Read The Golden Bough by James George Frazer Free Online
Book Title: The Golden Bough|
The author of the book: James George Frazer
Edition: SMK Books
Date of issue: June 15th 2014
Format files: PDF
The size of the: 528 KB
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Reader ratings: 6.6
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I read an abridged version of this some years ago that I picked up in a bookshop for a pound - the output of a cheap publisher. It was a slow and awkward read, possibly because of the abridgement, but the original was long and appeared in numerous editions each of which tended to get more elaborate during Frazer's lifetime.
The opening echoes Gibbon's Decline and Fall of the Roman Empire, the British scholar in Italy looks over the landscape and allows a vision of the past, the product of their classical learning, to sweep over them. In Frazer's case though this was not a vision of the City of Rome but of the myth of the King of the Grove at Nemi. The practise at Nemi was that there was a priest of the Goddess Diana who became priest by killing the current occupant of the office in single combat, and who would then be the priest until they in turn were killed by a younger, stronger applicant for the role. The priest was generally, maybe eventually always, an escaped slave, at least by the time that that the Classical writers were mentioning the practise - a few years, however brief, as Priest of Diana were better than a long life of slavery.
Frazer felt that the central idea of the cycle of eternal renewal was the foundational idea of religious and magical thinking manifesting itself from the most 'savage' culture to Christianity. The Christian connection was soft pedalled since one couldn't print that kind of thing in Victorian Britain, but by implication, Christ's death and resurrection was simply in his view just one more repetition of the death and rebirth of the natural world, the symbolic or actual death of a ritual figure magically required to ensure the rebirth of seed crops every year.
This Frazer set out to demonstrate by stock piling examples of this kind of myth from rural European corn kings and nineteenth century harvest songs to the cult celebration of the death of Adonis as well as everything in between. In this way it still functions as a convenient treasure trove of myths, stories and beliefs irrespective of the validity of his thesis. Having said that the choice and arrangement of his material is determined by his goals.
What I found most interesting was the snippets from the disappearing culture of the Victorian British countryside. Machines are all well and good, but they don't sing songs or trade their savings to buy the horseman's word off a stranger in an ale house (view spoiler)[ the horseman's word was a word, command or maybe a spell, that if you knew it would allow you absolute magical control over horses - a useful thing to know in a horse-powered countryside (view spoiler)[ anyhow handing over a few guineas for the horseman's word makes a change from selling your wife to a sailor for a few mugs of booze at a summer fair in the style of The Mayor of Casterbridge (hide spoiler)] (hide spoiler)].
It seems all a little Foucault's Pendulum on the one hand, in its assumption of a meta-narrative and its urgent quest to reveal it, while on the other it speaks to the centrality of Christianity in Frazer's mind in that even in his effort to put it in an explanatory framework he is clearly still engaged with the central idea of the resurrection. Rather than get away from it he has expanded it and imposed it (or discovered it depending on your point of view) on everything else. In that respect in my imagination Frazer is something like the archetypal angry atheist, still so firmly possessed by their religious background that they carry it with them were ever they go.
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Read information about the authorScottish social anthropologist influential in the early stages of the modern studies of mythology and comparative religion.
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