Discordianism: 4 Facts about the Bizarre Religious System

Learn about the religious system of Discordianism through a philosophical analysis of its premises and practices.

Sep 16, 2023By Antonio Panovski, BA Philosophy

discordianism bizarre religious stystem facts


Discordianism is a religion based on the “holy book” Principia Discordia (OR How I Found Goddess and What I Did to Her When I Found Her). The book was written by Greg Hill and Kerry Wendell Thornley in 1963, under the pseudonyms Malaclypse the Younger and Omar Khayyam Ravenhurst. Discordianism is focused on the worshiping of Eris (Greek mythology), or Discordia (Roman mythology)—the Goddess of chaos, strife, and discord. Many classify it as a parody of religion, while others sincerely declare themselves as real Discordians. But what does Discordianism actually preach?


1. The Literal Meaning of Discordianism

principia discordia
Cover of Principia Discordia, via Black Cat Caboodle.


Let’s take a look at the history of Discordianism and see what it is really about. If read literally, Principia Discordia is centered around the worshipping of the Goddess Eris according to Greek mythology, or Discordia according to Roman mythology. She’s the Goddess of chaos, strife, and discord, However, there are many instances where the Goddess is united with the Void as well, not just as a separate deity. Principia Discordia explicitly mentions the version of Greek mythology but still holds the idea that Eris and her sister Aneris are daughters of the Void, who were later given a brother—Spirituality. That’s what is stated in DOGMA III-History 32, “COSMOGONY” of Principia Discordia.


eris mythology
Ancient Greek portrayal of the goddess Eris, 550BC, via Flickr.


Aneris is younger than her sister, and she is referred to as the Goddess of order and non-being, while her sister Eris is the Goddess of disorder and being. The barren Aneris becomes jealous of her sister, who was born impregnated, and begins to make the existent things non-existent. This explains the cycle of life, and why life begins and then ends with death: “And to this day things come into existence and perish the same way”—is stated at the beginning of the book.


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Zeus invites all deities to the wedding of Peleus and Thetis, except Eris, as he knows that she will cause problems due to her nature. However, when Eris finds out about the wedding, she creates a golden apple with the word kallisti on it, which means “for the prettiest” or “to the most beautiful.” This apple starts a feud between three goddesses, until Paris awards the apple to Helen of Troy. Thus, Eris becomes the cause of the Trojan war. According to Discordians, Eris tossed the apple into the fray as payback against Zeus for not inviting her to the party.


goddess discord turner
The Goddess of Discord Choosing the Apple of Contention in the Garden of the Hesperides by Joseph Mallord William Turner, 1806, via Tate.


The golden apple of Eris is considered the main symbol of Discordianism, and the event is dubbed “The original snub” in Principia Discordia. The character of Eris in Principia Discordia, however, is rather softer than the Greek version of the Goddess, who is portrayed mainly in a negative aspect, and positively only as the energy of chaotic creation. Although it may seem strange, it becomes clearer when we consider the fact that the entire religious system of Discordianism is based on the belief, worship, and glorification of this very deity. A saying from Principia Discordia tries to clear up this “fallacy:”


“One day Mal-2 consulted his Pineal Gland and asked Eris if she really created all of those terrible things. She told him that she always liked the Old Greeks, but that they cannot be trusted with historic matters. They are victims of indigestion, you know.”
(Principia Discordia, 1963)


2. The Metaphorical Meaning of Discordianism

golden apple discord jordaens
The Wedding of Thetis and Peleus – Golden Apple of Discord by Jacob Jordaens, 1633, via Museo del Prado.


Now, let’s take a look at how we can understand Discordianism fully through its metaphorical meaning. After proposing the worshipping of Discordia and presenting the story like it’s presented above, Principia Discordia outlines three main fundamental principles: The Aneristic principle (principle of order), The Eristic principle (principle of disorder), and the principle according to which both of the principles are mere illusions. Because of these principles, a real Discordian believes that there are no distinctions between disorder and the void because the only difference between them is that one of them only refers to order.


Let’s analyze these principles. From a philosophical perspective, both order and disorder are man-made concepts and represent artificial divisions of chaos, which is a stage deeper than the stage of making distinctions. With our conception-making apparatus—our reason, we see reality through our ideas-about-reality, which culture gives us and instills in us.


