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Discordianism is a religion and subsequent philosophy based on the veneration or worship of Eris (also known as Discordia), the Greco-Roman goddess of chaos, or archetypes or ideals associated with her. It was founded after the 1965 publication of its (first) holy book, the Principia Discordia, written by two individuals working under the pseudonyms Malaclypse the Younger and Omar Khayyam Ravenhurst.
The religion has been likened to Zen, based on similarities with absurdist interpretations of the Rinzai school, as well as Taoist philosophy. Discordianism is centered on the idea that both order and disorder are illusions imposed on the universe by the human nervous system, and that neither of these illusions of apparent order and disorder is any more accurate or objectively true than the other.
There is some division as to whether it should be regarded as a parody religion, and if so to what degree. Discordians use subversive humor to spread their philosophy and to prevent their beliefs from becoming dogmatic. It is difficult to estimate the number of Discordians because they are not required to hold Discordianism as their only belief system, and because there is an encouragement to form schisms and cabals.
The foundational document of Discordianism is the Principia Discordia, fourth edition, written by Malaclypse the Younger, an alias of Greg Hill. This book contains many references to an earlier source, The Honest Book of Truth (HBT). From the quotations, the HBT seems to be arranged like the Bible, consisting of verses grouped into chapters grouped into books grouped into the HBT itself. The Principia includes a large portion (or possibly all) of a chapter of "The Book of Explanations" which recounts how the HBT was revealed to Lord Omar Khayyam Ravenhurst. The tale of the discovery of the HBT contains many similarities to the tale of the discovery of the Book of Mormon, and Ravenhurst had been a Mormon. It also includes part of the next chapter, telling how the HBT was taken by a garbage collector, who refused to return it.
Discordianism can be interpreted as a belief 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 on the more disorderly aspects of the world — at times the forces of order are even vilified. There are other religions that revere the principles of harmony and order in the Universe, but few that show a respect for the disorder which we all face.
The very idea of a Discordian organization is something of a paradox. 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”. Within the society are sects of Discordianism, each under the direction of an “Episkopos” (overseer or bishop in Koine Greek, the same word used in the New Testament for Christian Bishops.)
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 in the Principia Discordia:
If you want in on the Discordian Society
then declare yourself what you wishThe Goddess Prevails.
do what you like
and tell us about it
if you prefer
There are no rules anywhere.—Malaclypse the Younger, Principia Discordia, Page 00032
The sect of Discordianism founded by Malaclypse the Younger and Omar Khayyam Ravenhurst is known as the Paratheo-Anametamystikhood Of Eris Esoteric (POEE), a non-prophet irreligious disorganisation, and the Principia Discordia tells about POEE in particular, as well as Discordianism in general.
For example, the Principia contains some details about the structure of POEE. In particular:
POEE has 5 DEGREES:
There is the neophyte, or LEGIONNAIRE DISCIPLE.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.
The LEGIONNAIRE DEACON, who is catching on.
An Ordained POEE PRIEST/PRIESTESS or a CHAPLAIN.
The HIGH PRIEST, the Polyfather.
And POEE POPE.—Malaclypse the Younger, Principia Discordia, Page 00022
According to the Principia Discordia, POEE 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". Loosely interpreted, it basically states that "all deities are equivalent, there is no great mystery about that".
Episkoposes are the Overseers of sects of Discordianism, who have presumably created their own sect of Discordianism. They speak to Eris through the use of their pineal gland. It is said in the Principia Discordia that Eris says different things to each listener. She may even say radically different things to each Episkopos but, all of what she says is equally her word (even if it contradicts another iteration of her word).
Most Episkoposes have an assumed name and/or title of bizarre nature and self-proclaimed 'mystic import', such as Malaclypse the Younger, Omnibenevolent Polyfather of Virginity in Gold; Lord Omar Khayyam Ravenhurst, Bull Goose of Limbo; Professor Mu-Chao; Jay Bee the Elder; and Kassil the Erratic. Some Discordians choose their entire title by themselves, some turn to random generators, others assimilate things from other people, and few ever really offer any explanation.
According to the Principia Discordia, “every single man, woman, and child on this Earth” is a pope. Included in the Principia Discordia is an official Pope card that may be reproduced and distributed freely to anyone and everyone. Papacy is not granted through possession of this card; it merely informs people that they are “a genuine and authorized Pope” of Discordia.
