DAVID HAMBLING traces the hidden history of the most notorious conspiracy of all time, while DAVID V BARRETT assesses its modern legacy.
Once, the Illuminati were barely a rumour. An ancient conspiracy manipulating humankind for their own dark purposes, they were the hidden hand behind history. They infiltrated the corridors of power via groups like the Freemasons, starting revolutions and toppling kingdoms. They gained control of the international banking system, allowing them to covertly rule the world.
In recent years, though, this blanket of secrecy has been gradually lifted. Now the secrecy has been eroded. First, in 1975, there were the three books later published as the single-volume The Illuminatus! Trilogy by Robert Shea and Robert Anton Wilson; then there was a best-selling game; these days, the Illuminati crop up in every corner of popular culture, from Dan Brown’s Angels and Demons to Tomb Raider. But the truth about the Illuminati remains as elusive as ever.
As a political conspiracy, the group known as the Bavarian Illuminati was actually very short-lived. A secret society dedicated to spreading republicanism, it was founded in 1776 and outlawed in 1790, after which it ceased to function. While they caused much alarm, the Bavarian Illuminati were notably unsuccessful as revolutionaries. They may have inspired other groups, but there is little evidence that the Illuminati themselves endured as a political force. However, this group was the artificial creation of one man – and an imitation of a far older and more influential Illuminati. And to find out about them we must travel back to 16th-century Spain.
THE "NEW CHRISTIANS"
For centuries, most of Spain was under Moorish rule, with Muslims, Jews and Christians living peacefully together in what has been described as a golden age of the arts and sciences. However, by the late Middle Ages the Moorish kingdoms were falling one by one to Christian conquerors, a process known as the Reconquista. The new regime had a slogan: “One country, one faith”. Having expelled the Moors, they next decided to resolve the ‘Jewish question’.
There had been public violence against the Jews since 1391, followed by a strong pressure on them to convert. In 1492, the Catholic monarchs Ferdinand and Isabella issued a final edict that Jews must be baptised into the Catholic Church or be expelled from Spain. Many left, but others stayed, and the many thousands of Conversos, or ‘New Christians’, now made up much of Spain’s educated urban middle class.
Ironically, then, the effect of the edict was perhaps precisely the opposite of what was intended: Converso families who had previously been shunned for their religion were now equal to their neighbours. Conversos could occupy public office, and frequently did, often rising to high position. Converso authors and poets contributed greatly to Spanish culture; even Cervantes, Spain’s greatest author, may have come from such a family.  And the Church now found itself faced with a new generation of young priests from Converso stock.
Prejudice dies hard, and many Old Christians deeply resented their new brothers in religion. Inevitably, conspiracy theories began to surface, suggesting that the Conversos were infiltrating the state and the Church in order to take them over. The idea was popularised by Friar Alonso de Espina in a 1466 tract, Fortalitium Fidei Contra Judaeos (Fortress of Faith against the Jews).
A chronicler in Seville recorded a plot by a group of senior Conversos against the authorities in 1481. They were gathering men and arms for a revolt, and believed that they could get the people to support them. But the plotters were betrayed – the beautiful daughter of their leader was in love with a Christian – arrested, and the ringleaders publicly executed. The story provided justification for later generations who believed that the Conversos could not be trusted. It was not until the 20th century that historian Henry Kamen proved the whole thing was a complete fabrication. 
Laws of racial purity were passed to prevent those with Jewish blood from holding public office, and in 1478 a new organisation was set up to deal with religious subversion: the Spanish Inquisition. The Inquisition was zealous in following up any allegation that Conversos might be secretly following their old religion and, using torture and psychological terror, set about ensuring that nobody strayed from the true path.
