|Preach to the choir
|Crux of the matter
|Speak of the devil
|An act of faith
Discordianism is, depending on who you ask, an elaborate joke disguised as a religion, or a religion disguised as an elaborate joke. Adherents don't take it entirely seriously, which is also a major tenet, since Discordians take nothing entirely seriously. Discordianism is an absurdist syncretism with elements from Zen, Dadaism, Surrealism, religion, postmodernism, skepticism, and more,
probably invented under the influence of LSD revealed by the Greek Goddess Eris also known by her eponymous Roman name Discordia, the goddess of strife and chaos. See the Fnord, don't see the Fnord. It might be best described as an intentionally illogical work of surrealist or dadaist art using religion and philosophy as an artistic medium with the halfway-serious intent to occupy the "worldview" slot in a human mind with something inherently skeptical, subversive, and undogmatic. fnord
The primary Discordian sacred text is the Principia Discordia, Or: How I Found Goddess And What I Did To Her When I Found Her, Wherein is Explained Absolutely Everything Worth Knowing About Absolutely Anything; The Magnum Opiate of Malaclypse the Younger. It is a public-domain work of absurdist ergodic literature, the 1965 equivalent of "LOL Random" humor: full of nonsensical parables and wacky illustrations. The eccentric mood set by the book is well in tune with the philosophy it conveys. fnord
The oldest and most universal influence in Discordianism is perhaps the archetype of the trickster, known virtually to all cultures and symbolized by the main goddess Eris. In some religions, the trickster is venerated as a Culture Hero — just not in boring Abrahamic monotheism (such as Christianity) where the trickster archetype is one facet of the devil. The real-life trickster counterpart are jesters and fools who embody similar themes as in Discordianism: a quality of sidestepping ("jootsing" see below) societal norms and order. Jesters had the function to be able to say whatever they wanted and could be critical even of rulers. If the audience felt they were going too far, they could be shrugged off as jest and folly, which fits the theme of “(not) taking something seriously”. fnord
“”What the thinker thinks, the prover proves.
|—Robert A. Wilson, oft-misunderstood quotation
summing up confirmation bias and selective perception
Several authors, thinkers, random conspiracy theorists and promenaders have influenced Discordianism. A major one seems to be counter-culture psychologist Timothy Leary, who suggested that humans see the world through reality tunnels, an idea Robert Anton Wilson, another major influencer, has expanded upon. His book series the Illuminatus! Trilogy (together with Robert Shea) and his lifelong connection to Discordianism gave him the role of a
pope quasi-saint. Leary praised the book series as "more important than Ulysses or Finnegans Wake", which were in turn written by Wilson's favourite author James Joyce (himself known for his mindfuckery). The original Discordian texts are mostly 1960s surrealist random humour. The Illuminatus! Trilogy was more surrealist random humour, but added something that approached an intelligible plot.[note 1] fnord
“”It started with the Discordian Society, which is based on worship of Eris, the Greek goddess of confusion and chaos […] We felt the Society needed some opposition, because the whole idea of it is based on conflict and dialectics. So, we created an opposition within the Discordian Society, which we called the Bavarian Illuminati […] There were several Discordian newsletters written in the 1960s, and several Discordian members wrote for the underground press in various parts of the country. So, we built up this myth about the warfare between the Discordian Society and the Illuminati for quite a while, until one day Bob Shea said to me, “You know, we could write a novel about this!"
