A serious joke
The countercultural Discordian religion is still culturally relevant — and amusing
In the pre-Interweb era one’s entry to Discordianism was either through Illuminatus! by Robert Anton Wilson and Bob Shea, or Principia Discordia, the tract intended to reveal “not a complicated put-on disguised as a new religion but a new religion disguised as a complicated joke.”
Nowadays, when everything bad that happens is labelled a conspiracy, it’s only right that the Discordian conspiracy be reintroduced to the world to rebalance the dogma with the katma, even if the author’s investigation dispels some of the mystery fun by unmasking the true identities and methods of Malacalypse (The Younger), Lord Omar Khyyam Ravenhurst, Mordecai The Foul et al. But since the upside is a trove of rare primary sources: rubber stamps, membership cards, letters, tracts, edicts, cartoons, collages, photostatically reproduced in a generous A4 format, then so be it.
A most delightful web of connections and coincidences weaves around this group of iconoclasts and hierophants
whose antics to disrupt reality and automatic thinking with slyly surreal communiqués (Operation Mindfuck) have been more culturally influential than most people realise. The Discordian brainwashing conspiracy of presenting countercutural ‘serious’ jokes and ideas in letters and pamphlets purportedly from secret societies seems so quintessentially late-60s psychedelic, but we learn how the roots of the plot stem from the late 50s when West Coast humorists Kerry Thornley and Greg Hill teamed-up. Thornley knew Lee Harvey Oswald in the Marines, started writing a novel about him years before the Dallas event, and later testified to the Warren Commission.
As legend has it, the first edition of Principia Discordia (fully reproduced here) was clandestinely produced in the office of District Attorney Jim Garrison, who later indicted Thornley as part of a conspiratorial cabal that allegedly orchestrated JFK’s murder. Conspirator, yes, but wrong conspiracy. In some ways, Thornley and his fellow Discordians were even more dangerous than the JFK assassins.
(reprinted with permission from Fortean Times)