Updated: Feb 7
Born out of darkness, Eris first appears in Ancient Greek mythology as the personification of Strife. A counterpart to Harmonia, Romans named these opposing deities Discordia and Concordia to establish a binary opposition between wilderness and civilization. Given her associations with the less desirable aspects of life, Eris had no temples in antiquity. Some contemporary Pagans who worship the goddess refer to themselves as Discordians, holding that chaos and order are illusions of the same world.
Eris in Mythology
Homer mentions Eris in the Iliad as an equivalent to the war goddess Enyo, known to the Romans as Bellona. Eris also appears in the works of Hesiod as one of the children of Nyx, goddess of the Night, implying that her veneration goes back to a time long before Ancient Greece. According to Hesiod, her multitude of demonic offspring include Dysnomia (lawlessness), Ponos (toil), Atë (ruin), Lethe (oblivion), Limos (famine), Algos (pain), Hysiminai (conflict), Machai (combat), Phonoi (murder), Androktasai (slaughter), Neikea (quarrels), Amphilogiai (disputes), and Horkos (broken oaths).
Eris takes credit for causing the Trojan War after being snubbed of a wedding invitation, described more in the story of the Original Snub, also known as the Myth of the Apple of Discord or the Judgement of Paris. After inscribing “for the fairest” on a golden apple, she tossed her enchanted fruit into the party and watched the seeds of entropy grow from afar. Romans considered themselves the descendants of those who fled Troy after its defeat by the Greeks, preserving her role as a trickster and central figure in their mythology.
Even though few historical depictions of the goddess exist, her archetype inspired many other writers over the centuries. In the medieval tale of “Sleeping Beauty” transcribed in the 19th century by the Brothers Grimm, a fairy curses the titular princess after being snubbed an invitation to her baptism.
More recently she appeared to the late Malaclypse the Younger (Greg Hill) and Lord Omar (Kerry Wendall Thornley) in a series of visions, guiding them to write a book of her wit and wisdom in 1963. According to the Principia Discordia: or How I Found Goddess, and What I Did to Her When I Found Her, Eris and her parallel Aneris (Harmonia) both embody the illusions of order and disorder. Similar to the deconstructionist philosophy of Jacques Derrida, introduced only a few years later in Of Grammatology, the Principia Discordia argues that discord and harmony are contradictory ideas; the supposed existence of one negates the existence of the other. Chaos and cosmos are therefore the same entity, bringing together ancient myth and modern science in their absurdist philosophy. Like a cut-and-paste collage, or even a kind of zine, this publication assembles crafted snippets of propaganda to communicate their imaginary if not conflicting meanings. Unlike other holy books, the Principia Discordia encourages people to believe what they want or even to change aspects of the text.
Discordian works show an exquisite taste in humor, with the Principia Discordia both a parody of religious dogma (100% catma) and a prophetic text. American authors Robert Shea and Robert Anton Wilson collaborated on the epic five-part Illuminatus! Trilogy from 1975, in which Eris holds a prominent role. Conspiracy theories about the Bavarian Illuminati and other fnord show that Eris remains a mischievous entity in contemporary society.
Chaos magicians trace much of their practices back to the work of English occultists Austin Osman Spare and Aleister Crowley in the early 20th century. English science fiction writer Michael Moorcock created the eight-pointed star in the 1960s as a symbol of chaos, later taken up by anarchists around the world as a sigil of their philosophy. American writer William S. Burroughs also engaged in chaos magick, notably cutting up his literary works to rearrange them into aleatory creations. Naked Lunch from 1959 and The Nova Trilogy from 1961 to 1964 both employ this technique, disorienting the reader across time and place.
Pagans like the Ancient Greeks believe chaos is the source of all things. Hesiod named Chaos in Theogony around 700 BCE as the first thing to exist. Syncretizing elements from various cultural traditions allows for a more holistic perspective of the world. Without the constraints of ideological dogma, chaotes think and act in freedom. As written by Crowley in Liber AL vel Legis (The Book of the Law) from 1909, “Do what thou wilt shall be the whole of the law.”
In the 21st century, Eris still resonates with a global audience. She even appears in the 2003 animated DreamWorks film Sinbad: Legend of the Seven Seas as the primary antagonist, integrating Classical mythology with Arabic folklore from One Thousand and One Nights (Arabian Nights). That same year, Cartoon Network began airing the beloved but dark TV series The Grim Adventures of Billy & Mandy with Eris a recurring character. Perhaps the date is not a coincidence, since 23 is her sacred number (2 + 3 = 5).
Along with Pluto, the dwarf planet Eris (136199 Eris, to be precise) orbits at the edge of the solar system as a trans-Neptunian object. Only discovered in 2005, astronomers chose to adopt a Discordian emblem known as the Hand of Eris as her planetary symbol.
Life is strife. Rejecting the Goddess of Chaos will surely lead to unwelcome consequences. By cultivating a spiritual relationship with her, we can learn to engage with our personal struggles and carve our own paths in this cosmic wilderness.