Thoughts To Live By…

Archive for May 2009

By HealthDay – Wed May 27, 8:49 PM PDT

WEDNESDAY, May 27 (HealthDay News) — Drinking too much cola can increase the risk of a muscle problem called hypokalemia, experts warn.

In people with hypokalemia, a drop in blood potassium levels results in problems with vital muscle functions. Symptoms can range from mild weakness to serious paralysis, say Greek researchers who conducted a review of people who drank between two to nine liters of cola a day.

Two of the patients were pregnant women who were admitted to hospital with low potassium levels. One was a 21-year-old woman who drank up to three liters of cola a day and complained of fatigue, appetite loss and persistent vomiting. An electrocardiogram revealed she had a heart blockage, and blood tests showed she had low potassium levels, the researchers explained in a news release.

The second pregnant patient, who’d consumed up to seven liters of cola a day for 10 months, had low potassium levels and was suffering from increasing muscular weakness, the researchers noted.

Both patients made a rapid and full recovery after they stopped drinking cola and took oral or intravenous potassium. The case studies are described in the June issue of the International Journal of Clinical Practice.

“We are consuming more soft drinks than ever before, and a number of health issues have already been identified including tooth problems, bone demineralization and the development of metabolic syndrome and diabetes,” and there’s increasing evidence that excessive cola consumption leads to hypokalemia, Dr. Moses Elisaf, of the University of Ioannina, said in the news release.

Elisaf said the three most common ingredients in cola — glucose, fructose and caffeine — can contribute to hypokalemia.

“The individual role of each of these ingredients in the pathophysiology of cola-induced hypokalemia has not been determined and may vary in different patients,” Elisaf said. “However, in most of the cases we looked at for our review, caffeine intoxication was thought to play the most important role. This has been borne out by case studies that focus on other products that contain high levels of caffeine but no glucose or fructose.”

However, “caffeine-free cola products can also cause hypokalemia because the fructose they contain can cause diarrhea,” Elisaf said.

By Susan Adams

Improving your health can be as simple as eating these items.

Eaten many coconuts lately? How about cherries or blueberries or grass-fed beef?

You should, because these are all foods with powerful health properties. However, few people pack their grocery carts full of these items.

Take kiwifruit. It’s chock full of vitamin C–a whopping 115% of what you need to eat in a day. It’s also low in calories–just 45 per fruit, sans skin.

“In America, most people don’t eat three servings of fruit and vegetables a day,” says nutritionist Jonny Bowden, author of seven books including, most recently, The 150 Most Effective Ways to Boost Your Energy. According to him, there are 10 very healthy foods we don’t eat enough of.

Ignore the Food Pyramid

Bowden says many Americans are misled by the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s food pyramid, which is a graphic, pyramid-shaped depiction of nutrition guidelines, updated every five years, that tells Americans what to eat according to food groups. Bowden dismisses it as the product of interest group politics.

“It demonizes fat,” notes Bowden. “Fat is an essential building block for many important compounds in the body.” This is why Bowden puts grass-fed beef, wild salmon and, yes, coconuts, on his top 10 list.

Salmon, in particular, is loaded with omega-3 fatty acids, which are associated with heart and brain health as well as bringing down blood pressure and triglycerides, a risk factor for heart disease. Omega-3s have also been found to improve mood and reduce inflammation, says Bowden.

Another food packed with nutritional value that’s present–but not necessarily front and center in every grocery store–is kale. A member of the cabbage family, which Bowden dubs “vegetable royalty,” kale contains indoles, a compound found to fight cancer. Kale is also rich in antioxidants, which also help prevent cancer, says Bowden.

If that’s not enough for you, kale is also full of sulforaphane, yet another cancer-prevention agent. Kale has calcium, iron and vitamins A, C and K, and two nutrients that are great for the eyes, including zeaxanthin. Kale’s pièce de résistance: Two cups packs three grams of fiber. Try sautéing it with garlic and butter, recommends Bowden. Or eat it like salad, with pine nuts, cranberries and olive oil.

Then there are coconuts, a terribly misunderstood food, according to Bowden. The fat in coconuts is a particular kind that’s good for you. It’s called MCT, or Medium-Chain Triglycerides. The body doesn’t store MCT as fat, says Bowden, but rather uses it as energy, like a carbohydrate. Coconuts are also high in lauric acid, a fatty acid that tends to kill pathogens. In addition, coconut oil is great for cooking since it has a very high smoke point.

Eat Mediterranean

For Bowden, sticking to a Mediterranean-style diet is the healthiest way to eat. That means plenty of fruits and vegetables, whole grains, fish, and lots of olive and nut oils. The Mediterranean diet has indeed been proved by study after study to have multiple healthful properties.

If all that sounds just too darn healthy, consider the 10th food on Bowden’s list: dark chocolate. Rich with a phytochemical called flavanol, found by a 2005 study in the Journal of the American College of Cardiology to improve cardiovascular health, chocolate with at least 60% cocoa content should be a regular on your shopping list.

Chocolate and coconut anyone? OK, but not until you’ve finished your kale.

