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Discordianism—A Spoof Religion

I've spent half a century (yikes) writing for radio and print—mostly print. I hope to be still tapping the keys as I take my last breath.

Followers of Discordianism are encouraged to worship Eris (Discordia in Latin), the Greek goddess of chaos and disorder. The whole concept springs from a book entitled The Principia Discordia, written by Greg Hill with Kerry Wendell Thornley. They operated under the pseudonyms of Malaclypse the Younger and Omar Khayyam Ravenhurst, and offered a sub-title for their publication: How I Found the Goddess and What I Did to Her When I Found Her, Wherein Is Explained Absolutely Everything Worth Knowing About Absolutely Anything.

Perhaps, the pen names and the sub-title are clues as to the seriousness with which we are supposed to take their work.

Eris the Greek goddess of discord and strife.

Eris the Greek goddess of discord and strife.

Discordianism’s Premise

Hill and Thornley were at school together and both had an interest in cults.

In their book, they tell of their revelation in a bowling alley, which makes a change from a mountain top where these things usually start.

There was a flash of light, which is much more standard with epiphanies, and time stood still. At this point, a chimpanzee wandered into the bowling alley and asked Hill and Thornley why does Saturn’s moon Phoebe orbit the planet in a reverse direction? Similarly, the chimp wanted to know why men have nipples but do not produce milk. The curious ape moved on to the uncertainty principle of Werner Heisenberg.

Then, the primate produced a scroll with an apple on one side and a pentagon on the other. Having completed his mission of revealing unpredictability and randomness, the chimpanzee exploded and the two men fell into unconsciousness.

The sacred chaos symbol.

The sacred chaos symbol.

The Chimp’s Message

When Hill and Thornley came to, the bowlers were busy knocking down pins as though nothing had happened. The two men realized the apparitions had been meant only for them and that they were a sign that they were to start a new religion.

There were other divinely inspired events, such as simultaneously dreaming about a visit from Eris who introduced them to chaos and anarchy. Clearly, this was to be the foundation of their religion; the exact opposite of organized religions that preach that a god has everything under control.

Scott Oliver (Vice) in writing about Discordianism notes that “evolutionary psychologists ascribe to the human desire to project order on to reality and thereby alleviate the anxiety of an unknowable world: whence religion.”

The folk at Gaia.com point out that “Discordianism holds three major tenets: that there is order, disorder, and the notion that they are both illusory. Only by rejecting these premises can one truly perceive reality as it is. And it was this paradoxical unknowing at every level that became so appealing …

“That Socratic paradox, ‘the only thing I know is that I know nothing,’ couldn’t embody the Discordian sentiment any better.”

I would only believe in a god who could dance.”

Friedrich Nietzsche

Discordianism’s Rules

No religion worthy of the name can exist without a set of commandments. So here are Discordianism's five rules, called the Pentabarf, as laid out in the The Principia Discordia. They were discovered carved on a gilded rock in the Fifth Year of the Caterpillar by a hermit known as Apostle Zarathud.

I―“There is no Goddess but Goddess and She is Your Goddess. There is no Erisian Movement but The Erisian Movement and it is The Erisian Movement. And every Golden Apple Corps is the beloved home of a Golden Worm.

II―“A Discordian Shall Always use the Official Discordian Document Numbering System.

III―“A Discordian is Required during his early Illumination to Go Off Alone & Partake Joyously of a Hot Dog on a Friday; this Devotive Ceremony to Remonstrate against the popular Paganisms of the Day: of Catholic Christendom (no meat on Friday), of Judaism (no meat of Pork), of Hindic Peoples (no meat of Beef), of Buddhists (no meat of animal), and of Discordians (no Hot Dog Buns).

IV―“A Discordian shall Partake of No Hot Dog Buns, for Such was the Solace of Our Goddess when She was Confronted with The Original Snub.

V―“A Discordian is Prohibited of Believing what he reads.”

One of the principle tenets of the “religion” is that all people are Popes.

Spreading Discord

To move things along chaotically, Hill, Thornley, and a group of like-minded Discordians set up a programme called Operation Mindsuck (OM). That’s not exactly what it was called, but this is a family friendly site so I’ve used a rhyme for the last syllable.

