artwork by Chad Essley
Chaos as a Ray of Hope in an increasingly dumb world
by Michael Pinchera
The increasingly ugly state of affairs — politically, socially, emotionally, economically, intellectually — may be driving a growing interest in Discordianism, according to Ben Graham, author and co-organizer of the neo-Discordian Festival 23.
“The world just seems crazy and more chaotic than ever, so a pseudo-religion that embraces chaos as a guiding principle, maybe that makes more sense now,” Graham says.
At the very least, Discordianism undoubtedly offers an appealing alternative to the mainstream paths previously constructed by long-dead, desperate deity-seekers.
So, between the publication of his books on Texas psychedelia (A Gathering of Promises and Scatological Alchemy), Graham joined a group of eight to organize Festival 23, a three-day-long, outdoor camping event.
“It’s a Discordian-themed event, very influenced by the writings of Robert Anton Wilson and the Illuminatus! Trilogy and his various books, and also, before that, Principia Discordia by Kerry Wendell Thornley, worshipping Eris, the goddess of chaos,” he says. “And beyond that, just expanding it to a general idea of counterculture. All the stuff that fed into it and also the idea of where is the counterculture now and how can we kind of unite the past with what’s going on now to go forward into the future.”
The origins of what Graham identifies as a neo-Discordian Revival, go back to Daisy Eris Campbell, daughter of Ken Campbell (he put on a theatrical adaptation of Wilson’s Illuminatus! Trilogy in 1976), and her decision to put on a 2014 theatrical adaptation of Cosmic Trigger, Wilson’s nonfiction follow-up to the Illuminatus! Trilogy.
“She did that in Liverpool at sort of a mini-Discordian indoor festival, where all these people in Britain who thought maybe they were the only Discordians in the country came together,” Graham says.
The new relationships created around Daisy’s play led directly to the birth of Festival 23, the inaugural edition (2016) of which was held in a field near Sheffield, England, for approximately 500 Discordians. The theme that year was Festival 23: Convergence of Disco—“putting the disco back in Discordia, emphasizing the playful side of it,” Graham says.
“We had bands, we had talks, we had chaos magic workshops, we had tantric sex workshops, we had comedy poetry, we had a spirit animal fashion show. I hosted a conspiracy slam, which is like a poetry slam but you come up with your best conspiracy theories and there was a tinfoil crown for the wackiest theory,” Graham says excitedly. “Alan Moore didn’t come down in person—he doesn’t like ever leaving Northampton these days—but we had an exclusive, really in-depth interview filmed in his home that we showed in the cinema tent.”
artwork by Chad Essley
That Festival 23 also featured KLF co-founder Jimmy Cauty’s Aftermath Dislocation Principle exhibition, “which is basically a huge model village, but it’s a like a police-state dystopia, everything is wrecked and broken and all that’s in there is the emergency services and the police who don’t know what’s happened—it’s the aftermath of something—and it’s inside a massive shipping container and through the portholes in the side you just peer in and walk around and look into these different holes and these weird scenes.”
Throughout 2017, Festival 23 lived on as numerous smaller gatherings across the U.K., helping disparate humans find their Discordian tribe.
Graham is glad to discuss what he sees as ample evidence of a neo-Discordian Revival taking place in the U.K. He’s adopted the phrase “neo-Discordian” because the scene has evolved.
“Certainly, a lot of old-school Discordians might look at what we’re doing and say, ‘No, that’s not proper Discordianism,’” he says. “Although once you start to talk about ‘proper Discordian,’ I suspect you’ve missed the point.”
Back to hints of this neo-Discordian Revival: “The KLF — Bill Drummond (the original designer and carpenter on the 1976 production of the Illuminatus! Trilogy) and Jimmy Cauty — made a big comeback using their original name, the Justified Ancients of Mu Mu, which, of course, is from the Illuminatus! Trilogy. [In August], they put on a big event in Liverpool called Welcome to the Dark Ages, and they published a book, 2023: A Trilogy, which is full of references to the Illuminatus! Trilogy and Robert Anton Wilson,” Graham says. “Because it’s the guys from the KLF, that book has been getting reviewed in major mainstream newspapers—and because they’ve come back so tied into their sort of Discordian roots, that’s something that all the mainstream media covering that have had to deal with in one way or the other.”
artwork by Chad Essley
The fact that mainstream media is once again talking about Robert Anton Wilson helps it all to feel like a genuine revival, he says. Over at BBC.com, author David Bramwell recently discussed the phenomena of fake news, connecting it to Discordianism and, obviously, Operation Mindfuck.
“He was saying this isn’t something new — this idea comes from these guys, these Discordians, doing Operation Mindfuck…and how it’s sort of been taken over and is being used by the alt-right and their kind of establishment equivalents. The actual idea that you could just fuck with people’s heads by confusing them and putting these fake stories out there so they don’t know what to believe…that [Operation Mindfuck] has not so much achieved its objective of freeing people from the need to believe anything, but just made people easier to manipulate,” he says.
Seeing Operation Mindfuck hijacked by alt-right jackofficers inspired the theme for the 2018 edition of Festival 23: Wonderism and the propagation of wonder.
“Wonderism is the opposite of terrorism. There’s increasing terrorism in the world — to counter than, we have wonderism, which is random acts of joy…re-enchanting the world, making it seem strange and wonderful again through various artistic acts.
“We need to put something else out there that can maybe liberate people in a different way, maybe empower people to create their own realities. Maybe we’ve reached that stage where people don’t know what to believe, where people don’t believe anything anymore—that’s great, but now what’s next?” he ponders. “We need something to empower them to take charge of their own lives in this present reality.”
In his 2013 book KLF: Chaos, Magic and the Band Who Burned a Million Pounds, author John Higgs used numerous cultural pieces — the KLF, Alan Moore, Dr. Who, etc. — on which to build a discussion of the ideas of Robert Anton Wilson and Discordianism, Graham says.
“He ties all that stuff together—and that, in a way, is almost our manifesto, that’s what we come from, and it makes the idea of wonderism.”
Festival 23, planned for July 2018 in the same region of England as the first event (Sheffield, more or less), is being designed to accommodate twice as many Discordians—so about 1,000.
With this growing community — and the fluidity of groups raging battles against the thoughts and words of others worldwide — I wonder if Graham has seen any suggestion of a war on wonderism.
“I don’t think we’ve told enough people that wonderism exists for [anyone] to have declared war on it,” he laughs. “But if I’m on the right track, that notion that there is some kind of battle going on is certainly something that’s on our mind. I mean it’s a weird one when we all evoked Eris, the goddess of chaos [during magical rituals involved in the preparation process for Festival 23 in 2016]—and the next thing we know, [the U.K.] has the whole mess with Brexit and [the U.S.] elected Trump. It’s like, ‘We evoked chaos and this is what we got?’ If there is any sort of war on, the forces of Donald Trump and Brexit are the other side and we’re trying to support hope, joy and bringing people together.”
Michael Pinchera is a writer and editor of fringe, business and travel-related matters; explorer of non-Cartesian realities.
Check him out at What Meme Worry
Dig 1960s Texas psych rock and the Butthole Surfers? Check out the Mondo 2000 interview with Ben Graham on those holy topics about which he wrote two marvelous books.