Many Conversos were sincere Christians, and they brought new ideas into Christianity. In 1511, Spain saw the first stirrings of a movement whose followers were called Illuminati in Latin or Alumbrados in Spanish. In English, we might call them ‘Enlightened Ones’. Pedro Ruiz de Alcaraz preached a form of Christianity which involved contemplation to achieve the mystical experience of seeing the Light of God directly. The Alumbrados emphasised the power of God’s love and the ineffectiveness of human effort – including even that of the Church. For them, ecstatic vision and personal communion replaced ecclesiastical ritual and priestly mediation.
A few Alumbrados came from old aristocratic families, but the majority were Conversos. In the 1520s, the Inquisition established that the Alumbrados were heretical and set about exterminating them. The movement was forced into hiding. For curious political reasons, the Alumbrados were accused, and frequently convicted, of being Protestant Lutherans, an entirely unrelated ‘heresy’. It’s a bit like convicting Buddhists of being Hindu, and must have added a surreal (even Pythonesque) air to the trials.
Ignatius of Loyola was among those accused of being an Alumbrado.  Cleared, he became a priest and founded the Order of Jesus or Jesuits, which became a powerful elite acting under the direct authority of the Pope. The Jesuits also had a lasting hostility to the Inquisition, although it was Jesuit influence that helped end Illuminism in Spain; rather than opposing mysticism, they embraced it, making the Church more appealing to would-be Alumbrados. The movement didn’t completely die out, though, resurfacing in France as the Illumines. But, as a major religious movement, Illuminism had lost its momentum.
The Spanish experience contains all the elements associated with the Illuminati. A movement inspired by visionaries defies the established order; it faces a society racked by a fear of infiltration; and there is a violent reaction, driving the movement underground. The popular image of the Illuminati as we know them – a conspiracy against society, perpetrated by Jews – was born.
Where did the Alumbrado heresy come from? Mainstream Jewish thought certainly does not encourage the rejection of religious authorities in favour of a direct personal approach to a God of light. But such a belief is the hallmark of the mystical Jewish movement known as Kabbalah.
Derived from the word for ‘to receive’, Kabbalah – also spelled Cabala or Qabbalah – is a tradition which deals with the understanding of God and personal mystical experience. The major work of the Kabbalah is the Sefer Zohar or Book of Splendour, compiled in Spain by Moses of Leon around 1280. Although he claimed the contents were derived from much earlier sources, modern scholars believe that the Zohar was Moses de Leon’s own work, a synthesis of the thinking of the time and his own new material.  By couching it in traditional form and writing in Aramaic, he gave the Zohar more authority and made its new ideas acceptable to his contemporary audience, thus avoiding charges of heresy from more orthodox scholars.
The Kabbalah is a theology of light in which the Universe is described in terms of 10 ‘sephiroth’ – attributes or aspects of God. These are described as spheres through which the light of God is transmitted to mankind. The sephiroth give shape to the divine light and are separate but also one with it “in the same way as the rays which proceed from the light are simply manifestations of one and the same light”.
Each of the sephiroth has its own name and qualities, including ‘Binah’ or Understanding, ‘Hokhmah’ or Wisdom and so on. Each relates to the others in particular ways and they form a structure which is described in terms of a tree or a primordial human figure, Adam Kadmon. As the first created being and link between mankind and God, Adam Kadmon is involved in the creation and also the redemption of the world, when evil will finally be expunged. Matters then get progressively more complex: emanating from the 10 sephiroth is a second world of another 10, which is the physical world we know. There are also third and fourth worlds, occupied by hosts of named angels and demons, each with particular attributes.
Names are very important in the Kabbalah, as the 22 letters of the Hebrew alphabet are literally the building blocks of the Universe. God created the world through the act of naming. The combinations of letters encompass everything that ever has been or will be.
This gives rise to the hermeneutical aspect of Kabbalah, a way of decoding messages concealed in the scriptures. There are three different techniques:
Temura: changing the letters of words to create other words by anagrams
Gemetria: in which letters have numerical values and can be compared with other numbers or words
Notarokon: making words from the initials of phrases (so “Ateh Gibor le-Olam Adonai” – “Thou art mighty forever, Lord” becomes AGLA).
