Johnny Walsh: This past Sunday’s New York Times Magazine crossword puzzle clue 50 Across: “‘Principia Discordia’ figure.” Answer: “Eris”
Johnny Walsh: This past Sunday’s New York Times Magazine crossword puzzle clue 50 Across: “‘Principia Discordia’ figure.” Answer: “Eris”
Download a PDF copy of the National Review article found in the Discordian Archives and labeled “POEE ARCHIVE LOAN COPY.” Please remember to return your PDF copy to the Discordian Archives after you are finished.
Let’s have Tim’s wife, Mary Wheeler (aka Hope Springs), tell us more:
“Tim wrote an article for National Review which Bill Buckley loved. He published the article and made it the cover story. It was all about conspiracy theories and all sorts of stuff he had picked up from these guys, so that makes me think that article came after our association with them [the Discordian Society]. But that article certainly would have cemented the friendships. Remember we were on totally opposite sides of the political fence… Well, maybe not too opposite. Everyone seemed to be a libertarian/anarchist at the time…
“In those early years when Tim worked in the office [of the National Review], as an editorial assistant, there was a lot of joking about the Illuminati. I can remember conversations with fellow conservatives where the conspiracy of the Illuminati ballooned into a conspiracy of left-handed people, or those with first cousins named Jeffrey. It spawned fantastic letterheads! Nobody at NR took it seriously, and we made fun of those that did. I think that is why it was so much fun to discover the Discordians, who also didn’t take any of that seriously. We had discovered like-minded people who tended to be liberals, or at least anarchists. And we were right-wing crazies, although Tim was very much a libertarian…”
Check out our full Mary Wheeler interview here:
For more on this fascinating story, navigate here.
The book documents my worldwide adventure to experience modern Discordian culture, meet its personalities, and discover elusive Erisian mysteries.
In our meeting we talk about what it was like to live with Kerry in Little Five Points, Atlanta. It seems important to mention that at the time they met, Kerry was, according to some, veering off into paranoia. I myself remain agnostic on some of his claims and skeptical of some others, especially his theory that his “real father” was a Nazi Admiral.
Tantra greets me at the entrance of her house, near a garden filled with gigantic cacti. She is smiley and excitable, and her passion for life is contagious.
She grew up in Indiana, in an area where very few people were around, few enough that one didn’t need to put clothes on to collect the mail on a hot day. She would go to Alabama, now and then, to see relatives. It was the kind of town where you couldn’t really admit to not being religious. She would attend Straight Creek Holiness Church, where people would yell and run around the congregation when the spirit seized them. When the spirit seized preachers, they would handle the snakes; a sign on the church quoted Mark 16:18, They shall take up serpents; and if they drink any deadly thing, it shall not hurt them. The spirit never seemed to seize them in her presence. When she was in Alabama, she missed the people she could engage with in California, and when she was away she missed the nature.
Tantra has a special relationship with nature. She spent years traveling the country in her van, sometimes driving out to a natural place, and finding a spot to sleep out in the open. It was during this period of travel that she began to develop her skills in Tantric yoga, healing, and her own construction of a form of effortless movement, called ‘Lucid Play.’
Tantra was in Little Five Points when she met someone who connected her with Kerry Thornley, who was to take a significant place in her life.
“I had been in Atlanta in Little Five Points and I met this guy who was the figurehead of Little Five Points. He would stand there and he would ring his bell and he would burn his sage and he would figure out who should meet whom. So he was telling me about Kerry Thornley and showing these broadsheets that he had put up and they were great political activism mixed with absurd, wild craziness. And so I wanted to meet him, and I thought, I want to come back to Atlanta to spend time with Kerry Thornley. And he was, I guess, 60 or something like that.
“And so then later I was going to Atlanta. I thought it was going to be just for a weekend but then my van broke down so I had to find a place to live. I was reading The Illuminatus! Trilogy. It was dedicated to Kerry. I stayed with that guy that I mentioned. His friend Wilson Leary, Timothy Leary’s cousin, came by, he and I started dating. So I’ve got all these things in the world of Kerry Thornley like…” she waves her arms and makes sounds to imitate the ineffable presence of Thornleyness that was entering her sphere.
