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Serious parody: Discordianism as liquid religion

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Abstract

Identified as the first ‘invented religion’ [Cusack, Carole M. 2010. Invented Religions: Imagination, Fiction and Faith. Farnham and Burlington, VT: Ashgate], Discordianism was founded in 1957 by college students Gregory Hill (1941–2000) and Kerry Wendell Thornley (1938–1998). According to the anarchic scripture Principia Discordia, Discordianism was the result of a revelation that Hill and Thornley had in an all-night bowling alley, in which the Greek goddess Eris spoke to them in the form of a chimpanzee. Over the decades, through a variety of media including underground publishing, science fiction fandom, role-playing game clubs and the Internet, Discordianism has evolved into a worldwide phenomenon. This paper argues that although Discordianism originated as an absurdist joke and is often dismissed as a ‘parody religion’, over time it has developed into a meaningful world-view for practitioners. To demonstrate this, there is an analysis of data obtained from interviews conducted with seven Finnish Discordians during the winter of 2010–2011. These findings are examined within Teemu Taira’s theoretical framework of ‘liquid religion’ (2006). It will be argued that Discordianism not only represents a highly eclectic and ‘liquid’ world-view in itself, but that it also intentionally ‘liquefies’ the boundaries between the sacred and profane.
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Serious Parody: Discordianism as Liquid Religion
Essi Mäkelä, Department of World Cultures, University of Helsinki, Helsinki, Finland
Johanna J. M. Petsche, Studies in Religion A20, University of Sydney NSW 2006,
AUSTRALIA
Abstract
Identified as the first ‘invented religion’ (Cusack 2010), Discordianism was founded in 1957
by college students Gregory Hill (1941-2000) and Kerry Wendell Thornley (1938-1998).
According to the anarchic scripture Principia Discordia, Discordianism was the result of a
revelation that Hill and Thornley had in an all-night bowling alley, in which the Greek
goddess Eris spoke to them in the form of a chimpanzee. Over the decades, through a variety
of media including underground publishing, science fiction fandom, role-playing game clubs,
and the Internet, Discordianism has evolved into a worldwide phenomenon. This paper argues
that although Discordianism originated as an absurdist joke and is often dismissed as a
‘parody religion’, over time it has developed into a meaningful world-view for practitioners.
To demonstrate this, there is an analysis of data obtained from interviews conducted with
seven Finnish Discordians during the winter of 2010-2011. These findings are examined
within Teemu Taira’s theoretical framework of ‘liquid religion’ (2006). It will be argued that
Discordianism not only represents a highly eclectic and ‘liquid’ world-view in itself, but that
it also intentionally ‘liquefies’ the boundaries between the sacred and profane.
Key Words
Discordianism, liquid religion, parody, new religions, ritual
Discordianism: History, Beliefs and the Question of ‘Religion’
Kerry Thornley and Greg Hill met as students at California High School in East Whittier in
1956. They spent nights in twenty-four hour bowling alleys, drinking beer, discussing
philosophy and reading poetry. On one night in 1957 they began debating an idea from a
poem by Thornley, of order emerging from chaos. Hill disagreed with Thornley, insisting that
order was a construction of the human mind, and only chaos is real (Gorightly 2003, 57-58).
This event was later mythologised in Principia Discordia, which stated that Discordianism
began with a revelation at an all-night bowling alley from the Greek goddess Eris in the form
of a chimpanzee. Eris revealed to Hill and Thornley the symbol of the Sacred Chao
(pronounced ‘cow’), which is similar to the Chinese yin-yang symbol but with an apple on
one side and a pentagon on the other (Malaclypse the Younger 1994, 1-4). Hill and Thornley
later ‘realised’ that the symbol of the Sacred Chao encapsulated opposing principles: the
Aneristic Principle (apparent order) and the Eristic Principle (apparent disorder). For
Discordians, neither order nor disorder really exists, but they are concepts that enable humans
to deal with reality, which is chaos (Cusack 2010, 30). Thornley and Hill developed
Discordian identities, with Thornley being known as Omar Khayyam Ravenhurst or Lord
Omar, and Hill as Malaclypse the Younger or Mal-2. Hill, with assistance from other early
Discordians, published the first edition of Principia Discordia (subtitled How I Found
Goddess and What I Did to Her When I Found Her) in 1965. Within Discordianism there are
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two ‘sects’: the Parantheo-Anametamystikhood of Eris Esoteric (POEE), founded by Hill, and
the Erisian Liberation Front (ELF), founded by Thornley (Cusack 2010, 31).
