“When Robert Anton Wilson printed up letterheads for the Bavarian Illuminati, they carried the notice: ‘Safeguard this letter; it may be an important historical document.’ That was very much how I felt about my first little notebook, penned in 1975. I had just begun to figure out how I was involved in the JFK assassination—in a way related only indirectly to my service in the Marines with Oswald—and I felt I was recording important facts for posterity. These ranged from license numbers of cars that seemed to be following me to suspicious characters, besides me, who hung out in Plaza Drug Store in Atlanta, to nearly lost memories of conversations in the three years leading up to November 22, 1963.” —Notes of a Neon Gringo, Kerry Thornley, Pretzal Press, 1987
The first iteration of Kerry’s writings related to his so-called “involvement” in the JFK assassination started, as noted, in 1975, and it was Greg Hill who ultimately brought some order to this chaotic process (order out of chaos) by compiling Kerry’s various letters, memos, journal entries and affidavits into the collection titled Thornley/Oswald.
In the letter, Thornley mentions his love interest at the time, Judith Abrams, later identified in Robert Anton Wilson’s Cosmic Trigger I as one of the Early Discordians. Also mentioned was one of the more colorful characters to emerge from the 1960s counterculture, A.J. Weberman, a notorious yippie activist and dumpster diving Dylan-documentarian, otherwise known as the foremost “Dylanologist” of his generation—at least in his own estimation.
Weberman’s initial claim to fame (or infamy, as the case may be) started on a lark one night when he was passing by Dylan’s Harlem townhouse and the thought struck him that he might be able to find some interesting material by sifting through Mr. Zimmerman’s garbage. Thus began Weberman’s adventures in Garbology. According to My Life in Garbology:
“Garbology, as we know it today, is the study of human personality and contemporary civilization through analysis of garbage, or ‘garbanalysis.’ The basic premise is ‘You Are What You Throw Away.’ Garbage is a macrocosmic reflection, a mirror on life. The unassailable reality is that every living being makes waste. Excretion is both natural and universal, a process in which all lifeforms participate; the more sophisticated the organism, the more sophisticated the waste it produces…”
Part of Weberman’s dumpster diving proclivities brought him into proximity to the Watergate Break-In caper, and by the early 1970s he had shifted his focus from collecting Dylan’s garbage to, among other things, investigating the JFK assassination and its possible connection a couple of the Watergate burglars, namely E. Howard Hunt and Frank Sturgis.
Greg Hill was living in NYC during this period, and during a visit from Thornley the duo came across a Yipster Times article authored by Weberman that included a photo of E. Howard Hunt comparing him to one of the three mystery tramps picked up Dealey Plaza in the aftermath of the assassination. Kerry recognized Hunt as possibly the same person he’d met in New Orleans in the early 1960s, who went by the name of Gary Kirstein, and who Kerry suspected had been involved in Kennedy’s assassination. Weberman’s evidence that Hunt was one of the mystery tramps was later expanded upon in Coup D’état in America: The CIA and the Assassination of John F. Kennedy co-written with Michael Canfield.
Previous correspondence between Hill and Thornley (discovered in the Discordian Archives—though I can’t lay my hands on it at the moment!) included a back and forth about getting in touch with Weberman, presumably in the prospect of learning more about what he knew about Hunt’s alleged role in the assassination. Ultimately the connection between the two was made, and Weberman sent Kerry the following letter:
Kerry ultimately closed the loop on his interest in talking to Weberman as stated in the below letter to Greg Hill where he commented on how he was “really burned out on the assassination… fuck Weberman… I’m so tired of my own paranoia, let alone other peoples’…”
This is Part Two of The Illuminati Files by Brenton Clutterbuck. If you missed Part One, here you will find A Conspiracy is Born.
Suddenly, nothing happened!
Or at least not much. While the Illuminati had copped the blame for trying to challenge the power of church and state in Germany (a fair cop), instigating the French Revolution, and interfering with the founding years of the United States (both substantially less likely), for most of the late 1800s, concern about the Illuminati died down, only to return mutated and with a vengeance in the 1900s. Conspiracy author Nesta Webster brings them back in 1919, characterising them as a Jewish conspiracy dating back to the days of Jesus. She produced several works across her lifetime about the Illuminati. In 1965, the rightwing monthly The Cross and the Flag published by Gerald L. K. Smith featured an article that named the Illuminati as the second most important enemy in the world (pipped to the post by those dastardly world bankers!) Around the same time, a man named Robert Welch was beginning his own crusade against the Illuminati, via the organisation he founded — the highly influential rightwing organisation, the John Birch Society, which characterised the Illuminati as the precursor to Communism.
