Several posts ago, we presented a letter from Robert Shea to Discordian co-founder Greg Hill concerning the Illuminatus! book cover art proofs that proved quite interesting with some great background insights into that effort before the release of the book.
After the release of Illuminatus!: The Eye in the Pyramid, co-author Shea and Hill continued their correspondence through the fall of 1975, attached below for your reading pleasure. Shea is referenced and signs as “Josh” in two of these letters acknowledging his Discordian nom de plume “Josh the Dill.”
From this exchange, we learn some interesting tidbits about the publication of Illuminatus!, such as the book’s publisher, Dell, initially printed only 75,000 copies of The Eye in the Pyramid. We also gain some insights into how the book was being received and what efforts were being made by Shea and his co-author Robert Anton Wilson to market the book via radio interviews.
In the November 11, 1975 letter from Hill to Shea, Hill enclosed a copy of the fake Illuminatus! review he and Wilson had been working on under the name of Mordecai Zwack and were sending out to various newspapers like The New York Times as a part of their ongoing “Operation Mindfuck.”
This exchange of letters also contains an extensive discussion and analysis of Discordian co-founder Kerry Thornley’s recent-at-the-time state of mind, his growing paranoia, and his theories regarding his involvement in the JFK Assassination, including Thornley’s experiences with the mysterious “Brother-in-Law” Gary Kirstein. Shea and Hill’s take on Thornley and what he was personally going through around this time is quite revealing in context of what this whole era of realization would eventually mean for Thornley and his life in the years to come.
Also of note is Shea’s response to various Illuminati “true believers” during his promotional radio interviews leading him to confide to Hill, “We are definitely dealing with volatile materials.”
On Page 45, a haunting specter from Kerry Thornley’s past is summoned in this passage:
(Back at the Grassy Knoll, Howard Hunt’s picture is being snapped and will later turn up in the files of New Orleans D.A. Jim “The Jolly Green Giant” Garrison: not that Garrison ever came within light years of the real truth…)
For those unfamiliar with Thornley’s strange journey down the JFK assassination rabbit hole, I’ll refer them to a previous Historia Discordia post:
How E. Howard Hunt fits into Thornley’s JFK assassination odyssey dates back to the period in the early-60s when he was living in New Orleans and met a shadowy character referred to as “Brother-In-Law.” Kerry later grew to suspect that “Brother-in-Law” was actually the legendary aforementioned CIA spook, E. Howard Hunt, and that Hunt had manipulated Kerry into the role of a potential JFK assassination patsy had the Lee Harvey Oswald setup gone awry.
As for photos of Hunt in Dealey Plaza that later turned up in Jim Garrison’s files, Robert Shea and Robert Anton Wilson were no doubt referring to the photos of the infamous Three Tramps that were picked up by the Dallas Police right after the assassination and then subsequently released, one of whom was dubbed the Old Man Tramp that many suspect was actually Hunt in disguise. Garrison contended that the Three Tramps were trigger men in the assassination, and Garrison actually showed the Tramp photos for the first time to a national TV audience on Johnny Carson’s Tonight Show on January 31, 1968. During this period, Kerry Thornley became one of Garrison’s suspects in the case. In this regard, Kerry found himself in a somewhat awkward position, that of being a target of the underground press, as over the years he had written for such publications as the L.A. Free Press who now embraced Garrison as a counterculture hero, and so accepted the Garrison party line that Kerry was somehow involved in a JFK assassination conspiracy. This irony did not go unnoticed by RAW, who encountered a media blackout when trying to address Kerry’s case. As RAW later explained:
In ’67 or ’68, most of the underground press was publishing a lot of stuff pro-Jim Garrison, and this included Kerry’s role in the assassination. And I had lots of contacts in the underground press, so I started sending out articles defending Kerry, which nobody would print, because the underground press was behind Garrison and the official corporate media was totally anti-Garrison—I was trying to send the message to the wrong place.
On Page 50, Saul Goodman and Barney Muldoon examine three alternatives to explain the apparent Illuminati plot they’ve uncovered:
(1) It is all true, exactly as the memos suggest; (2) it is partly true, and partly false; (3) it is all false, and there is no secret society that has endured from 1090 A.D. to the present.
In a previous post, I commented how Illuminatus! is a mental exercise of sorts in trying to distinguish what is true and what is false in the book. In their quest to bust the Illuminati, Goodman and Muldoon arrive at the theory that the clues they’ve uncovered suggest the same thing: that the reality of the Illuminati is both true and false. And perhaps that’s the final secret of Illuminatus! (maybe): that it’s partly true and partly false and it’s ultimately up to the reader to decide for themselves which parts are true and which are false—so it becomes a different reality tunnel for each reader/experiencer.
As I previously noted, the Teenset article was a perfect example of this, a real article in a real magazine, featuring a mix of fact and fiction, credited to a certain Sandra Glass, who never really existed to begin with and was actually Bob Shea in drag (and probably to some extent, RAW) making modern myths out of conspiratorial legends and pop culture influences while smoking a fair measure of pot for inspiration, one would imagine.