The mythical history of Discordianism begins with the ‘Original Snub’, which explains the
importance of Eris’ golden apple of discord. This is derived from Greek mythology, in which
Eris arrives at the wedding party of Thetis and Peleus to protest against their failure to invite
her. She fashioned an apple of pure gold, inscribed kallisti (‘to the prettiest’), and tossed it
amidst the guests, at which point Artemis, Hera and Aphrodite began fighting over the apple.
The Trojan Prince Paris decided who was the most beautiful of the three goddesses, and
Aphrodite won, having bribed the Prince earlier, promising him the most beautiful woman in
the world, Helen of Sparta. This incident resulted in the Trojan War, as Helen’s husband
Menelaus and his brother Agamemnon then invaded Troy to reclaim her. However, the story
in Principia Discordia differs from that of the Iliad in that Eris retreats to eat a hot dog after
she leaves the wedding (Malaclypse the Younger 1994, 17-18). This is given as the reason that
Discordians are to enjoy a hot dog with no hot dog bun on every Friday (Malaclypse the
Younger 1994, 4).
Principia Discordia sets out the five commandments of Discordianism (the Pentabarf), which
satirise well-known principles of the world’s major religions. The first principle evokes the
Islamic shahada, while the third principle mocks religious dietary requirements:
I. There is no Goddess but Goddess and She is Your Goddess. There is no Erisian
Movement but The Erisian Movement and it is The Erisian Movements [sic]. And
every Golden Apple Corps is the beloved home of a Golden Worm …
III. A Discordian is required to, the first Friday after his illumination, Go Off
Alone & Partake Joyously of a Hot Dog; this Devotive Ceremony to Remonstrate
against the popular Paganisms of the Day: of Roman Catholic Christendom (no
meat on Friday), of Judaism (no meat of Pork), of Hindic Peoples (no meat of
Beef), of Buddhists (no meat of animal), and of Discordians (no Hot Dog Buns)
(Malaclypse the Younger 1994, 4).
There is no doubt that Discordianism was originally deliberately devised as a fiction, though it
is intriguing that Hill and Thornley gradually came to believe in Eris, as Margot Adler’s
ethnographic research among American Pagans in the 1970s revealed. Hill told Adler, “if you
do this type of thing well enough, it starts to work. If you take a goddess of confusion
seriously, it will send you through as profound and valid a metaphysical trip as taking a god
like Yahweh seriously” (Adler 1986, 335). Further, Hill told Adler that he had recently said,
‘You know, if I had realized that all of this was going to come true, I would have chosen
Venus’ (Adler 1986, 336). Rank and file Discordians also gradually came to take the
Discordian worldview seriously, viewing Discordianism as a religion masquerading as a joke,
rather than a joke masquerading as a religion (Gorightly 2003, 60). During the late 1960s and
the 1970s, Discordianism became accepted as a form of modern Paganism, due to its focus
upon the Goddess of Discord, Eris. In 2001, after the religion had successfully transitioned the
Internet, a group of Discordians campaigned online to have Discordianism reclassified by the
Yahoo! search engine from ‘Parody Religions’ to ‘Religions and Faiths’. They also suggested
an alternative solution to their dilemma: that all religions be listed under the category ‘Parody
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Religion’ on the grounds that there is no set definition of what constitutes ‘religion’
(Robertson 2012, 427).