This provided Renaissance Kabbalists with a great deal of occupation as they painstakingly shuffled words and numbers to reveal the secret truths about the Universe and to uncover the many powerful names of God. They calculated, for example, that there are exactly 301,655,172 angels in the Universe. What their modern counterparts can do with the aid of computer technology can scarcely be imagined. 
It is this side that gives rise to “practical Kabbalah”. The Zohar contains details of how to communicate with hidden powers, explaining how to command angels and demons to influence nature, cure disease, curse enemies, predict the future and perform other wonders. For example, a piece of Kabbalah folklore allows a married couple to predict which of them will die first, by adding the numbers of their names together and seeing if the result is odd or even.
The Alumbrados appeared in areas such as Toledo, which were previously centres for Kabbalism, and although they seem to have lacked the scholarship of the Kabbalah, the core idea of personal experience of God’s light persisted. This may be because Conversos maintained only their oral traditions after the loss of their Hebrew and Aramaic books. Interestingly, many Alumbrado leaders were women, a group which would not in any case have had access to the written component of the Kabbalah.
A LIGHT FOR THE WORLD
If the Alumbrados represented the resurfacing of an oral tradition, then the scholarly tradition of the Kabbalah also survived and thrived elsewhere. Spain was the great centre of Kabbalistic learning, and the expulsion of Jews spread Kabbalists to North Africa, the Ottoman Empire, Palestine and Italy. The latter was to prove significant, as the humanist philosopher Pico Della Mirandolla picked up the Kabbalah and Christianised it. Mirandolla explained Kabbalah as a theology which predicted Christianity and contained many of the same elements. (The Christian version is often spelled Cabbala to distinguish it from Jewish Kabbalah.)
In 1494, a leading theologian, Johannes Reuchlin wrote De verbo mirifico, in which he showed that the Biblical name of God, the Hebrew letters YHWH, could be miraculously transformed into JESUS by Cabbalistic means. Adam Kadmon was also identified with Jesus.
The Catholic Church eventually ruled against Cabbala, concluding: “Its speculations concerning God’s nature and relation to the Universe differ materially from the teachings of Revelation.”  Its study was considered heretical, and practical Cabbala was a black art, driven underground once again. This did nothing to destroy its popularity, and Cabbala became a staple of Renaissance magic; it also gave rise to the word ‘Cabal’ for a group of plotters.
Cabbala has appeared either overtly or in concealed form in much occult teaching since then. It was borrowed, adapted and built upon; in modern terms, unlicensed pirate copies were in free circulation. Its ancient pedigree gives it authority, its dense scholarship lends it weight and depth, making Cabbala the ideal ingredient to add to any philosophy for an instant boost – the monosodium glutamate of the occult.
Scratch the surface of Freemasonry and you find the Cabbala. Rosicrucianism is rife with it. It lies at the heart of esoteric religious groups like the OTO, the Hermetic Order of the Golden Dawn and Aleister Crowley’s ‘magick’. None of this could be described as pure, but then Cabbalistic scholarship has never been pure. Since the earliest days, there have been cross-currents with other philosophies, most notably the first-century Gnostics, Hermetic philsophy, Persian Zoroastrians and the even earlier Pythagoreans. It is quite possible – and hotly debated – that the ‘original’ Kabbalah may have come from one of these sources and was only later adopted into Judaism. Adam Kadmon looks rather similar to the Persian Adam Qadmaia, the hidden Adam. There is no continuous ancient tradition, but an unceasing blending and development of ideas.
However, new developments can always do with an impressive lineage to back them up, and everyone – from the Freemasons to Moses de Leon to the first-century Kabbalists – who invoked Moses has tended to invent an ancient pedigree to support their own ideas.