We find ourselves in the United States of the 1950s and 1960s, in a society being rocked by social change and in an environment where conspiracy theory (some of which would ultimately be proved correct!) was running wild. Campaigns of propaganda helped to overload the bullshit detectors of many, and very quickly, large numbers of people developed the firm suspicion that somewhere, someone was doing something, and whatever it was, it wasn’t good.
Into this paranoid stew of confusion and confoundment, came a new religious movement. It was called ‘Discordianism’, and perhaps unsurprisingly it was obsessed with chaos, disorder, and the impossibility of reaching out to grasp objective truth. Truly, this was a movement of its time.
With such fixations of the nature of truth, confusion, and the great unknown, it is no wonder that many Discordians were themselves entranced by ideas of conspiracy. The Principia Discordia, among other Discordian materials, satirised this re-emergence of Illuminati fever. Riffing on the Illuminati led to the ‘Illuminati letter’ appearing in the Principia Discordia. As with much of the PD, it is influenced by a mixture of sources.
Episkopos Mordecai, Keeper of the Notary Sojac, informs me that you are welcome to reveal that our oldest extant records show us to have been fully established in Atlantis, circa 18,000 B.C., under Kull, the galley slave who ascended to the Throne of Valusia. Revived by Pelias of Koth, circa 10,000 B.C. Possibly it was he who taught the inner-teachings to Conan of Cimmeria after Conan became King of Aquilonia. First brought to the western hemisphere by Conan and taught to Mayan priesthood (Conan is Quetzlcoatl). That was 4 Ahua, 8 Cumhu, Mayan date. Revived by Abdul Alhazred in his infamous Al Azif, circa 800 A.D. (Al Azif translated into Latin by Olaus Wormius, 1132 A.D., as The Necronomicon.) In 1090 A.D. was the founding of The Ismaelian Sect Hashishim) by Hassan i Sabbah, with secret teachings based on Alhazred, Pelias and Kull. Founding of the Illuminated Ones of Bavaria, by Adam Weishaupt, on May 1, 1776. He based it on the others. Weishaupt brought it to the United States during the period that he was impersonating George Washington; and it was he who was the Man in Black who gave the design for The Great Seal to Jefferson in the garden that night. The Illuminated tradition is now, of course, in the hands of The Ancient Illuminated Seers of Bavaria (A.I.S.B.), headquartered here in the United States.
Our teachings are not, need I remind you, available for publication. No harm, though, in admitting that some of them can be found disguised in Joyce’s Finnegan’s Wake, Burroughs Nova Express, the King James translation of the Holy Bible (though not the Latin or Hebrew), and The Blue Book. Not to speak of Ben Franklin’s private papers (!), but we are still suppressing those.
The letter goes on for quite some time, but luckily for the human race, the Discordian articulation of the Illuminati quest turned out to be actually, pretty wholesome!
Look, if you people out there can keep from blowing yourselves up for only two more generations, then we will finally have it. After 20,000 years, Kull’s dream will be realized! We can hardly believe it. But the outcome is certain, given the time. Our grandchildren, Mal! If civilization makes it through this crises, our grandchildren will live in a world of authentic freedom and authentic harmony and authentic satisfaction. I hope I’m alive to see it, Mal, success is in our grasp. Twenty thousand years….!
Ah, I get spaced just thinking about it. Good luck on the Principia.
Also included in the preceding pages are an advertisement for the Bavarian Illuminati, and a telegraph, apparently from the illuminati to the Discordians, with a comically unbreakable cypher that could be used to permanently render incoherence to any sensitive messages (let’s just hope nobody —ever— needs to decode them!).
