After Adam Weishaupt had fled in 1785, the center of activity for the Illuminati shifted from Bavaria to the Duchies of Saxe-Gotha and Saxe-Weimar. And while the founder of the Illuminati was content to safely settle down for the long haul at the court of Duke Ernst II of Saxe Gotha, Johann Joachim Christoph Bode (1730-1793) took the reins and assumed the role previously held by Weishaupt.
Through the efforts of Bode and an expanding network of recruits – and under the protection of the Illuminati Dukes Karl August of Saxe-Weimar and Ernst II of Saxe-Gotha – new colonies were established in places like France, Russia and Italy. Bode kept the Weimar and Gotha Lodges Amalia and Ernst Zum Kompass informed of his activities, but the bulk of the evidence of continued Illuminati activity remained in his possession.
Ensuring that whatever they contained would remain secret, upon Bode’s death in December 1793 his literary executor, Illuminatus Christian Gottlieb von Voigt (1743–1819), transferred his deceased friend’s possessions to Duke Ernst II of Saxe-Gotha who had already bought the voluminous papers before Bode died.
Bode’s legacy was too damaging, and after a brief inspection the Duke had the papers sealed (merging them with his own), and changed his will to stipulate that his Masonic legacy should be sent to the Grand Lodge in Sweden after his death – protected and secure from publication.
The Duke died in April 1804, whereupon the transfer of these documents was duly carried out, confidentially, under the auspices of surviving members of the Illuminati.
With the supervision of the Swedish royal family, the Grand Lodge of Sweden protected the legacy of the Illuminatus for over 70 years. In 1883, however, following a request from the Duke’s great-grandchild – Duke Ernst II of Saxe-Coburg-Gotha (1818-1893), a Mason himself – they were returned, and again became the property the Gotha Lodge Ernst Zum Kompass. (The documents of the Ernst/Bode estate were transported via rail, in a large wooden box. This is where the term “Schwedenkiste” or “Swedish Box” originates.)
It was organized in 1919 into 20 volumes along with registries and lists of its contents.
The Nazis confiscated it 1935/6 under a general suppression of Freemasonry; it was moved to Silesia during the war, and was subsequently stolen by the Russians and transferred to the Soviet Union. Most of it was returned to (East) Germany in 1950s – volumes 1-9 and 11-20 – but the tenth-volume remained in Moscow.
Monika Neugebauer-Wölk writes: After the dissolution of the Soviet Union and the partial opening of the Russian archives to international research, the tenth volume of the Swedish Box was rediscovered by the Merseburg archivist Renate Endler in the Moscow special archive. As a consequence of German reunification, the Freemasonry archives were transferred in 1994 from Merseburg to the Geheimes Staatsarchiv Preußischer Kulturbesitz Berlin. Here the estate of Bode is available for scholarly use with permission of the Grand National Mother-Lodge “Zur den drei Weltkugeln”. – Monika Neugebauer-Wölk, “Illuminaten” entry, in Dictionary of Gnosis & Western Esotericism, ed. Wouter J. Hanegraaff, Brill Academic Publishers, 2005, p. 596.
Faithfully adhering to Ernst’s order not to publish any of this material, safely in Sweden during most of the 19th- and then Gotha into the 20th-century, the papers of Bode were kept under lock and key. Only a few pre WWI and WWII scholars were even allowed to examine them; Leopold Engel and René Le Forestier, for instance, but they weren’t given full access, and what they intended to publish was closely scrutinized.
With the entire comprehensive collection restored and accessible to research, much has been learned about the Illuminati’s makeup and activities in the latter half of the 1780s: Quibus licet reports from the initiates themselves, minutes of meetings, protocols for provincials and prefects, and lists of members and their aliases.
One of the first researchers to make full use of the material was Hermann Schüttler. While utilizing his Die Mitglieder des Illuminatenordens 1776-1787/93 [The Members of the Order of the Illuminati 1776-1787/93] (Munich: Ars Una 1991) as a source for my own book, for instance, I was struck by how many times references to the Schwedenkiste were cited as proof of membership for a number of initiates. That was in 1991, however, when Volume X of the Swedish Box was still missing in Moscow. In 1997 he subsequently published “Zwei freimaurerische Geheimgesellschaften des 18. Jahrhunderts im Vergleich: Strikte Observanz und Illuminatenorden” [A Comparison of Two 18th-Century Masonic Secret Societies: Strict Observance and Illuminatenorden]. Whereas in 1991 the number of confirmed Illuminati members was 1255, Schüttler, largely by utilizing Volume X, managed to increase the number to 1394.
One thing that became clear from the new evidence found in the Swedish Box was the fundamental importance of pedagogy to the Illuminati. So much so, that Peggy Pawlowski’s 2004 doctoral thesis is dedicated to the subject: Der Beitrag Johann Adam Weishaupts zur Pädagogik des Illuminatismus [Johann Adam Weishaupt’s Contribution to the Pedagogy of Illuminatism] (2004). To Pawlowski, the Illuminati can be thought of as the executive arm of the Aufklärung [the German Enlightenment].
The educational theories of Rousseau and Basedow were just that – theories. In order to effectively change society, the Illuminati reasoned, the new pedagogy had to be implemented by either taking control of existing institutions (which they did) or by founding some of their own. An instance of the latter is the Schnepfenthal Educational Institute in Gotha. As the material found in the Swedish Box confirms, at all stages of its financing, establishment and staffing, the hand of the Illuminati is clearly discerned. (See Christine Schaubs’ “Salzmanns Schulgründung im Lichte der Illuminaten” [Salzmann’s School was Clearly Founded by the Illuminati] and “Die Erziehungsanstalt in Schnepfenthal im Umfeld geheimer Sozietäten” [Secret Societies and the Educational Institute in Schnepfenthal]; and Perfectibilists, pp. 403-5.)