While the powers of a Pope are not enumerated in the Principia, the card states, “A Pope is someone who is not under the authority of the authorities.” Some Discordians have also taken it upon themselves to further elaborate upon the powers of a Pope. On the back of some Pope cards, the following message can be found:
The rights of a Pope include but are not necessarily limited to:
- To invoke infallibility at any time, including retroactively.
- To completely rework the Erisian church.
- To baptise, marry, and bury (with the permission of the deceased in the latter two cases).
- To excommunicate, de-excommunicate, re-excommunicate, and de-re-excommunicate (no backsies!) both him-/her-/it-/them-/your-/our-/Him-/Her-/It-/Them-/Your-/Our-self/selves and others (if any).
- To perform all rites and functions deemed inappropriate for a Pope of Discordia.
The third right (requiring permission from the deceased in cases of burying or marriage, but not baptism) may be a reference to The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints practice of baptism for the dead, or it may just be a witty conflation of marriage and death.
This understanding of the notion of Pope has far reaching consequences in Discordianism. For example, the introduction to Principia Discordia says, “Only a Pope may canonize a Saint. ... So you can ordain yourself—and anyone or anything else—a Saint.” The last enumerated right of a Pope may be an allusion to the Necessary and Proper Clause.
In most of his public presentations and lectures, Robert Anton Wilson's first gesture when taking the stage would be to declare everyone within the audience to be ordained Discordian Popes.
A female version, with the word Mome substituted for Pope, has also been promulgated.
There are as many interpretations of Discordianism as there are Discordians, centering around the words "Ancient Greeks", "Chaos Worship" and "Anarchism". This is an extremely debatable assertion as to what would define Discordian philosophy as a whole. Indeed, it is a notion directly confronted by the concept of the Eristic Illusion, as mentioned in the following passage, a summary of part of the Discordian philosophy which appears in the Principia Discordia:
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 "the brain" 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.—Malaclypse the Younger, Principia Discordia, Pages 00049–00050
And this, from the Principia Discordia's very beginning, a Discordian kōan:
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.
Chao (pronounced "cow") is a neologism for a single unit of chaos. In Discordianism, the chao is a symbol of the 'pataphysical nature of reality. The word is a pun, enabling this quatrain from the Principia Discordia:
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 the Principia Discordia:
The Sacred Chao is not the Yin-Yang of the Taoists. 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.—Malaclypse the Younger, Principia Discordia, Page 00049
The choice of the pentagon as a symbol of the Aneristic Principle is partly related to The Pentagon in Virginia near Washington, D.C., partly a nod to the Law of Fives, partially for the Golden Ratio references associated with the pentagon/apple allegory, and wholly for the five-sided pentagon from the "Starbuck's Pebbles" story in the Discordia. The Golden Apple of Discordia is the one from the story of The Original Snub (below).
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The Law of Fives is summarized in 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.—Malaclypse the Younger, Principia Discordia, Page 00016
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 may help clarify the Discordian view of how the human mind works. Lord Omar is quoted later on the same page as having written, "I find the Law of Fives to be more and more manifest the harder I look."
Appendix Beth of Robert Shea's and Robert Anton Wilson's The 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 authors assert that the real Law of Fives is realizing that everything can be related to the number five if you try hard enough. Sometimes the steps required may be highly convoluted. Incidentally, the number five appears five times within the quote describing the Law of Fives.
Another way of looking at the Law of Fives is as a symbol for the observation of reality changing that which is being observed in the observer's mind. Just as how when one looks for fives in reality, one finds them, so will one find conspiracies, ways to determine when the apocalypse will come, and so on and so forth when one decides to look for them. It cannot be proven wrong, because it proves itself reflexively when looked at through this lens.
At its basic level, the Law of Fives is a practical demonstration that perception is intent-sensitive; that is, the perceiver's intentions inform the perception. To whatever extent one considers that perception is identical with reality, then, it has the corollary that reality is intent-sensitive.
The Law of Fives is related to the significance of the number 23 and the 23 Enigma in the Illuminatus!-trilogy, as 2 plus 3 equals 5.
The Original Snub is the Discordian name for the events preceding the Judgment of Paris, although more focus is put on the actions of Eris. Zeus believes that Eris is a troublemaker, so he does not invite her to Peleus and Thetis's wedding. This is “The Doctrine of the Original Snub”.
