Discordianism has been described as both an elaborate joke disguised as a religion and a religion disguised as an elaborate joke. Some of its followers make the claim that it is "a religion disguised as a joke disguised as a religion." It can be viewed as a simple rejection of reductionism and dualism, even falsifiability — not in concept different from postmodernism or certain trends in the philosophy of mathematics. It has also been described as "Zen for roundeyes," and converges with some of the more absurdist interpretations of the Rinzai school.
Discordianism is said to have been founded in 1959 (or maybe it was 1958) by Greg Hill (also called "Malaclypse The Younger"/"Mal-2", or occasionally "The Omnibenevolent Polyfather of Virginity in Gold"/"OPOVIG") and Kerry Thornley (also called "Lord Omar Khayyam Ravenhurst"). The foundational document of Discordianism is Hill's Principia Discordia, although this book contains many references to an earlier source, The Honest Book of Truth, which was taken by a garbage collector, according to a quotation from The Honest Book of Truth, cited on page 00030 of the Principia.
Although most religions revere the principles of harmony and order in the Universe, Discordianism can be interpreted as a recognition that disharmony and chaos are equally valid aspects of reality. The Principia Discordia often hints that Discordianism was founded as a dialectic antithesis to more popular religions based on order, although the rhetoric throughout the book describes chaos as a much more underlying impulse of the universe. This may have been done with the intention of merely "balancing out" the creative forces of order and disorder, but the focus is certainly on the more disorderly aspects of the world – at times the forces of order are even vilified.
The matron deity of Discordianism is Eris, the ancient Greek goddess of discord, with whom the Romans identified their goddess Discordia.
If organized religion is the opium of the masses, then disorganized religion is the marijuana of the lunatic fringe. —Kerry Thornley in the introduction to the 5th edition of Principia Discordia
The very idea of a Discordian organization is something of an oxymoron. Nevertheless, some structure is indicated in Principia Discordia. The most general group, presumably including all Discordians (and potentially others), is The Discordian Society , whose definition is "The Discordian Society has no definition" (Principia Discordia, page 00032). Within the society are sects of Discordianism, each under the direction of an "Episkopos", who receives direction directly from Eris, presumably via his or her pineal gland.
- Some Episkiposes have a one-man cabal.
- Some work together.
- Some never do explain.
- -marginalia from Principia Discordia, page 00032
Discordians who do not form their own sects, whether they belong to someone else's sect or not, make up the Legion of Dynamic Discord , and may be referred to as Legionnaires. Would-be Discordians are told on page 00032,
- If you want in on the Dicordian Society
- then declare yourself what you wish
- do what you like
- and tell us about it
- if you prefer
- There are no rules anywhere.
- The Goddess Prevails.
The sect of Discordianism founded by Malaclypse The Younger and Omar Khayyam Ravenhurst is known as the Paratheo-Anametamystikhood Of Eris Esoteric (POEE), and the Principia Discordia tells us much about POEE in particular, as well as Discordianism in general.
For example, page 00022 contains – along with a hand-copied quotation by Lichtenberg: "This book is a mirror. When a monkey looks in, no apostle looks out." – some details about the structure of POEE. In particular:
POEE had 5 DEGREES:
- There is the Neophyte, or LEGIONNAIRE DISCIPLE.
- The LEGIONNAIRE DEACON, who is catching on.
- An ordained POEE PRIEST/PRIESTESS or a CHAPLIN.
- The HIGH PRIEST, The Polyfather.
- And POEE =POPE=.
- POEE Legionnaire Disciples are authorized to initiate others as Discordian Society Legionnaires. PRIESTS appoint their own DEACONS. The POLYFATHER ordains Priests. I don't know about the =POPES=.
On page 00036 of Principia Discordia, we learn that "A =POPE= is someone who is not under the authority of the authorities," and that "Every man, woman and child on this Earth is a genuine and authorized Pope." See also Discordian Pope.
