10 Things People Believe About the Illuminati

Rappers Jay-Z and Kanye West make the 'pyramid sign' at a GQ anniversary party. Is that signal a nod to the Illuminati? © Leon/Retna Ltd./Corbis

Economists and historians might have complicated answers about why gas prices rise, the stock market goes down or who shot JFK. But others know better. "It's the Illuminati, stupid," they'll tell you. Listening to them, you'd think the Illuminati is the theory of everything. It explains events from American history, pop music, the weather, even the mermaid logo on the Starbucks cup.

Conspiracy theorists believe the Illuminati is a sinister league of secret power brokers, whose membership over the past several centuries has amounted to a who's who of the powerful, rich and influential, from U.S. President Thomas Jefferson to rapper Jay-Z [sources: Knight, Obias].

As the story goes, the Illuminati has co-opted governments and banks, manipulated stock markets and energy prices, staged assassinations and cover-ups, and in myriad ways quietly tugged on the puppet strings that control the unwary masses. They've even tricked us into participating in their secret rituals based upon ancient Egyptian mysticism, and carrying currency emblazoned with their symbolism in our wallets [source: McConnachie and Tudge].

And it almost sounds plausible, doesn't it? As Scientific American columnist and author Michael Shermer has noted, we are "pattern-seeking animals," neurologically hard-wired to seek explanations and put the pieces together – even when there isn't a connection, and the pieces don't fit [source: Kiger].

There are enough conspiracy theories about the Illuminati to fill a book, or even a library. Here are 10 of the most outlandish and entertaining.