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All of the true things that I am about to tell you are
Bokononism is the fictional
religion practiced by many of the characters in Kurt Vonnegut's novel Cat's
Cradle. It is based on living by the untruths that make one happy, called
foma. The Bokononistic equivalent of sex, boko-maru, is a union of two souls
achieved by placing the soles of two people's feet together. Many of the sacred
texts of Bokononism were written in the form of calypsos.
Bokonon is the founder of the religion.
He was born Lionel Boyd Johnson. "Bokonon" was the way the natives of
San Lorenzo, the tropical island where the shipwrecked Johnson started his
religion, pronounced his family name. The name bears some resemblance to that
of American President Lyndon B. Johnson (also, the middle name "Boyd"
sounds similar to "bird", as in Lady Bird Johnson). The pseudonym may
be an allusion to Russian anarchist thinker Mikhail Bakunin.
The religion uses several equally fictional technical terms:
- A karass
is a group of people who, unbeknownst to them, are collectively doing
God's will. A karass is driven forward in time and space by tension within
- A wampeter
is an object which is the focus of a karass; that is, the lives of many
otherwise unrelated people are centered on a wampeter (e.g., the
Holy Grail). A karass will always have exactly two wampeters: one waxing,
one waning. The term first appears on p. 52 of Cat's Cradle (in the
1998 printing by Dell Publishing).
- A granfalloon
is a false karass. There is much granfalloonery in the world.
- Foma are
"harmless lies" (e.g., "Prosperity is just around
the corner"). Bokonon describes his own religion as foma,
created for the purpose of bringing comfort to the people of Bokonon's
island. The people of San Lorenzo live under a poverty-stricken Third
World dictatorship, but thanks to the comforting untruths of Bokonon's foma
they are better equipped to face reality (following Vonnegut's early
theories about the true usefulness of religion). The name "foma"
may be a deliberate anagram of the word "foam" (something
frothy, which floats on the surface) and a playful reference to the
Russian pronunciation of the name Thomas, as in Doubting Thomas. Foma may
also be a subtle reference to soma, the drug in Aldous Huxley's Brave New
World which is used to take a holiday from reality.
Bokonon has also been quoted in Another Roadside Attraction by Tom