THE TWO SIDES OF THE ILLUMINATI
As we have seen, there are two very different sides to Illuminism. One is the popular view of the Illuminati as villains behind everything from Freemasonry to Satanism, with the recurrence of various plundered symbols giving the impression of a unified movement. Adam Weishaupt’s Bavarian Illuminati, founded to “attain the highest degree of virtue”, were quickly demonised. Weishaupt came from a Jewish family, had a Jesuit education and was a Freemason – all factors that counted against him. In more recent times, Illuminati paranoia has moved from political radicals to international banks, also depicted as shadowy organisations controlled by Jews. Laughable as this idea may seem, such beliefs in a powerful conspiracy that was undermining society helped propel the Nazis to power in 1933, while similar notions are current among ultra-nationalists in Russia today.
The other Illuminati are the heirs to the Kabbalistic tradition. As always, their teachings are confined to the few, because it is an esoteric path for those willing to put in the effort, rather than an exoteric one for the many. Trying to make complex and subtle doctrine simple destroys its essence. It’s like trying to stuff a cream cake into your pocket: you could do it, but you no longer have a cake, only a sticky mess. Such teachings can be easily misunderstood and the doctrine distorted, losing its truth.
Modern organisations like the Kabbalah Centre want to make the Kabbalah more accessible, suggesting that the Zohar can be ‘read’ by running your hands over the text. The Centre also sells red string wristbands to protect from the evil eye at , Kabbalah water spray for , or a complete Zohar for 5.  Whatever the metaphysical objections, the Centre has attracted stars like Madonna and Britney Spears with its promises to “bring more money into your life, ignite sexual energy and… radiate beauty to all who see you”.
But you may be sure that the real Illuminati are still there, and those that look for them will be able to find them. They may want personal transformation rather than global domination, but those who reject authority in favour of finding their own truth will always be unpopular with the powers that be.
1 Kevin S Larsen: “Cervantes, Don Quijote, and the Hebrew Scriptures”
2 Henry Kamen: The Spanish Inquisition: A Historical Revision, Yale University Press, New Haven, 1997, p46.
3 Mention should also be made of the blessed Ramon Llull (1232–1316), a Spanish Christian philosopher who spent much time debating with theologians from other faiths. His works describe the Creation in terms of divine lights and a distinctly Cabbalistic (or proto-Cabbalistic) ‘art of combination’. He is known as Doctor Illuminatus.
4 Darren Aronofsky’s wonderful 1998 movie Pi (1998) includes an exploration of this idea.
5 See “Catholic Encyclopedia”
By David Hambling
ADAM WEISHAUPT AND THE BAVARIAN ILLUMINATI
The organisation known as the Illuminati – or the Ancient Illuminated Seers of Bavaria – was initially called the Order of Perfectibilists, and was founded on 1 May 1776 by a young professor of Natural and Canon Law at the University of Ingoldstat in Bavaria (pp74–76). He was Adam Weishaupt (1748–1811 or 1830), a Jew brought up as a Catholic, who converted to Protestantism and had a strong interest in the esoteric tradition that led him to join the Freemasons in 1774.
Weishaupt’s aim was to perfect both the world and the individual (hence the Order’s original name), a project he described as: “illumination, enlightening the understanding by the Sun of reason, which will dispel the clouds of superstition and of prejudice”. Weishaupt’s radical version of Enlightenment involved the abolition of nations, monarchies and religions, and had the ultimate intention of doing away with all social structures, including private property and marriage.
Members of the Illuminati were organised into cells that reported to an Unknown Superior, thus preserving secrecy but also (despite Weishaupt’s avowedly egalitarian beliefs) maintaining a distance between lower and higher-grade members.
Indeed, although he had found no deep spirituality in the Masonic lodge he had joined earlier, Weishaupt was a firm believer in the secret doctrines, the ancient wisdom teachings, which he believed lay at the heart of both Freemasonry and Rosicrucianism.
The Illuminati began with Weishaupt and four friends in 1776. By 1779, it had 54 members in five lodges around Bavaria, and then began to expand beyond it by infiltrating and taking over existing Masonic lodges. Within five years, it had some 650 members in lodges around Germany, Austria, Hungary, Bohemia, Switzerland and northern Italy.