Thursday, January 15th, 2009

by Brett Blumenthal

A couple of years ago, the Boston Marathon promoted its event with a series of inspiring billboards.  All of them were black and white images of a runner, with a quote that expressed their reason for running.  Some billboards were of fully mobile individuals and others were of those who were disabled but were determined to cross the finish line, either through a family member’s or friend’s assistance, or through the use of a prosthetic device.  Each had different quotes, but one in particular really stood out: the runner’s response was simple…“Because I can.”

As kids, the “Little Engine who could” told us a valuable tale of an extraordinary spirit…of perseverance…of determination…of believing in ourselves. As adults, we don’t always have tales to teach us these valuable lessons. And, as a result we start making excuses. We stop learning. We stop trying.

‘Because I can’ eliminates these excuses. It pushes us past the status quo and our comfort zones. It gives us a reason to do the things that we think we can’t. And, it enables us to believe in ourselves.

Practicing ‘Can’ thinking is important to keeping us young, to having a positive outlook, to staying motivated and to reaching our goals. Further, it can help us lead richer and fuller lives that are more rewarding. The fact that you have the ability to do something empowers you to do it, whatever the task might be.

How can you use the power of ‘Because I can’? Here are a few ways to incorporate this positive thinking into various aspects of your own life:

  1. Be More Active: Whether it is to get to the store or work, or if it is climbing the stairs instead of taking the elevator, embracing a ‘Because I can’ attitude is an easy way to incorporate more activity into your life. Break the ‘I’m tired’ or ‘It is too hard’ or ‘It is too far’ cycle. Increasing your activity level will provide enormous benefits, both physically and mentally.
  2. Try Something New: It is easy for us to make excuses for why we shouldn’t try new things. Maybe you think it is out of your comfort zone. Maybe it seems too difficult. Or maybe, it is just inconvenient. Reminding yourself that ‘You Can’ try something new will help you to move past these roadblocks and discover new things about yourself and possible new interests.
  3. Reach for the Stars: No matter how old you are, setting new goals and continually dreaming makes life more interesting and rewarding. Whether it is professionally or personally, find new ways to stretch yourself, to learn and to grow. Pushing yourself to be the best you can be will give you a sense of accomplishment. Further, you’ll never feel bored.
  4. Speak Up: Often, we can become complacent in our lives, going through a routine and not addressing things that bother us or make us unhappy. You have a voice. Use that voice ‘because you can’. Communicating to loved ones, co-workers and even your boss as to how you feel, what your needs and expectations are and what you are thinking can help you develop deeper, more meaningful and rewarding relationships. Further, you will be truer to yourself, inevitably making you a happier individual.
  5. Go the Extra Mile: No, you don’t have to be a marathon runner to incorporate this slogan into your exercise routine. But, when you are at the end of your thirty minute aerobic workout, try going an extra ten minutes ‘Because you can.’ You’ll empower yourself to push beyond the ‘status quo.’ Additionally, you will strengthen your heart and burn off the cheesecake from the night before.
  6. Increase Your Willpower: Saying ‘No’ to our favorite indulgences can be challenging. However, developing a strong willpower, whether it is in response to our favorite chocolate cake or to over-shopping and spending past our means is something that we can all benefit from. Next time you are tempted to do something you think you might regret, try reminding yourself that you ‘can’ say no. YOU have the power.

The human spirit can be very fragile, but incorporating positive thinking, such as ‘Because I can,’  while, eliminating ‘because I can’t’ from your thought processes, can be very powerful.

Do you have any techniques that motivate you to step out of your comfort zone and move beyond the status quo? What inspires you?

Sunday, March 8th, 2009

Throughout life, there are times when we may come across an individual or a situation where a person is very dominant, controlling and possibly even manipulative. Sometimes it is a boss who doesn’t allow us to voice our opinions. Sometimes it is a family member who is very demanding and finds ways to get us to manipulate us into doing what they want. And sometimes, it may be a friend who is very pushy and demands that others do things their way, on their time schedule, forgetting that those around them are affected in the process.

This can frustrate us, making us feel stifled, and worst of all, powerless. And although it may come to a head only once in awhile, if we are in a relationship or friendship where this happens on a frequent basis, it can take a toll, and we can lose our sense of worth and even worse, sense of self. It can be debilitating. The only way we can avoid these feelings is to take the power back, and empower ourselves.

Let’s take an illustrative example of a friend who is perpetually late. You find it irritating and inconsiderate. Moreover, you resent the fact that her perpetual lateness causes you to be late as well. With this example in mind, here are six steps to empower yourself out of her control:

