Monday, July 15, 2013

The 1782 Congress of Wilhelmsbad

Throughout the history of Freemasonry, there have been gatherings and events that have had a large impact on the fraternity in general, specific Orders within the Fraternity, or due to the lack of documentation has lead to theories abound. The history of Freemasonry is a complex topic, not always because of one's ability or inability to comprehend the subject, but often due to the lack of recorded evidence to support or reject a hypothesis. When faced with incomplete information one may let their imagination wonder which can sometimes lead to far-fetched and exaggerated speculations. One such event that many Masons and anti-Masons have theorized about is the 1782 Congress of Wilhelmsbad; Albert Mackey refers to this Congress as "the most important Masonic Congress of the eighteenth century". To the Masons, this meeting marks the impending doom of Rite of Strict Observance and the rise of the Rectified Scottish Rite. To the anti-Mason and conspiracy theorists, this is the meeting where the Bavarian Illuminati is said to have infiltrated and taken over Freemasonry to enhance their nefarious agenda for global domination.

To discuss this matter we must stop for a moment and first discuss the early history of the Rite of Strict Observance.

The Legend of Pierre d'Audmont

According to Stephen Dafoe, Past Grand Historian of the Sovereign Great Priory of Canada, the legend of Pierre d’Audmont, a Templar continuation myth, is said to be the brainchild of the Rite of Strict Observance, which was largely promoted by Baron Karl Gotthelf von Hund, or more commonly referred to as Baron von Hund, in Germany between 1751 and 1754. The legend says that Pierre d’Aumont, the Preceptor of Auvergne, with a number of Knights Templar fled to Scotland disguised as Operative Masons. On arrival they created a new order to preserve the traditions of the soon to be disbanded Knights Templar. This new order they named Franc Maçons. This order would later be known as Free Masons when they traveled to England.

Truth is that the Preceptor of Auvergne was not Pierre d’Audmont, but rather Imbert Blanke who did indeed flee to England after dodging the arrests of 13 October 1307. He was there arrested and later played a role in defending his Brethren in the courts. Many Masonic scholars such as Stephen Dafoe point out the absurdity of this legend, particularly the etymology of the name of Freemason. Albert Mackey believes that it was through Ramsey’s Oration that this legend of Templar continuation was able to take hold, but dismisses it as rubbish having no “particle of historical evidence”. Although he does admit that this legend has had a large influence on the modern Masonic organization particularly with the incorporation of Templar Orders.

The Rite of Strict Observance

In the 1740s a few German Lodges started giving their Entered Apprentices and Fellow Crafts the names of French Knights. Most of these Lodges were in Dresden, but Baron von Hund founded one of these Lodges on his estates East of Dresden around 1751. It was from the close ties of these Lodges that the Rite of Strict Observance was created.

It was said that the Rite originated with C.G. Marschall von Bieberstein, who had founded two of the Lodges in Germany; one in Dresden and one in Naumber called “Lodge of the Three Hammers”. Von Hund is said to have taken over after von Bieberstein died in 1750. Under von Hund’s watch, the Rites degrees consisted of: Entered Apprentice, Fellowcraft, Master Mason, Scottish Master, Novice, and Knights Templar. The Scottish Master degree concerned itself with the preservation of the lost word of Freemasonry which had been cut on a plate of pure metal, placed in a secure location, and centuries later discovered. This was not an exclusive belief as the Ecossais degrees used this, which had sprung up after Ramsey’s Oration.

One of the strangest aspects of the Rite of Strict Observance was that the adherence had to swear an oath to blindly follow the directives of "Unknown Superiors" who ruled the order. This invisible leader was said to have possibly been Charles Edward Stuart, the Young Pretender. This was the same man whom Ramsey had tried to tutor some year prior. There is a lack of evidence that supports this idea, but nonetheless the invisible rulers are said to have communicated through Baron von Hund.

The 1782 Congress of Wilhelmsbad

Although it was one of the more notable of meetings, the meeting held in Wilhelmsbad comes as a result of several meetings held over the years in Jena, Altenburg, Kohlo, Brunswick, and Wolfenbuttel.