Discordian elder Robert Anton Wilson got on board the Illuminati train in a major way. He had been drafted into the Discordians in ’67, but they wouldn’t provide his first exposure to the Illuminati conspiracy. By the time the Discordians drafted him into their weirdness, he’d already been working at PLAYBOY‘s letters section for two years, alongside co-conspirator Robert Shea. PLAYBOY — being a magazine dedicated to all kinds of sexual and moral freedoms — attracted the attention of those who felt their freedoms were being infringed on in the most bizarre and unbelievable ways. This ‘nut mail’ from some of the more paranoid PLAYBOY patrons inspired Wilson and Shea to write a series in which all of the conspiratorial fantasies of their readers were 100% true. The resulting novel The Illuminatus! Trilogy returned to the more sinister power-hungry characterisation of the Illuminati.
The work was already invested in exploring the most deranged and bizarre (though not, of course, impossible) theories about who controlled the world. Wilson and Shea further muddied these illuminated waters of truth by sneaking articles into publications under assumed identities years before, then quoting those sources in their fictional trilogy to develop a strange and unreliable synthesis of truth and fiction. The book was about conspiracy, was produced as the result of conspiracy, and was a satirical exploration of a phenomenon that was far from just a light-hearted joke.
Illuminatus! of course then became another significant popularizer of the modern Illuminati mythos into popular culture. It also popularised the new foundation myth alluded to in the Illuminati letter from the Principia — that the Illuminati originated from the Islamic Assassin cult led by Hassan-I-Sabbah — though they attributed this idea to the John Birch Society.
Illuminatus! as a work, seems to have had a wide influence, although its authors would surely have liked to see more of that influence translate into royalties! It’s been speculated that the work influenced Umberto Eco, whose work Foucault’s Pendulum shares a number of similarities with the Illuminatus! Trilogy. More recently Dan Brown’s Angels and Demons also portrayed the Illuminati within the substance of its plot.
Steve Jackson Games, whose forays into the fringe frequently step into Discordian territory, loosely adapted the Trilogy into a board game (if it had been a ‘tighter’ adaptation they would have had to pay!).
The KLF, music weirdos who burned a million pounds, were also influenced by Illuminatus! Both members were exposed to the Trilogy through Ken Campbell’s epic 10 hour theatre adaptation of Illuminatus!, and this influence can be seen explicitly through the first name they took; The JAMS, a reference to the Illuminatus! Trilogy.
From here, the flow of influence for both the Illuminatus! Trilogy and the Illuminati mythology get pretty hard to track. You can see the source of a trickle, but how do you point to the home of a wave? With the hippie movement as a powerful vector, the Illuminati entered the public consciousness, permeating vast swathes of public life and awareness.
When I was doing my interviews for Chasing Eris, I spoke with Ben Graham who gave one example of how awareness of the Illuminatus! Trilogy, and the associated conspiracy consciousness passed from hippies to members of the electronic scene.
Because of the ravers that had been having free festivals out in fields, [members of the electronic scene] ended up teaming up with guys who’d been having hippy rock festivals in fields forever. Those guys ended up getting into a lot of techno music, but they would have been guys who were reading the Illuminatus! books in the early 70s. It had the whole kind of esoteric hippy knowledge and stuff behind it… You had the club rave kids meeting the hippy travelers, one side being electronic techno music and ecstasy, and the other bringing this kind of like hippy philosophy and ethos and knowledge and it all kind of crossing over. And certainly I think a lot of the kind of Illuminati ideas. Suddenly it became cliché to be referencing the number 23 for one thing.
As for the Illuminati itself, well, today it is Well Known enough that the very term has become a euphemism for any vaguely shadowy institution. When some say ‘the Illuminati’ control the world, they perhaps don’t mean Weishaupt’s group, but instead ‘the Deep State’ ‘the Ruling Class’, ‘the Bourgeoisie’, or maybe ‘the Shadow Government.’ Maybe, in some sense, they are all absolutely right.
The Illuminati perhaps remains so powerful in the public consciousness today because it speaks to the need to fill in the gaps — the dark shadowy gaps — in our knowledge of the world. Every trove of top secret documents that spills out from a Wikileaks page or a pastebin, every release of unclassified documents, every whistle-blower and truth-teller betrays the existence of a murky world of conspiracy that lives beneath the surface of our otherwise normal and logically consistent existence. Voltaire once said that if God didn’t exist, it would be necessary to invent him. Perhaps the same is true of a Godlike conspiracy. Fortunately, Adam Weishaupt did us that favor many years ago, and things have only been getting stranger ever since.