  1. Take Charge of Your Life: The only person who can really control your life is you. Start acknowledging how you feel about these situations. Start making decisions for yourself and prioritizing what is important to you. Example: Admit that your friend’s lateness bothers you. Think about the ideal situation and how you would like it to play out. Picture it in your mind.
  2. Set Goals: Setting goals allows us to stay true to what is important to us. Goals can be big or small. Whatever the case, create goals that are important to you and don’t let anyone else hurt your chances of reaching them. Example: If there is an event or function that you want to be on time for, set a goal that you will be on time no matter what.
  3. State Your Opinion/Thought/Preference: Once you have a goal in mind, state it out loud. State it to yourself and to the other person so they know where you stand. Be clear in voicing your expectation, and don’t leave anything up to the imagination by assuming the person understands what you want. Example: State to the individual who is always late that it is very important to you that you are on time for the event. Let them know you are willing to go without them if they aren’t ready in time.
  4. Stand Your Ground: Wishywashiness isn’t going to help you in these situations. Don’t back down from what you believe, feel or want. Stand your ground and follow through with your plan to ensure your goal is met. Example: If the other person is late, leave without them. If you don’t, they will continue to assume that it is okay to push their schedule on you.
  5. Stop Relying on Others for Approval: Part of what allows us to be ruled by others is that we want their approval. The reality is, if you respect yourself and stand up for what you want, then others will start respecting you more for it.  Example: If after you leave and the other person gets upset. Make it clear that you informed them you would leave without them. Don’t apologize. You did what was important to you and you stayed true to yourself.
  6. Let go: There will be times when these steps aren’t always possible. You might just find that a relationship is repetitively one-sided in consideration. Instead of getting upset, let go. Realize that the person isn’t going to change and that you have the power to not let it bother you. Find ways to ensure that you take care of yourself. Example: If the person continues to be late for everything, stay true to your priority and start going alone and stop caring. Let go of the feelings and just accept them for who they are and start empowering yourself to be the on-time person you want to be.

Empowering yourself is important. Waiting for others to empower you gets you nowhere. Have you had a relationship where you felt you had no power? What did you do to address the situation?

by Brett Blumenthal – Sheer Balance, on Mon May 18, 2009 7:35am PDT

  1. Believe in Yourself. If you believe in yourself, others will believe in you as well.  Believe in all that you are, all that you can be and all that you stand for.
  2. Never Stop Dreaming. Dreamers have the ability to change the world.  They envision the impossible and make it happen.  Follow your dreams and you will achieve the unachievable.
  3. Do What you Love. Life is too short to not enjoy what you do.  Don’t do what you think you should do, or what everyone else wants you to do, or for that matter, what you think everyone wants you to do.  Find your own passion, and do what you love.
  4. Stay True to Who You Are. Don’t forget where you came from or what you believe in.  Remembering this will help you to make the best decisions in life and will help you to live a life without regret.
  5. Don’t Settle for Mediocrity. In Jim Collin’s first sentence of his book “Good to Great”, he states,  “Good is the enemy of great.”  Good is often sufficient.  Greatness, however, never settles.  Greatness expects more…always.  Expect the best from yourself and from others, and always look for the opportunities to make things better.  Don’t accept things as they are, for positive change comes from improving what is.
  6. Don’t Burn Bridges. There will be times in your life when you may not care what other people think, but you never know when those people may pop up in your life again.  Always do the right thing and maintain your relationships, for they may prove to be invaluable when you least expect it.
  7. Live Honestly and with Integrity. At the end of the day, you only have to answer to yourself.  Keep your word when you make a promise; and live in a way that makes you proud and in a way that enables you to look in the mirror every morning and like what you see.
  8. Live with Humility. We all are imperfect and it is important to acknowledge our flaws just as much as our positive traits.  Be thankful for your talents, for your successes and for the good fortune that comes your way.  Don’t ever expect things just because you think you deserve them.   You have to earn them.
  9. Love, Respect and Forgive Yourself. Self-love is most important when it comes to finding and experiencing love with others.  Always treat yourself with kindness and forgive yourself for the times that you make mistakes.
  10. Love Others Openly. When you love, love openly and unconditionally.  This will allow you to experience a deeper love that can celebrate the best of times, as well as get you through the worst of times.

Some of these may seem cheesy to some, but I believe that all of these are important to living a full, meaningful life on which you can look back and smile.

If you were to impart your own knowledge and wisdom to new graduates, what would you tell them?  What lessons would you want them to learn?

Although we like to think that the people in our lives are well-adjusted, happy, healthy minded individuals, we sometimes realize that it just isn’t so.  Personally, I’ve had moments where I’ll be skipping through my day, happy as can be, thinking life is grand and BAM, I’ll be blindsided by someone who manages to knock the happy wind out of my sails.  Sometimes it is easy to write it off and other times, not so much.

Maybe you are a positive person, but when you are around a certain individual, you feel negative.  Or, maybe you have an idealistic view of the world and when you are with certain people, you are made to feel silly, unrealistic or delusional.  Or, maybe you pride yourself in being completely independent and in control of your life, but when you are around a certain family member, you regress into a state of childhood.

Some of these situations, and yes, these people, can have a tremendously negative impact on our lives.  And, although we are all human and have our ‘issues,’ some ‘issues’ are quite frankly, toxic.  They are toxic to our happiness.  They are toxic to our mental outlook.  They are toxic to our self-esteem.  And they are toxic to our lives.  They can suck the life out of us and even shorten our lifespan.

Here are the worst of the toxic personalities out there and how to spot them:

1. Manipulative Mary: These individuals are experts at manipulation tactics.  Is a matter of fact, you may not even realize you have been manipulated until it is too late.  These individuals figure out what your ‘buttons’ are, and push them to get what they want.

