 30 Years War, in 1633 with his great-grandfather Wessel who was a choirmaster at a Catholic church. The first Weishaupt was found in 1528 in Brilon and was spelled “Wythovet,” a Low German form of the name, however he wasn’t related to Weishaupt’s family. In any case 1633 is as far back as can be documented and Wessel was indeed Catholic (i.e. not a convert).
That being said, I’d be remiss (and dishonest) not to mention that in the Dictionary of German-Jewish Surnames, Weisshaupt and Weishaupt are listed in the index of names. I don’t have an explanation for this nor have I consulted the work. Published by Avotaynu, Inc., they describe themselves as the “leading publisher of products of interest to persons who are researching Jewish genealogy, Jewish family trees or Jewish roots.” Author Lars Menk won the 2007 Obermayer German Jewish History Award for his efforts.
Mayer Amschel Rothschild was not a member of the Illuminati, and certainly didn’t fund the operation. Josef Wages suggests that the conflation of Weishaupt and Rothschild traces back to Nesta Webster’s 1921 book World Revolution, in a passage where she (wrongly) asserts that the Illuminati moved their headquarters to Frankfurt, the home of Jewish bankers such as the Rothschild family.
During the research for my book Perfectibilists—utilizing the membership studies of professors Herman Schüttler and Richard van Dülmen—it was immediately apparent that Rothschild was not on any authentic membership list. Still, I went further and investigated if any member of the Illuminati had a relationship with the Rothschild family. There were, in fact, only three (out of over a thousand): Karl Theodor Anton Maria von Dalberg (1744-1817); Karl, Landgrave of Hesse-Kassel (1744-1836); and the Thurn und Taxis family.
On Dalberg and Rothschild, from page 278 of Perfectibilists:
Archbishop Dalberg was a reluctant emancipator of the Jews. In 1811 he enacted a special law “decreeing that all Jews living in Frankfort, together with their descendants, should enjoy civil rights and privileges equally with other citizens.” In exchange for these newfound liberties, the Jews had to pay him 440,000 florins—financed by Mayer Amschel Rothschild, at a substantial profit no doubt. A number of Masonic Jews at the time also petitioned von Karl for the “exclusive right to maintain lodges in the city.”
According to Niall Ferguson, Mayer Amschel was soon acting as Dalberg’s “court banker.” During the emancipation of the Frankfurt Jews, Rothschild also advanced Dalberg 80,000 gulden “to finance his journey to Paris for the baptism of Napoleon’s son.” Afterwards, Rothschild assisted him in speculative purchases of land, and Dalberg returned the favor by appointing Mayer Amschel to the electoral college of Hanau. Mayer Amschel’s son, also named Amschel, continued the relationship after his father’s death, and advanced 250,000 gulden for Dalberg to purchase horses for the French army.
More precise details on their relationship are found in Amos Elon’s Founder: A Portrait of the First Rothschild and His Time. Elon (p. 136) suggests that there is evidence that Dalberg “had some business dealings with Rothschild in the past” before he became Prince-Primate of the Confederation of the Rhine, and Grand-Duke of Frankfurt in the early 1800s. Dalberg was an Illuminatus in the 1780s, the heyday of the Order; it seems unlikely that there was a connection at such an early date. The Illuminati lacked any significant organization by the late 1780s and by the mid-1790s had petered out completely.
The Hesse-Kassel family had extensive dealings with the Rothschilds and it was this relationship in the first place which propelled the Rothschilds into a European economic powerhouse. The Crown prince Wilhelm IX, Landgrave of Hesse-Kassel maintained a financial association with Meyer Amschel Rothschild as early as the 1760s. It was his brother Karl who was a member of the Illuminati, however; Wilhelm wasn’t even a Freemason. Karl and Rothschild certainly knew one another but there wasn’t much of a relationship. Wilhelm was in charge of the day-to-day governing while Karl was content with devoting his life to masonic and occult pursuits, spending most of his time in Schleswig and Holstein dabbling in alchemy and befriending Saint Germain. Furthermore, Karl, a conservative, had only joined the Illuminati to keep them in check. He certainly didn’t fund them with his own money nor would he have approved of Rothschild doing the same.