The organisation’s revolutionary beliefs had also attracted attention, despite its structure as a secret society, with both Church and State determined to quash it. In 1784, Karl Theodor, Elector of Bavaria, banned all secret societies; in 1785, the Illuminati were specifically named as a seditious group, with Weishaupt stripped of his university post and banished from Bavaria. The authorities seized a great deal of Illuminati documentation, and clamped down on its members, most of whom also fled the country.
Weishaupt settled in Gotha in Saxony, where he received a pension from Duke Ernst II and taught Philosophy at the University of Göttingen. Without his leadership, the Illuminati very quickly died out. It had lasted a mere 10 years – but its reputation continues even today.
By David V Barrett
10 ILLUMINATI CONSPIRACIES
In their bid to control the world, the Illuminati are said to have had their hidden fingers in all sorts of conspiratorial pies over the centuries. Possibly the scariest thing about these theories is the way they all tend to link up somewhere along the line: tug on virtually any thread of popular conspiracy theory and it will eventually lead you to the Illuminati. In the Internet age, this network of interconnections is becoming ever more tangled, with many websites having taken paranoia as an art form to a pitch of dizzying baroque splendour.
Quickly infiltrated by Weishaupt’s Illuminati and pursuing world domination on the quiet ever since. In reality, the main result of Weishaupt’s takeover attempt was the conspiracy theories of Robison and Barruel, and thus a legacy of hostility from national oligarchies and the Catholic Church towards Masonry.
The Great Seal of the United States
The Masonic/Illuminati conspiracy is revealed in the ‘secret’ symbolism of the ‘Eye in the Pyramid’ adopted in 1782 and still to be seen on the dollar bill (top). (In fact, the ‘all seeing eye’, representing omniscient deity, and the pyramid below it, representing lasting strength, are not Masonic symbols, and of the 14-strong design committee for the seal only Benjamin Franklin was a Mason. ‘Novus Ordo seclorum’ doesn’t mean New World Order or even New Secular Order, no matter what Dan Brown says.
The Jewish conspiracy
Scratch a Mason, Satanist or international banker and you’ll find a Jew, say the conspiracy theorists. Underlying many of the Illuminati conspiracy theories is a strain of anti-Semitic thought that even includes belief in the discredited Protocols of the Elders of Zion, the document that supposedly proves a Jewish plan for world domination (and a proven forgery – see FT131:7; 136:37–38).
A cabal of 13 immensely powerful Satanist families – including such names as Astor, Rothschild, Rockefeller, Onassis as well as the Merovingian bloodline of European monarchy – have been using mind control techniques on an unsuspecting populace to maintain their grip on power. Some of these families are either aliens, Jews (or possibly both) to boot!
According to David Icke, the Illuminati are a race of shape-shifting reptilian aliens from ‘the lower fourth dimension’, counting among their number such human-alien hybrids as George W Bush, Hillary Clinton, Queen Elizabeth II and Kris Kristofferson. Other accounts suggest that the Illuminati have been working hand-in-glove with the notorious ‘Grays’, opposed by the ‘friendly’ aliens of the Galactic Federation and even, in some theories, crop circle-makers trying to reveal Illuminati plans.
The New World Order
The Illuminati are behind pretty much every major international body in the political and financial realms, including the World Bank, the International Monetary Fund, the Trilateral Commission, the Bilderberg Group, the United Nations, the EU and the International Criminal Court. Their aim is to work behind the scenes to brainwash the masses into accepting a global government, centralised economic control and a single world religion.
We’ve all had bad experiences with Windows – which should come as no surprise when we realise that Bill Gates is in fact the latter-day incarnation of none other than Adam Weishaupt. The name is a dead giveaway: Bill = B(avarian) Ill(uminati), Gates = Geheime Amerikanische Tochtergenosssenschaft der Erleuchteten Seher, the American Illuminati lodge. Simple.