According to the Principia Discordia it is a tribe of philosophers, theologians, magicians, scientists, artists, clowns, and similar maniacs who are intrigued by Eris goddess of confusion and her doings. Furthermore it states that 'POEE subscribes to the Law Of Fives of Omar's sect' and 'POEE also recognizes the Holy 23..'.
Paratheo-Anametamystikhood can be taken to mean "equivalent deity, reversing beyond-mystique".
A summary of part of the Discordian philosophy appears on pages 00049 and 00050 of the Principia Discordia. The following is a quote extracted from Principia Discordia (All Rites Reversed):
- HERE FOLLOWS SOME PSYCHO-METAPHYSICS.
- If you are not hot for philosophy, best just to skip it.
- The Aneristic Principle is that of APPARENT ORDER; the Eristic Principle is that of APPARENT DISORDER. Both order and disorder are man made concepts and are artificial divisions of PURE CHAOS, which is a level deeper than is the level of distinction making.
- With our concept making apparatus called "mind" we look at reality through the ideas-about-reality which our cultures give us.
- The ideas-about-reality are mistakenly labeled "reality" and unenlightened people are forever perplexed by the fact that other people, especially other cultures, see "reality" differently.
- It is only the ideas-about-reality which differ. Real (capital-T True) reality is a level deeper than is the level of concept.
We look at the world through windows on which have been drawn grids (concepts). Different philosophies use different grids. A culture is a group of people with rather similar grids. Through a window we view chaos, and relate it to the points on our grid, and thereby understand it. The ORDER is in the GRID. That is the Aneristic Principle .
- Western philosophy is traditionally concerned with contrasting one grid with another grid, and amending grids in hopes of finding a perfect one that will account for all reality and will, hence, (say unenlightened westerners) be True. This is illusory; it is what we Erisians call the ANERISTIC ILLUSION. Some grids can be more useful than others, some more beautiful than others, some more pleasant than others, etc., but none can be more True than any other.
DISORDER is simply unrelated information viewed through some particular grid. But, like "relation", no-relation is a concept. Male, like female, is an idea about sex. To say that male-ness is "absence of female-ness", or vice versa, is a matter of definition and metaphysically arbitrary. The artificial concept of no-relation is the Eristic Principle .
- The belief that "order is true" and disorder is false or somehow wrong, is the Aneristic Illusion. To say the same of disorder, is the Eristic Illusion .
- The point is that (little-t) truth is a matter of definition relative to the grid one is using at the moment, and that (capital-T) Truth, metaphysical reality, is irrelevant to grids entirely. Pick a grid, and through it some chaos appears ordered and some appears disordered. Pick another grid, and the same chaos will appear differently ordered and disordered.
Reality is the original Rorschach.
- Verily! So much for all that.
And this from the Principia Discordia's very beginning, a Discordian koan:
GREATER POOP: Is Eris true?
- MALACLYPSE THE YOUNGER: Everything is true.
- GP: Even false things?
- M2: Even false things are true.
- GP: How can that be?
- M2: I don't know man, I didn't do it.
The word Chao was coined as the singular of chaos. In the Discordian religion the chao is a symbol of the pataphysical nature of reality; singular instances of chaos being at the center of pataphysical theory. The word is a pun that enables the following couplet in the Principia Discordia:
To diverse gods
- Do mortals bow;
- Holy Cow , and
- Wholly Chao.
The Sacred Chao
The Sacred Chao
The Sacred Chao is a symbol used by Discordians to illustrate the interrelatedness of order and disorder. It resembles a yin yang symbol, but according to Principia Discordia (page 00049):
The Sacred Chao is not the Yin-Yang of the Taioists. It is the HODGE-PODGE of the Erisians. And, instead of a Podge spot on the Hodge side, it has a PENTAGON which symbolizes the ANERISTIC PRINCIPLE, and instead of a Hodge spot on the Podge side, it depicts the GOLDEN APPLE OF DISCORDIA to symbolize the ERISTIC PRINCIPLE.