“So I was trying to figure out where I was going to live and this guy just came up to me in Little Five Points and said, ‘If you’re looking for a place to live, you can live with me, I’ve got a porch.’ I checked out this house and they’ve got a big porch and so I moved in. It was a really wild artistic kind of place. I found out that Kerry Thornley lived there in this little mother-in-law right out the back. So I went there looking for Kerry Thornley, and moved in next to him without even knowing it.”
“Do you remember the first time you actually met him?” I ask.
“Uh-huh. Coming out of my room it was like, ‘There’s Kerry Thornley!’ Or, Omar Khyaam Ravenhurst.”
“What did you two talk about the first time you met?”
“Oh, I probably was just kind of squealing and telling him how glad I was, and him just doing this great laugh. I love his laugh. It was unlike anyone else’s. I wouldn’t even try to imitate it. He had thirteen cats or something like that, some huge number of cats so you’d always hear him calling them. He was just this really sweet little cat man, and son of a Nazi, such an odd combination, he claimed. In my life I always run into these MK-ULTRA kind of people, which was a little scary sometimes, that that happens, and that’s what he was, he said.
“I was also was a little bit uneasy about how much, living with him, was that going to involve me? How much was I being watched because of it? So it became like The Illuminatus! Trilogy. Black helicopters were going over all the time, and just becoming more and more like those books.”
Kerry said there were flying helicopters over his house,” I say. I was thinking of what a friend of Kerry, Louise Lacey, had told me of Kerry’s time in Florida when I said this, though I’d forgotten the details of what I’d heard. She had told me that Jim Garrison had sent helicopters over his house.
“They were, they were,” Bensko says. “They were doing it a lot. They would even follow me around. He seemed to know what he’s talking about. People always think that he was making up these stories in his head about the mind controllers and stuff, but I don’t know. He might have been.”
It was once while they lived in this close proximity that Tantra decided to perform a Discordian ritual, after a comment Kerry made.
“He said that the beauty of Discordianism was that he didn’t have to see any other Discordian-ists. And so there were no rituals. So to fly in the face of that then and give it a little chaotic shuffle, I told him, ‘we’ve got to do a ritual then.’ He thought that was a great idea.
“So I got a stick of butter and I molded it into the shape of Eris the Goddess and I put it on the floor. We said something over it you know, and his thirteen cats came and positioned themselves around the butter so there was no space in between them. They were all just jammed into where their tongues were right in there in the butter and they all started spinning around in a circle all at the same time, so you had this circling cat-thing around Eris, licking it until it was gone while Kerry and I were just laughing.”
“So that was the core moment that I remember about that ritual. His cats after that walked off but kind of continuing to circle and just ‘woah hey’ and wobble off to the edges.”
“Did you spend much time with Kerry after that?” I ask.
“Oh yeah, I spent a lot of time with him when I lived in Atlanta because I was there a couple of years, and so we were really good friends. I think I spent as much time with him over those years as everyone else did altogether. He didn’t really have a lot of people come by. And the other people in the house didn’t go to see him that much. But we were buddies. We hung out. I just deeply love Kerry.
“I don’t agree with some of his politics like, ‘Kill Kennedy.’ But yeah, I really liked Kerry a lot. I felt like his writing with Eris might have had something to do with his feeling like he did inadvertently kill Kennedy by suggesting someone like Oswald could be a patsy. But who knows; it’s one layer after another it’s so complex at the time.”
When I first talked to Bensko over the Internet she pointed out that she wasn’t a Discordian and wasn’t any kind of expert, but when I spoke to her in person, she said she was identifying sometimes with the title. I asked her to tell me what about the ideology meant to her.
“It’s postmodernist,” she says. “There’s many angles, and none of them are true.” She likes that Discordia is essentially difficult to take too seriously, and finds the attitude of believing without believing useful to her work. “There’s lots of Gods in Tantra Yoga too, and I see them as physics principles,” she tells me.
