What am I missing?
March 2, 2011 12:40 PM   Subscribe

Can you point me to (or give me) an objective summary of what Discordianism actually is?

I'm afraid this whole movement goes right over my head, and I hate being left out on the joke. Hell, I can't even tell if Discordianism is a joke. The Wikipedia article seems to be full of in jokes and fictions meant for initiates, so it is frustratingly unhelpful for someone on the outside. I would really appreciate just a dry history and summary of this movement so I can wrap my head around it.

I haven't read the Illuminatus trilogy yet. I haven't read Principia Discordia. I'm pretty much just learning about this stuff today.
posted by Think_Long to Religion & Philosophy (23 answers total) 14 users marked this as a favorite
a) Five tons of flax.
b) Actual answer - it's a joke, and it's serious. Trying to get your head around it is at least part of the point.

If you don't feel like wrestling with the entirety of the Discordian brand of 1960s era dada-zen at the moment, the Wikipedia entry on the Principia Discordia may help.
posted by zamboni at 12:55 PM on March 2, 2011

I really think you're best off reading the Illuminatus trilogy before trying to make sense of anything. Discordianism is as serious as you want it to be, but don't take it seriously.

If you can read this answer, you are a pope!
posted by Cat Pie Hurts at 12:56 PM on March 2, 2011 [3 favorites]

My (years-old) impression from Illuminatus! trilogy is that an "objective summary" of the religion could never be accurate. I would read the trilogy and think on the examples. You can't see the point of it when you look directly at it.
posted by Jorus at 12:57 PM on March 2, 2011

It's an absurdist combination of joke and religion. To quote Walt Whitman, "Do I contradict myself? Very well, then I contradict myself, I am large, I contain multitudes." Personally, I think of the essential basis of Discordianism as 1. a rejection of this-or-that dichotomies like Order/Disorder, Good/Evil, Light as a Wave/Light as a Particle; and 2. recognition that the universe is kind of funny and full of weird shit as well as deadly serious.
posted by rmd1023 at 1:05 PM on March 2, 2011

The thing about Illuminatus! is, it's huge and equally as gloriously obtuse in its own way as anything you're going to find online about Discordianism. It's epic-level bathroom reading if you want it to be (that's how I approached it, a chapter or two at a time); it's something you can come back to more than once and get different things out of if you want it to be.

Objectivity isn't really a Discordian value; the common failure mode of the practice is "dire assholery." Discordianism is to neopagan religion as the Church of the SubGenius is to Christian televangelism-- wide parody *and* successful in the same operating paradigm on its own merits.
posted by fairytale of los angeles at 1:08 PM on March 2, 2011 [1 favorite]

Discordianism is either a complicated joke disguised as a religion, or a religion disguised as a complicated joke. You pick which.
posted by singingfish at 1:10 PM on March 2, 2011 [1 favorite]

It's a joke religion taken seriously to various degrees by various people that sprang out of the proto-hippie and New Age scenes by both mocking them and absorbing their more interesting elements. The Wikipedia article is pretty self-explanatory, I think, although it should all be taken with a grain of salt; in other words, it's pretty much all fictional. If you've got additional questions or things that you don't feel you "get," go ahead and ask them, but it might just be that you "get" it but just don't really find it all that funny, which is fine.

fairytale of los angeles' last sentence, by the way, is marvelously put; it's a parody of New Age and occult-oriented religions, but it would actually work just as well as the stuff it parodies, probably, if you wanted to take it seriously.
posted by infinitywaltz at 1:15 PM on March 2, 2011 [1 favorite]

Discordianism a goofy pseudo-religion in the same vein as the Church of the SubGenius.

In fact, Discordianism and SubGenius basically boil down to the same message: Bullshit is everywhere. But whereas the SubGenius would ask Who needs it?, the Discordian would heartily answer Everybody!

They're both joking, and they're both dead serious. They're sort of like Jon Stewart and Stephen Colbert, respectively.

