I am ashamed to say, this was my first time reading one of the most famous, most influential, most hilarious works of alternative religion ever created, the Principia Discordia, the “holy book” for a religion based on the worship of chaos, disorder, and pranks…
Malaclypse The Younger / Rev. Timothy Edward Bowen – Principia Discordia (1965/2014)
Discordianism is either a parody of religion or a very silly religion based around the worship of the Greek goddess of chaos and disorder, Eris. It was (probably) started in the late 1950s or early 1960s by Greg Hill and Kerry Thornley, (I say “probably” because Hill admits that his memory might be wrong on the dates.) Hill and Thornley claim to have received a revelation from the goddess, in the form of a mystical vision, while drinking late one night at a bowling alley. From this humble beginning, the Discordian faith went on to inspired novels (like Robert Shea and Robert Anton Wilson’s Illuminatus trilogy), plays, music groups (like The KLF---see my review of the book, KLF: Chaos Magic Music Money, for more on THAT fascinating story), and a seemingly endless list of pranksters and antisocial types who continue to proclaim faith in the goddess to this day.
Hill and Thornley, after communing with the goddess (through their pineal glands) created the Discordian Bible, the Principia Discordia. The history of the book is complex, having gone through a number of different “editions” from a hand Xeroxed first edition to various reprintings with content being added and removed with the various editions. Hill, in an interview included with my edition of the book, calls the Principia a “collage,” and you can see this in both the visual style as well as in the way ideas from a number of sources are smashed and jammed together to create a unique, though chaotic, whole (just as Eris would have wanted it!)
Much of the text in the book is credited to “Malacylpse The Younger,” supposedly the son of a wandering Discordian Saint (the Elder Malaclypse), and a host of interesting characters, such as saints, popes, and philosophers. There’s even an evil deity, Grey Face, responsible for turning the world against Eris, who is really just trying to have a good time. In-between odd theological musings, thinly veiled social and religious critiques, and outright absurdity, you’ll find some genuinely fulfilling belly laughs. (My favorite bit: “Remember: KING KONG Died For Your Sins.”) There are interconnecting stories, modified Greek mythology, Discordian religious procedures, sections of fake “Holy Books” (like the Book of Uterus,) biographical bits from Thornley and Hill’s lives (although their names are never mentioned in this work,) and quotes and quips from pop culture figures, like Neils Bohr, John Lennon, and General George Custer. The tone is hip, 60s/70s underground comedy, possibly comparable to things like Monty Python, Firesign Theatre, or National Lampoons. It’s very funny, very silly, and (for someone like me) very inspirational.
I’m impressed that such a thin book (the original text seems to run a mere 75 pages) could have such a long-lasting cultural impact. There are still Discordian Societies active today, and as we’ve learned from the KLF book, the Erisian, chaotic principle seems to have struck a solid chord with a number of creative individuals over the last several decades. There are certainly things about this book that more up-tight humans (particularly religious individuals) will find offensive, but it doesn’t seem any more morally corrupt than your average television show (not counting the news, which is so sick and disgusting anymore, that I just can’t watch it.) For those who want the TRULY over-the-top, offensive, Discordian craziness, that can be found in the Illuminatus books, which follow the Discordian principles to several logical extremes. (I’ll have to review those books soon.) Meanwhile, this edition of the Principia Discordia is easily available through online booksellers, and it’s well worth the price of admission for the rollicking good time the reader will find inside. Maybe it won’t convert you into an Eris worshiper, but if nothing else, it’s a fun, clever read. If all goes WELL, however, it just might inspire you to start your own religion. (I’ve already started writing a new Holy Book…again…)
---Richard F. Yates
(Commander in Cheap of The Primitive Entertainment Workshop)