As Carole M. Cusack notes in Invented Religions (2010, 1) ‘religion’ is traditionally
understood as a phenomenon originating in divine revelation, or with origins in the distant
past that obscure the initial revelation and original founder. The academic study of religion
continues to struggle to devise a definition of ‘religion’ that is generally accepted as
appropriate to those institutions traditionally understood as such, whilst being broadly
applicable to the plethora of new religions that have emerged the world over since the
beginning of the nineteenth century. These ‘new religions’ often defy conventions associated
with traditional religions, particularly in relation to issues of origins and legitimation (Cusack
2010, 1-2). Discordianism not only defies traditional conventions of legitimation such as
prophecy, channelling or a connection to pre-existing traditions (Cusack 2010, 1), but was
also deliberately intended to be fictional by its founders. Its satirical humour and frequent
mockery of religion further distances it from conventional notions of religion, and suggests it
might be classed as a ‘parody religion’ (Chidester 2005). However, despite all this, some
scholars have argued that Discordianism might be understood as a ‘valid’ religion (Cusack
2010; 46-51; Adler 1986, 328-337). For example, Cusack assesses the extent to which
Discordianism might be considered a ‘real’ religion by relating the Discordian narrative to
established religious narratives, including those of Paganism and Buddhism. Indeed
Discordianism’s co-creator Kerry Thornley has stated that Discordianism was ‘an American
form of Zen Buddhism’ (Gorightly 2003, 11), and Cusack convincingly argues that
understandings of Zen enlightenment or satori, and Zen’s preference for non-symbolic actions
and words over intellect, are crucial to understanding Discordianism within a religious context
(Cusack 2010, 27).
Secularization, New Forms of Religion and ‘Liquid Religion’
Social theorists of the nineteenth and early twentieth centuries, such as Auguste Comte, Karl
Marx, Emile Durkheim, and Max Weber, held the view that modernization is inevitably
accompanied by a decline in the social significance of religion. This ‘secularization thesis’
was based on the idea that modernization involves significant societal transformations that
marginalize religion, extricating it from its social and political functions and pushing it further
into the private sphere (Halikiopoulou 2011, 26). However, from the 1960s this accepted view
that religion would inevitably decline in modernity began to be questioned and contested, as
new understandings of the modern spiritual landscape surfaced. Christopher Partridge argues
that, while mainstream religion may have lost its authority in contemporary western societies,
new forms of ‘religion’ are evolving to compensate for this retreat, including a form of
magical culture which Partridge terms ‘occulture’. To demonstrate this he points to the
popularity of New Age, Wicca, Paganism, and practices such as meditation, yoga, and reiki
(Partridge 2004, 39-40, 47). The idea is that, although contemporary Westerners are less
inclined to attend church or call themselves ‘religious’, they are, instead, showing clear signs
of being interested in mysticism, occultism, and alternative forms of spirituality. Far from
Max Weber’s dismal view of the ‘disenchantment’ of society (Weber 1958, 155), Partridge
argues that the Western world is becoming ‘re-enchanted’ by new hybrid forms of religion and
alternative, adaptable spiritualities. This does not signal a return to previous modes of
religiosity, but rather highlights the emergence of new, more individualistic modes, which
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better meet the demands of some contemporary Westerners (Partridge 2004, 44). It is
interesting to consider the shapes that these new forms of religion might take.
In his monograph Notkea Uskonto (Liquid Religion), Finnish scholar Teemu Taira examines
the role of religion in the postmodern West, arguing that, rather than simply disappearing, the
solid borders of institutional religion have broken down or ‘liquified’ as it slips into the nooks
and crannies of society, in the process becoming almost unrecognizable as ‘religion’
according to the traditional model (Taira 2006, 7–35). Taira bases his theoretical framework
on Zygmunt Bauman’s concept of ‘liquid modernity’, where the melting of the ‘solid
particles’ of modernity work to bond individual choices into collective projects and agents
(Bauman 2000, 13). In other words, Bauman’s ‘liquid modernity’ melts the boundaries of
‘solid modernity’ so that, rather than creating new boundaries, it results in a melting pot of
ideas, from which individuals freely build their own meaning systems. For Taira, ‘solid
religion’ in ‘solid modernity’ refers to the public sphere of society and formal religious
institutions. However, for many contemporary individuals ‘liquid’ religion is a part of the
private sphere, which is also understood as ‘liquid’. The privatization of solid modernity is
never complete, but the privatisation of liquid modernity goes much further, and represents
individualistic meaning systems, which are located across both the public and the private
spheres (Taira 2006, 20–22). In a pluralistic society the status of meaning systems cannot be
taken for granted; individuals and subcultures must justify and legitimate their meaning
systems so that they do not lose credibility in the eyes of other individuals (McGuire 2002,
37–39). This model assists to illuminate the debate on whether a religion is regarded as ‘real’
or ‘parodic’.