Before embarking upon this, his latest video documentary odyssey, Adam paid me a visit here at my humble abode in the Sierra Nevadas, and we spent a few hours discussing Thornley, Greg Hill, and RAW, interview footage of which may in fact appear in the series.
Since turnabout is fair play, Adam let me interview him at the time, the result of which appeared on my short-lived podcast, Radio GoGo.
One legacy of the Discordian Society has been its part solidifying the place of the Illuminati in contemporary pop culture. Once an obscure and poorly understood quirk of European history, the Illuminati is now sincerely regarded by some to be responsible for 9/11, global economic collapse, the entire pop music industry, and are claimed to include such high ranking members as Jay-Z, Beyonce and George W. Bush.
While on my Chasing Eris journey, I was able to pay a visit to some historic Illuminati sites. I had taken a train to visit Ingolstadt, the historical birthplace of the Illuminati. Some part of me expected to see signs of the Illuminati everywhere; poorly made Eye-in-the-Pyramid shirts with INGOLSTADT BAVARIA written on them and ‘take our Angels and Demons Illuminati tour…’ but there was nothing. I realised how nothing there is when I try to buy a friend a gift—an owl. While triangles and the Eye in the Pyramid (more properly known as the Eye of God) are recognised in popular culture as the sign of the Illuminati, the original symbol of the Illuminati was an owl. This is the symbol of Minerva, and implies wisdom. Despite this, it took a few hours of solid searching before I found a cute glass owl at the markets. I suspect this scant acknowledgement of Barvaria’s conspiratorial past is a mostly conscious effort to avoid attracting conspiracy freaks.
The first location I successfully tracked down was the Adam Weishaupt house at Theresienstraße 23. It wasn’t anything stunning; today it is a bank (which should be a delight to the tin-foil crowd). I did note the curvy stylistic 23 with some satisfaction however; a good number for a conspiracy.
It was here, apparently, that Weishaupt began the meetings that would lead to the development of the Illuminati.
Adam Weishaupt was born in 1748. Accounts suggest his father died when he was only seven years old, leaving him in the care of his liberal grandfather. He had two educations; one by the Jesuits, and another self-delivered amongst the considerable tomes of his grandfather’s bookshelf (potentially one of the largest personal collections in Europe), and it was this second education that was to most fully impact young Weishaupt.
Every teenager is rebellious, and in Bavaria where the Jesuits essentially had total control of the education system since around 1549, there was a lot to rebel against. This was a particularly extraordinary situation when one considers that throughout the rest of Europe, the enlightenment was taking place, and the power of the Catholic Church was slipping.
I continued through the Bavarian streets. There was a thick fog, and the day was crisp and grey. Eventually as I walked, I came to a large building; the University of Ingolstadt.
While the location may have changed, it was at this institution that in 1772, with his grandfather’s help, Weishaupt was given the position of Professor of civil law. He climbed that ladder relatively quickly, earning the ire of the Jesuits. The feeling was mutual.
On the first of May, 1776, Adam Weishaupt founded the first historically supported instance of the Illuminati. Weishaupt’s most profound prejudice was against the Jesuits whose education he had obviously not appreciated, and whose continued objections to his activities within the University he resented. His organisation was also opposed to all forms of modern occult, was closed to Jews, and actively persecuted the Rosicrucians. They reserved their support for rationalist philosophy, science, and a doctrine of equality, though as translator and poet Jeva Singh-Anand comments, they were a little too early for feminism (one of the few proposals of women in the Illuminati suggests them as providing ‘voluptuous pleasures’ to the male members). Instead they promoted a type of patriarchal tribal society, free from inequitable concentrations of power or goods. They also expressed admiration for the liberalizing effect of high populations and promoted the improvement of society through moral education. Singh-Anand also states that they promoted Hermetic and Esoteric philosophy, to a degree:
“There’s an operative part of the esotericism and then there’s metaphysics and esotericism as a branch of philosophy. That’s where you get people like Stoics. That’s where you get people like Idealists, Platonists. All these things. If we define it this narrowly; metaphysics and esoteric ideology, yes they were very much into that. But when it comes to stuff like astrology, redesigning the tarot, Goetic Invocations, things like that, they had a very, very dim view on it.”