Having been snubbed, Eris creates a golden apple with the word kallisti (Ancient Greek: καλλίστῃ, to the prettiest one) inscribed in it. This, the Apple of Discord, is a notable symbol in Discordianism for its inclusion in the Holy Chao. The apple is traditionally described as being made of gold, but the Principia Discordia notes a debate over whether the “gold” described was “metallic gold or Acapulco.” The story also relates that the first thing Eris did after throwing the Apple of Discord into the wedding was to joyously partake of a hot dog (thus "a Discordian is to partake of No Hot Dog Buns").
When the female wedding guests disagree about who the apple is meant for, Zeus decides to leave the decision to Paris of Troy. Aphrodite bribes Paris, leading to the Trojan War, which “is said to be The First War among men.”
Some recent interpretations of the Original Snub place Eris as being not at all mischievous with her delivery of the apple, but instead suggest that Eris was simply bringing the apple as a wedding present for Thetis. This interpretation would see Eris as innocent and her causing of chaos as a by-product of the other wedding guests' reaction upon seeing her at the wedding.
One of the most important parts of Discordianism, The Curse of Greyface features prominently on several pages of the Principia Discordia. According to claims made in the Principia, Greyface was a man who lived in the year 1166 BCE and taught that life is serious and play is sin. The curse is the psychological and spiritual imbalance that results from these beliefs, both individually and within groups, nations, and civilizations.
According to the Principia, Greyface existed and had followers who he encouraged to "Look at all the order around you" (Principia Discordia page 00042), and he 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.—Malaclypse the Younger, Principia Discordia, Page 00042
According to the Principia, 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.
An alternative is to view disorder as preferable at all costs. To quote: "To choose order over disorder, or disorder over order, is to accept a trip composed of both the creative and the destructive. But to choose the creative over the destructive is an all-creative trip composed of both order and disorder" – Malaclypse the Younger, K.S.C.
In addition to the generic advice of cultivating your natural love of chaos and playing with Her, the Principia Discordia provides "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.
The Principia Discordia contains the Law of Eristic Escalation. This law states that "Imposition of Order = Escalation of Chaos". It elaborates on this point by saying that the more order is imposed the longer it takes for the chaos to arise and the greater the chaos that arises. The idea is not new; it is mentioned in the Tao Te Ching: "the more laws and orders are written, the more thieves there are".
This can be read as an argument against zero tolerance and hard security, or just a statement about the world and human nature. It can also be seen as a parallel to the second law of thermodynamics which states that entropy (the number of states a given system can occupy) never decreases over time. It is also reminiscent of Newton's Third Law, where every action has an equal and opposite reaction. Incidentally, if you add those Laws together you get the Law of Five, as discussed earlier.
The Pentabarf is the most fundamental of all Discordian catmas. ("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.)
The 5th law mirrors both the nature of Taoist sayings ("the Tao that can be named is not the true Tao") and Zen kōans ("If you meet the Buddha on your path, kill him"). It is also similar to the Epimenides paradox ("All Cretans are liars"), and several other paradoxes.
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 taken "Five tons of flax" as a slogan or as a universal answer to philosophical questions.
In the Illuminatus! Trilogy by Robert Shea and Robert Anton Wilson, which draws heavily upon Discordianism, "Flaxscrip" is depicted as a genuine form of scrip, serving to avoid the use of government-issued currency.
"Consult your pineal gland" is a common saying in Discordianism. Although it has never been proven, the pineal gland is theorized by some, such as Rick Strassman, to produce trace amounts of DMT (dimethyltryptamine), a psychedelic chemical which is believed to play a role in dreaming and other mystical states. The pineal gland was also used in Descartes's explanation of Cartesian Dualism as the "seat of the soul" and the connection between the material and immaterial world. In some cases it is referred to as "the atrophied third eye". It has also been suggested that the third eye (Ajna) physically resides at this location between the two hemispheres of the brain.
The Discordian or Erisian calendar is an alternative calendar used by some Discordians. It is specified on page 00034 of the Principia Discordia. The Discordian year 1 YOLD is 1166 BC. Elsewhere in the Principia Discordia, it is mentioned that the Curse of Greyface occurred in 1166 BC, so this is presumably the start date of the calendar. As a reference, 2014 AD is 3180 YOLD (Year of Our Lady of Discord). While the abbreviation "YOLD" isn't used in the Principia, and the phrase "Year of Our Lady of Discord" is only mentioned once, it is a Discordian tradition to use that designation. Most common Linux operating system-distributions have the command ddate to show the current Discordian date.