Taira posits that there are five ways in which liquid religiosity differs from solid religiosity.
From the ‘solid religion’ point of view, religion will disappear in the face of secularisation.
The ‘liquid’ interpretation of religion argues instead that there is a change in the types of
religiosity rather than its disappearance. The core of solid religion is principally belief in a
type of (Christocentric) religion; whereas in liquid religion the interest in and use of certain
ideas, the experience of belonging without believing, and other affective aspects of religious
practice are more prominent. Religious authority has shifted from institutions and religious
leaders to personal experience. In solid modernity the ideal is centred on belonging to an
institution. This solid notion has been transformed in liquid religion, where consumption
behaviours (or believing without belonging), are central. Taira refers to a ‘coat rack’ society,
where individuals come and go as they please; and the ‘advertising billboards’ of religions are
a place to connect to the wider, more liquid behaviours of practitioners. The goals of solid
religiosity have often been transformational and focused on a postponed goal (for example,
life after death), but in liquid religion the orientation is to the ‘here and now’, and the desire to
achieve immediate goals, or to concentrate on the means while ignoring goals entirely, is
prominent (Taira, 2006: 53-59) These aspects of liquid religion are summarized in Table 1.
The following section explores the ways in which Discordianism can be seen as an example
of blurring or ‘liquefying’ the boundaries of religion. Solid modernity transformed pre-
modern notions from traditional religion into new ‘solid’ ideas that were intended to be
permanent. Liquid modernity melted this solid inheritance, so that what was left was a
plethora of fragments rather than one predetermined and perfect ideal. Religions, like other
traditions, have had to compete discursively in modernity, which makes identifying people
with particular religions more difficult than before (Taira 2006, 37). This is especially the case
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as individuals in western societies become aware of the variety of religio-spiritual options,
and thus are liberated from earlier, normative notions of ‘solid’ religion. Charles Taylor argues
that one way of viewing secularization is as a transition from religiosity as a norm to
religiosity as an option (Taylor 2007, 1–4). People are now aware of a range of religious
options, and thus abandon certain options knowingly. This results in eclecticism, here
understood as reluctance to commit oneself to a specific tradition. Taira argues that the
choices an individual makes within liquid religion are based on affectivity: if something gives
a person good ‘vibes’, it is accepted as a part of their identity. Taira argues that affective
relations are at the core of liquid religiosity (Taira 2006, 45–47). Authority has been
transferred from religious leaders and institutions to the individual, where one’s own
experiences and needs shape one’s religious life and beliefs. As religions transform into
cultural resources, they no longer demand belief or belonging in the way that traditional
religious institutions do (Taira 2006, 38, 53–59).