|—Robert A. Wilson
Wilson and Shea worked as associate editors at Playboy magazine at the time and used unpublished letters filled with conspiracy theories as one basis for their work. The trilogy influenced both the conspiracy theory scene as well later creative writers in the conspiracy theory genre (which may often be identical). This effect underscores the central themes of both Discordianism and Illuminatus!, for example confirmation bias and how people believe all kinds of nonsense once primed, and does so in an uncanny self-referential fashion. Some of these ideas would later be popular in so-called alternate reality games and “transmedia” storytelling. Astonishingly, despite over-the-top wackiness, the Discordian lore had some real effects (see the section below), perhaps shining some light on religious beliefs in general: no matter how bizarre, some people will believe it earnestly and fully; and the more bizarre, the more zeal is required to believe it. fnord
To which degree the Illuminatus! trilogy counts as a sacred text, and who influenced whom and to which degree remains unknown, since even all editors of this article and their societies of mind could not reach an agreement about this matter. The book series certainly helped popularize the religion. fnord
Five Tenets (and some more)
The basic tenets of Discordianism (somewhat oversimplified) are:
- The profound and obviously true insight that reality is best described as a hodgepodge, composed of the erisian Hodge (strife) and the anerisian Podge (harmony). Humans falsely perceive order or disorder through varying Reality Grids (perception). Learning to change grids is the first step towards discarding them altogether and achieving illumination. "Chaos" or "strife", represented by Eris is more like interaction of any kind, think for example quantum or molecule soup, which will nearly always be tumultuous. Human societies, peer review, having an argument (or hissy fit), or simply going scuba diving is all chaotic and tumultuous in some sense (perhaps less so in the bathtub). The opposite anerisian principle of "harmony" is of the kind when the universe dies a freezing death (entropy, non-existence). The idea that order is "imposed" by human minds and that it can be changed (to some degree) is echoed in Gestalt psychology.
- Both Order and Disorder, however they are conceived, have the potential to be positive or negative.
- Modern society tends to prioritize order over disorder, regardless of its positivity or negativity. Instead, Discordianism proposes prioritizing positivity over negativity.
- You must not eat Hot Dog Buns,
except forincluding the first Friday of your Illuminated Discordianism, when the newly illuminated must Go Off Alone and Partake Joyously of a Hot Dog. This Devotive Ceremony is done in order to Remonstrate against the popular paganisms of the Day: Roman Catholic Christendom (no meat on Friday), Judaism (no meat of pigs), Hinduism (no meat of cows), Buddhism (no meat), and Discordians (no Hot Dog Buns). Some episkoposes hold a literal interpretation of the commandment that "A Discordian shall Partake of No Hot Dog Buns", but, finding No Hot Dog Buns difficult to locate, accept regular hot dog buns as a substitute.
- All phenomena tend to occur in fives or be somehow related to the number 5. This bit of Discordian philosophy could be interpreted as a satire on religious pareidolia. Not that other tenets are totally serious.
- Discordians shall not believe anything they read.
- One holds both Discordian and Nondiscordian views about the same subject/object at the same time, in accord with Buddhism, quantum physics and The Tau. fnord
The worship of Eris proved quite popular with hippies and other members of the counter-culture, whose disrespect for authority figures meshes well with the Discordian vision of utopian anarchy. The Discordian Society remains active to this day, opposing the Illuminati and other conspiracies, mostly by attempting to jam their plans with misinformation and loosen their grip on the collective brain-stem of humanity via bizarre pranks, such as Operation Mindfuck and Project Jake.