The Thurn und Taxis family enjoyed a unique monopoly—postmasters of the Holy Roman Empire. Rothschild took advantage of this:
He was luckier with another prince, Karl Anselm of Thurn and Taxis. His family — of Italian extraction — had been hereditary postmasters of the Holy Roman Empire since the sixteenth century. Karl Anselm’s business headquarters were in Frankfurt. In 1780 Rothschild became one of his preferred bankers, discounting the prince’s bills and granting him short term loans. The Thurn and Taxis postal service covered most of central Europe and its efficacy was proverbial … Rothschild’s ties with the administration of the Thurn and Taxis postal service were profitable to him in more than one way. He was a firm believer in the importance of good information. The postal service was an important source of commercial and political news. The Prince was widely thought to be paying for his monopoly as imperial postmaster by supplying the Emperor with political intelligence gained from mail that passed through his hands. He was not averse to using this intelligence himself — perhaps in conjunction with Rothschild — to make a commercial profit (Elon, op. cit., pp. 75-76).
There were two members of the family who had joined the Illuminati: Count Maximilian Carl Heinrich Joseph von Thurn und Taxis (1745-1825) and Count Thaddäus von Thurn und Taxis (1746-1799). The former didn’t apply the family trade, while the latter was the hereditary Postmaster General in Innsbruck and also a dedicated Freemason. It is not known whether the Illuminati tried to take advantage of his position, but it certainly would have been useful. Baron de Bassus had initiated him and was quite pleased with the acquisition, writing to Weishaupt that Thaddäus, along with the Governor of Tyrol, Count Johann Gottfried von Heister, Vice President of the Provincial Government in Innsbruck, Count Leopold Franz von Kinigl and other influential counselors of the government, were “inflamed by our system,” full of enthusiasm and eager to apply it with all their force (Einige Originalschriften des Illuminatenordens, pp. 393-4; cf. René Le Forestier, Les Illuminés de Bavière et la Franc-Maçonnerie Allemande, p. 399).
There was an explicit directive in the Illuminati that “Jews, pagans, women, monks and members of other secret Orders” were forbidden from entry (Einige Originalschriften…, p. 54). In fact, only a handful of Jews during the 18th century had even managed to become Freemasons. In German speaking lands, Jews—Rothschild included—were confined to the ghettos. They had to get permission to travel and certainly didn’t socialize with the educated and noble class.
Isabel Hernandez’ claim that Weishaupt “became absorbed in books dealing with such esoteric themes as the Mysteries of the Seven Sages of Memphis and the Kabbala” is pure speculation. First of all there’s no such thing as the “Seven Sages of Memphis”; she probably meant the Seven Sages of Greece. In the Spanish article she also included the “secret magic of Osiris,” but this was edited out of the English magazine feature.
I agree with Josef Wages. Taken together—Weishaupt’s Jewish blood, consulting the Kabbalah, Rothschild being a member and having funded the Order—“the author unwittingly utilizes and represents as fact, anti-Semitic propaganda.” Hernandez unfortunately only includes one source in her Spanish article: Serge Hutin, a fringe French author who wrote on ancient aliens, Atlantis, UFOs and all manner of esoterica.
Once again, however, I would be remiss (and dishonest) not to include the fact that Weishaupt, in his early years, by his own admission, had indeed consulted the Kabbalah, also dabbling in alchemical transmutation and spirit invocation. He said that he was crazy for doing so, that “the passage from credulity and bigotry to disbelief is very easy,” and it took him “a thousand follies and aberrations” to reach his current state of mind, divesting himself from the path of error (see Lionel Duvoy’s translation, Adam Weishaupt: Introduction à mon Apologie, Editions Grammata, 2010, p. 48). …But Hernandez certainly did not consult Weishaupt’s 1787 Einleitung zu meiner Apologie. Besides: Weishaupt didn’t mention anything about Osiris magic nor the “Mysteries of the Seven Sages of Memphis.”