Table 1 (Taira, 2006: 54, translated by Mäkelä)
Religiosity in solid
modernity
Religiosity in liquid
modernity
Perspective Secularization Liquefaction of religion
The Core of Religion Belief
Message
Usage, Interest or
Belonging Without
Believing
Affectivity
Authority Religious Leaders Multiple Instructors and
Personal Experience(s)
Religious Sphere of Activity
Belonging
Individual within a Society
Institution
Consumption and/or
Believing Without
Belonging
Individual within a ‘Coat
Rack’ Social Context,
Networks and Marketing
Stands
Goal of Orientation
Transformation (salvation)
Fixing Means to the Goal
Postponed Goals
Thaumaturgy (wonders,
miracles)
Means without Goals
Immediate Goals
Fieldwork Among Finnish Discordians
Teemu Taira’s theoretical framework of ‘liquid’ religion will now be applied to data obtained
from interviews conducted with seven self-identified Finnish Discordians during the winter of
2010-2011. These interviews were carried out by Essi Mäkelä in collaboration with Hanna
Lehtinen. These seven Discordians answered an e-mail questionnaire, and later five of them
participated in a group interview. Six out of the seven informants were members of
Pakanaverkko ry (Finnish Pagan Network Organization), and one was contacted through a
mutual acquaintance. Interviews highlighted ways in which these individuals related to
Discordianism, and provided insights into how Discordianism might correspond with the
concept of ‘liquid’ religion. These interviews also confirmed that Discordianism not only
represents a highly eclectic and very liquid world-view, but also intentionally ‘liquefies’ the
boundaries between the sacred and profane. The following analysis is framed within Taira’s
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five aspects of liquid religion. These aspects are: perspective, the core of religion, authority,
religious sphere of activity, and goal of orientation (Taira, 2006: 54). These were depicted in
the contexts of both solid and liquid modernity in Table 1, above. Table 2, below, then
compiles findings from these interviews, illustrating relations between solid and liquid
religiosity, and how Discordian religiosity is situated within this relationship. Overall this
analysis will demonstrate that religiosity can now be fashioned from a variety of religious and
secular materials, including the media, politics, and popular culture, where particular symbols
and practices are transformed into a religious language.
Methodological Considerations
As noted previously, from the point of view of ‘solid’ religion, secularisation is real and
religion will disappear from the world. Yet the notion of liquid religion posits that there is a
liquefaction of the boundaries surrounding religion, enabling it to survive the process of
secularisation. In this sense, solid modernity equates to secularisation and liquid modernity to
re-enchantment. The Finnish Discordian interviewees gave ambiguous answers on this point;
some defined Discordianism as religion, while others did not. Those who wanted to define
Discordianism as religion were quite aware of the political connotations of such a discursive
formulation; they wished to bring forth the rights of alternative religions and minority
religiosity in the face of the religious majority. Responses on this topic by two respondents
follow.
I would argue Discordianism can be all of these [a religion, view of life and
philosophy]. Foremost I would use the most precise word ‘religion’, because
‘view of life’ makes me think of social world-views, and on the other hand if we
discuss the etymology of concepts, Discordianism doesn't actually ‘love
wisdom’.1 Sometimes I have playfully used the word ‘misosofy’ to describe what I
do (Respondent N, e-mail interview).
I should be more familiar with the theological definitions, but if I follow my own
presuppositions, I would say I'm not religious. Someone else certainly would
think I am, because there are things in my view of life that demand belief when it
is impossible to know, but for me this is more about getting to know things I don't
know yet (Respondent I, e-mail interview).
For the interviewees, ‘religion’ was either a term others might use to define what they did, and
thus respondents did not want to force Discordianism into someone else’s definition; or
‘religion’ had a theoretical definition that no longer worked in practice and required a
reconsideration of its meaning. External frameworks were seen as restrictive because they did
not fit with respondents’ experiences of Discordianism. Without personal experience, dogma,
for them, was dead, and fixed definitions could not be applied within the Discordian tradition.
Informants wanted to define ‘religion’ in new ways, so that it could better fit their own
experiences with Discordianism. It was interesting that, when asked about their religious
orientation, only one Discordian defined himself as exclusively Discordian. While identifying
with Discordianism, the other six interviewees mentioned other traditions that they engaged
with, such as Witchcraft, Finnish Paganism, or Tibetan Buddhism. What was clear was that all
informants found Discordianism, as well as these other traditions, meaningful to their lives.
While the interviewees used various sources for their identity formation, Discordianism
1 This interviewee is signaling that Discordianism is not a ‘philosophy’ as traditionally understood.
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featured as a significant site of identity and community, and can be understood, then, as more
than simply a ‘parody religion’.
Discordian Practices and Identity Formation
We have also, with this group, worshipped a cabbage in central Helsinki and at the
home of one of us (thus making a new Discordianistic ritual...) (Respondent A, e-mail
interview, authors’ emphasis)
When there is such a group as a procession you get more religious vibes into it.