We chat for a long time; Tantra is someone who it is immensely easy to be around. She carries an effortless friendliness that invites you in and asks you to engage, without needing to say the words. She talks about many things, including her time in Little Five Points, her Yoga experience and her book, Collapsible Horizon.
I walk home. The air is warm and still. I arrive back to the marijuana-scented hostel doors, and make my way up the winding stairs to my room.
TO NOTE: Hill uses the exiting salutation “FLIEGENDE KINDERSCHEISSE!” in his letter to the three (3) Popes, which translates from the German to “Flying Baby Shit!”
This term appears on Page 00031 of the Principia Discordia as part of the “THE POEE MYSTEREE OATH”.
Also included in the article are comments from a number of personalities, among them Malaclypse the Younger (Greg Hill): “There is no doubt at all that proof of galactic Higher Intelligences will appear on TV screens everywhere between September and November 1975,” he said flatly. “I stake my reputation on this.”
Apparently this ET broadcast that RAW wrote about in the article never happened—at least not in this spacetime continuum—but something of a similar sort occurred a couple years after the fact (or fiction) on November 26th, 1977 during a regional newscast in the UK when an entity named Asteron interrupted the telecast with this startling message!
RAW’s first encounter with a UFO (or a reasonable facsimile thereof) occurred in rural New Jersey in the mid 1960s when in the presence of friends and family members, he witnessed a silvery something from afar.
Each of the witnesses took turns examining the object through a pair of binoculars, and some were of the opinion that what they witnessed resembled a classic flying saucer craft accompanied by humanoids in silvery costumes. When RAW looked through the binocs, he observed something similar to a geodesic dome, sans the silver clad spacemen. RAW went on to state in Cosmic Trigger Vol. 1: “That afternoon, my son, Graham, encountered an ‘extraterrestrial’ in the woods behind our house, at the foot of the hill. She was a female, with silvery skin, and she told Graham (he was five at the time) that he should become a physicist when he grew up… Years later, Graham did indeed study to become a physicist.”
Later in Cosmic Trigger, RAW writes:
“Prof. Jacques Vallee, who has analyzed all such Contact stories that have occurred since 1890 with a computer to find statistical patterns, informs us that this is drearily typical. The majority of child contactees, Vallee has discovered, report female extraterrestrials. (The majority of adults report males, in two standard types — small green men or giant blue men.) In fact, Dr. Vallee has found 44 parallels (similarities of image, word and detail) between the average experience of child Contactees …” (p. 39)
“Contactees generally report Her, according to Vallee, and the silvery globe was also around in some of Her miracles, under the guise of the B.V.M., at Lourdes and Fatima. In one of Her miracles at Fatima, She caused the sun to plunge directly toward Earth, in the shared experience or hallucination of over 100,000 witnesses…” (pp. 40-41)
“Naturally, I did not suspect for a long time that our Lady Eris, goddess of confusion, was just the Space Lady coming back to haunt me in a different guise.” (p. 59)
RAW’s second UFO-related experience (sort of) occurred on July 23rd 1973. Leading up to this event, he’d been programming himself with LSD while conducting a series of Crowleyean rituals known as the Conversation with the Holy Guardian Angel. On top of all this, RAW was using Dr. John Lilly’s “Beliefs Unlimited” hypnosis-tape to access the astral plane… or a reasonable facsimile thereof.
It was at this time that RAW established apparent contact (maybe) with certain critters from the Sirius star system… or it might have been a Giant Pookah named Harvey, for all we know. Or a bunny named Bugs.Crowley, it has been conjectured, met with his own host of alien looking chaps, among them Aiwass and also a curious character named Lam who looked somewhat like the alien grays that would later claim their fame in Whitley Strieber’s Communion and The X-Files. It was Aiwass who dictated (though psychic channeling) The Book of the Law, which formed the basis of Crowley’s “religion” Thelema. But Thelema, like Discordianism, should be more aptly termed an irreligion, “Where every man and woman is a Pope,” in the same respect that in Thelema, “Every man and woman is a star.”