Despite their disdain for contemporary occulture, the Illuminati adopted a number of ancient practices, at least aesthetically, using an hierarchical ordering system and calendar adopted from ancient Persia. As initiates moved through the order, they were revealed new ‘secrets.’ Superstitious notions were conveyed in the “Lesser Mysteries,” while in the “Greater Mysteries” the veil of superstition was torn away and those deemed worthy were initiated into the truths of rational understanding of God, writes German Illuminati expert Monika Neugebauer-Wölk.
The aims of the Illuminati were to abolish both religion and the monarchic powers of the state, through all peaceful means. Every violent reform is to be blamed, wrote Weishaupt, because it will not ameliorate things as long as men remain as they are, a prey to their passions; and because wisdom needeth not the arm of violence. However, evidence exists that at least at some point the Illuminati had considered the poisoning of political rivals, and it’s impossible to know what might have been revealed by documents the Illuminati burned when the tide turned against them.
Weishaupt’s formation of the Illuminati predated his membership in the Freemasons, which took place a year later. Once in though, he set about trying to discover Masonic secrets and link the Illuminati to the Masons in advantageous ways. In effect, the Illuminati became a secret society hidden inside a secret society.
Weishaupt quickly found a great friend in writer Adolf Freiherr Knigge. Knigge contributed much to the Illuminati, publicising it and adding to the ritual and mythology of the organisation. He and Weishaupt often disagreed; Weishaupt considered the best structure of the Illuminati as Monarchic, Knigge thought it should be a Republic. Knigge also worried that the structure was open to abuse. In the end, like Simon and Garfunkel, their creative partnership ended through creative differences. Before their separation though, Knigge represented the Illuminati at the Masonic Congress of Wilhelmsbad, an event that sealed the association between the Freemasons and the Illuminati.
The earlier (pre-1776) origins of the Illuminati are the result of much embellishment, mostly on the part of Weishaupt and Knigge. Weishaupt drew a fictional genealogy back to the King of Persia, Yadzegerd III. Knigge created a separate origin, bringing the birth of the Illuminati back to Biblical Noah. Funnily enough, none of these claims related to the the Knights Templar, an organisation continually included in many conspiratorial genealogies, and today strongly associated with the Illuminati. Like other aspects of modern Illuminati mythos, the Templar’s connection is to Freemasonry—they were claimed by some Masons to be the origin for German Freemasonry—a claim that seems akin to Knigge or Weishaupt’s in terms of credibility.
Working towards abolishing the institutional power of both church and monarchy, the Illuminati couldn’t remain enough of a secret to avoid making powerful enemies. By 1785 it was all over. Weishaupt was on the run, the Illuminati was outlawed and disbanded by the King of Bavaria. The Illuminati was finished.
OR WAS IT? Several sources following this point make the claim that the Illuminiati continued to exist beyond their supposed end.
The squishing of the Illuminati took place quickly—for some, too quickly to be believed. The continued paranoia of enemies of the Illuminati, including European kings and the mysterious Rosicrucians, led to a continued hyper-vigilance for signs of their re-emergence. When, in 1789, the French Revolution left Parisian streets awash with blood of the ruling class and their own revolutionaries, some considered this the work of the dreaded Illuminati.
This claim was made in Vienna Magazine, various pamphlets, and the 1797 work Proofs of a Conspiracy by John Robison. Much of Robison’s historical information about the Illuminati seems well sourced, until it approaches his discussion of the French Revolution.
Almost immediately, this Illuminati paranoia spread across the pond, to the USA. According to Vernon Stauffer’s work New England and the Bavarian Illuminati, only a year after Proofs of a Conspiracy was released, clergyman Jedediah Morse (the father of the single-wire telegraph inventor Samuel Morse) gave a speech claiming that the Illuminati had begun operations in America:
On the morning of May 9, 1798, in the pulpit of the New North Church in Boston, and on the afternoon of the same day in his own pulpit at Charlestown, the occasion being that of the national fast, the Reverend Jedediah Morse made a sensational pronouncement. He first discussed with his hearers “the awful events” which the European Illuminati had precipitated upon an already distracted world, and then proceeded solemnly to affirm that the secret European association had extended its operations to this side of the Atlantic and was now actively engaged among the people of the United States, with a view to the overthrow of their civil and religious institutions.