  • Why they are toxic: These people have a way of eating away at your belief system and self-esteem.  They find ways to make you do things that you don’t necessarily want to do and before you know it, you lose your sense of identity, your personal priorities and your ability to see the reality of the situation.  The world all of a sudden becomes centered around their needs and their priorities.

2. Narcissistic Nancy: These people have an extreme sense of self-importance and believe that the world revolves around them.  They are often not as sly as the Manipulative Marys of the world, but instead, tend to be a bit overt about getting their needs met.  You often want to say to them “It isn’t always about you.”

  • Why they are toxic: They are solely focused on their needs, leaving your needs in the dust.  You are left disappointed and unfulfilled.  Further, they zap your energy by getting you to focus so much on them, that you have nothing left for yourself.

3. Debbie Downers: These people can’t appreciate the positive in life.  If you tell them that it is a beautiful day, they will tell you about the impending dreary forecast.  If you tell them you aced a mid-term, they’ll tell you about how difficult the final is going to be.

  • Why they are toxic: They take the joy out of everything.  Your rosy outlook on life continues to get squashed with negativity.  Before you know it, their negativity consumes you and you start looking at things with gray colored glasses yourself.

4. Judgmental Jims: When you see things as cute and quirky, they see things as strange and unattractive.  If you find people’s unique perspectives refreshing, they find them ‘wrong’.  If you like someone’s eclectic taste, they find it ‘disturbing’ or ‘bad’.

  • Why they are toxic: Judgmental people are much like Debbie Downers.  In a world where freedom rings, judgment is sooo over.  If the world was a homogeneous place, life would be pretty boring.  Spending a lot of time with these types can inadvertently convert you into a judgmental person as well.

5. Dream Killing Keiths: Every time you have an idea, these people tell you why you can’t do it.  As you achieve, they try to pull you down.  As you dream, they are the first to tell you it is impossible.

  • Why they are toxic: These people are stuck in what is instead of what could be.  Further, these individuals eat away at your self-esteem and your belief in yourself.  Progress and change can only occur from doing new things and innovating, dreaming the impossible and reaching for the stars.

6. Insincere Illissas: You never quite feel that these people are being sincere.  You tell a funny story, they give you a polite laugh.  You feel depressed and sad and they give you a ‘there, there’ type response.  You tell them you are excited about something and you get a very ho-hum response.

  • Why they are toxic: People who aren’t sincere or genuine build relationships on superficial criteria.  This breeds shallow, meaningless relationships.  When you are really in need of a friend, they won’t be there.  When you really need constructive criticism, they would rather tell you that you are great the way you are.  When you need support, they would rather see you fail or make a fool of yourself.

7. Disrespectful Dannys: These people will say or do things at the most inappropriate times and in the most inappropriate ways.  In essence, they are more subtle, grown up bullies.  Maybe this person is a friend who you confided in and uses your secret against you.  Maybe it is a family member who puts their busy-body nose into your affairs when it is none of their business.  Or maybe, it is a colleague who says demeaning things to you.

  • Why they are toxic: These people have no sense of boundaries and don’t respect your feelings or, for that matter, your privacy.  These people will cause you to feel frustrated and disrespected.

8. Never Enough Nellies: You can never give enough to these people to make them happy.  They take you for granted and have unrealistic expectations of you.  They find ways to continually fault you and never take responsibility for anything themselves.

  • Why they are toxic: You will spend so much time trying to please them, that you will end up losing yourself in the process.  They will require all of your time and energy, leaving you worn out and your own needs sacrificed.

All of these personalities have several things in common.  1) the more these people get away with their behavior, the more they will continue.  2) Unfortunately, most of these people don’t see that what they do is wrong and as a result, talking to them about it will fall on deaf ears, leaving you wondering if you are the crazy one.  3) Most of these people get worse with age, making their impact on you stronger with time.

Frankly, life is too short to spend your time dealing with toxicity.  If you can, avoid spending mucho time with people who are indicative of these behaviors and you’ll feel a lot happier. Have you encountered these personalities?  What have you done?  Any personalities you would add?

Massimo Introvigne, of the Center for Studies on New Religions, gives some background on the mysterious Illuminati whom Harvard symbologist Robert Langdon tracks down in Angels & Demons.

Again? After The Da Vinci Code another Ron Howard movie against the Catholic Church?

Introvigne: The situation is not the same. The Da Vinci Code, both as a book and as a movie, did cause serious damage by attacking the very core of the Christian faith, the historical Jesus Christ and the Christian persuasion that Jesus Christ is the Son of God. Angels & Demons was published before The Da Vinci Code and originally was not very successful. Only after the Code was it republished and it went on to become an international bestseller. The novel was quite anti-Catholic. Less so the movie, where some of the crudest anti-Catholic attacks of the novel have been omitted.

The movie — a better movie than The Da Vinci Code as a thriller — does include a number of factual mistakes, but confusion about how the Pope is elected is admittedly less threatening for the faith than denying the divinity of Jesus Christ. Repeating old myths about the Illuminati does disturb professional scholars but is not directly against the Christian faith. From a Roman Catholic point of view the most disturbing parts of the movie are those spreading the false myth that the Church organized “purges” and massacres of scientists, and the cavalier way in which the delicate question of the relationship between faith and science is discussed. But there are literally hundreds of books, novels and movies spreading the same myths.

