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The Golden Bough: The Roots of Religion and Folklore

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Surveys ancient mythologies and modern primitive cultures to interpret their views on magic, witchcraft, taboos, sexual rites, and human sacrifices.


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Surveys ancient mythologies and modern primitive cultures to interpret their views on magic, witchcraft, taboos, sexual rites, and human sacrifices.

57 review for The Golden Bough: The Roots of Religion and Folklore

  1. 5 out of 5

    Lisa (Harmonybites)

    The Foreword compares Frazer and Golden Bough in its impact to such revolutionary thinkers of the 19th Century as Darwin, Marx, and Freud. This seminal work of anthropology and comparative religion first published in 1890 was in fact a great influence on Freud and Jung as well as T.S. Eliot and Yeats and the modern Neopagan movement. Frazer's influence on Joseph Campbell is obvious--he's the original. Frazer tries to argue for the monomyth--the idea that religion and myth can be reduced to a few The Foreword compares Frazer and Golden Bough in its impact to such revolutionary thinkers of the 19th Century as Darwin, Marx, and Freud. This seminal work of anthropology and comparative religion first published in 1890 was in fact a great influence on Freud and Jung as well as T.S. Eliot and Yeats and the modern Neopagan movement. Frazer's influence on Joseph Campbell is obvious--he's the original. Frazer tries to argue for the monomyth--the idea that religion and myth can be reduced to a few universal principles and symbols such as sacrifice, scapegoats, the soul and totem and taboo. Taking an ancient Roman custom involving the "King of the Wood" at Nemi as his launching pad, Frazer examined myths and folktales from every part of the world and drew connections to explain, as the subtitle on the cover of my copy put it, "the roots of religion and folklore." His argument seems to be that the origins of religion can be found in a crude science, an attempt to influence the world through sympathetic magic. Although he never attacked Christianity directly in this original edition, I could see how the idea of Jesus as entirely myth could come out of this book. Frazer's examination of vegetation deities, cycles of sowing and reaping and kingly sacrifice and his examination of the myths of Ishtar and Thammuz, Isis and Osiris, Aphrodite and Adonis and spring fertility rites is certainly suggestive. I often found this book tedious, primarily because of Frazer's exhaustive examples--and the edition I read is the original two-volume work--before he, as the Foreword put it, "overburdened the book with volumes of illustrative examples which tended to hide the thread of his argument." (Twelve volumes in fact.) In his pile-on it reminded me of my recent read of the original edition of Darwin's Origin of Species. This was a time when science wasn't yet so technical and specialized as to be unduly esoteric to the layman. So as with Darwin, I think Frazer was aiming his book at both his scientific brethren as well as the layman--thus the exhaustive examples in an effort to prove his theories. However, unlike the case with Darwin, I believe Frazer's examples do more to hide--nay, bury--his argument rather than illustrate it, even in this original more compact edition. More and more I found myself skimming. There is an abridged edition from the author, but my understanding from reviews is that it excised a lot of the more controversial and interesting parts found in the expanded versions, such as a chapter on "The Crucifixion of Christ." Also as with Darwin, who didn't at the time have the advantages of our advances in genetics and geology, I suspect much of the anthropology in Golden Bough is outdated. Especially given that unlike Darwin, who famously conducted many observations in the field and experiments of his own, Frazer seemed to entirely rely on second-hand accounts, mostly by travelers and missionaries. Nor do I entirely buy Frazer's contention that modern peasant customs and folklore represented a continuity with a pagan past. Some may be put off by Frazer's characterization of peoples as "rude" and "savages." To his credit though, Frazer doesn't exempt Europe or Britain in his examples of primitive rituals and superstitions. Given that and the context of the times, I don't as some reviewers do see this book as essentially racist. Frazer notes, "when all is said and done our resemblances to the savage are still far more numerous than our differences from him." This book reminded me, of all things, of Chinua Achebe's Things Fall Apart. That novel is famous as a denunciation of colonialism. But one of the things I took away from Achebe's book was that the Christian missionaries gained adherents because they freed their converts from frightening and oppressive superstitions that propagated slavery, infanticide and human sacrifice. As much as I can see the ugly side of the history of modern monotheistic creeds such as Christianity, I think we forget that much of the legacy of polytheistic pagan beliefs isn't as pretty as many of its New Age adherents would have it. This book--for all I suspected the accuracy of many details--was a salutary reminder of that with its tales of scapegoating, sacrifices and taboos. Ironically, Frazer's successors, such as Joseph Campbell, have formed a new myth of the "noble savage," of a pagan and pre-historic past as egalitarian and in harmony with nature. We seem to have few fans of civilization and reason these days. It's ironic that a book that tried to explain the spiritual scientifically might have contributed to that. Ultimately I'm glad I read it, and I'm keeping it on my shelves as a rather thorough reference book of beliefs and rites across cultures and ages--or at least as far as was known over a century ago.