In Week 4, the “Illuminati Project: Memo #7” quotes The Roger Spark article “Daley Linked With Illuminati” which was another real article in a real newsletter (originating from the Chicago neighborhood, Roger’s Park) written by an anonymous author who once again was either Shea or RAW or both. This was during the time frame both Shea and RAW worked for Playboy magazine in Chicago, so I imagine one or both lived in or near Roger’s Park.
The Roger Spark piece contained a lot of the same information as the Teenset article, repeating the spurious rumor that Mayor Daley had shouted “Ewige Blumenkraft!” at the 1968 Democratic Convention, all part of Bavarian Illuminati shenanigans.
This reminded me of what was perhaps the first official Discordian Society song ever composed, “The Battle Hymn of the Eristocracy” (sung to the melody of “The Battle Hymn of the Republic”), captured in the following memorandum dictated by Lord Omar (Kerry Thornley) in April of 1964.
Those Early Discordians were always sending humorous letters to one another, such as this little ditty from Mord Mal (short for Mordecai Malignatus aka RAW) to Lady L (aka Louise Lacey) sometime during the early-70s.
When I asked Louise permission to post it, she gave the A-OK under the proviso that she wanted to emphasize there was never any romantic relationship between she and RAW—or for that matter with any other of her fellow Discordian brethren—and that the letter was most likely meant as some sort of mystifying joke for future generations to ponder.
By the late-80s, Kerry had become a major player in the Church of SubGenius, a spoof religion influenced to a great degree by its predecessor, Discordianism. Ever the sexual exhibitionist, Kerry once sent a photo of himself nude, fucking a chair, to Rev. Ivan Stang’s SubGenius mag Stark Fist of Removal. Stang, of course, published it, albeit with Kerry’s dick blacked out. As Stang later noted: “Kerry had love in his heart for all things, even chairs.” The Prankster and the Conspiracy, page 237.
During the course of penning The Prankster—and coming across the aforementioned photo of Kerry carrying on with a chair—I contacted Stang for permission to use the photo, which he graciously granted. For his assistance, I sent the good Reverend a copy of The Prankster. In return, he shortly after dissed the book whenever he got the chance, basically on account of the above paragraph. Now, don’t get me wrong, I have a pretty thick skin when it comes to criticism and tend to keep an open mind about such things. However, Stang’s main (only) bone of contention about The Prankster concerned this single paragraph and the remark that Kerry had been “a major player in the Church of SubGenius” which he apparently took as some sort of slight (I think) as it suggested (perhaps erroneously) that Kerry had done a lot of the heavy lifting in creating the myth of Bob Dobbs. To this end, Stang went off on yours truly in a recent interview on Greg Bishop’s Radio Misterioso radio show, even though, conversely, he suggested in his 1987 Hour of Slack interview with RAW that Kerry was “…a famous Subgenius.”
During the same Radio Misterioso episode, Stang suggested that I’d ripped off the title for my latest book, Happy Trails To High Weirdness: A Conspiracy Theorist’s Tour Guide from his 1988 book High Weirdness By Mail, which I must admit is one of my fav all time books. Perhaps if he hadn’t got his panties all in a bunch over The Prankster and The Conspiracy ten years or so ago, Stang would have cut me some slack over the apparent indignity of using the phrase “High Weirdness” in the title of my book. However, it should also be mentioned that my publisher at Feejee Press actually came up with “High Weirdness” as part of the title to replace the bland working title I’d suggested: “On The Road With Adam Gorightly.”
Anyway, enough of me venting about the diabolical Rev. Ivan Stang. At the end of the day I consider him a great American, even though he gets a bit whiny at times.
In the following video snippet taken from Rev. Wyrdsli’s 1992 interview, Kerry Thornley discusses Zenarchy and the poem “Illuminati Lady,” which Robert Anton Wilson and Robert Shea described in Illuminatus! as “an endless epic poem which you really ought to read.” Of course, they gave no indication how one would go about doing so.
Portions of “Illuminati Lady” originally appeared in the underground mag St. John’s Bread Wednesday Messenger around 1970—although no one has really seen it since then—and as Kerry mentions in the video clip, he lost track of the manuscript somewhere along the line.
But fear not, fellow Discordians, Greg Hill filed away a copy in The Archives, which at some point we’ll no doubt release in book form for your possible reading pleasure!
As RAW mentioned on numerous occasions, Illuminatus! was an exercise of mixing fact with fiction, and in particular the many conspiracy theories presented willy-nilly in the book. Years after its publication, RAW admitted that even he was unclear as to which of these theories—in the final analysis—were ultimately true or false, and that some might have been both true AND false at the same time. In this regard, the book is a mental exercise of sorts in unraveling the many mythologies swirling around the kooky conspiratorial landscape of the late-60s and 70s.
