Greed, Chico:71, 6006 YD
Are Discordianism and Thelema representative of emerging consensus belief in the 21st Century?
by: Tristram Burden
The following is an analysis of two new religious movements that emerged in the 20th Century, Discordianism and Thelema. It is the authors intention to assess the cultural functions of these movements, and also to demonstrate that in the modern age of secularisation and the breaking apart of old social infrastructures (for example the family and the church), the structure, practices and particularly the philosophies of these two movements are representative of the possible future of religion and also the possible future of consensus belief, or non-belief, of western society. No attempt is made at forecasting when this change in human belief systems will occur, but certain trends will be analysed in conjunction with the tenets of Discordianism and Thelema, to demonstrate the emergence of these philosophies as an emerging standard of faith, or non-faith. A profile of each religion will be given, detailing its main tenets, how it was founded, and the practices that accompany them. The practices involved in both religions will be treated under one heading, as this involves a discussion of the current trends in Ritual Magick and Mysticism, and ties in strongly with the actual purpose of both religions.
What is Discordianism?
“If Religion is the opium of the masses, Discordianism is the marijuana of the lunatic fringe.”
In 1958, Kerry Thornley and Gregory Hill (known within the Discordian movement as, respectively, Omar Khayyam Ravenhurst and Malaclypse the Younger) were sitting drinking coffee in an all-night bowling alley, discussing the amount of confusion in their lives, when time appeared to freeze, and they perceived themselves as the only two people moving. After a sudden flash of light, and an ensuing sensation of peace and stillness, a chimpanzee holding a scroll walked into the bowling alley, and proclaimed to them the following:
“Gentlemen, why does Pickering’s moon go about in reverse orbit? Gentlemen, there are nipples on your chest; do you give milk? And what, pray tell, gentlemen, is to be done about Heisenberg’s Law? SOMEBODY HAD TO PUT ALL THIS CONFUSION HERE!”
Proceeding this outburst, the chimpanzee unrolled the scroll he held, on which was transcribed The Sacred Chao. The two then watched the chimpanzee explode, and they lost consciousness.
After conducting extensive research about the symbol, discovering only its relationship with the Taoist Yin-Yang, and the symbolism of the Pentagon and the golden apple inscribed with the Greek word Kalisti (To The Prettiest One), they were visited by the Goddess Eris Discordia, who told them, among other things: “Tell constricted mankind that there are no rules, unless they choose to invent rules.”
The two men then ordained each other High Priests of their own madness, and the Discordian society was created.
Discordianism has been described as either a joke disguised as a religion or a religion disguised as a joke. Such ambiguity is found throughout Discordian literature. It presents itself as a semantic meta-puzzle which all enquirers are encouraged to sift through and solve.
“The Discordian take on reality is that there is no reality as most people understand it. ‘Reality implies some kind of structure, some sort of guideposts. There is no structure. No bird, no song and no cage. And there is no goddess, so I guess this is all a waste of time. You might as well go home now.” Mao Kung Pao
The religion of Discordianism is centred upon the Greek goddess Eris, recognised by the Romans as Discordia, who acts through mediums of chaos, confusion and mayhem. This is partly a semantic attack on the idea of a male god, Yahweh or Allah, obsessed with order. The primary discourse evinced in Discordianism is that everything follows a pattern of total disorder, and that reality is entirely up to the perceiver. It is the Discordian view that the main religions in the west have been dominated by ideas of order and patriarchy, and that ideas of matriarchy and chaos deserve a chance. These are Discordian catmas, as opposed to dogmas.
“Is Eris true?”
“Everything is true.”
“Even false things?”
“Even false things are true.”
“How can that be?”
“I don’t know man, I didn’t do it.”
– Malaclypse the Younger (Gregory Hill) in conversation with Greater Poop.
The bible of the discordian movement is the “Principia Discordia, or How I found the Goddess and what I did to Her once I found Her.” Gregory Hill printed the first copies of the Principia Discordia on Dallas District Attorney Jim Garrison’s Xerox machine in 1963. It immediately achieved a wide notoriety in the subculture of the 1960’s, and became something of a cult classic. Between 1963 and the printing of the fourth edition in 1969, only 3,125 copies were sold. It has since been reprinted five times, internationally, and this serves as a possible indication of the Discordian movements membership, though this may reveal more about its popularity than actual membership. Discordianism has become particularly popular among the modern community of Chaos Magicians, to be discussed in further in part 2 of this article. Since there are no organised bodies in Discordianism, and considering that anybody can proclaim themselves or anybody else a High Priest or a saint (but not a prophet – there is a no-profit rule running through Discordianism), verifying the exact membership is close to impossible. Many, many people, it is theorized, are probably Discordian without knowing it, being proclaimed so by other Discordians – which abides entirely by the Discordian rule of no rules.
The goal of Discordianism is to confuse the time-bending semantic circuit (using Timothy Leary’s 8-cicuit model of consciousness) until a state of tabula rasa, or heightened input sensitivity, is reached, whereby the Discordian recognises that whatever one believes, one projects into the world faultlessly. Accordingly, belief is everything, and surrendering belief produces a brain state whereby everything the experiencer experiences is reinterpreted in the light of chaos.
“The Real Reality is there, but everything you know about “it” is completely in your mind and yours to do with as you like.
Conceptualisation is art, and YOU ARE THE ARTIST.
Conviction causes convicts.”
– Principia Discordia
What is Thelema?