Certainly Angels & Demons may be criticized for this, and Christian scholars would do well to set the record straight. But we are not confronted with the same level of anti-Christian attack of The Da Vinci Code. While the strong Christian reaction against the Code was unavoidable, mobilizing Christians in the same way against the movie Angels & Demons would probably amount to overkill.

What about the conclave? Does the movie get it right?

Introvigne: Not really. There are no “preferiti” (favorites) in a conclave, nor a “great elector” who is not himself eligible. In order to become Pope, contrary to what the movie claims, it is not necessary to be a bishop physically present in the Sistine Chapel (any male Catholic baptized, adult and celibate may be elected). In Angels & Demons a central character is a “camerlengo” who is not a cardinal. In fact, since the 15th century, the “camerlengo”, who manages the Church during the interregnum following the death of a Pope, is indeed a cardinal.

Did the “great castration” of the “pagan” statues by the Blessed Pius IX (1792-1878) really happen?

Introvigne: No, it didn’t. The legend dates back to English-language anti-clerical pamphlets of the late 19th century. What is true is that certain statues had their prominent genitalia covered by fig leaves. This happened at various stages during the 17th, 18th, and 19th century (not only in Rome) and was certainly not a new idea of Pius IX. The claim in the movie that pagan statues in the center of Rome were destroyed by Pius IX “at the end of the 19th century” is preposterous. At “the end of the 19th century” Pius IX was dead, and the center of Rome was administered by the (quite anti-clerical) Kingdom of Italy. If anything, Pius IX had a keen interest in archeology and in restoring the ancient historical and artistic monuments of Rome. He was even criticized for this by Catholics who believed that supporting Roman archeology was not part of the Church’s mission, or a waste of its resources.

In the movie Langdon tells the story of “la Purga” (the Purge) as follows: “1668, the church kidnapped four Illuminati scientists and branded each one of them on the chest with the symbol of the cross, to purge them of their sins. And they executed them, threw their bodies in the street as a warning to others to stop questioning church ruling on scientific matters”. Did this really happen?

Introvigne: No, it didn’t. No such execution or killing took place in 1668, nor at any other date.

OK. But we all know that the Church was at war with science for centuries…

Introvigne: The question of the relationship between religion and science in general, and science and the Catholic Church in particular, is very complicated. Certainly it cannot be solved by a movie in a two-minute speech. Vatican documents have recognized that mistakes were made by men of the Church (as well as by scientists). It is however important to recognize that science was born in the West (and it was not born elsewhere), as sociologist Rodney Stark has illustrated, mostly because of the Church’s teaching about a world created according to reason and about the possibility that human reason can discover the rules of the world. These efforts by human reason, which created science, were born in monasteries and Catholic universities.

Several great scientists were pious Christians, not only in the Middle Ages. Other scientists did and do not like that the Church constantly reminds them that science should respect, just as any other fully human enterprise, certain moral limits, a topic which is must debated today. There have been and there [still] are also some scientists who claim to be able to “prove” that God does not exist, a claim whose nature is obviously not scientific but religious in itself.

Did Galileo Galilei (1564-1642) write a book known as Diagramma veritatis (Diagram of Truth)?

Introvigne: No.

In the movie, Langdon enters the Vatican Secret Archives, where, inter alia, the documents of the Galileo trial are kept. Are these documents really secret?

Introvigne: The name “Vatican Secret Archives” is somewhat misleading. It is the historical name of the Vatican Archives but, at least from the end of the 19th century, any scholar with credentials (Catholic or non-Catholic) has no more trouble accessing documents there than in any other major archive throughout the world. The documents of the Galileo trial have been studied by many scholars, both Catholic and non-Catholic, in the last two centuries. Rather than concealing these documents the Vatican Secret Archives themselves started publishing an annotated edition in 1984.

In the same Vatican Secret Archives, in a section “Banco Vaticano”, there is according to the movie a full inventory of the Catholic Church’s many possessions, including the works of art. True?

Introvigne: False. There is no such inventory, nor does a Vatican bank called “Banco Vaticano” exists.

The movie claims that English was forbidden in the 16th and 17th century by the Catholic Church as an “evil” language, and was used by international scientists such as the Illuminati. This sounds strange. Is there some truth in it?

Introvigne: No. Both the 16th and the 17th century had a sizeable Catholic literature in English. Scientists wrote mostly in Latin. In the novel (and in the movie) this strange theory is used in order to explain why exactly a secret society supposedly active in Rome in the 17th century such as the Illuminati should use word games in English and brand English words on the chest of their enemies (of course, the real answer is that Dan Brown originally wrote his novel in English and had in mind an English-speaking audience).

Angels & Demons by Dan Brown is not the first bestselling novel claiming that the Illuminati were, or are, an important and powerful secret society. Is this only a novel?