Discordian ideas are echoed in pranksterism, culture jamming, subvertisement and guerrilla communication. The discordian practice is known as “OM”, for operation mindfuck, the Discordians' name for their ongoing, insidious-yet-disorganized effort to tear down all existing social structures (here comes the scary part) without offering anything to replace them. Groups like the Yes Men may or may not be Discordians, but their activities are in the spirit and provide excellent examples. fnord
Discordianism, Science, and Woo
Due to its self-defeating syncretist and dadaist nature, it is hard to say what is “true” Discordianism. The “spirit” of Discordianism is however highly referential, recursive and relies on “jootsing”, Jumping Out Of The System; the ability of the human mind to jump out (and into) conceptual systems and assume special rules, for example when people immerse themselves in riddles, mathematical systems, models of any kind, stories, fictional universes and so forth. This partially explains the Discordian interest in paradoxes and similar mind-illusions that exploit this feature and thereby draws attention to itself. fnord
The sort-of parody religion, by virtue of being satirical, brings in all kinds of woo ideas that are however never taken entirely seriously, which is however again the subtler point. Obviously satire and parody is never entirely non-serious. But what is meant seriously then? By pretending to believe in such nonsensical ideas, while also making clear that they are nonsensical, the Discordian raises the serious point that people believe in nonsense seriously. And by mixing and matching what to take seriously, and to which degree, the Discordian mimics other religions. The serious point might be that adherents of religions always cherrypick (whether they are aware of it or not), but in Discordianism, it is elevated to a tenet and shown as ridiculous. The technique to overplay or exaggerate features to draw attention to them, is also what is at the heart of operation mindfucks (or more generally, guerilla communication). That is, people follow all sorts of conventions and rules[note 2] which are largely invisible or unconscious to them. By exaggerating them, or filling them with silly instructions, they become visible. Since the core ideas are about the fallibility of the human mind, Discordianism is compatible with the de-facto default view in psychology, cognitive science, linguistics, and adjacent disciplines that human minds are teeming with cognitive distortions. A major play with such distortions is the Discordian "Law of Fives" (confirmation bias) which is used to great effect in the 23 Riddle. fnord
Though it is worth pointing out that at the end of Illuminatus!, Hagbard Celine shows another character a picture of a girl with six fingers on each hand, and tells him, "If we all looked like this, there'd be a Law of Sixes".
Ironically, Discordian groups, or Cabals, tend to appear to be extremely hierarchical, with members having elaborate titles and degrees, similar to the Masons or the Catholic Church. Typical titles include things like “The Omnibenevolent Polyfather of Virginity in Gold”, “Archbeacon of the Blind”, or “Keeper of the Notary Sojak”. The commonest rank among Discordians is Pope (there is also a feminine version, 'Mome'). Due to Project Pan-Pontification, there are now more than 2 million Discordian Popes/Momes, and they don't plan to stop until every last man, woman, child, and good-looking dog is a Pope/Mome. Everyone now reading this article is officially a Pope or Mome whether they want to be or not. Those who wish to become Card-Carrying Popes/Momes can get their card here.
Archreverend nutsack of the disilluminated fluorescent tubes adds that, while Discordian groups may appear hierarchical to outsiders, the religion clearly authorizes Popes/Momes and other members of the dis-clergy to perform all duties inappropriate of a Popes/Momes or member of the dis-clergy. Therefore, the validity of impressive titles is true in some sense, false in some sense, and true and false in some sense. fnord
Powers and privileges of Popes & Momes
- to invoke infallibility at any time, including retroactively.
- to completely rework the structure of the Erisian Church.
- to baptize, bury, and marry (not necessarily in that order)
- to excommunicate, de-excommunicate, re-excommunicate, de-re-excommunicate (no backsies) yourself and others.
- to perform all rites and functions deemed proper and improper to a Mome or Pope (or both) of Discordia.
Do You Believe That?
A non-Discordian parable which may still help explain why Discordianism is popular amongst some types of computer geeks:
“”A doctor, an architect, and a computer scientist were arguing about whose profession was the oldest. In the course of their arguments, they got all the way back to the Garden of Eden, whereupon the doctor said, "The medical profession is clearly the oldest, because Eve was made from Adam's rib, as the story goes, and that was a simply incredible surgical feat." The architect did not agree. He said, "But if you look at the Garden itself, in the beginning there was chaos and void, and out of that, the Garden and the world were created. So God must have been an architect." The computer scientist, who had listened to all of this said, "Yes, but where do you think the chaos came from?"
The SNAFU Principle is a sociological notion popular among Discordians. In its simplest form, it states that Communication is only possible between equals. In a hierarchy, people inevitably distort the truth when dealing with their superiors, in order to curry favor or escape punishment.[note 3] As a consequence, said superiors operate from an increasingly distorted view of the world, resulting in bad decisions.
SNAFU itself is a military acronym for "Situation Normal, All Fucked Up". This is sometimes sanitized for innocent civilians as "situation normal, all fouled up".