- The Sacred Chao symbolizes absolutely everything anyone need ever know about absolutely anything, and more! It even symbolizes everything not worth knowing, depicted by the empty space surrounding the Hodge-Podge.
The choice of the Pentagon as a symbol of the Aneristic Principle is partly related to The Pentagon in Washington D.C., and partly a nod to the Law of Fives. The Golden Apple of Discordia is the one from the story of The Original Snub (below).
The Law of Fives
The Law of Fives is summarized on page 00016 of the Principia Discordia:
- The Law of Fives states simply that: ALL THINGS HAPPEN IN FIVES, OR ARE DIVISIBLE BY OR ARE MULTIPLES OF FIVE, OR ARE SOMEHOW DIRECTLY OR INDIRECTLY APPROPRIATE TO 5.
- The Law of Fives is never wrong.
- In the Erisian Archives is an old memo from Omar to Mal-2: "I find the Law of Fives to be more and more manifest the harder I look."
It is worth noting that the Law of Fives includes the word "Five" five times.
Like most of Discordianism, the Law of Fives appears on the surface to be either some sort of weird joke, or bizarre supernaturalism; but under this, it provides deep insight into how (Discordians believe) the human mind works. Omar's note that he finds more examples of the Law of Fives at work the harder he looks is key to understanding this.
Appendix Beth of Robert Anton Wilson's Illuminatus trilogy considers some of the numerology of Discordianism, and the question of what would happen to the Law of Fives if everyone had six fingers on each hand.
The Original Snub
(From The Principia Discordia, all Rites Reversed)
It seems that Zeus was preparing a wedding banquet for Peleus and Thetis and did not want to invite Eris because of Her reputation as a trouble maker.*
This made Eris angry, and so She fashioned an apple of pure gold** and inscribed upon it KALLISTI ("To The Prettiest One") and on the day of the fete She rolled it into the banquet hall and then left to be alone and joyously partake of a hot dog.
Now, three of the invited goddesses,*** Athena, Hera, and Aphrodite, each immediately claimed it to belong to herself because of the inscription. And they started fighting, and they started throwing punch all over the place and everything.
Finally Zeus calmed things down and declared that an arbitrator must be selected, which was a reasonable suggestion, and all agreed. He sent them to a shepherd of Troy, whose name was Paris because his mother had had a lot of gaul and had married a Frenchman; but each of the sneaky goddesses tried to outwit the others by going early and offering a bribe to Paris.
Athena offered him Heroic War Victories, Hera offered him Great Wealth, and Aphrodite offered him the Most Beautiful Woman on Earth. Being a healthy young Trojan lad, Paris promptly accepted Aphrodite's bribe and she got the apple and he got screwed.
As she had promised, she maneuvered earthly happenings so that Paris could have Helen (The Helen) then living with her husband Menelaus, King of Sparta. Anyway, everyone knows that the Trojan War followed when Sparta demanded their Queen back and that the Trojan War is said to be The First War among men.
And so we suffer because of the Original Snub. And so a Discordian is to partake of No Hot Dog Buns.
- Do you believe that?
- * This is called THE DOCTRINE OF THE ORIGINAL SNUB
** There is historic disagreement concerning whether this apple was of metallic gold or acapulco.
*** Actually there were five goddesses, but the Greeks did not know the Law of Fives.
The Golden Apple of Discord is thus one of the major symbols associated with Discordianism.
The Curse of Greyface
The Curse of Greyface is one of the most important parts of Discordianism. It features prominently on pages 00042 and 00063 of the Principia Discordia. Counteracting the curse features prominently on pages 00063 and 00074. According to the Principia, Greyface was a man who lived in the year 1166 BC and taught that life is serious and play is sin. The curse is a psychological and spiritual imbalance that results from these beliefs. (Some believe that J. R. "Bob" Dobbs of the Church of the SubGenius and Greyface are one and the same, though he is also referred to as the "Anti-Greyface".)