(Further reading.)
posted by Sys Rq at 1:50 PM on March 2, 2011 [4 favorites]

Let me see if I can't do a better job.

Prince Peleus of Aegina and Thetis the sea nymph were to marry. They invited all the Gods to their wedding, except for Eris, the goddess of Discord.

Eris, naturally peeved by this snub, walked by the hall where they were celebrating and tossed in a golden apple, on which was written "Kallistēi" (for the most beautiful). Aphrodite, Hera, and Athena all grasped the apple and for three days none of them would let go.

They appealed to Zeus to decide the issue, but Zeus wasn't suicidal and he refused to get involved. So they sought out Paris, prince of Troy, and asked him to decide which of them should get the apple.

However, none of them were willing to leave the issue entirely to chance, and they all offered him bribes. Hera offered to make him king of Europe and Asia. Athena offered him wisdom and success in battle. And Aphrodite, goddess of Beauty, offered him the love of the most beautiful woman in the world.

Paris chose Aphrodite, and with her help he kidnapped Helen of Sparta, and took her back to Troy. Her husband Menelaus was not pleased, and called on the other Greeks to help him attack Troy and recover his wife.

And thus it was that the Trojan War began, at least according to the Iliad.
Eris, the Greek goddess of Discord, is the nominal deity of Discordianism. Discordians believe that peace and order are illusions, and that chaos and discord lay waiting beneath the veneer, ready to pop up at any time. With just the simplest of acts -- a golden apple with one word written on it -- Eris was able to start one of the greatest wars of that era, which lasted years and resulted in the utter annihilation of one of the great cities of the world.

-- and now a quick change of subject. Pluto became the ninth planet when it was discovered by Clyde Tombaugh in 1930, but it never really quite made sense as a planet. Its orbit was strange, and it was tiny even by comparison to Neptune, the smallest of the gas giants. Indeed, Pluto is considerably smaller than Neptune's moon Triton. Still, for most of the 20th Century it was accepted wisdom that the solar system had nine planets.
In the 1990's, when telescopes became increasingly powerful, more and more objects were discovered which made the designation of Pluto as a planet increasingly uncomfortable. Then in 2003 it became untenable when a trans-Neptunian object initially designated 2003 UB313 was found.

Eventually it was formally named "Eris". Both Pluto and Eris have moons (respectively named Charon and Dysnomia) and their orbital periods and orbital radii have been measured quite accurately. This permits very accurate calculations of the mass of Pluto and Eris, and Eris is about 27% more massive.

Plus there were indications that there were other similar bodies out there, and as a result in 2006 the International Astronomical Union was forced to formally decide what a "planet" was, and Pluto didn't qualify. Pluto was demoted to the new term "dwarf planet", along with Eris, the asteroid Ceres, and a couple of other TNO's which had been found.

It was a controversial decision, for there was much fondness for Pluto as a planet, and its demotion almost seemed like a slap in the face for its discoverer, Tombaugh. Reportedly the meeting was very acrimonious, but it really was the only possible answer. Nine Planets wasn't a choice. Either there were eight, or there were eventually going to be dozens.

If one truly believed in Eris, one could suspect that 2003 UB313 was her creation, specifically for the purposes of causing strife among astronomers. It seems like the kind of thing she might have done.

And it's exactly the kind of thing that Discordians take pleasure in. A small fact which punctures the pompous, causes a grand intellectual edifice to fall, and led to argument and anger.

The world is chaos. Order is self-deception. Eris is the most powerful of gods and goddesses. Hail Eris! Confusion to our enemies!
posted by Chocolate Pickle at 2:17 PM on March 2, 2011 [28 favorites]

If it's any consolation, you get the same fictions once you're initiated. I'd ask for my money back, but I initiated myself, and have no one else to blame.

A lot of the recent movement goes on over at Principia Discordia. The Principia itself is of course, quite good. This part, Cosmogony is one of my favorite passages. This page, at the very end of the book is probably the best summary of what the Principia is all about. If you'd like to be converted, the Principia includes an easy to follow, seven-step guide. But I don't think there's any consensus on what are the "important" parts. Nobody reads the same book.