The Church of the SubGenius may be a successor. Or it may be a heresy. Or it may be a cheap knock-off. Or maybe even a not-so-cheap knock-off (when was the last time a Discordian asked you for five dollars?). Often parodied by US televangelism and prosperity Christianity, who found it quite lucrative. Nobody would seriously call himself Creflo Dollar, would he? fnord
In Reality. Koch, KGB, & KLF
Do you believe this? German hacker and anarchist Karl Koch was convinced of an Illuminati conspiracy which drew him to Discordian lore as told through the Illuminatus! trilogy. He named himself after the Discordian protagonist "Hagbard Celine" and his computer after Hagbard's device in the novels “FUCKUP” (First Universal Cybernetic Kynetic Ultramicro-Programmer).
In the novel, FUCKUP calculates the odds of World War III breaking out by throwing virtual I Ching sticks. The real Hagbard Celine used his FUCKUP to hack into high security facilities and, among other things, stole information he then sold to the KGB for good money — which he mostly invested in cocaine. The American astronomer Clifford Stoll discovered one of Koch's hacks in the "Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory (LBNL)", because 75 cents worth of computer performance could not be attributed. Stoll's findings eventually led to the arrest of Koch's hacker group in late 1988. However, because of the nature of their activities, and due to evidence that was obtained unlawfully, they were offered good deals and were set free not much later.
On May[note 4] 23 1989[note 5], Karl Koch's charcoal corpse was found in a burned-out car[note 6] in northern Germany. He was 23 years old. Authorities believe he committed suicide, since he suffered from paranoia and psychosis induced by his long drug addiction. Do you believe this? A partially fictionalized story was told in the German film 23: nothing is what it seems. fnord
The Discordian band The KLF (founded as Justified Ancients of Mu Mu) were to receive the "Best British group" Brit Awards (UK version of the Grammy) in 1992. As Discordians proper, they couldn't just play the gig straight. Instead, they invited the appropriately-named crust punk band Extreme Noise Terror to play a cover-version of "3AM eternal" to a bewildered audience. Towards the end of the performance, KLF singer Bill Drummond fired blanks from a machine gun into the crowd. After their performance, they jumped into a van and drove away with an announcement made: "Ladies and Gentlemen, the KLF have now left the music business". To top it off, they left a dead sheep backstage. The KLF duo would appropriately re-unite for 23 minutes. However, they continued their collaboration under different names as producers and artists in a similar Discordian fashion. Bill Drummond remains an influence in art and pop culture, and was described as a modern-day "magician", a label also shared by comic writer Alan Moore (who not co-incidentially is also part of the Discordian R. A. Wilson circle). fnord
- The Principia Discordia, or How I Found Goddess And What I Did To Her When I Found Her
- Vice: Inside the Resurgence of Discordianism – the Chaotic, LSD-Fuelled Anti-Religion
- You clicked on the footnote, didn't you?
- Interestingly, on this view superiors are portrayed as being passively misled by their inferiors' distortions, almost as victims, rather than having an active role in distorting truth. Whether this is a telling omission or intentional Discordian satire is — as usual — rather difficult to discern.
- May = 5th month, 2+3, The Law of Fives
- 1 + 9 + 8 + 9 = 27, 7 - 2 = 5, The Law of Fives
- Hot cars weren't offered as part of the good deal, They™ say.
- Principia Discordia at the Internet Archive.
- Ratings & Reviews for The Illuminatus! Trilogy, Robert Shea, Robert Anton Wilson review by Seth (August 26, 2007) Goodreads (archived from 25 Dec 2023 02:46:16 UTC).
- “Robert Anton Wilson: Searching For Cosmic Intelligence” by Jeffrey Elliot
-  Lazy YouTube Search of the Yes Men and their activist pranks
- term coined by Douglas Hofstadter, and discussed by Daniel Dennett in "Intuition Pumps", Chapter 8
- See Douglas Hofstadter's Gödel, Escher, Bach to get an idea, which unsurprisingly also builds on paradoxes, Zen, and math.
- A slightly more scholarly analysis of this notion
- Charles Shaar Murray|Murray, C.S., 'The Independent (London), 26 February 2000, p10.
- Cosmic Trigger Play