Ideas-about-reality are mistakenly identified as reality itself, and as a result, inexperienced people are often confused by the fact that other people, especially other cultures, see reality in a different way. We necessarily look at the world through windows that have built-in filters—concepts. Different philosophies take and use different filters. Through the window, we see chaos, and we turn and refer to the points of our filter to understand such chaos. The order, therefore, is in the filter. This represents the Aneristic principle.


frank lloyd wright window
Clerestory windows from the Avery Coonley Playhouse, Riverside, IL by Frank Lloyd Wright 1912, via MoMA.


Western philosophy has traditionally been concerned and occupied with comparing one filter to another, constantly changing the filters in the hope of finding the perfect one that will apply to all possible realities or searching for the absolute and universal truth. That is illusory, true Discordians would say. Some filters can be more applicable, more pragmatic, and more comprehensive. Others may be more beautiful, others may be more pleasant, etc., but none can be completely true.


Chaos is simply unrelated and irrelevant information viewed through some particular filter or grid. But, like “relation,” “no-relation” is a concept as well. The male, like the female, is an idea about sex. To say that male-ness is the “absence of female-ness,” or vice versa, is a matter of definition and metaphysically arbitrary. This artificial concept of no-relation is the Eristic Principle.


flowers trees klint
On the Viewing of Flowers and Trees by Hilma af Klint, 1922, via Guggenheim.


To summarize, truth is dependent on the definition that fits the filter that one is using at the given moment, and the real truth—the metaphysical reality—is completely irrelevant to filters. In this context, Eris becomes the true patron of chaotic creation:


“I am chaos. I am the substance from which your artists and scientists build rhythms. I am the spirit with which your children and clowns laugh in happy anarchy. I am chaos. I am alive, and I tell you that you are free.”
(Principia Discordia, 1963)


Principia Discordia often hints that Discordianism was founded as a dialectic antithesis to the other religions that are based on order. Also, as stated in the beginning, many also consider Discordianism as a parody religion—one that mocks the beliefs of others. However, Discordians themselves do not agree with that point of view. Some of them accept and embrace it largely as a joke, while others take it as a philosophy. There are also some who literally worship Eris as a Goddess. Thus, Discordians reject the view of themselves as following a parody religion, labeling it as untrue.


3. Titles and Status Structure in Discordianism

robert anton wilson
Photograph of Robert Anton Wilson by frankenstoen, 1991, via Wikimedia Commons.


According to Discordianism, “every man, woman, and child on planet Earth is a pope.” Principia Discordia contains an official papal card that can be reproduced and distributed freely to anyone. However, papacy is not gained through the possession of this card but rather informs the people that they are “true, confirmed and authorized priests” of Discordianism.


Operation Mindfuck (OM) is the name of an important practice of Discordianism. The concept is not found in the “holy book” of Discordianism, but was invented and developed by Kerry Thornley and Robert Anton Wilson in 1968 in The Illuminatus! Trilogy, where Eris plays the main role. One of the practices was that any Discordian can name a certain project “Golden Apple Seed Mission” indicating that any other Discordian is welcome to participate in the realization of the project and in its wider propagation. One of those projects is the project titled “Project Pan-Pontification.” It consists of distributing the cards for popes, appeasing all men, women, and children as “a Pope of Discord.”


Within Discordianism, there are five classes of saints who acted best and serve as examples for everyone. The highest-ranked class that makes up human beings is the second. The first class consists only of fictitious characters who can reach the idea of ​​Discordianism’s perfection. An example of a second-class saint is the self-proclaimed Emperor Norton, the emperor of San Francisco, California, during the nineteenth century. Despite suffering from mental illness, he was worshiped by the citizens of San Francisco. He is adorned with the title of a saint because he lived his life according to the truth as he saw it, and expressed disrespect for reality as others saw it.


4. The Unseriousness of Discordianism – Is It a Joke?

discordianism symbol
Sacred Chao Symbol by Greg Hill, ca. 1964, via the Discordian Archives.


From what has been written so far in this very brief overview of the system of this unusual religion, one can sense some eclectic features, which seem even comical. The comedy increases when we get to know the strict rule that Discordians have to respect all the time under any circumstances: “NO EATING HOT DOG BUNS!” and even more so when reading the book itself, which is full of humor, expressed through their dialectical form. However, it all makes sense when we consider the fact that a Discordian is never serious about anything, as is stated in Principia Discordia.

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By Antonio PanovskiBA PhilosophyAntonio holds a BA in Philosophy from SS. Cyril and Methodius University in Skopje, North Macedonia. His main areas of interest are contemporary, as well as analytic philosophy, with a special focus on the epistemological aspect of them, although he’s currently thoroughly examining the philosophy of science. Besides writing, he loves cinema, music, and traveling.