The reader is referred to Liber Oz for a comprehensive summary of the main tenets of Thelema. The two phrases that bind these principles are “Do what thou wilt shall be the whole of the Law”, and “Love is the Law, love under will,” both of which are quotes from the Thelemic bible, The Book of the Law, referred to here as Liber Al.
Thelema is not entirely recognised as a religion (and is only refered to as such here on account of its mythic language and focus upon spiritual practice) due to the minority that espouse its doctrine. But, as will be shown below, its popularity may well be rising steadily. The religion contains echoes of Gnosticism and Hermeticism, particularly overt in its rites. To do one’s True Will, the major focus of the religion, is analogous to acquiring a daemon, in the Hermetic sense, or contact with the Higher Self in general Mystical terminology. It holds that we behave like stars (“Every man and every woman is a star.” This is very similar to Manichean tradition.), in that each individual has their own particular orbit, or path to follow, during their existence – the primary focus of existence for a Thelemite is to discover this orbit and to act entirely within this orbit. The causes of suffering in the world are a consequence of the majority of mankind existing unawares of their true orbit, and thus causing friction by interfering with other peoples orbits. To discover your True Will is identical to enlightenment in the Buddhist tradition, or attaining the Knowledge and Conversation of the Holy Guardian Angel in the modern Western Magickal Tradition. In Thelemic terms, then, to “do thy will”, is to attain a level of mystical illumination whereby the Thelemite is in unobstructed contact with his/her supra-mundane self.
The origins of the religion are tied into the work of Aleister Crowley, a man still regarded with suspicion (usually very hostile) in modern day society, but who can be regarded as simply a modern mystic in the tradition of Madame Blavatsky, G.I. Gurdjieff and Krishnamurti, even though these three, especially the latter, are regarded with less cynicism. There is no overriding reason to regard Crowley with either more or less suspicion than these mystics.
In 1903, while in Cairo with his pregnant wife, Rose, Crowley performed a magical operation designed to bring to visible appearance certain entities for Rose, who had no experience of such phenomena. The operation failed, and instead Rose fell into a trance-state. Crowley questioned her intimately, while in this trance, about the details of the Egyptian Mythos, which Rose had begun to show signs of knowing, even though she had, according to Crowley, no previous knowledge of it. The next day, while Rose still exhibited signs of being in trance, Crowley decided they both should visit Cairo’s Boulak museum, in order to further test her new-found extensive knowledge of Egyptian mythology. The god Horus was referred to in particular by Rose as requesting Crowley to perform a ritual designed to evoke him, which Crowley met with his characteristic scepticism. The exhibit number she pointed out was numbered 666 – this number had special connotations to Crowley, who had been styling himself the Beast 666 for a number of years. This and various other occurrences encouraged Crowley to take notice of what Rose was espousing. The incident culminated in 1904 when Crowley performed the invocation requested to him. The result of this was the dictation of the Book of the Law, Liber Al, by an entity known as Aiwass, and is the central text of the religion of Thelema.
The mythology used in Thelema is borrowed from Egyptian mythology, “for literary convenience” and the Revelation of St John the Divine from the Bible. The sky goddess Nuit; Hadit, a winged globe at the heart of Nuit, and Horus, the crowned and conquering child; Mega Therion, The Great Beast 666, and the Scarlet Women, Babalon, The Whore Archetype. Detailed analysis of these concepts is beyond this treatise, but the reader is discouraged from attributing classic definitions of Satanism to such concepts as The Beast 666.
The practice of Thelema is largely the domain of people who work within the Western Magical Tradition. Two particular ‘official’ bodies are, though, existent, whose self-proclaimed mission, among other goals, is to spread The Law of Thelema. These bodies are the Ordo Templi Orientis and the Argenteum Astrum. The latter was formed from the ashes of the Hermetic Order of the Golden Dawn, a quasi-Masonic society that taught Ceremonial Magick. The O.T.O. is also a Masonic society, though many different orders exist, one of which, the Typhonian O.T.O., has discarded the Masonic structure all together. In the United States, the Caliphate O.T.O. has now a tax-exempt status, making it, in US constitutions, a recognised religious organisation. There is always a steady increase in membership and the establishment of lodges. It should be bore in mind that this is a representation of only one OTO, and that other bodies do exist, on an international scale.
To be a Thelemite does not require membership of either of these orders. As the key Law to Thelema propounds, it is entirely up to the individual whether or not he or she wishes to be formally initiated into the Western Magickal Tradition. Thelemic authors like Maggie Ingalls and Kenneth Grant encourage a self-initiatory journey. There is no authority in Thelema, though some bodies of the O.T.O. are prone to elevating Crowley to the status of a god, and propounding the dogma that Crowley himself despised, as his works bear out.
Thelema is essentially a mystical doctrine, encouraging the individual to become entirely self-responsible and self-aware. This awareness is achieved through a variety of techniques, incorporating Tantrism, Yoga, Gnostic and Jewish techniques of consciousness expansion. “Do what thou wilt” is not to be confused with “do what you like”, but rather is best seen in a mystical sense as, for instance, finding the Tao. Thelema teaches that the self is the ultimate authority, which is quite contrary to both the Judeo-Christian and Muslim traditions, and to the ‘established’ hierarchical structures in society. To be a Thelemite is to exist outside the laws that govern the general populace of humanity. With this message, it is understandable why Crowley is considered such a dangerous man in modern society.