During the Week 2RAWIllumination.net group reading, I neglected to mention a reference to the Berkeley Illuminati, which was indeed a real group based out of the U.C. Berkeley campus in the mid to late-60s that ran concurrent to the Discordian Society’s Bavarian Illuminati activities. Like RAW and Kerry Thornley, the Berkeley group sent out spurious announcements about far flung conspiracies just to see how people would react and possibly even piss themselves in the process. I’ve never actually seen any of the Berkeley Illuminati materials, but Jesse Walker in The United States of Paranoia: A Conspiracy Theory interviewed one of the members of the group, Sharon Presley, who stated that: “We actually had a recognized student group at Cal called the Bavarian Illuminati. The by-laws were a hoot; obviously no bureaucrat actually read them.”
So, in essence, they were a real group that put out false announcements, so they were both true and false at the same time, a prime example of Operation Mindfuck run amok.
As for the Week 4 reading, I don’t have a lot to comment on, other than to note that the Teenset article mentioned on Page 40 (“The Most Sinister, Evil, Subversive Conspiracy In The World”) was indeed a real article in a real magazine, written by someone named Sandra Glass (who was, most likely, Robert Shea), which documented an investigation into the mysterious Ancient Illuminated Seers of Bavaria (A.I.S.B.). This article was ominously prefaced with an editor’s note: “Before her recent death, Miss Glass was an expert on subversive affairs.” The source— for many of the revelations in the article—came allegedly from an anarchist named Simon Moon, who would later turn up as a character in Illuminatus!.
The letter includes some great Erisian Mysteries insights. Such as Shea’s back-story on how cover artist Carlos Victor (Carlos Ochagavia) learned about Illuminatus! to create the individual book covers. I find this amusing as it must have been quite an endeavor by editor Fred Feldman and the interpreter to communicate to Victor such a strange and bizarre concept, which Victor nails solidly.
Another great nugget is Shea’s admiration for the latest in 1975 photocopier tech, provided by his employer, Playboy magazine, used to photocopy the Illuminatus! book cover proofs attached to the letter.
Greg Hill had, by the time of this letter, long-ago hacked how photocopiers could be used with paste-ups to produce artwork that left no cut-marks or seams when reproduced and liberally employed this production technique for Third and Fourth Editions of the Principia Discordia. Eventually this approach was ubiquitous in the mid-to-late-80s zine scene explosion, no doubt also helped along by Kinkos’ great photocopier equipment and liberal policies of photocopy production (while looking the other way on copyright infringement).
One can imagine “Faster/Clearer/More Gradients!” as a mantra that Shea and Hill would have embraced in their pursuit of top-notch photocopier tech of the time.
I don’t have the time and inclination right at this second to edit what has time and time again been a bloodbath of edit wars, but I do want to start a discussion on what knowledge of Discordian works represents an essential overview. I’ve tried to build a list based on what A) connects directly to the original Discordians, and B) has had an immediate, measurable impact on the Discordian community, or C) contributes to an enhanced academic understanding of Discordianism.
The page references a number of works. It adds information that has no place in the article, it mentions works (Liber Malorum? Infinite Conception?) that I have literally never heard any of the Discordians I’ve met—and I’ve traveled all over the world meeting Discordians—mention even once. Then there are names that never appear; Adam Go-Where-Now?
My suggestion is thus:
First Principia Discordia. I’m sure you’ve heard of it. This section should be expanded to outline the development of the work from First Edition, to what we see now; cover the Loompanics, IllumiNet, Steve Jackson Games, Synapticlipse and other such editions.
Then, we should have the Apocrypha Discordia. This is notable for being really the first new non-zine Discordian work since the original bunch came around (afaik), and I suspect is a good chronological marking point for “New Discordian Works.”
Principia Entropius is a terrible mess that makes one’s head hurt, but as it’s a rare and valuable (historically if not creatively) snapshot of Discordianism in the 90s, it deserves mention.
The Wholly First Edition isn’t really the first edition at all, but it was the first snapshot that many new gen Discordians had of the contents of what was in the Kennedy Archives. The history of that is in the book, though it’s not always easy to find. It’s notable enough to be mentioned.
Condensed Chaos by Phil Hine makes explicit references to Discordia, and may well be part of the cause of the crossover of Chaos Magic and Discordia.
Black Iron Prison was a work that has been highly influential (to the point where it’s influenced Discordian communities as far as Brazil) and thus deserves mention.
Other works, while often good, while sometimes notable, don’t need full articles but do deserve mention and context as notable and important—mostly my measure for this has been either “I’ve seen a lot of Discordians own them,” or “I’ve heard a lot of Discordians discuss them,” or often both. Hardly an academic test, but there you go. I tried to do a scratch list and gave up on it as I was bound to snub someone (and we all know how that turns out!)
Does anyone else have some thoughts on the matter?