Other sources in this period, continue along the same theme, that of a continuing tradition of Illuminism, perhaps involving or influenced by the very earliest participants in the Illuminati, that had passed through Paris and into the United States, remaining hidden in Masonic lodges. Various works make claims of conspiracies in or around New England. The 1802 work Proofs of the Real Existence, and Dangerous Tendency, of Illuminism by Samuel Etheridge claims the existence of documents supporting the presence of 1700 Illuminati scoundrels in the USA. One possible reason for this seems to be political opportunism—many of these conspiracies were directed towards defaming Alexander Hamilton’s Federalists. (Perhaps it was an effort to stop them singing!) The conception of the Illuminati began to move away from any ideological goals, and became instead characterised as a group who desired ‘power for power’s sake’.
This massive twist in the characterisation of the Illuminati complete, the stage was set for the next chapter in Illuminati history: its complete transformation into a contemporary conspiracy theory, egged on by yet another institution that was to be born out of the strange chaos of the United States post-WWII period.
As you’ll soon see documented in Part Two of the Illuminati Files, that “institution” would be the Discordian Society promoting a parody religion known as Discordianism.
Recently I stumbled upon this artifact in the Discordian Archives, a clipping from the May 1976 edition of National Weed entitled: “Author Sues Acidheads For Saying Leary Wrote His Book!”
In essence, this article appears to have been a PR prank Robert Anton Wilson pulled as a pretext to promote Illuminatus! while at the same time taking a pot-shot (pun intended) at members of the Neo-American Church, who—on occasion—RAW was known to tussle with.
This article also mentions a Timothy Leary interview RAW was working on that had yet to be published at the time due to what he referred to as “perfectionist” editors at PLAYBOY. This “Lost Leary Interview” —which has yet to see the literary light of day—was among content included in the RVP-never-to-be-version of Starseed Signals, although I’ve been informed that our friends at Hilaritas Press may include it in their forthcoming iteration of the book.
As for the “acidheads” mentioned in the article, RAW was referring to members of the Neo-American Church, founded by former Leary acolyte Arthur Kleps. It should be noted that if RAW was sincerely interested in suing the Neo-American Church, then said lawsuit would have included his friend, and Discordian Society founder, Greg Hill, who was an affiliate member of that august acidhead outfit as documented in this membership card below. Oh, what a tangled web we acidheads weave!
Kleps was fond of penning polemics to counterculture publications, one of which appeared in the November 14, 1975 edition of The Berkeley Barb with Kleps going on about how the “energy crisis” was a hoax that “fits in with the apocalyptic ideas so popular among the moron supernaturalists and occultists of the Robert Anton Wilson type…”
In response, RAW fired back with the following letter published in the November 21, 1975 edition of The Berkeley Barb:
In this vein, I thought I’d share further examples of Discordian parties starting with a shindig thrown by Tim Wheeler (aka Harold Lord Randomfactor) at his farm in Shelbyville, Indiana, billed as the “Grand National Founding Convention of Young Americans For Real Freedom.” The intent of this gathering was to draft “The Shelbyville Statement,” which would be the guiding document of the Young Americans for Real Freedom (YARF). Of course, all of this was merely an elaborate joke-parody riffing on a real organization called the Young Americans for Freedom that was prominent in conservative political circles during this period.
Moving on to other Discordian parties, here’s a note from Greg Hill (aka Mal 2) to Louise Lacey (aka Lady L., F.A.B. – Fucking Anarchist Bitch) composed on genuine Illuminati stationary created by the aforementioned Harold Randomfactor.
“…celebrated at our apartment house with weird and eldritch festivities. Arlen and I, representing the Discordian Society, together with Stephen upstairs (Reformed Druids of North America), Claire and Carol in another apartment (witches, connected with the New Reformed Order of the Golden Dawn), and the Great Wild Beast Furtherment Society (which is really Stephen and me and another neighbor named Charles), opened all our rooms to a Crowleymas Party and invited nearly 100 local wizards and mystics…”
In attendance were such illuminaries as ufological visionary Jacques Vallee, along with a flock of other furry freaks from a hodge-podge of mystical and religious (dis)orders, including Grady McMurtry, then head of the Ordo Templi Orientis in the USA.