In one account, RAW recalled his Sirius experience occurring in a hypnogogic dream state when the perceived entity (or Ascended Master or whatever it was) whispered in his inner ear something about the significance of the Sirius star system that RAW immediately scribbled down in his magickal diary: “Sirius is very important!”
Intrigued by this cryptic message, RAW afterwards visited the Berkeley Public Library to conduct more in depth research where he stumbled upon a passage in a book revealing that July 23rd is the very day when Sirius rises behind the Sun, known as the Dog Days. July 23rd is now considered a High Holy Day in Discordianism, known as Robert Anton Wilson Day or Maybe Day. Oddly enough, it is also National Hot Dog Day. (Buns optional.)Around the same time as RAW’s Sirius synch, science fiction author Philip K. Dick had some sort of “mystical experience” involving three-eyed crab clawed beings from (you guessed it!) Sirius. This led to Dick’s trilogy of books based on the VALIS theme.
Concurrently, British author Doris Lessing also established some sort of contact with Sirius, which inspired her to pen a Sci-Fi novel entitled The Sirian Experiments. In this regard, neither RAW, Dick or Lessing were aware of one another’s experiences until well after their own respective experiences occurred. These are the type of synchronicities that frequently avail themselves to those who dabble in the occult, psychedelics and Forteana.
Somebutnotall of RAW’s Conversation with the Holy Guardian Angel rituals occurred on the astral plane (which could also be interpreted as the subconscious mind or collective unconscious) where he met up with a number of perceived entities, one of whom was his old friend Dr. Timothy Leary:
“I was continually interrupted during my voyages by impressions of Leary doing similar experiments in his cell at Folsom. I also had visions of him flying over the walls of the prison.”
In Cosmic Trigger, RAW notes that in October 1973 he received permission to begin corresponding with Leary at Folsom Prison and “started out with a letter about the general philosophical implications of tuning the nervous system to higher fidelity of signal-reception and very carefully did not mention my July 23 experience with Sirius. (I was fairly sure that my July-August impressions that Timothy was doing telepathic experiments had been accurate, but I had no idea yet that he was attempting interstellar telepathy.) Tim’s answer was full of characteristic humor.”:
“The prison administration is perfect. They act as a Van Allen belt protecting my privacy, screening out distractions… The people they refuse visiting privileges are exactly those people who come to exploit me or whose love for me is flawed. My gratitude toward the prison warden must not be misunderstood. They are too possessive and jealous — terrible states to be in. Their love and dependence on me are too restricting. They are terrorized that I might leave them… in the lurch, so to say.” (pp. 102-103)
To the above letter, RAW wrote back, “but remained mum about Sirius. Instead, just for the hell of it, I used my official Discordian Society letterhead. The stationery bears the imprint of the Joshua Norton Cabal… Timothy, however, seems to have thought Joshua Norton Cabal was the name of a living person. Actually, Joshua Norton—or Norton I, as he preferred—was a San Franciscan of the last century who elected himself Emperor of the United States and Protector of Mexico. Bay Area historians still argue as to whether Norton was a psychotic or a clever con-man; in any event, he was ‘humored’ by the citizenry of the time and, in effect, lived like an Emperor. As Greg Hill, co-founder of Discordianism, has written, ‘Everybody understands Mickey Mouse. Few understand Herman Hesse. Hardly anybody understands Einstein. And nobody understands Emperor Norton.’ (The Discordian Society, we repeat again, is not a complicated joke disguised as a new religion but really a new religion disguised as a complicated joke.)” (p. 103)
To the above, RAW “wrote back discussing the odd links between Leary’s work and that of Crowley and Gurdjieff, and mentioning the evidence that the latter two were both taught certain advanced techniques of consciousness-expansion by the Sufi lodges of the Near East. [RAW] also mentioned that Rasputin might have had the same sort of Sufi training during his wanderings. Leary’s reply blew [his] mind…” (p. 104).