Greyface encouraged his followers to "Look at all the order around you" (Principia Discordia page 00042) and somehow convinced mankind to agree with his ideas about Serious Order. The Principia notes that it is something of a mystery why Greyface gained so many followers when anyone could have looked at all of the disorder in the world.
"Greyface and his followers took the game of playing at life more seriously than they took life itself and were known even to destroy other living beings whose ways of life differed from their own." (Principia Discordia page 00042)
Order/disorder and constructive/destructive
By accepting that life is a serious, orderly matter, the followers of Greyface end up viewing things as either orderly or disorderly. In this system, order is preferred to disorder at all costs. This preference results in both constructive order and destructive order.
The alternative is to view things as either constructive or destructive. In this system, construction is preferred to destruction. Selecting construction results in both constructive order and constructive disorder.
Counteracting the Curse
"[M]ankind has [...] been suffering from a psychological and spiritual imbalance. Imbalance causes frustration, and frustration causes fear. And fear makes for a bad trip. Man has been on a bad trip for a long time now." (Principia Discordia page 00042)
"The human race will begin solving it's [sic] problems on the day that it ceases taking itself so seriously." (Principia Discordia page 00074)
In addition to the generic advice of culturing your natural love of chaos and playing with Her, the Principia Discordia provides (on page 00064) "The Turkey Curse Revealed by the Apostle Dr. Van Van Mojo" to counteract The Curse of Greyface. The Turkey Curse is designed to counteract destructive order. It derives its name from the fact that the incantation resembles the sounds of a turkey.
Law of Eristic Escalation
The Principia Discordia (page 00046) contains the Law of Eristic Escalation. This law states that Imposition of Order = Escalation of Chaos. This can be read as an argument against zero tolerance and hard security , or just a statement about the world. It can also be seen as a parallel to the second law of thermodynamics from physics.
The Pentabarf (given on page 00004 of the Principia) is the set of 5 holy laws of Discordianism. It is as follows:
- 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.
- A Discordian Shall Always use the Official Discordian Document Numbering System.
- 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).
- 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.
- A Discordian is Prohibited from Believing What he reads.
The Pentabarf was first discovered written upside down, and reading its holy laws from the bottom up may help he who seeks to understand them. The fifth law is a warning against dictated faith; while words can inspire beliefs, it should not be their source; one should not adhere to dogma. While the fourth law establishes religious dogma; the third instructs to reject it, while providing examples of dogma from other religions (including its own). The second law shows the futility of dogma: the Official Discordian Document Numbering System is not explained in the Pentabarf. In accordance with the principles of chaos, words cannot define an official belief system that will be shared by all; each person will interpret writings differently. Some have guessed that the "Official Discordian Document Numbering System" from the second holy law has something to do with the fact that all page numbers in the book are exactly five digits. Were this true, it would be useful in protecting against extremely longwinded authors and increase the market for COBOL programmers. As for the first, and last law, it consists of circular definitions, which are present in nearly all belief systems: those definitions are one of the purest forms of dogma.
The Pentabarf is the most fundamental of all Discordian catma. ("Catma" is a general term for Discordian teachings, sayings, quotations, explanations, jokes and illustrations, as distinguished from Discordian "dogma", which consists of certain specific passages from The Honest Book of Truth, cited in Principia.) As the third law of the Pentabarf demands a violation of the fourth, and the fifth law seems to subvert the very concept of written law, it is not clear in what sense the Pentabarf is to be taken.
In the Principia Discordia, "Five tons of flax" is given as the answer to the question, "Is there an essential meaning behind POEE?" (This is a reference to a Zen story about "Three pounds of flax.") Discordians have since taken "Five tons of flax" as an absurd slogan or as a universal answer to philosophical questions.
The pineal gland
"Consult your pineal gland" is a common saying in discordianism. Some Discordians seem to regard the pineal gland as the source of answers to life's most difficult questions.
- Texts about or inspired by Discordianism
- Discordian concepts and personages
- Things significant in Discordianism