The Bohemian Club
Meeting each year since 1872 at “the world’s most prestigious summer camp”, this ‘secret society’ dreamt up by some San Francisco journalists in 1872 is a front for all kinds of Illuminist/Satanic/New World Order goings-on, including naked wrestling, strange pageants involving giant owls and (the story goes) S&M and necrophilia.
From college Fraternity societies like Phi Beta Kappa (formed, very quickly, in 1776 by American illuminists and a direct link to Weishaupt, the theory goes) to ‘secret’ college societies like Yale’s Skull and Bones, these incubators of the future great and good have come under much suspicion as potential Illuminati breeding grounds, producing powerful politicians and industrialists, top spies and, of course, George W Bush.
Abstruse numerological interpretations of the 9/11 and 7/7 bombings show that these supposed terrorist attacks actually have the name of the Illuminati written all over them, for those who can read the clues. Don’t try this at home.
Finally, please note that none of the theories expounded here is supported by Fortean Times or its editors.
By David Sutton
SECRET RULERS OF THE WORLD
The growth of a conspiracy theory
It is astonishing that a small, short-lived society in southern Germany over two centuries ago should have taken such a strong hold on conspiracy theorists worldwide. It has been said that it is irrelevant whether the Illuminati actually control the world; if enough people are foolish enough to believe that they do, then, in a sense, they do.
Conspiracy theories about the Illuminati began only a decade after the demise of the Order, stemming from the work of two writers, John Robison and Augustin de Barruel, each with an agenda of his own.
In 1797, John Robison, Professor of Natural Philosophy at the University of Edinburgh, wrote a book with the all-embracing (though hardly snappy) title, Proofs of a Conspiracy Against All the Religions and Governments of Europe, carried on in the secret Meetings of Free Masons, Illuminati, and Reading Societies, collected from good authorities.
A Freemason himself, Robison’s aim was actually to distance socially respectable British Freemasonry from what he saw as some of the more dubious continental varieties. Robison’s book is full of factual errors, but its influential central thesis was that the Illuminati, after abolishing all religions and governments, “would rule the World with uncontrollable power, while all the rest would be employed as tools of the ambition of their unknown superiors”.
Abbé Augustin de Barruel, a former Jesuit, was the author of Mémoires pour servir a l’histoire du Jacobinisme, a four-volume work published in 1797 and 1798 and equally full of erroneous stories – including the much-cited one that the downfall of the Illuminati began when one of their couriers, Franz Lang or Jacob Lanz, was struck by lightning and killed. Sewn into secret pockets in his clothes, it is said, were coded messages from Adam Weishaupt, which were discovered by the Bavarian police and led directly to the ban on the Order. In an echo of accusations against other ‘secret societies’, de Barruel said the Illuminati “had sworn hatred to the altar and the throne, had sworn to crush the God of the Christians, and utterly to extirpate the Kings of the Earth.”
The influence of Robison and de Barruel on future conspiracy theories about the Illuminati cannot be over-emphasised. According to both writers, the Illuminati were so successful at recruiting members from other groups, like the Masons, that they were in part responsible for the French Revolution.
But the tendrils of the supposed Illuminati conspiracy have spread much farther and wider than Revolutionary France. So widespread are they, the conspiracy theorists assert, that they have been behind almost everything that has happened since. Is it just coincidence that 1776, the year that the Illuminati began, was the year of the American Revolution? Or that the first of the influential American “Greek letter” college fraternities, Phi Beta Kappa, also began in that same year?
The Internet is rife with conspiracy theories of every shade involving the Illuminati. Those who believe that there is a Jewish Masonic conspiracy running the world simply cite the founder of the Illuminati, Adam Weishaupt, a Jew and a Freemason, as proof of their case. Most such theories are promulgated by fundamentalist Christians or New Age enthusiasts, and are usually extremely right wing, white supremacist or anti-Semitic. Some fundamentalist Christians link the Illuminati with the Antichrist and the impending end of this era; other conspiracy theorists claim the Illuminati were behind 9/11.