Introvigne: Not according to Dan Brown himself. He claims in his website that: “Secret societies like the Illuminati go to enormous lengths to remain covert. Although many classified intelligence reports have been written on the brotherhood, few have been published. Conspiracy theories on the Illuminati include infiltration of the British Parliament and US Treasury, secret involvement with the Masons, affiliation with covert Satanic cults, a plan for a New World Order, and even the resurgence of their ancient pact to destroy Vatican City.

Separating Illuminati fact from fiction can be difficult on account of the massive quantities of misinformation that has been generated about the brotherhood. Some theorists claim this plethora of misinformation is actually generated by the Illuminati themselves in an effort to discredit any factual information that may have surfaced. This concealment tactic – known as ‘data-sowing’ – is often employed by US intelligence agencies”. Actually, Dan Brown seems to take the continuing existence of Illuminati even more seriously than his character Robert Langdon.

But the existence of the Illuminati is an historical fact, isn’t it?

Introvigne: Yes, it is. The Order of the Illuminati was established on May 1, 1776 at the University of Ingolstadt, then part of the Kingdom of Bavaria, in Germany, by a professor of law called Adam Weishaupt (1748-1830). The Illuminati were an interesting organization, with both esoteric rituals and a political aim, based on the Enlightenment philosophy and ultimately aimed at overthrowing the Roman Catholic and politically conservative Kingdom of Bavaria and replacing it with a liberal republic.

Were the Illuminati part of Freemasonry?

Introvigne: Not originally. Weishaupt was quite critical of Freemasonry and wanted to establish a different order with different rituals. He, however, failed to produce rituals interesting enough to attract a significant number of followers, and in February 1777 decided to be initiated as a Freemason in a Munich Masonic lodge known as Zur Behutsamkeit (“The Prudence”). In 1780, a prominent German Freemason, Baron Adolf Franz Friedrich Ludwig von Knigge (1752-1796), joined the Illuminati and by January 1782 he had rewritten their rituals in a much more Masonic form. Although this ritual was essentially Masonic, and many members were Freemasons, however, the Illuminati as such were not part of Freemasonry.

Did these Illuminati succeed in their purposes?

Introvigne: In a way, yes. The new ritual was quite successful, and the Illuminati were able to recruit some 2,500 members both in Bavaria and various European countries, not a small number by the standard of esoteric orders in general. On the other hand, the Illuminati’s political aim was not achieved. Between 1784 and 1787 documents were seized by the Bavarian police proving that theirs was a political plot aimed at overthrowing the government. Some members were arrested, although none was treated too severely by the Bavarian government, and they escaped with fines or a few months in jail, whilst Weishaupt himself fled Bavaria and lived quite peacefully in other parts of Germany until his death in 1830. The Illuminati survived outside Bavaria, thanks to the efforts of one of their leaders, Johann Joachim Christoph Bode (1730-1793), but had ceased any activity by 1790.

Wasn’t there something sinister in the Illuminati’s activities?

Introvigne: Yes. Their political activities were not confined to legal means. In October 1786 the police raided the home of a prominent member of the Illuminati, the diplomat Franz Xavier von Zwack (1755-1843), and seized documents indicating that the Order was ready to poison several of its political foes, although these plans were never executed.

But didn’t the Illuminati claim a much older origin than 1776?

Introvigne: Yes, they did. Weishaupt originally claimed that the Illuminati originated with the last King of Persia who was a Zoroastrian by religion, Yadzegerd III (†651), although he confused him with Yadzegerd II (†457, King of Persia from 438 to 457), and built a whole genealogy listing many famous historical characters. When Knigge joined the Order, he asked Weishaupt for evidence of this genealogy. Weishaupt wrote back in January 1781 that the genealogy was an “innocent lie”, in fact needed because not many would have joined a newly established order (see René Le Forestier, Les Illuminés de Bavière et la franc-maçonnerie allemande, Paris: Hachette 1914, 227 – the book is the doctoral dissertation of a famous French historian, and a key source for the Illuminati). Rather than being offended, Knigge agreed that a mythical genealogy was indeed needed, and proceeded to build one of his own, where the Illuminati were declared as having originally been founded by Noah, and revived after a period of decline by St John the Evangelist.

What about the Knights Templar? Weren’t they somewhat involved, too?

Introvigne: Yes, according to Knigge’s genealogy. In fact, at that time the Knights Templar were claimed as ancestors by the German Freemasonry as a whole. When modern Freemasonry came from its original United Kingdom to continental Europe, many European nobles were not prepared to join an order whose real origins were in the professional corporations of “free masons”, including architects, building contractors but also common stonemasons. In 1736, André Michel de Ramsay (1686-1743) told in a famous discourse the French nobles he hoped to recruit into Freemasonry that, in fact, the British corporations of “free masons” were the places where persecuted knights went into hiding, thus creating a mythical (but more acceptable) origin for the Masonic lodges. In Germany, speculations about an alleged secret prosecution of the Roman Catholic Order of the Knights Templar, suppressed by the Catholic Church in 1307, were quite widespread, Ramsay’s “persecuted knights” were quickly identified with the Knights Templar.

