Wednesday, 23 July 2014

Historia Discordia - The Origins of the Discordian Society

Adam Gorightly's new book is hardcore. The most battle-hardened historian would blanch at writing a history of Discordian Society.

As you can imagine with a society whose major contribution to world culture was a conspiracy called Operation Mindfuck, telling accurate stories of their origin was not their thing. Discordians thought it was far more useful and enlightening to make stuff up. That this book exists is, frankly, something of a miracle. But it was clear from his earlier biography of Kerry Thornley that if anyone was going to pull this off, it would be Adam Gorightly.

This is a large-sized, coffee table book full of reproductions of original Discordian Society documents, the Holy Grail of which is a complete reproduction of the long assumed lost first edition of the Principia Discordia. Only five copies of this were ever made, ironically on the photocopier of New Orleans District Attorney Jim Garrison, who would later suspect co-author Kerry Thornley of involvement in the JFK assassination.

This first edition reveals how much of later Discordian lore appeared fully formed at the start, most notably the Law of Fives. What is particularly interesting to readers of Robert Anton Wilson is seeing his influence appear after this point, bringing with him concepts such as the 23 Enigma and Timothy Leary's reality tunnels.

This is a treasure-trove of odd revelations. Who knew, for example, that a Discordian had once gone by the alias Rev. Jefferson Fuck Poland?  I had never taken seriously the claim that Discordians were responsible for introducing  the two-fingered peace sign, as adopted en masse by hippies in the 1967 Summer of Love, because this sounded too much like the sort of thing they would make up. Yet here we have proof that the Discordians were promoting the sign in 1965.

I tend to see Discordianism's development as akin to a musical genre where the real creative fire occurred at the very start, when people were still working in the dark and clueless about they were manifesting. Later developments, such as the Church of the Sub Genius, seem like a form of diet-Discordianism to me - great for what they are, and clued-up enough to preserve the good stuff, but ultimately restrained by being reproductions of earlier maps. So what Gorightly has assembled here is, to my eyes, very precious.

Historia Discordia is out now for £15 (Amazon UK / Amazon US). For those who don't like to use Amazon, try BookDepository which offers free worldwide shipping.