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The Golden Bough Paperback – September 19, 2006
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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 --This text refers to an out of print or unavailable edition of this title.
Top Customer Reviews
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.Read more ›
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.Read more ›
He begins with the question of why, at Nemi in prehistoric Greek times, a warrior priest known as the King of the Wood kept his position by fighting for his life, which could be threatened at any time by his successor and murderer. By attempting to explain this ancient tradition, Frazer examines similarities between religious beliefs and shows how the belief in magic and the worship of nature was gradually transformed into the worship of religious kings and gods.
Controversially, many elements of Christianity are included, such as Christ's crucifixion and the fact that many Christian holidays coincide with the dates of prehistoric pagan rituals. For the diligent skeptic of Frazer's ideas, I would advise reading the full, multi-volume edition, which includes the archeological evidence for the theories.
This book is ESSENTIAL for the studies of mythology, religion, or anthropology.
Most Recent Customer Reviews
A classic of the early 20th-century scholarship of comparative religion and mythology. The publication format is excellent for taking notes.Published 1 month ago by Todd A. Scull
Disappointed in this Dead Dodo Vintage edition. No table on contents available from the sidebar. Only the cover. Thus either a lot of bookmarking or a straight through read. Read morePublished 1 month ago by MusicMan
This is a great source work that covers the roots of ancient folklore and beliefs.Published 2 months ago by Merrill Hess
I have only looked through it, not started it yet. But it looks like a book that will work like taking a class - on all things spiritual since spiritual was bornPublished 3 months ago by S. Dixon
Frazer traces the roots of religious beliefs back to the dawn of history when primitive humans invented myths & rituals to explain the things they didn't understand. Read morePublished 3 months ago by Violet Bunny
My bad. I was thinking of the golden dawn. This is the golden bough. I fell asleep and fell off the bough several times. My bad.Published 5 months ago by Blue Dog