(Respondent A: recorded group interview, authors’ emphasis)
When the religious aspects of Discordian identification in contemporary Finland were
investigated, some interviewees revealed that they had intentionally made a pilgrimage to a
statue of a rubber gorilla in Helsinki. They had also meditated in a circle around a gold-
coloured plastic apple to identify ‘Discordian power animals’, in a ritual practice similar to
the shamanistic search for power animals in certain indigenous traditions. The Discordian
power ‘creatures’ were, for example, a garden gnome, a pink elephant, and a play-dough
pyramid, in contradistinction to traditional shamanistic power animals, which are generally
real-world animals (Blacker 1999[1975], 32-48). This use of popular cultural figures and
domestic symbols such as garden gnomes as ‘power animals’ or the activity of sanctifying a
rubber gorilla seem to indicate a tendency to liquify the categories of sacred and profane by
questioning traditional perspectives and boundaries. This might seem to be a parody of
‘authentic’ religion or a sign of the retreat of religiosity when viewed from the perspective of
solid religion, but from the perspective of ‘liquid religion’, it is the selection of what is
perceived as affective and useful from traditional beliefs and practices, which is then re-
formulated for eclectic consumption.
The idea is not to actually believe in anything but to test some methods and see
what kinds of experiences you get from them and move from there on … what kind of
feels like religion at that point is maybe some sort of … inherited tradition, tradition of
different practices and such and certain symbols but you don't have to believe in them
as such just that you are inspired by them. (Respondent M: Recorded group
interview)
The Core of Discordian ‘Religion’
For the majority of interviewees, Discordianism represented freedom; they saw themselves as
being freed both from religious dogma, and through humour, freed from the dullness of
everyday life. Other qualities that were core to Discordianism including a questioning attitude
and the rejection of traditional religious authorities. Informants selected three aspects of
Discordianism, freedom, humour and chaos, as being of paramount importance. For Finnish
Discordians, personal spiritual enhancement and betterment in everyday life was achieved
through a rejection of discipline, rather than the strict discipline usually associated with
traditional religious traditions.
Life is like a bad parody of which you can complain through the whole show or
just relax, laugh at it and enjoy. Rarely, if ever, has anyone who has taken
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themselves, or what they do, seriously, got anything meaningful done (Respondent
N: e-mail interview).
[O]ften I try to look at things from different perspectives than what at first seems
tempting. For example, cursing at other people at the grocery, I may start thinking
how I'm just like them and I imagine us all in the grocery store as ants who work
based on their instincts, and are looking for food. It is surprising how the mind
can be calmed like this. Is this Discordianism? I think it is the most important part
of Discordianism: change your way of thinking (and your actions). This of course
is as boring an example as one gets, but Discordianism doesn't always have to be
exciting or hyper (Respondent T: e-mail interview).
Beliefs and attitudes shared by the informants closely corresponded to the idea of ‘liquid’
religiosity. When mundane life proved stressful, the informants rejected the notion of a better
life after death; rather, they wished for improvements in the here and now. Openness to new
ideas is also central to the construction of a Discordian worldview. As a result, whatever ideas
seemed to work on a practical level were accepted into the eclectic cavalcade of ideas that
formed the identities of the Discordians.
Discordian Authority
One of the most prominent features of Discordianism is its emphasis on freedom of thought,
as it encourages practitioners to question everything. Discordianism gave practitioners the
freedom to behave and think as they saw fit. This was particularly important to informants.
In all instances, Discordianism says that we are free to live our lives as we wish,
and to interpret Discordianism as we wish. I take this to mean that we are free to
forget about Discordianism too if we so wish, just as long as we are aware that we
are free to do so. (Respondent J: e-mail interview)
Spiritual seeking (and finding), self-programming, and fulfilling personal spiritual needs were
all concepts that interviewees attached to Discordianism in general and their personal
religiosity specifically. All these phenomena reflect the ‘liquid’ religion of postmodernity, and
are a uncomfortable fit with the ‘solid’ religion of old-fashioned formal religious institutions.