Apparently, such Discordian frivolities carried on well into the early 1980s as demonstrated in a letter below to Greg Hill from Camden Benares (aka The Count of Fives aka Felix Pendragon) announcing a duel sponsored event orchestrated in cahoots with renowned pornographer, and sometime Discordian, Ron Matthies under the banner of “Fort Chaotic.” In said letter, Camden mentions a Discordian novel he was working on at the time called Another Howling Eighties Conspiracy that unfortunately never saw the light of day, although we know he finished at least five chapters, Hail Eris.
As revealed in my Thornley bio The Prankster and the Conspiracy, Camden and his wife June often attended parties dressed as a priest and nun. After one such party, Camden and June—still bedecked in their holy garbed—visited a Denny’s in West Los Angeles where they spent considerable time making out in their booth. As would be expected, people began freaking out upon witnessing this ungodly spectacle, as in between sacrilegious smooches Camden gave blessings and benedictions to the stunned Denny’s patrons.
Eris comes to us in many guises (“my father’s house has many mansions”), sometimes even in the form of St. Valentine’s Day cards, such as the one we see here sent to the founding father of the Discordianism, none other than Malaclypse the Younger aka Greg Hill in February 1977, apparently alerting him to a Discordian soiree of sorts. It’s not clear who the sender of said Erisian Valentine was, although the card says “Gnostic” on it, so I guess it’s possible it was sent from Thomas the Gnostic aka Tom McNamara.
Among the more obscure Early Discordians was Tom McNamara aka Thomas the Gnostic, who was not only of the Erisian persuasion, but also a member of the Bavarian Illuminati, and a participant in Operation Mindfuck as demonstrated in the letter below published in The Rag, a counterculture mag based out of Austin, Texas, during the 1960s and early-70s.
During the Discordian Society halcyon days, McNamara distributed an Erisian newsletter, the alliterative Papish Pastoral Letter to the Provincials of the Provinces of Patareal Paratheo Providence, a sample of which is presented below.
Included in the Discordian Archives are scattered correspondence between Greg Hill and McNamara. In a letter dated March 22, 1971, Hill related recent Discordian developments, including a Chicago meet-up with Bob Shea, Robert Anton Wilson (RAW) and Tim and Mary Wheeler (aka Harold Randomfactor and Hope Springs). Of this Chicago meet-up, Hill wrote:
“Most sorry missed you at the Chicago Meet, but I supposed goddess knows what she is doing. I genuinely hope that the day will come when we can rap some face to face. This correspondence business, it only goes in some directions and it is hard to anchor sometimes. I’ll buy the beer should the opportunity arise….
“The Chicago Meet, incidentally, was no big thing excepting a retouch in the flesh. Met RF [Randomfactor] & Hope for the first time and was not surprised in any way. Wilson kept engaging in political arguments with them and it bummered kind of, it gets difficult to remember that substantial differences are in accord with the Erisian concept—it gets difficult indeed in personal issues. O Were We All Saints. That bit in diatribe about me slipping into the curse of greyface—that was from the soul my friend. Wilson and Tim had a touch of greyface then (at Chi) too. Doubt if Tim feels much a part of us much anymore.
“Mostly we just sat around and rapped on petty incidentals. It was a pleasant time, which is want I wanted actually. Wilson & I played around with literature some—that kind of thing. Very therapeutic. Got stoned and giggled a lot…”
While RAW occasionally described himself as a Libertarian, he was definitely on the anti-war/pacifist end of the spectrum, most notably taking to the Chi-town streets with all the hairy freaks during the 1968 Democratic National Convention protests. Wheeler—conversely—was a William F. Buckley conservative and, as noted in this exclusive Historia Discordia interview, worked as a humor editor for Buckley’s National Review. One issue that might have led to a “political argument” between Wheeler and Wilson would have been the Vietnam War. While there was plenty to be critical about Buckley’s worldview, one important contribution he made to the conservative movement was calling out John Birch Society (JBS) propaganda and its influence on the GOP. To this end, Wheeler produced a satirical piece on the JBS, which took the form of a hoax/gag issue of the National Review, kind of a play on Illuminati conspiracies ala the Trilateral Commission, Bilderbergers, etc. Check it out here.
