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