While it is true that the Knights Templar did survive in some countries for a century after their suppression, legends of a secret prosecution after the 15th century are regarded as “hopelessly stupid”, in the words of famous French historian Régine Pernoud (1909-1998), by academic historians of Templarism. In fact, from the 18th century on, most esoteric orders give to their members mythical genealogies that would include the Knights Templar, Noah, St John or King Solomon, as well as famous people of literature and art. Usually, most of their members are aware of the merely symbolic and mythical character of these genealogies. Certainly, both Weishaupt and Knigge were aware that their genealogies were “symbolic” or, more simply, made up by themselves. There were no Illuminati before 1776.

But weren’t the Illuminati the driving force behind the French Revolution?

Introvigne: Not really. Anti-revolutionary authors, including Protestant John Robison (1739-1805) and Roman Catholic Fr Augustin Barruel (1741-1820), claimed that the French Revolution was the result of a Masonic conspiracy, and that the Illuminati were the secret leaders of the French Freemasonry. We do not need to address here the complicated question of the relationship between Freemasonry, the Enlightenment, and the French Revolution. What is historically clear, however, is that the Illuminati, who were about to cease their existence in 1789, did not play any crucial role in the preparation of the French Revolution.

The links between the Bavarian group and the French Freemasonry were tenuous at best, and in fact many French Freemasons were quite hostile to the Illuminati, and certainly not prepared to accept the leadership of a German order. For a number of political reasons, however, Robison’s theories were particularly successful in the United States, where President Thomas Jefferson (1743-1826) was accused of being a member of the dreaded sect.

But wasn’t the back part of the Great Seal of the United States, the one we still see on the dollar bill, a symbol of the Illuminati?

Introvigne: No, no matter how many books (and movies) claim it. The pyramid and eye symbol is never found among the Illuminati. Actually it is not even a Masonic symbol, although there are similar symbols in Freemasonry, where a fascination with Egypt was widespread in the 18th and 19th century. The particular pyramid used in the Great Seal was derived from Pyramidographia, a book published in 1646 in London by John Greaves (1602-1652), based on his trip to Egypt. The eye was introduced by Congress Secretary Charles Thomson (1729-1824) – who was not a Freemason – in his 1792 speech prior to the seal’s Congressional acceptance as a very Christian “eye of the Providence” presiding over the destiny of the United States. As such, it is featured in a number of Christian churches and symbols, quite apart from, and well before, its use within the frame of Masonic rituals.

Didn’t many always accept the theory, however, that the Illuminati were leading the world or, at least, the USA?

Introvigne: Not before 1975. From the mid-19th century to 1975 the theory of the great Illuminati conspiracy remained the province of fringe “conspirationist” authors, not particularly well-known by the general public. In 1975, a trilogy known as Illuminatus was published by Robert Joseph Shea (1933-1994) and Robert Anton Wilson (born 1932). The three novels were written somewhat tongue-in-check, and Shea and Wilson were part of a neo-pagan group known as the Discordians, worshippers of Eris the Great Goddess of Chaos through “cosmic jokes”.

Actually, these are libertarian novels, where Weishaupt does not die in Germany but emigrates to the American British colonies, where he assumes the name of George Washington and establishes the United States. When the US evolves into an authoritarian, repressive state under the secret leadership of the Illuminati, Discordians organize the resistance in the name of liberty, Chaos, and the Great Goddess Eris. It is after Shea and Wilson’s novels that the Illuminati start popping up literally everywhere, from Umberto Eco’s novel Foucault’s Pendulum (1988) to the movie Lara Croft: Tomb Raider (2001), including countless comics, role-playing games, and miscellaneous pieces of fiction.

Unfortunately, some did not realize the nature of the Illuminatus novels, or even claimed that Shea and Wilson revealed a real conspiracy under the guise of fiction. This theory achieved a certain degree of success among Protestant fundamentalists. Its leading proponent, Milton William Cooper (1943-2001), died in a confrontation with law enforcement officers on November 5, 2001. He refused to pay taxes to the US government, claiming it was controlled by the Illuminati.

What about the Skull and Bones, the famous fraternal society of Yale’s students and alumni? One hears frequently that it is part of the Illuminati…

Introvigne: No relation. The Skull and Bones was established in 1832 by William Huntington Russell (1809-1885), when the original Illuminati were long since dead. Some tenuous similarity may be explained by the fact that both Weishaupt’s Illuminati and Russell’s Skull and Bones did take inspiration in the many “secret” student societies which existed in German universities since the 18th century. By the way, many stories told about the Skull and Bones are simply tall tales – they are just another academic fraternity, which includes famous people because famous people do happen to have studied at Yale – and in 1986 it was finally ascertained that even their famous skull did not really belong to legendary Indian chief Geronimo (1829-1909). The Apaches, to which The Skull and Bones was prepared to give back the skull, declared it unconnected with Geronimo and refused it.

But didn’t an Order of the Illuminati exist in the 20th century, too?

Introvigne: Yes. Within the framework of the German occult revival at the end of the 19th century, Leopold Engel (1858-1931) “revived” – in his own words – the Bavarian Order of the Illuminati on March 12, 1901. He and his associate Theodor Reuss (1855-1923) – later to become famous as a sexual magician and an associate of famous British occult master Aleister Crowley (1875-1947) – were spreading the word that the order had been revived since 1896. Later, they claimed that the revival took place in 1880, but this date is certainly false. As usual, Engel and Reuss told the members of their newly founded order that it was both very old and a legitimate continuation of the Bavarian Illuminati, whose succession had been transmitted from father to son within Reuss’ family.