Also on PD.com is the Black Iron Prison, which is an attempt at an updated take on the same ideas. It's the frowny face version. If that's your bag. If "conventional" discordianism is too confusing to you, you might have an easier time with the BIP, but you probably won't understand why they're related. This link is easier to read than the one hosted on PD. I don't know why the PDF is sideways.

I've never read the Illuminatus Trilogy, so I can't comment there.
posted by Arturus at 4:04 PM on March 2, 2011 [1 favorite]

To spoil the fun by being totally earnest: isn't Discordianism a made-up religion/creed first described by Robert Anton Wilson, which was fun and caught on among some people who now take it either seriously or unseriously?
posted by LobsterMitten at 4:22 PM on March 2, 2011

My first introduction to Discordianism was through the jargon file, with reference to the entry ha ha only serious. That might be a hint toward understanding it.
posted by eruonna at 4:24 PM on March 2, 2011

That is mainly to say, it's not something that had an independent existence prior to Wilson.
(Insert woo-woo spooky fingers, "or did it?")
posted by LobsterMitten at 4:24 PM on March 2, 2011

And wow, that wikipedia page is just transcribing stuff from the (fictional) Illuminatus trilogy as if it were fact.
posted by LobsterMitten at 4:26 PM on March 2, 2011

Upon reading more, looks like I'm wrong about RAW being the originator; I withdraw what I said. But at any rate, the point is it's a modern creation.
posted by LobsterMitten at 4:29 PM on March 2, 2011

Discordianism is really just a collection of in-jokes, which, taken together, form an even bigger in-joke. I would never call it a religion -- even a "ha-ha-only-serious joke religion" -- because it's pretty impossible to follow and take seriously. I have no idea what an earnestly practicing Discordian would even look like -- probably one of those homeless people you see yelling at themselves on the street. In fact, I would think that a self-avowed Discordian would think that homeless crazies were very Discordian.

Basically, Discordianism was a meme created by young people on acid before the internet. I guess the closest modern equivalent would be the Flying Spaghetti Monster, although the FSM was created to illustrate a single coherent point, and I'm not sure that Discordianism was. I would think that the useful "religiony" parts of Discordianism were probably lifted whole-hog from Zen Buddhism, Transcendental Meditation, and whatever other schools of thought were in vogue amongst hipsters 40 years ago.

The Principia Discordia is pretty central to the Illuminatus! Trilogy, so if you're interested in the Trilogy or RAW's other writings, yeah, you should have a copy of the Principia Discordia hanging around. If you enjoy one, you'll probably enjoy the other. As for the Illuminatus! Trilogy itself, I'd say just skip it and read Gravity's Ranbow -- but then again I'm a nerd and a curmudgeon and my acid days are long behind me.
posted by Afroblanco at 5:18 PM on March 2, 2011

Things you are missing:

The Principia Discordia online

Do what thou wilt shall be the whole of the Law. Love is the law, love under will.

Nothing is forbidden; everything is permitted.

The Ordo Templei Orientis

Kallisti Liberation Front

Hagbard Celine's laws


and if you're ever in my neck of the woods and want to hang with some actual Discordians, we'd love to have another participant in our Callithump parade.
posted by Unicorn on the cob at 7:05 PM on March 2, 2011 [1 favorite]

LobsterMitten: "To spoil the fun by being totally earnest: isn't Discordianism a made-up religion/creed first described by Robert Anton Wilson, which was fun and caught on among some people who now take it either seriously or unseriously"

To be fair, they're all made up at some point or another. The path from providence to the pen is wrought with imagination.
posted by Cat Pie Hurts at 7:29 PM on March 2, 2011

TVTropes Useful Notes (prev.) provides a handy summary. Excerpt:
Discordia (also known as Discordianism) is, to quote The Other Wiki, "a religion centered around the idea that chaos is all there is and that order and disorder are both ideas imposed upon chaos." Which tells you what it is - in the same way that saying Christians worship Jesus tells you what's going on there.

