Who are the Illuminati and what do they control?
Beyonce, Madonna and Katy Perry among stars accused of being in secret society
The internet is awash with theories about the Illuminati, a mysterious group that conspiracy theorists believe is seeking a 'New World Order' that would impose a totalitarian world government. Among the alleged members of the secret society are not just politicians and religious leaders, but actors and pop stars.
Echoing the anti-communist witch-hunts and black-listings of 1950s Hollywood, one of the core beliefs of Illuminati watchers is that the entire entertainment industry has been infiltrated and that Illuminati members are using the media to brainwash the masses.
So who are the Illuminati and who has the group apparently recruited from Tinseltown?
Who are the Illuminati?
The original Illuminati group was founded in Bavaria in the 18th century by Adam Weishaupt, an anti-clerical professor who wanted to limit the interference of the Church in public life. He based his secret society on the Freemasons, with a hierarchy and mysterious rituals, and named it the Order of Illuminati to reflect the enlightened ideals of its educated members. The Illuminati was stamped out by a government crackdown on secret societies in the late 1780s, but rumours that it continued to survive as an underground organisation have persisted into the modern day.
What is the New World Order?
In post-war America, right-wing agitators claimed clandestine groups were planning a communist world government but the idea of a powerful modern Illuminati conspiring to rule the world remained a niche belief upheld by a handful of cranks until the 1990s. The spread of the internet changed all that, giving conspiracy theorists a global platform to expound their beliefs and present their evidence to a massive audience.
Theories about how the New World Order operates run from the faintly credible – in light of the Davos summit, a cabal of politicians and business leaders getting together to decide global policies doesn't seem impossible – to the outright bizarre.
Most unbelievable of all is former TV presenter David Icke's claim that the world's leaders are actually super-intelligent lizards in human guise who control our reality from the Moon. Those who remember Icke from his days on Grandstand may be surprised to know his theories about our reptilian overlords – who have included the Rothschilds, Bob Hope and Queen Elizabeth the Queen Mother - have amassed a faithful following on the internet.
Conspiracy theorists obsessively analyse public events for "evidence" of Illuminati influence. The symbols most associated with the Illuminati include triangles, pentagrams, goats, the all-seeing eye – such as the one that appears on US bank notes - and the number 666.
Who is supposedly a member?
As well as being king and queen of the charts, Beyonce and Jay Z are frequently depicted as lords of the New World Order. Beyonce's immense fame and popularity have long made her a favourite target for conspiracy theorists. Illuminati 'experts' seized upon her half-time performance at the 2013 Super Bowl as an example of her "devil-worshipping" choreography, even accusing her on-stage alter ego Sasha Fierce of being a "demonic entity".
Further encouraging the rumours is the widespread use of supposed "Illuminati" imagery in music videos. Many Freemason and Illuminati symbols, like devil horns and the all-seeing eye, have simply become popular in mainstream culture. But it's also true that some musicians seem to enjoy deliberately playing with symbols connected to secret societies.
For instance, Rihanna frequently incorporates Illuminati images into her music videos, and even joked about the theories in the video for S&M, which featured a fake newspaper with a headline declaring her "Princess of the Illuminati".
Jay Z has also been accused of hiding secret symbols such as goat imagery and devil horns in his music videos. Most damningly, the logo for his own music label, Roc-A-Fella Records, is a pyramid – one of the most well-known Illuminati logos.
What do celebrities have to say about the theories?
Katy Perry told Rolling Stone that the theory was the preserve of "weird people on the internet" but admitted she was flattered to be named among the supposed members: "I guess you've kind of made it when they think you're in the Illuminati!" But she was tolerant of people who wanted to believe in the theory because: "I believe in aliens".
Madonna, on the other hand, might just be a believer – all the more interesting given that she has frequently been accused of being a member herself. Speaking to Rolling Stone, she hinted that she had secret knowledge of the group. The claim is not so shocking given that she released a single titled 'Illuminati'. She said: "People often accuse me of being a member of the Illuminati, but the thing is, I know who the real Illuminati are."
Beyonce thrilled her fans by unexpectedly releasing a new single, Formation, last month – but conspiracy theorists were excited for another reason. The very first line of the track acknowledged the rumours: "Y'all haters corny with that Illuminati mess," she says, understandably unimpressed that she apparently owes her success to a devil-worshipping secret sect.
When Prince died suddenly of an accidental overdose in April, a small but vocal corner of the internet accused the Illuminati of killing the singer-songwriter, who was famous for fiercely protecting his copyrights and artistic freedom from industry interference.
"The Illuminati talk won't stop coming and what doesn't help is that Prince himself seems to have been genuinely convinced that the organisation existed," reports one gossip website.
In 2009, the singer appeared on TV to warn of powerful mystery figures controlling the world through "chemtrails" – chemicals pumped into the air via jet planes to manipulate human behaviour.