It was claimed that the Illuminati originated in India and Egypt, were behind the Italian Renaissance and post-Renaissance art and science (hence the references to Gian Lorenzo Bernini and Galileo Galilei, quite familiar to the readers of Angels & Demons), and included among their members an impressive roster of historical characters, from Ulysses and Aristotle (384-322 BC) to – yes, indeed – Thomas Jefferson. Once again, however, Engel did admit – in writing – that this genealogy was mythical and symbolic, and should not be taken at face value. As for the story of a family succession connecting Reuss to the Bavarian Illuminati, Engel later declared that it was a figment of Reuss’ imagination.

Who was Leopold Engel, exactly?

Introvigne: An interesting character. He was a member of the inner circle of the loosely organized movement including the followers of the Austrian Christian visionary and mystic Jakob Lorber (1800-1864). In fact, Engel “received” spiritually (today, the word “channelled” would be used) the missing eleventh volume of Lorber’s masterpiece The Great Gospel of John, a volume still accepted as a legitimate part of the Lorber canon by many (although by no means all) Lorberians. He was also a prolific science fiction and dime novels writer. In fact, he seemed to have led a double life, keeping his Lorberian and Illuminati activities quite separate, although the Illuminati materials written by Engel do show the influence of Lorber.

Do Engel’s Illuminati still exist?

Introvigne: Yes. Although persecuted in Nazi Germany, the Illuminati were able to survive in Switzerland, particularly thanks to the efforts of Felix Lazerus Pinkus (1881-1947), a rich left-wing economist, supported in many ways by Hermann Joseph Metzger (1919-1990), a baker by trade as well as a stage hypnotist, who maintained alive the Order of the Illuminati until his death in 1990, and created an Illuminati center in the Swiss village of Stein, in the canton of Outer Appenzell. A small number of his disciples still live or at least periodically meet there, and they are the only legitimate heirs of Engel’s Illuminati. Of course one can join a number of other “Orders of the Illuminati”, some of them on-line by paying a fee, but these do not even have the legitimacy of a succession from Engel’s organization.

Can we characterize the Illuminati, as Dan Brown would have it, as a conspiracy to destroy the Vatican and its power in the name of reason and science?

Introvigne: As mentioned earlier, the names of famous scientists mentioned as Illuminati are part of mythical genealogies with no historical basis. The Illuminati were mostly recruited among lawyers, governmental officers, and even liberal clergymen, with very few scientists, if any. Weishaupt’s Illuminati taught to their new members a rather tame version of the Enlightenment philosophy, quite close to the ideas of Immanuel Kant (1724-1804). Weishaupt ostensibly claimed to be against the continuing reactionary influence of the Jesuits (temporarily suppressed in 1773), but not against Roman Catholicism per se. However, those who reached his inner circle discovered a strong anti-clericalism and anti-Catholicism, and some documents openly promoted secular humanism and atheism. Anti-clericalism was also a feature of Engel’s order, although not a particularly prominent one. No historical Illuminati order ever boasted that it would “destroy the Vatican”, a claim which would seem quite preposterous to anybody who takes into account the real number of their members and the extension of their activities

Were, or are, the Illuminati a very powerful order?

Introvigne: They certainly aren’t powerful today. The main aim of the Stein group, reduced to less than a dozen members, is to survive. Engel’s group did not have any particular power. It had a certain cultural influence and initiated two distinguished novelists, Gustav Meyrink (1868-1932) and Franz Spunda (1890-1963), but this was rather limited to the occult subculture itself.

The Bavarian Illuminati were a much more important organization, and deserve more than a footnote in German history. They managed to include among their members three ruling princes, Duke Charles August of Saxony-Weimar (1757-1828), Duke Ernst II of Saxony-Gotha (1745-1804), and Duke Charles William Frederic of Brunswick (1735-1806) In 1783 Duke Charles August persuaded two famous protegés of his, Johann Wolfgang Goethe (1749-1832) and Johann Gottfried von Herder (1744-1803), at that time the two leading German intellectuals, to join him among the Illuminati, although both, having been initiated, were never particularly active in the Order. Weishaupt and his close associates, unbeknownst to these princes and luminaries, were able to use the Illuminati for a very real political conspiracy, aimed at seizing power in Bavaria, which came close to succeeding.

Having said so much, it is equally important not to exaggerate the Bavarian Illuminati’s role, which was close to non-existent outside Germany, and to remember that by 1790 they had fully ceased to exist. Those who want to persuade us that a secret Illuminati cabal did lead the world from the Renaissance to the 19th century, and continues to do so today, have a very difficult burden of proof, and have never even come close to producing documents or evidence that such is the case.

This Q&A has been reproduced with permission from the Center for Studies on New Religions. Massimo Introvigne is the founder and managing director of the Center for Studies on New Religions, an international network of scholars who study new religious movements. He is the author of more than 40 books, mostly on the sociology of religion.

May 2009


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