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The Golden Bough Paperback – December 1, 1995


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Product Details

  • Paperback: 880 pages
  • Publisher: Touchstone (December 1, 1995)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0684826305
  • ISBN-13: 978-0684826301
  • Product Dimensions: 8.2 x 5.6 x 1.5 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 1.8 pounds
  • Average Customer Review: 4.3 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (76 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #1,445,196 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

Editorial Reviews

Amazon.com Review

Before Joseph Campbell became the world's most famous practitioner of comparative mythology, there was Sir James George Frazer. The Golden Bough was originally published in two volumes in 1890, but Frazer became so enamored of his topic that over the next few decades he expanded the work sixfold, then in 1922 cut it all down to a single thick edition suitable for mass distribution. The thesis on the origins of magic and religion that it elaborates "will be long and laborious," Frazer warns readers, "but may possess something of the charm of a voyage of discovery, in which we shall visit many strange lands, with strange foreign peoples, and still stranger customs." Chief among those customs--at least as the book is remembered in the popular imagination--is the sacrificial killing of god-kings to ensure bountiful harvests, which Frazer traces through several cultures, including in his elaborations the myths of Adonis, Osiris, and Balder.

While highly influential in its day, The Golden Bough has come under harsh critical scrutiny in subsequent decades, with many of its descriptions of regional folklore and legends deemed less than reliable. Furthermore, much of its tone is rooted in a philosophy of social Darwinism--sheer cultural imperialism, really--that finds its most explicit form in Frazer's rhetorical question: "If in the most backward state of human society now known to us we find magic thus conspicuously present and religion conspicuously absent, may we not reasonably conjecture that the civilised races of the world have also at some period of their history passed through a similar intellectual phase?" (The truly civilized races, he goes on to say later, though not particularly loudly, are the ones whose minds evolve beyond religious belief to embrace the rational structures of scientific thought.) Frazer was much too genteel to state plainly that "primitive" races believe in magic because they are too stupid and backwards to know any better; instead he remarks that "a savage hardly conceives the distinction commonly drawn by more advanced peoples between the natural and the supernatural." And he certainly was not about to make explicit the logical extension of his theories--"that Christian legend, dogma, and ritual" (to quote Robert Graves's summation of Frazer in The White Goddess) "are the refinement of a great body of primitive and barbarous beliefs." Whatever modern readers have come to think of the book, however, its historical significance and the eloquence with which Frazer attempts to develop what one might call a unifying theory of anthropology cannot be denied. --Ron Hogan

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Customer Reviews

It is well organized and easy to read.
jan
James G. Frazer wrote an excellent book on the origins of magic and religion called the Golden Bough.
Alexander Antithanos
The quality of the book itself is only so-so, but the condition is good.
Fozz

Most Helpful Customer Reviews

179 of 184 people found the following review helpful By A Customer on June 18, 1998
Format: Paperback
Frazer's classic "The Golden Bough" may justifiably be called the foundation that modern anthropology is based on. While it has been discredited in some areas since it's 1st publication, it has stood the test of time remarkably well. It's still the best book I know of to explain the origins of magical & religious thought to a new student of comparative religions. I would especially suggest it to anyone interested in mythology, supernatural magic or religion, especially any of the modern neo-pagan religions. More than one critic has said that it should be required reading for everyone.
Originally, Frazer sought to explain the strange custom at an Italian sacred grove near the city of Aricia. He wanted to know why it was custom there for a priest of Diana to continually guard a sacred tree with his life. Why was it required that this pagan priest murder anyone who dares to break a branch from the tree & why were so many willing to risk their lives to do so? What power did this broken branch have that made it a symbol of the priests own coming death? Why could the priest only be relieved of his position by being ritually murdered & who in their right mind would strive to take his place?
What Frazer discovered in his search for answers went well beyond what he expected to find. He very quickly found himself surrounded by ancient pagan beliefs & magic rituals that were as old as mankind & just as widespread. He slowly reveals to us, by way of hundreds of examples, that ancient or primitive man was bound up in a never ending web of taboos & restrictions that regulated his existence here on earth. Every move, spoken word or even thought could swing the powers of the divine for or against pagan man.
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102 of 106 people found the following review helpful By Margaret Magnus on December 6, 2003
Format: Paperback
This is Frazer's own abridgement of a mere 750 pages. The original work is 12 volumes. I've started in my lunch hour writing a few reviews here on Amazon of things which either really struck me deeply, or which I feel are underrated or overrated... or which I happen to have read recently and therefore are fresh in my mind. This one is of the deep-striking, perspective-altering kind.

The book feels to me somehow to be the most central work on mythology, ritual or anthropology that I have read. The reason for this, I think, is that Frazer had a clear vision of some central Fact which he needed to convey. The book is therefore very well organized, doesn't lose its focus amid the masses of data -- and I mean masses of data -- which he brings to bear. And this Fact which he conveys is not really about something external to man -- even something external which man has created; it is about something internal and fundamental to man. Its fundamental point concerns a changeless Fact about the nature of things, more than any myriad of facts -- however amazing -- which have resulted from historical circumstance.

After 100 or so pages, I was thinking, "All right already, I get the point about sympathetic magic and a dead guy in a tree. When's the next topic?" But he just kept going on, and about 300 pages into the book, I felt a sort of chill in the base of my spine... maybe I hadn't gotten it about the dead guy in the tree... and then Frazer just keeps going on and on and on for another 450 pages.

The sheer volume of data, and the effectiveness with which it is organized somehow sunk through.
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49 of 54 people found the following review helpful By Siobhan Olaoghaire Sannes on October 26, 2005
Format: Paperback
This book is veritable attic full of folklore and ritual. But, like an attic, it is sometimes dusty and overstuffed. First published in 1922 and hardly out of print since, the author states it began as a study of a curious practice in a grove near Nemi, Italy in classical times of the killing of a local divine wood king/priest by his successor. His studies lead him to research one thing after another, which eventually became a multi-volume treatise on many of the ritual and folk practices of the world, especially in regards to gods of trees, vegetation and grain, and other resurrection myths.

At times it is a difficult read as the author does not have the current sense of treating other cultures as different, rather than "lesser", than ours, but despite repeated references to "savages" he presents practices and customs rather fairly and non-judgementally. It's only fault lies in it's length, perhaps, though this may be attributed to modern short attention spans, though it does seem to provide so many examples of a practice that I often thought five examples would have sufficed where he used twenty or more.

A curious thing, when I read this any shred of belief I might have had left in the Christ mythos was shattered with the detailed descriptions of other gods of resurrection. Undoubtedly without meaning to, Frazer presents such a clear picture of the rites and myths concerning Adonis, Attis, Osiris, among others, that you realize how little of the Christ myth (if anything) is original.
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