When RAW got in touch with Michael Horowitz, he heard, for the first time, about the “Starseed Transmissions” although it wasn’t until 1977 that RAW got the full lowdown from Lynn Wayne Benner, Leary’s closest friend in Folsom, who informed RAW that the Starseed Transmissions started (you guess it) in August of 1977 during the peak of the very same Dog Days that did a number on his head.During this same period (circa 1973-1974), Dr. John Lilly (whose “Beliefs Unlimited” tape RAW had used as part of his metaprogramming curriculum) was meanwhile going through his own series of interstellar communications with a network of alien entities known as ECCO, an acronym for “Earth Coincidence Control Office.” These communications were achieved through the use of the drug Ketamine.
Over the years, RAW stayed hep to the flying saucer trip by interacting with cutting edge Ufological thinkers such as the aforementioned Jacques Vallee, who became a heavy influence on RAW’s Ufological worldview:
“After October 1974 (due to a meeting with Dr. Jacques Vallee, an extraordinarily erudite astronomer, cyberneticist and UFOlogist), I began to develop new belief systems to explain my Sirius experience…
“Dr. Vallee has been concerned with UFOs since the early 1960s, when he was two of the beasties. Over the years Vallee has broadened his investigations to include ‘psychic’2 experiences that relate in one way or another to UFOs, such as my Sirius experiences. He believes that this whole area of other-worldly communications has been going on for centuries and will probably not turn out to be extraterrestrial. The extraterrestrial content of the experience these days, he says, is just an adaptation to 20th Century beliefs. The phenomenon took other and spookier forms, his data indicate, in other epochs.
“This made perfect sense to me, since I had originally gotten in touch with ‘the entity’ by means of Crowleyan occultism. The extraterrestrial explanation was not the real explanation, as I had thought; it was just the latest model for it in the Middle Ages, or dead relatives speaking through mediums had been a model in the 19th Century.
“Then, on Sunday, March 13, 1976, a dispatch from Reuters News Service appeared in newspapers around the world. I read it in the San Francisco Examiner-Chronicle and it was like opening a door in my own house and finding Ming the Merciless shooting it out with Flash Gordon.
“The dispatch concerned Robert K. Temple, a Fellow of the Royal Astronomical Society of England, a scientist of dignity and status, who was propounding a theory wild enough to come from the pages of von Daniken himself. Temple claimed that Earth had been visited by an advanced race from a planet in the system of the double star, Sirius, around 4500 B.C. Temple based this assertion on the fact that definite and specific knowledge of the Sirius can be found in the mythology of the Babylonians, the Egyptians, and some surviving African tribes—knowledge which modern astronomy has only rediscovered with the fantastically delicate instruments of the last two decades…”
John discovered this poster at an online archive for The Rag, an underground mag published in Austin, Texas during the early 1970s.
Among other things, John was wondering who designed the poster, and if the illustration of Emperor Norton was original to it.
I immediately recognized the poster as the work of none other than Discordian Malaclypse the Younger (aka Greg Hill) and, in fact, an original print of this same poster resides in The Discordian Archives, along with a couple other iterations.
While I couldn’t specifically pin down the date of the Norton poster, I would say sometime around 1970 is my best guess. Hill’s interest in Norton began around 1969 when he formed the Joshua Norton Cabal, and it appears Hill sent out this poster to a variety of underground newspapers, among them The Rag.
As to the artist of the image, it appears Hill lifted it from one of the San Francisco newspapers (the Chronicle or Examiner) as revealed in this newspaper clipping I came across which Greg Hill evidently used as clip art (old school style) for the poster.The clipping in question appears to have been some sort of ad or campaign dedicated to the good Emperor. In the Archives there is also a pin that says “Emperor Norton lives” which evidently was part of this same campaign. This leads me to believe that the phrase “Emperor Norton Lives” inspired Greg Hill’s “Live Like Norton” motto.
In the Norton files, I also noticed an Examiner newspaper article from October 13, 1982, which indicated at one time or another there was an annual Joshua Norton Awards that had been established by a group called the Friends of Emperor Norton.
I’m guessing this news article must have spurred renewed interest with Greg Hill, as that same year he concocted this new iteration of the Norton poster that incorporated an assortment of images taken from the pages of Principia Discordia.
…And now you know the rest of the story.