Illuminati is a name that refers to several groups, both real and fictitious. Historically, it refers specifically to the Bavarian Illuminati, an Enlightenment era secret society founded in the late eighteenth century. However, in modern times it refers to a purported conspiratorial organization which acts as a shadowy hand behind the throne, allegedly controlling world affairs through present day governments and corporations, usually as a modern incarnation or continuation of the Bavarian Illuminati. In this context, Illuminati is often used in reference to a New World Order (NWO). Many conspiracy theorists believe the Illuminati, or the "Illuminated ones", are the masterminds behind events that will lead to the establishment of such a New World Order. Confusing the issue further is the fact that there are also several modern fraternal groups which include the word "Illuminati" in their names.
In rarer cases, the Illuminati refers to an elite set of enlightened individuals who may not cooperate but are uniquely empowered by their enlightenment, much like the intelligentsia classes of today are empowered by their education and intelligence. These are people who have become illuminated and have achieved a higher mystical understanding of the universe.