With regard to people who were perceived as following a religious authority external to
themselves, the Discordian subjects often referred to them as ‘brainwashed’ or
‘fundamentalist’. Informants stressed how beneficial it was to know and to accept that all
religious traditions: contain contradictions; that it is impossible to possess a complete
understanding of a tradition; and so it is dangerous to cling to a single authoritative
interpretation.
The Religious Sphere of Activity
Some of the interviewees described the specific benefits associated with their contact with
other Discordians, interacting as a community. Friendship was their main connection to each
other, and the exchange of Discordian ideas was a welcome (and commonplace) practice. It
was frequently stated that Discordian rituals like the spontaneous worship of a cabbage or
ritually seeking a Discordian spirit animal – worked better in a group because there was more
‘religious feeling’ in collective contexts.
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Q: What, to you, are the five most important elements in Discordianism?
A: Chaos. The Universe is in constant change. It is not harmony and order.
Humour. There should be merriment in life.
5. 23 = 2+3 = 5.
The Bavarian Illuminati. Try to explain that, then.
Discordian society. People, oh, the people (Respondent M: E-mail interview)
I don't have Discordian contacts that would be my contacts because they are
Discordian: some people happen to be, some not (Respondent J: Group interview)
In the Principia Discordia it is stated that there is an institutional order in Discordianism,
albeit an order that is satirical and jovial. The distribution of printed cards is a regular
practice; these cards include the ‘There is no friend anywhere’ and ‘There is no enemy
anywhere’ cards that engage people in Operation Mindfuck, a Discordian attack on the
perceived nature of ‘reality’ (Cusack 2010, 40), and the cards issued by the House of the
Apostles of Eris that state ‘The Bearer of this Card is a Genuine and Authorized Pope’. This
approach is best described as one of anarchism or ‘direct democracy’ in the religion.
Goal of Orientation
The goals of Discordianism are strongly connected to the release of anxieties caused by an
excess of order (the Aneristic Principle) or an excess of chaos (the Eristic Principle) (Cusack
2010, 29). This balancing of chaos and order is best perceived as an ongoing this-worldly
process in which a person learns to let go of previous worldviews without going insane, and
how to avoid becoming entrenched in certain thoughts. The following responses explain the
perceived importance of re-evaluating one’s perspectives on life and attempting to question
normative social assumptions via unusual and illogical patterns of behaviour which emphasise
the importance of introducing challenge and surprise into ordinary life activities:
different (dis)orders are only momentary windows into chaos. Even if you like
some frames better than the others, it is important to be aware of the frames and
sometimes even look at the window on the opposite side of the house. On the
other hand I don't think a human mind could comprehend bare reality, but it would
probably go mad facing it (Respondent N: e-mail interview)
For me, Discordianism in practice is Operation Mindfuck. The meaning of it is to
break down the predominant ideas of order (in my own and other people's heads)
by making them seem ridiculous; the means of this are various. When directed to
others it is supposed to shock them momentarily out of their robot-mode. When
directed to oneself it’s more a question of self-programming and questioning of
who I am.
The interviewee lists various practical examples of how to ‘mindfuck’ in everyday life,
liquefying the boundary between sacred and profane:
For example I have distributed stickers with pictures of young Paavo Väyrynen [a
Finnish right-wing politician]; I’ve dressed up funnily for no apparent reason;
subscribed my friend to the paper of the political party they hate; bent words
‘wrongly’ on purpose and written a column to a newspaper about why we should
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promote climate change. I might also use an alternative calendar unit, learn to
listen to a strange music style, start writing a specific alphabet in a different way
than before or travel alone to a strange place with no plan of what to do there.
Quite often many practical jokes, parody religions, piratism, anti-advertisments
and street performances are good examples of mindfucking (Respondent N: e-
mail interview)
Discordianism in the Theoretical Framework of Liquid Religion
Table 2 below presents Discordianism as it compares to both ‘liquid’ and ‘solid’ religiosity.