  2. 5 out of 5

    David Withun

    -

  3. 5 out of 5

    Ryan

    Le roi est mort, vive le roi. Frazer wanted to figure out if there was an analog or explanation to the tradition of Rex Nemorensis. To become the King of the Wood you had to kill the King, but not before plucking the Golden Bough. What could be reduced to three paragraphs, Frazer draws out over 700 pages and weaves all known--and some unknown--religious traditions and rituals to effectively capture common themes across all cultures and geographies. If Frazer were alive today he'd be your friend t Le roi est mort, vive le roi. Frazer wanted to figure out if there was an analog or explanation to the tradition of Rex Nemorensis. To become the King of the Wood you had to kill the King, but not before plucking the Golden Bough. What could be reduced to three paragraphs, Frazer draws out over 700 pages and weaves all known--and some unknown--religious traditions and rituals to effectively capture common themes across all cultures and geographies. If Frazer were alive today he'd be your friend that spent a day going down a Wikipedia rabbit hole when his original inquiry was resolved by the first natural result from the original Google search. Great read.

  4. 5 out of 5

    Diana Padua

    This book is very interesting. I read this morning, for example, that in some cultures, the king sits in a little house by himself, locked in, to eat and drink. This custom is because these people believe that everytime we open our mouths, our soul is looking to escape, and if someone is nearby, they might steal the errant soul. Cool stuff.

  5. 4 out of 5

    Scott Holmes

    Although Frazer's speculations are now largely discredited this book is valuable as a source for much of what is found in literature in regards to magic, mythology and much of Western Civilization's literature. And, it's a fun read. Although Frazer's speculations are now largely discredited this book is valuable as a source for much of what is found in literature in regards to magic, mythology and much of Western Civilization's literature. And, it's a fun read.

  6. 5 out of 5

    Jonathan Farley

    An excellent dissertation on the origins of religion.

  7. 4 out of 5

    Jonathan

    Fascinating and times but a bit long-winded

  8. 5 out of 5

    Graham

    I read this at University many years ago.

  9. 4 out of 5

    Suzanne Hess

    Intensive reference material. A bit repetitive.

  10. 5 out of 5

    Bert Piedmont's Book Sale Items

    different cover

  11. 4 out of 5

    Sahar Moghani

  12. 4 out of 5

    Grey853

  13. 4 out of 5

    Aryeh

  14. 5 out of 5

    Stephanie Saulter

  15. 4 out of 5

    Sidney Davis

    The book illustrates and demonstrates by detailed observation and comparing the similarity of primative cultures around the world that historically all religions have a common origin resulting from the engagement of human experience with natural phenomenon reduced to symbol and ritual.

  16. 5 out of 5

    Don

  17. 5 out of 5

    David Lawrence

  18. 4 out of 5

    Lynda Daneliuk

  19. 5 out of 5

    CC

  20. 4 out of 5

    M. R. Shamasneh

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    shelemm

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    Jennifer Jorm

  23. 5 out of 5

    Kay Dee

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    Laura

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    Jordan Baker

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    Özge Çelen

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    Melvin

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    Kay Roussel

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    Nat

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    sage

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    Irene

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    Hallet

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    Marne

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    Justin

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    William Owen

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    Jeff

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    Jeff Peterson

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    meg

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    Mathias

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    jaye

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    Wade Macmorrighan

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    Jack

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    Snail in Danger (Sid) Nicolaides

  53. 5 out of 5

    Scot

  54. 4 out of 5

    Chelsea

  55. 5 out of 5

    Steve Morrison

  56. 5 out of 5

    Bill Tucker

  57. 4 out of 5

    Morgan

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