The basic theory is that the Illuminati did not die out in 1786,when they were closed down in Bavaria. Instead, groups around the world went underground, resurfacing under a number of different identities. Thus, all 33˚ Freemasons must actually be secret Illuminati members. So too the powers behind Greek-letter societies (especially the Yale University fraternity society Skull and Bones), which between them produce a large number of bankers, industrialists, senators, congressmen and presidents of the United States. And of course the Rothschilds, the Rockefellers and other major Jewish families, especially if they are bankers. Also heads of governments around the world. It goes without saying that the Illuminati were behind the creation of the European Union.
Stripped to its basics, the present-day theory of the Illuminati is that they are already the Secret Rulers of the world, and that they are plotting a New World Order, a world government under their control – just as John Robison had argued back in 1797. They run organisations such as the Freemasons, the US Council on Foreign Relations (CFR), the Trilateral Commission and the World Bank; and, of course, the Bilderberg Group, the annual meeting of top politicians, financiers and businessmen from Europe and North America held behind closed doors and usually in a world-class hotel, and the Bohemian Club, notorious for its Bohemian Grove summer camps for the rich and powerful, held each July in California.
Effectively, any organisation containing powerful or influential people is, say the conspiracy theorists, run by the Illuminati.
A number of obvious questions could be asked by anyone with a critical mind, but two are fundamental. First, if the Illuminati and their offshoots are so all-powerful, why have they been so singularly ineffective at achieving their aims over the last two centuries? And second, if they are so secretive, how is it that their members, aims, motives, plots and plans are so easy for conspiracy theorists to uncover?
Indeed, if the Secret Rulers of the World are so inept, perhaps we don’t need to worry too much about them. Instead, perhaps we should be more concerned about the conspiracy theorists themselves. In America they include so-called Christian Militia groups and other ultra-right-wing Christian sects which are anti-Semitic, anti-Black, anti-gay, anti-feminist and anti-liberal.
Adapted from the forthcoming Atlas of Secret Societies by David V Barrett, to be published by Godsfield in March 2009.
THE SECRET PEOPLE
Some Conversos were crypto-Jews, outwardly practising Christianity but secretly maintaining their old religion. Those who fled from Spain to Portugal in 1492 found themselves trapped when King Manuel decided that they should neither be allowed to leave nor retain their religion, leading to a concentration of crypto-Jews.
They maintained their identity by oral tradition, as no books or outward signs of Judaism could be kept. Candles were lit secretly to mark the Sabbath, and they celebrated festivals unknown to orthodox Catholicism, like those of Saint Moses and Saint Esther. On entering a church, they would ritually murmur: “I enter this house, but I do not adore sticks or stones, only the God of Israel”.
Large numbers emigrated to the New World. In 1516, the bishop of Havana complained that “practically every ship docking in Havana is filled with Hebrews and New Christians.” The Inquisition followed, and in one Auto da Fe in Mexico in 1649, 108 people were convicted of keeping Judaism in secret.
In spite of such pressures, some crypto-Jewish families have maintained traditions such as not eating pork ever since, in many cases without even knowing why. Many have only discovered their secret ancestry in recent years. 
One fascinating story concerns the remote village of Belmonte in Portugal. By 1917, the inhabitants believed they were the only Jews in the world. Then they were discovered by Samuel Schwarz, a Polish mining engineer. At first they denied that they were Jewish and did not accept him, as they could not believe any Jew would openly admit his religion. They only accepted the truth of what he said when he recited a credo containing the Hebrew word ‘Adonai’ (Lord). Schwarz later wrote a book about his experiences, estimating that there were still thousands of crypto-Jews in Portugal who had kept their secret for over four centuries.
1 Society for Crypto-Judaic Studies
By David Hambling