Discordianism is focused on liquefying components of an individual’s identity and conceptual
worldview. Whilst the concept of liquid religiosity implies that religion is changing or
eroding, the category of religion itself as a separate sphere or domain of action is challenged
by Discordianism. Taira stresses ‘affectivity’ above ‘message’ in liquid religion (Taira 2006),
as seen in interviewees’ emphasis on personal experience and ‘good vibes’. However, within
Discordianism, the ‘message’ that one should question concepts and worldviews was also a
strong influence in the discussions of informants. In other words, although choices were based
on affectivity and aimed towards what felt good to the informant, a doctrine-like attitude
towards chaos seemed to take over all aspects of their identity. The seven interviewees
accepted and reflected on the (broadly agreed) central principles of Discordianism, which
were received with a certain amount of seriousness, but balanced with the levity expected of
an ‘invented religion’ (Cusack 2010, 141-149).
Table 2
Religiosity in solid
modernity
Religiosity in
liquid modernity
Religiosity in
Discordianism
Perspective Secularization Liquefaction of
religion
Liquefying of
Religion
conscious
questioning of the
conceptual borders
The Core of Religion
Belief
Message
Usage, Interest or
Belonging Without
Believing
Affectivity
Usage or Interest
Affectivity
Message
Authority Religious Leaders Instructors and
Own Experience
Own Experience
and Like-minded
Thinkers
Religious Sphere of
Activity
Belonging
Individual within a
Society
Institution
Consumption
and/or Believing
Without Belonging
Individual within a
‘Coat-rack’ Society
Networks and
Marketing Stands
Consumption and/or
Believing Without
Belonging
Individual within a
Coat-rack Society
Networks and the
Deliberate
Confusion of
10
11
Counternetworks
Goal of Orientation
Transformativity
Fixing Means to the
Goal
Postponed Goals
Thaumaturgy
Means without
Goals
Immediate Goals
Thaumaturgy
Means without
Goals (Optional)
Immediate Goals
Conclusion: ‘Serious Parody’
Although Discordianism began as an absurdist joke and is often considered to be a ‘parody
religion’, over time it became accepted as a meaningful world-view for practitioners. As one
interview subject neatly expressed:
It is a walking paradox. You cannot tell whether it is a religion or if it's a joke. It
really manages to be both (Respondent M: E-mail interview)
This has been demonstrated by the data collected from interviews with seven Finnish
Discordians which was situated and examined within the theoretical framework of ‘liquid
religion’ (Taira 2006). Discordianism exemplifies Taira’s concept of liquid religiosity, in that
it represents an eclectic and ‘liquid’ world-view which can be seen intentionally to ‘liquefy’
the boundaries between the sacred and profane. It was also shown that Discordianism
provided meaning for informants, who had clearly reflected on and engaged with practices,
including the worship of rubber gorillas and the seeking of ‘power animals’. Discordianism
aided some of the informants by, for example, helping them to use humour and chaos as a
means of dealing with problems of daily life. Discordianism worked as a symbolic system and
as a common language for informants, even though most of the informants did not consider
themselves ‘religious’ in the traditional sense. While some informants practiced Discordian
rituals with other practitioners, and others employed Discordian ideas more privately, all
informants expressed the view that Discordianism played a significant role in their lives and
helped to shape their identities. In terms of further research, it would be interesting to
compare the findings from these interviews with empirical data from other countries such as
America. The Internet may spread the message of Discordianism far and wide, but
interpretations and understandings of Discordianism may well differ substantially between
different geographical regions. It would also be valuable to build on this study by conducting
qualitative interviews with Discordians on a much larger scale, in order to expand the data
base for scholarly analysis of ‘parody religions’ (Chidester 2005) and their relationship with
traditional religions.
12
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… Scientific work is chained to the course of progress; whereas in the realm of art there is no progress in the same sense. It is not true that the work of art of a period that has worked out new technical means, or, for instance, the laws of perspective, stands therefore artistically higher than a work of art devoid of all knowledge of those means and laws — if its form does justice to the material, that is, if its object has been chosen and formed so that it could be artistically mastered without applying those conditions and means. A work of art which is genuine “fulfilment” is never surpassed; it will never be antiquated. Individuals may differ in appreciating the personal significance of works of art, but no one will ever be able to say of such a work that it is ‘outstripped’ by another work which is also “fulfilment.”