New York Magazine describes it as “a free-form art project–cum–prank–cum–political protest of the sixties and seventies, designed to sow the culture with paranoia.” The core of OM was to blame all natural disasters, calamities, and assassinations on the Illuminati; the non-existent group that conspiracy theorists believe controls the world.

Again, Gaia explains that the purpose of OM is to encourage “social change through the disruption of paradigms in order to force people to question their reality. This is achieved through civil disobedience, activism, art movements, and hoaxes.”

They tried, quite successfully it turns out, to create a looking-glass world that totally distorts reality. It’s a place where people say weird things, such as “What you’re seeing and what you’re reading is not what’s happening” or “Truth isn't truth,” or they talk about “alternative facts.”

Don’t reject these teachings just because I am crazy. I am crazy because they are true.”

Malaclypse the Younger (aka Greg Hill)

Greg Hill.

Greg Hill.

Discordianism and Poe’s Law

In 2005, Nathan Poe propounded a law that states “Without a winking smiley or other blatant display of humour, it is utterly impossible to parody fundamentalism in such a way that someone won’t mistake for the genuine article.”

So, a parody of something absolutely extreme cannot be set apart from that which is being mocked.

The widely believed analysis is that Discordianism is a complicated joke designed to fool people into believing it is a real religion. However, a brief journey into the internet reveals there are plenty of people who have bought into Discordianism as a real religion. They turn the spoof theory back on itself and say they actually follow a real religion that is camouflaged as a complex joke.

Poe’s Law writ large.

Robert Anton Wilson, One of the Gurus of Discordianism, Talks About Chaos

Bonus Factoids

  • Kerry Thornley enlisted in the Marines in 1958 and during the following year his path crossed with that of Lee Harvey Oswald. After leaving the forces, Thornley lived in New Orleans where he struck up a friendship with a couple of shady characters and engaged in bizarre conversations, one of which was how would a person assassinate President John F. Kennedy. At the time, Oswald was also living in New Orleans. There are those who believe that Thornley and his mysterious buddies, who in this scenario are alleged to be CIA agents, were part of a plot to kill the president and make Oswald the fall guy for the crime.
  • It will come as no surprise to learn that Greg Hill played around with psychotropic drugs such as LSD.
  • Kerry Thornley drifted around the United States editing underground newspapers and joining activist groups. Some of his pseudonyms were: Grand Ballyhoo of Egypt of the Orthodox Discordian Society, Ho Chi Zen (the Fifth Dealy Lama), President of the Fair-Play-for-Switzerland Committee, and Sinister Minister of the First Evangelical and Unrepentant Church of No Faith.
Kerry Thornley. Would this man try to pull your leg?

Kerry Thornley. Would this man try to pull your leg?

Sources

  • “Inside the Resurgence of Discordianism – the Chaotic, LSD-Fuelled Anti-Religion.” Scott Oliver, Vice, June 15, 2016.
  • “Conspiracy Theory Is a Hoax Gone Right?” Jesse Walker, New York Magazine, November 17, 2013.
  • “The Pope of Discordianism; Who Was Robert Anton Wilson?” Gaia Staff, January 16, 2018.
  • “The Strange but True Story of Kerry Thornley.” Adam Gorightly, Paranoia Magazine, undated.

© 2018 Rupert Taylor

Comments

Miebakagh Fiberesima from Port Harcourt, Rivers State, NIGERIA. on August 28, 2018:

Hi, Natalie, thanks for seeing the funny side of the story. Rupert is always an expert on such issues.

Natalie Frank from Chicago, IL on August 28, 2018:

“Without a winking smiley or other blatant display of humour, it is utterly impossible to parody fundamentalism in such a way that someone won’t mistake for the genuine article.” I love this. It's so true. There are times I don't know if something someone has sent me is meant as humor or is real. Sometimes I just don't reply! As for Eris - I think she has moved in with me lately! Thanks for an interesting and amusing article.

Miebakagh Fiberesima from Port Harcourt, Rivers State, NIGERIA. on August 24, 2018:

Hello Rupert, Discordianism is no religion at all. I was not surprised that Lee Harvey Oswald, who later confessed to the killing of President Kennedy? is made the culprit? Till date, the real question is: Who killed President John F. Kennedy?

Like as I said above that Discordianism is not a religion, but a body of confused principles. The followers are silly idiots with no real idea of they own. A monkey giving a revelation to a human being is something to be wave off, but the originators are as silly as their followers. Thank you.