Several strange things happened during this year's Superbowl; as if the half-hour partial blackout wasn't enough, many people are wondering if Beyonce took the opportunity to tell the world during the halftime show that she's part of a secret society bent on world domination by making a diamond shape with her hands - said to represent the Illuminati.
Secret societies have always intrigued people, partly because of their claims to esoteric knowledge. The Illuminati was a group founded in 1776 by Adam Weishaupt, a law professor in Bavaria.
PHOTOS: Ancient Tomb Holds Jesus Mystery
Weishaupt claimed to have been given mysterious, arcane knowledge by a "higher source," which presumably could have been anything from God to extraterrestrials to voices in his head.
The Illuminati organization resembled a pyramid scheme cult, with new initiates required to pledge total obedience to Weishaupt, and promises of greater revealed wisdom the more invested a member became.
Weishaupt shared his philosophical insights with others who joined his group, telling them for example that "Man is not bad, except as he is made so by arbitrary morality. He is bad because religion, the state, and bad examples pervert him. When at last reason becomes the religion of men, then will the problem be solved."
Weishaupt outlined his plans to change the world so that all would accept his teachings.
VIDEO: Top 5 Science Conspiracy Theories
Until that could happen, secrecy was a key tenet of the group's philosophy: "Let it never appear in any place in its own name, but always covered by another name, and another occupation. None is fitter than the three lower degrees of Freemasonry," Weishaupt wrote, and thus many members also became Freemasons, another secret society.
This, by itself, was not unusual; throughout history members of groups who shared unorthodox or unpopular beliefs had to meet in secrecy and lead double lives.
However this virtually guaranteed that conspiracy theories would forever be attached to the Illuminati name. Since any real member would deny involvement, the Illuminati could theoretically be anywhere and everywhere (even the Superbowl) - and no one could prove otherwise.
NEWS: Earliest Evidence of Biblical Cult Discovered
The Illuminati was outlawed in Bavaria in 1783, and by 1800 the group was all but defunct in Germany but its ideas had spread to America, Europe and elsewhere.
According to Mark Booth's New York Times bestseller "The Secret History of the World," the real truth about the Illuminati was revealed when a high-ranking member was suddenly killed, and Illuminati documents were found among his effects: "The seized writings revealed that the ancient wisdom and the secret supernatural powers promulgated within the Illuminati had always been a cynical invention and a fraud. An aspirant progressed through the grades only to discover that the spiritual elements in the teachings were merely a smokescreen."
It was all a cynical spiritual con game done for power and prestige, playing on the very human desire to be part of something secret and powerful.
Still some remained unconvinced, believing that the exposure of the scam was itself a conspiracy to discredit Weishaupt and the Illuminati. After all, if the government feared their secret wisdom it had to do everything in their power to stop them (no one ever explained why those in power weren't already Illuminati, or wouldn't be eager to embrace the hidden knowledge it offered, instead of trying to destroy it).
VIDEO: Why Everyone's So Mad at Beyonce
Though the Illuminati only existed for less than two decades over two centuries ago, many conspiracy theorists believe that it remains active and powerful, often associated with New World Order and anti-Jewish conspiracies.
So what about that Illuminati sign that Beyonce made with her hands? Could it be that she was letting the world know about her involvement with the Illuminati (in direct defiance to its core tenets)?
Or could it be that she was making a diamond symbol with her hands as a plug for her husband Jay-Z's record company, which uses a diamond as its symbol? Or could it be that conspiracy theorists don't realize that there are only so many symbols that can be formed with four fingers and a thumb, and that by random chance many of them will look similar?
Assuming that the Illuminati still exist as a secret and powerful organization (and not a discredited cult scam), how will we know that they are active? Apparently when reason and rationality overwhelm "the public mind."
By that standard, the Illuminati must be one of the least competent all-powerful secret societies in history. At least that's what they want you to think.
Photo: Beyonce during her Super Bowl performance on Feb. 3, 2013. Credit: YouTube screengrab