The first 2 conventions were held in Jena, Scotland, where a man referred to as Johnson was said to have been invested with authority and was acting on behalf of the "Unknown Superiors" in Scotland attempted to convince those present to invest him with unprecedented authority. The first meeting convened on the October 25th, 1764, for the purpose of convincing the Lodges under the Strict Observance system to recognize Johnson in the officer of Superior. At the second meeting held in 1765, Baron von Hund was invited to attend who had supported Johnson, but, upon discovery that he was a fraud, had him arrested and jailed where he died on May 13th, 1775. The third convention was held in Altenburg, near Jena, in 1768 where Baron von Hund was proclaimed as the Grand Master of all the Strict Observance Lodges.

A meeting was convened in Kohlo in 1772 which called for by some Lodges of the system of Strict Observance, with the object of opposing a new and competing rite established by Johann Wilhelm von ZinnendorffAt this meeting the Duke Ferdinand of Brunswick was elected Grand Master of Strict Observance Lodges. This meeting also concerned with formalizing an alliance with the Clerici Ordinis Templarii, or Clerical Templars, which had been founded by Jean Auguste Starck

The failure of this alliance and the lack of Cleric's unwillingness to share some of their supposed mystic knowledge lead to the Convention at Brunswick which started on May 23rd, 1775, and even though it last over a month, no official decision was ever made. The breakdown between the Strict Observance and the Clerical Templars laid the grounds for another impostor to appear by the name of Gugumos. He first appeared at the Brunswick convention and dropped hints that he possessed special knowledge. Eventually this fraud would be exposed and would flee the country.

The Grand Master, Duke Ferdinand, would call for another meeting that convened on July 15th, 1778, in Wolfenbuttel. Like some of the past meetings, did not clarify much by the end. Since they could not come to any definitive conclusion as to the mysterious origins of Freemasonry, the assemblage appealed to all Masonic bodies and called for a future meeting in Wilhelmsbad.

The Congress of Wilhelmsbad took place near the city of Hanau in Hesse-Cassel. It was presided over by Ferdinand, Duke of Brunswick, who was head of the Rite of Strict Observance and opened the meeting on July 16th, 1782. It was attended by Masons from several European countries and there were held 30 Sessions. The goals of this convention were to discuss the general reformation of Freemasonry, the origin of the different systems, rites, and doctrines that had formed, and to solve the question as to whether or not Freemasonry is a modern society or derived from something far more ancient. All these questions, submitted to the assembly during its thirty meetings, were unanswered. What it did succeed in was exposing a number of fraudulent systems that had formed and reforming, some say "de-Templarized", the Rite of Strict Observance which would later fade and a new system known as the Rectified Scottish Rite would emerge, a system still in existence today.

Illuminati Takeover?

According to anti-Masons and conspiracy theorists alike, this Convention is where the Illuminati integrated and took-over the Masonic fraternity even though they provide no citation or documentation, but rely on speculation. The main fact they focus upon is the fact that Adolph Freiherr Knigge and Franz Dietrich von Dittfurth, members of the Bavarian Illuminati, were in attendance at the Wilhelmsbad meeting and some speculate that the convention was held in Meyer Amschel Rothschild's castle; the Rothschild's are the target of many conspiracy theories.  Other sources suggest that the meeting took place on property owned by William IX, ruler of the Hanau principality, although William was friends with the Rothschild family and had a close relationship. Many anti-Masons state that what occurred at these meetings will never be known due to oaths taken, but in the same breath make many bold statements as to what they think did happen such as that it was the decisions of the Illuminati-controlled Masons to kill Emperor Leopold of Austria and Gustavus II of Sweden. They also theorize that the "Unknown Superiors" were Jesuits, but no evidence exists that demonstrates the "Unknown Superiors" ever existed let alone contacted any of the known leaders of the Rite of Strict Observance.

According to some theories, Adam Weishaupt, leader of the Bavarian Illuminati, via his representative Knigge, enticed the assembly with promises of secrets that the Illuminati possessed and that people adopted their degree system. They believe that one such convert was Duke Ferdinand and that through the help of such men like Jean-Baptist Willermoz, founder of the Rectified Scottish Rite, and his followers brought about a large conversion to "Illuminism", which of course we know that from this convention would lead to the rise of the Rectified Scottish Rite, or Chevalier Bienfaisant de la Cité Sainte/Beneficent Knights of the Holy City. And holding true to the common disposition of the anti-Mason, they say this was the time when Jews were allowed to the Lodges and further lead Freemasonry as a part of so-called "New World Order" since they are not well-known for their tolerance of Jews or other non-Christian religions.