Rather than utilizing a work from Serge Hutin, Hernandez’ primary source is chapter 2 (“The llluminati: Triumph of Treachery”) of Jüri Lina’s Under The Sign of The Scorpion: Rise and Fall of The Soviet Empire (1998/2002). There you will find alleged Rothschild Illuminati entanglement, reference to Weishaupt’s Jewish heritage, Cabbalistic preoccupation and being initiated into the “secrets of Osiris magic” by a mysterious “Danish Cabbalist Jew” named Kolmer.
The Kölmer legend first appeared in Volume III of Abbé Augustin Barruel’s tome against Philosophes, Freemasons, the Illuminati and the Jacobins. He related it rather tentatively as a rumour going round, and as a possible way of explaining the ostensibly advanced nature of Weishaupt’s mysteries.
It is not known, and it would be difficult to discover, whether Weishaupt ever had a master, or whether he is himself the great original of those monstrous doctrines on which he founded his school. There exists, however, a tradition which on the authority of some of his adepts we shall lay before the reader.
According to this tradition, a Jutland merchant, who had lived some time in Egypt, began in the year 1771 to overrun Europe, pretending to initiate adepts in the antient mysteries of Memphis. But from more exact information I have learned that he stopped for some time at Malta, where the only mysteries which he taught were the disorganizing tenets of the antient Illuminees, of the adopted slave; and these he sedulously infused into the minds of the people. These principles began to expand, and the island was already threatened with revolutionary confusion, when the Knights very wisely obliged our modern Illuminee to seek his safety in flight. The famous Count (or rather mountebank) Cagliostro is said to have been a disciple of his, as well as some other adepts famous for their Illuminism in the county of Avignon and at Lyons. In his peregrinations, it is said, he met with Weishaupt, and initiated him in his mysteries. If impiety and secrecy could entitle a person to such an initiation, never had any man better claims than Weishaupt. More artful and wicked than Cagliostro, he knew how to direct them among his disciples to very different ends.
Whatever may have been the fact with respect to this first master, it is very certain that Weishaupt needed none.
– In Memoirs Illustrating the History of Jacobinism, Real-View-Books reprint (1995), pp. 402-3.
Unfortunately, Barruel gave no citation nor provided a single clue as to which of Weishaupt’s adepts had recounted the story. Furthermore, Barruel’s book is the first instance in print of the Kölmer speculation, and all subsequent authors afterwards who have repeated it are relying solely on this one passage. Count Le Couteulx de Canteleu’s Les Sectes et Sociétés Secrètes draws attention to it (adding that Kölmer may be identical to Cagliostro’s alleged Master, Altotas), while Nesta Webster reiterated both Le Couteulx de Canteleu and Barruel.
In any case, Barruel was correct when he added the caveat that, in truth, Weishaupt needed no Master.
We now know much about Weishaupt’s influences—from philosophers such as Wolff, Leibniz, Bonnet, Locke, Meiners and Feder, to the precise number of books (4212 volumes) he had full access to in the library of his godfather Baron von Ickstatt—that “a Kölmer” is totally unnecessary. Ickstatt’s library may have been one the largest personal collections in Europe. With unfettered access, Weishaupt became an eclectic and a precocious bibliophile (see Perfectibilists, p. 16 and n.6 on p. 41).
Books were constantly being recommended to his initiates. Most of his “mysteries” had in fact been culled from choice sections among the writings of Meiners and Feder (who in turn became Illuminati themselves), Rousseau, Leibniz and Wolff. And while Nesta Webster gives credence to the Kölmer myth on the basis that some of the Illuminati mysteries reference such things as Fire Worship, Zoroastrianism, and the Mysteries of Eleusis; the plain fact is the very idea for such a thing stems from the contemporary religious studies of Meiners, a fellow philosopher whom Weishaupt admired.