Founded 1958-59 by Malaclypse the Younger, the principle text is the Principia Discordia. Considered by some to be a parody religion, and called "Zen for roundeyes" by others, Discordianism recognizes chaos, disorder, and dissent as being both valid and even desirable (in contrast to most other religions, which idealize order and harmony). The matron deity is Eris, Greek goddess of chaos - also known as Discordia to the Romans.
They've also got a page about the principal text.
posted by Rhaomi at 7:59 PM on March 2, 2011

I always saw Discordianism as sort of related to Bokononism, the religion Kurt Vonnegut made up for Cat's Cradle. The first sentence of the Book of Bokonon is "All of the things I am about to tell you are shameless lies.", the protagonist of Cat's Cradle goes on to say that anyone who does not understand the use of a religion that consists entirely of lies will not understand that book either.

I think Discordianism is sort of like that, only it's a joke as well as a lie, and if you don't understand the point of a religion that is a joke you will not understand it either.
posted by NoraReed at 8:00 PM on March 2, 2011

I discovered Principia Discordia when I was about 14 years old. And, weird though it feels to try to describe anything about it *seriously*, I tend to think of it as more of a philosophy than a religion as such. I think of the religious trappings as parables and examples, and concepts to upend. The whole thing is about iconoclasm, after all, not the creation of serious new icons.

It *is* a joke. It's a lot of jokes. But, as stated above more than once, it's also serious. As I see it, you really and truly are supposed to Get that reality is a lot more subjective and socially constructed than people tend to think it is; that our human fondness for binaries is limiting and fundamentally inaccurate; that the world isn't always what we are told it is, and that's not a bad thing. Are you really supposed to eat/not eat a hot dog bun on Fridays as part of your religion? Only if you want to.

I get most of my comprehension of Discordianism from Principia. The Illuminatus Trilogy is awesome, and great fun, but it's got a lot of things going on besides just Discordianism as such. I would suggest Principia, and I would suggest going into it with a lighthearted attitude. Because it's not going to explain itself to you in clear, plodding sentences. It's going to explain itself by example.

And what NoraReed said as well.
posted by Because at 1:03 AM on March 3, 2011

I reckon how you view Discordianism will depend really on how you view absurdist "anti-art" art movements like Fluxus and Dadaism. The methodology behind them is the same in my mind. Fluxus and Dadaism used humour and satire to reflect on the mainstream current in art, and thus many contemporary critics placed those movements outside of art itself. These days you'll see Dada and Fluxus in galleries, as exemplars of their respective eras. They were "anti-art" in tone, and there was the desire to redefine aesthetic values, but underlying that was also a good faith intention to create actual art.

So it is with Discordianism. The difference between Dadaism and Discordianism is that the latter is still a living movement (of sorts) or at least a living ideology. There's been no opportunity for the sort of outside retrospective deconstuction and re-evaluation that we've seen with art movements. And the language of the project is infused with that jokey "freak out the straights" vibe, so "true believers" (for want of a better way of putting it) will rarely, if ever, step outside of that language to clarify the good faith intent or provide validation in a serious tone of voice.
posted by iivix at 1:39 AM on March 3, 2011 [1 favorite]

Hail Eris! Confusion to our enemies!
posted by Chocolate Pickle at 10:17 PM on March 2 [23 favorites +] [!]


Also, I found it very difficult to refrain from just posting a simple FNORD and leaving it at that. It all seems like in jokes because it's little more than that. Discordianism seems to have more shibboleths than any other idealogy I've ever come across.

If you do get around to reading the Principia, don't expect a great enlightenment after reading it cover to cover. There's nothing incredibly linear about its organization.
posted by Eumachia L F at 8:01 AM on March 3, 2011 [1 favorite]

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