Wheeler’s irreverent nature is what enamored him to his fellow Discordians, who for the most part were politically aligned with anarcho-libertarianism, which included a fondness for pot, another interest they shared with Wheeler, who was a notorious dope-smoking Republican.
While RAW and Wheeler disagreed on certain political issues, they both concurred that it was a fine and righteous thing to poke fun at Illuminati conspiracies of the John Birch Society variety, and then co-opt said JBS-Illuminati mythology for their own nefarious ends, Hail Eris!
Next we find an exchange between Thomas the Gnostic and Reverend Dean Cleveland of the St. Procopius Rectory, wherein Thomas was evidently yanking the good rector’s chain.
Next in the chronology was a letter dated February 1972 from McNamara to Hill (aka Iggy):
“You know the phantasies you’ve had that the FBI might be after us? Well, you’ll be happy to know that they are at least after me. This is not just paranoia. It seems that recently I wuz incarcerated in the state mental prison here, no shit! How I got there is a long stupid story. How I got out is even simpler. I hired a lawyer to rescue me from the mad doctors. But in the course of all this madness I learned one thing. The F.B.I. is really keeping tabs on me. They made indiscreet ‘inquiries’ to both my lawyer and the keepers. I ain’t going to let this stop me from whatever it is that I am doing that is subversive’. I just wish I could figure out what it is that I am doing. Oh well. As for the mental prison: ‘God save us from those who would save us from ourselves.’
Also in the letter, McNamara mentions an Illuminati-mythology-then-in-the-making ala Morris Kaminsky’s The Hoaxers, which expounded upon a claim that the real brains behind that dreaded secret society was some dude named Sidney Weinberg.
The ideal celebration for this holiday is listening to bootleg recordings of the first Discordian rock band, Jay See and the Disciples of Eris. The rarity of these recordings causes most Discordians to celebrate in some other manner befitting the occasion.
Perhaps the most notorious Discordian Jake ever perpetrated—or at least the one that received the most national media attention—was cooked up by a Discordian cabal called “Sam’s Cafe,” a three person art collective consisting of the husband and wife team of Mark and Terri Keyser, and their conspiratorial cohort, David Shire. Sam’s Cafe operated out of a former greasy spoon of the same name located on University Avenue near the UC Berkeley campus.
Starting around 1970, Sam’s Cafe orchestrated several Discordian flavored capers, a sort of cross between performance art meets culture jamming. In 1971, the group reached the pinnacle of prankdom with an op dubbed “Sam’s Collection Agency” that entailed mailing “false collection notices to twenty thousand people, demanding that they each send $76.40 to the return address (which was the San Francisco Chronicle’s TV station). The notice listed the phone numbers of news papers, TV stations, and the Bank of America, which were flooded with more than ten thousand angry calls. The artists made front page news in both local newspapers. Two days later, when Sam’s Café revealed themselves at a press conference—at which they handed out press kits that included vials of human excrement—they were arrested and indicted…” 00001
According to a March 20, 1971 article in the Cincinnati Enquirer entitled “Hippies Admit 20,000 Fake Bills In Attempt To Create Mass Chaos,” Sam’s Cafe was charged with mailing a “vile and filthy substance” in “small plastic jars of what appeared to be excretion. These were sent to news media Wednesday along with the announcement of the hoax…”
Ultimately, Discordian justice prevailed and Sam’s Cafe was acquitted of all charges following a two-day trial, an acquittal based largely on the testimony of the expert witness in the case, San Francisco Chronicle art critic Thomas Albright, who stated “that the act was in fact conceptual art.” 00002
“In the end, the judge shook his head and proclaimed, ‘Well, if the expert says it’s art, it’s art, but don’t do it again.’ Sam’s Cafe believed that by using print media, the postal service, and other ordinary means of communication, artists outside the system could reach a broad public audience. At the same time, they showed how easy it was to sabotage the U.S. Postal Service…” 00003
According to this note found in the Discordian Archives, Sam’s Cafe put out feelers to Greg Hill to see if he was interested in testifying, although it’s unknown how extensively Hill became involved in the case.
00001 Lewallen, Constance M., and Moss, Karen. 2011. State of Mind: New California Art, Circa 1970. University of California Press.