This convention didn't embrace the Illuminati as that was not the purpose or intent of this assembly, but a few are said to have joined the Illuminati. Knigge would leave the Illuminati just 2-years after the meeting in Wilhelmsbad; some speculate that his failures at Wilhelmsbad, as well as disagreements over the direction of the Order, led to degradation in the relationship between Knigge and Weishaupt. It is also curious to note that during Knigge's final years he wrote against Weishaupt and the Illuminati, but never speaks of any infiltration into Freemasonry. For many anti-Masons though this is ignored and rather they would continue to make wild exaggerations and accusations limited only by their own imagination and not based on recorded fact (something they admit themselves).

In the end and with actual facts, this convention was important as it was a point when many of the now defunct and dead rites were seen as fraudulent and many of the Templar continuation or perpetuation myths were rejected. This is also when the fate of the declining Rite of Strict Observance was decided and the Rectified Scottish Rite would emerge, which Willermoz combined aspects of the Strict Observance and the Elus-Cohen Order to preserve aspects important to Willermoz and his followers. It also shows that less than 50-years after the famous Oration of Andrew Michael Ramsay, where stated that Freemasonry was descended from Knights of St. John, many chivalric orders had risen and died away or were rejected as most were seen as a Ponzi scheme. Had the Rite of Strict Observance survived, the anti-Mason, in my view, would have more credence in their accusation of Illuminati infiltration, but alas the Strict Observance and its "unknown superiors" were rejected. With the limited information that is indicative of 18th century Masonry record keeping, it is not surprising to see theories that are formed based solely on speculation and not fact, whether by Masons or otherwise.


1. Conress of Wilhelmsbad. (n.d.). Retrieved from Metapedia: 

2. Mackey, A. G. (n.d.). Wilhelmsbad, Congress of. Retrieved from An Encyclopedia of Freemasonry and its Kindred Sciences: 

3. Melanson, T. (2008, November 08). Illuminati Sightseeing: Masonic Congress of Wilhelmsbad. Retrieved from Bavarian Illuminati: 

4. Nesta H. Webster’s "Secret Societies". (n.d.). Retrieved from Grand Lodge of British Columbia and Yukon: 

5. Our History. (n.d.). Retrieved from Orden Illuminati: 

6. Rebold, E. (1872). A General History of Freemasonry. Cincinnati: American Masonic Publishing Association. 

7. Samuelson, E. A. (n.d.). The 1782 Congress of Wilhelmsbad. Retrieved from Hermanubis Martinista: 

8. The Rite of Strict Observance. (n.d.). Retrieved from Grand Lodge of British Columbia and Yukon: 

9. William I. (n.d.). Retrieved from Wikipedia:,_Elector_of_Hesse

10. Brennan, J. F., & Mackey, A. G. (1859). American Freemason's Magazine (Vol. 4). New York.


  1. Let me recommend additional sources that might better illuminate the matter:
    Morals and Dogma by Albert Pike, The History of the Jacobins by Abby Barruel, The Great in the Small by Sergei Nilus, Tragedy and Hope by Carrol Quigley and info regarding the Judenlodge of Frankfurt founded by Rothschild's accountant ... the original Order of the Golden Dawn. Also Pawns in the Game is a good source.

    1. I thank you for these recommendations. I’m very familiar with Morals & Dogma, but the earlier editions are not 100% accurate. Arturo de Hoyos published some abridged versions of Morals & Dogma with necessary corrections. Morals & Dogma is an interesting book, but of Pike’s writings, I prefer Esoterika.

      As for Barruel, I’m very skeptical of his writings particularly when he speaks on the French Revolution and the Illuminati. The Grand Lodge of British Columbia & the Yukon put it best: “John Robison’s and the Abbé Barruel's attempts to prove a causal link between the Bavarian Illuminati, French Freemasonry and the French Revolution are constructed of errors and falsehoods. The key link is the visit of Bode and von Busche to Paris in 1787, a visit too short and limited to have caused the French Revolution. Although Robison and Barruel are discredited, many contemporary anti-masonic writers continue to quote from their books.” (

      As for Nilus, I’m not a fan of someone who perpetuates the anti-semitic hoax known as the Protocols. I’ve never heard of Quigley from my recollection, but I have read and reject the nonsense written by Wm. Guy Carr. Many conspiracies exist because of his imagination.