German Illuminati expert Monika Neugebauer-Wölk writes:
From the outset, the Illuminaten Order evidently regarded itself as a competitor in an emporium … Between 1777 and 1779, Weishaupt developed the foundations of a grade system, initiatory rites, and a language using geographical and historical terminology…
For this purpose, two texts on the history of religion by the Göttingen professor of philosophy Christoph Meiners (1747-1810) were fundamental, namely Über die Mysterien der Alten, besonders über die Eleusinischen Geheimnisse (1776) and De Zoroastris vita, institutis, doctrina et libris Commentatio prior (1778). Meiners portrayed the ancient mysteries as a double initiation of believers. Superstitious notions were conveyed in the “Lesser Mysteries”, while in the “Greater Mysteries” the veil of superstition was torn away and those deemed worthy were initiated into the truths of rational understanding of God. Weishaupt accordingly drafted first texts for the Lesser and Greater Mysteries of the Illuminaten – “The religion of reason” as a mystery of an esoteric league –, and this idea was the starting point of the Illuminaten “order-system.” The presentation of the mystery grades, above all the form of the initiations and the temple, was conceived as an adaptation of the “fire-worship” of Zarathustra. The worldly struggle of the Illuminaten was related to the dualistic struggle between good and evil as cosmic principles. In June 1778, Weishaupt first dated an Order letter from “Eleusis” rather than “Ingolstadt”; simultaneously he began to use an ancient Persian calendar for dates. In this early phase, when Weishaupt was solely in charge, the secret society of the Illuminaten was conceived as a mystery league on the basis of the Enlightenment’s understanding of the history and criticism of religion.
– Monika Neugebauer-Wölk, “Illuminaten” entry, in Dictionary of Gnosis & Western Esotericism, ed. Wouter J. Hanegraaff, Brill Academic Publishers, 2005, p. 593.
As early as January, 1778, we find Weishaupt recommending Meiners to his trusted student/disciple/initiate, Franz Xaver von Zwack (Cato). “[R]ead … Various Philosophic [Writings] from Meiners, in three parts,” Weishaupt writes. “In the latter, one finds a treatise on the Eleusinian mysteries, that will bring you great enlightenment” (Einige Originalschriften des Illuminatenordens, pp. 198-9).
The entire nomenclature of the Lesser and Greater Mysteries of the Illuminati follows the pattern of what Meiners had written on the subject, who thought that it was only the Epopt of the Greater Mysteries who finally became privy to the final secret, lifting the veil of superstition: that the Gods were only men who had become deified.
The National Geographic History article goes on to make more mistakes such as twice calling Weishaupt’s godfather his uncle, that the Elector Karl Theodor’s widowed sister-in-law was actually his wife the “Grand Duchess of Bavaria,” that Weishaupt who had never been employed again as a teacher after leaving Ingolstadt had “taught philosophy at the University of Göttingen” during his exile in Gotha.
Bits of hyperbole were also added for effect:
On the night of May 1, 1776, the first Illuminati met to found the order in a forest near Ingolstadt. Bathed in torchlight, there were five men.
No torches; no forest; no indication it was nighttime—in any account. There were four besides Weishaupt. Most likely the May 1, 1776 founding was at Ingolstadt University or perhaps at Weishaupt’s residence.
Hernandez also botched the degree system, which was accompanied in the article with an illustration of the back of the US dollar bill—that ubiquitous Illuminati canard of conspiracy mythology.
Rupert Murdoch’s son, James Murdoch, spoke to the employees of National Geographic, assuring them that the deal promised “an expanded canvas for the National Geographic brand to grow and reach customers in new ways, and to reach new customers.”
Customers who consume anti-Semitic conspiracy theories are probably not the ones you want. And the old customers who have fond memories of the magazine and have nothing but respect for its history, object to the new “expanded canvas.”
Update, Sept. 27, 2020: The sources Jeva Singh-Anand consulted were the two standard scholarly studies on Weishaupt’s ancestry:
Edmund Hausfelder, “Die Familie des Adam Weishaupt und seine Schwiegereltern Sausenhofer“, in Sammelblatt des Historischen Vereins Ingolstadt 120 (2011), p. 215-245
Gerhard Brökel, “Adam Weishaupt. Der Gründer des Geheimbundes der Illuminaten und seine Vorfahren in Brilon,” Jahrbuch Hochsauerlandkreis. – 20. 2004 (2003), p. 75-81