Author Topic: Omar Khayyam  (Read 1040 times)


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Omar Khayyam
« on: June 05, 2019, 02:41:43 pm »
Omar Khayyam and the Sufi Influence on Discordia

On the title page of the Principia Discordia, you will find this inscription, next to a picture of Diogenes the Cynic

This is a bastardized version of a poem - here is the longer version:

A Book of Verses underneath the Bough,   
A Jug of Wine, a Loaf of Bread—and Thou   
  Beside me singing in the Wilderness—   
O, Wilderness were Paradise enow!

Who wrote the stanza on the title page?

  • Was it Kerry Thornley, under the pen name Lord Omar Khayyam Ravenhurst?
  • Was it Edward FitzGerald, English leisure-class jongleur and translator of Persian Poetry?
  • Or was it the Sufi, Omar Khayyam, "The Tentmaker", who lived in 1100?

or was it all of them?

In Kerry's introduction to the Principia, he writes:
My own favorite Holy Name -- Omar Khayyam Ravenhurst -- functions that way. It is a walking identity crisis. Anybody can say or do anything in the name of Omar Khayyam Ravenhurst. For better or worse, that never fails to confuse the authorities.

He goes on to relate a story about how he added that name to a roster when he was in Marine Basic Training, and nobody ever caught that it was a fake, and all sorts of rumors and stories began to crop up about this mysterious, fictional figure. At one point, somebody confuses a big truck driver named Buddha with Omar.

On the surface, all of this sounds like a funny little story about hacking bureaucracy using an assumed name, and for 20 years I never understood it's true depth.

There is an old Persian tradition of writing quatrains and attributing them to Omar Khayyam. This alone should tell us that Kerry Thornely was hiding something for us to find later. Kerry was aware of Sufism and Discordianism is, in some ways, an expression of it.

“I think of all the pube I got while reading the Rubaiyat” -MC Paul Barman
The Rubaiyat of Omar Khayyam is a famous collection of poems. I collect copies of it--as of this morning, I own four of them. While the poems are evidentaly written by the persian poet Omar Khayyam, they were "translated" from Persian by Edward FitzGerald in the 1850s. He published four different editions of the work, with slightly different iterations of each quatrain.

The theme of the work seems to be about living in the moment, enjoying life, understanding that life is temporary, all that we see is fleeting and impermanent -- so let's have a good time while we can.

'Tis all a Chequer-board of Nights and Days
Where Destiny with Men for Pieces plays:
Hither and thither moves, and mates, and slays,
And one by one back in the Closet lays.

When You and I behind the Veil are past,
Oh, but the long, long while the World shall last,
Which of our Coming and Departure heeds
As the Sea’s self should heed a pebble-cast.

Wine is a recurring theme in the poetry, and the ecstacy of intoxication:

And lately, by the Tavern Door agape,
Came stealing through the Dusk an Angel Shape,
Bearing a vessel on his Shoulder; and
He bid me taste of it; and 'twas--the Grape!

I always imagined that young Kerry Thornley enjoyed these poems because when he and Greg Hill were growing Discordia, they were teens and in their 20s - and I myself spent a lot of my teens and 20s drunk off my ass and loving life. But there's actually a lot more going on here...

What was Omar Khayyam talking about?
Omar Khayyam "the tentmaker" was a Sufi mathematician and astronomer. He also wrote poetry, but didn't consider himself a poet - he was much more famous as a mathematician. The original Rubaiyat is a Sufic work - that is, it transmits certain Sufic truths to those that are prepared to receive them.

The Sufis use coded language, hiding their truths behind symbols and shared reference points. A story may appear to outsiders as a joke, or a little moral lesson (like most of Aesop's fables). But to one with the ears to hear it, there is often another hidden meaning.

The grape, and wine (for example), is a clear sufi symbol. Decoded, it refers to divine ecstacy. Drunkenness is a metaphor for the personal transformation that takes place when one has tasted this mystical experience. So these verses about drinking wine and reading poetry with a loved one -- they are also about sharing a special connection, not just horizontally, between people, but vertically, a relationship with a higher purpose. A transformation of consciousness. A direct experience of divine love.

If you're not familiar with Sufism -- a short verison would be that it's the mystical subset of Islam. (Sort of like how Judiasm has its mystical practitioners of Kaballa). Many say that Sufism contains the "inner essence" of Islam. Some would even go so far as to say that this inner essence is the inner essence of all religions, and that Sufism has attached itself to Islam as a way of "sneaking in the back door", making the ideas palatable and acceptable within an orthodox religious society.

The original version of the Rubaiyat is full of hidden meanings (much of which was lost in translation). This is a classic sufi method - breaking the wisdom into little pieces, each shaped like the whole, and scattering it all over. These verses have actually been used by Sufi teachers to impart Sufic lessons.

Many Sufis do no think Edward FitzGerald realy picked up that "Sufic voice". His mentor, Professor Cowell, taught him Persian and introduced him to the Rubaiyat. Cowell was introduced to the work by talking with Indian scholars of the Persian language. But according to Idries Shah, in The Sufis, some think these scholars intentionally misled the professor. (which is also consistent with Sufi teaching...) Neither FitzGerald nor Cowell were fluent in Persian, and their translations are sometimes described as childish, simple. So maybe FitzGerald really thought that the poem was about how cool it is to get drunk, and was not trying to transmit a higher spiritual truth. At least, not intentionally.

But this might be too simple of an explanation, too. Some of FitzGerald's verses seem to reference other Sufic sources like the poet Hafiz - so it's likely he did do a lot of wide reading on the topic, even if he was never initiated.

Even if FitzGerald was totally ignorant of the sufic line of thinking, he may have, in his translation, captured part of it and inadvertently carried it forward. His translation became very popular. It sparked a literary fad in the 1890s, the "Khayyam Cult" was a poetic trend of writing verses in the style of the Rubaiyat, and sharing them in person, in the presence of wine, and love.

Maybe this is part of the sufi spirit
or maybe not

because it sparked some divine inspiration in Thornley, I'm inclined to believe that the inner meaning of the work was passed on via FitzGerald.

What does it mean? What does it meeeeean????
In 1960, when Kerry Thornley took on the name Lord Omar, he was tipping his hat to an ancient tradition. By including, on the title page of the Principia, his own "translation" of a verse from Fitzgerald, which is in turn a reading of Khayyam, and by adapting this old Persian tradition of attributing things to Omar Khayyam, he is telling us that Discordianism is tapping into something much older. The Principia and the Rubaiyat are in contact with the same thing.

On the surface, the work is about happiness, physical enjoyment, relaxation, humor. But beneath the surface, there's something else. The inner-essence of all religions. Divine ecstacy. Hidden truth, encoded. A truth that cannot be captured neatly by the rational mind or transmitted by words. Like the inner meaning of a poem, it has to be sought after and discovered by the seeker, it cannot be simply transmitted by a teacher. The teacher can point to the door, can provide the tools for understanding, but the student must pass through it themselves, on their own effort.

Khayyam tells us, by way of Fitzgerald, and by way of Thornley, that the vertical and the horizontal are the same thing. Divine love and love for one another are the same thing.

That's why we raise our wine glasses together,

whistling in the darkness.
« Last Edit: June 05, 2019, 07:50:18 pm by Cramulus »