The Golden Bough
From The Art and Popular Culture Encyclopedia
The Golden Bough: A Study in Magic and Religion is a wide-ranging comparative study of mythology and religion, written by Scottish anthropologist Sir James George Frazer (1854–1941). It was first published in two volumes in 1890; the third edition, published 1906–15, comprised twelve volumes. It was aimed at a broad literate audience raised on tales as told in such publications as Thomas Bulfinch's Age of Fable. It offered a modernist approach to discussing religion, treating it dispassionately as a cultural phenomenon rather than from a theological perspective. Although the worth of its contribution to anthropology will be newly evaluated by each generation, its impact on contemporary European literature was substantial.
- Subject Index
- Chapter 1. The King of the Wood
- Chapter 2. Priestly Kings
- Chapter 3. Sympathetic Magic
- Chapter 4. Magic and Religion
- Chapter 5. The Magical Control of the Weather
- Chapter 6. Magicians as Kings
- Chapter 7. Incarnate Human Gods
- Chapter 8. Departmental Kings of Nature
- Chapter 9. The Worship of Trees
- Chapter 10. Relics of Tree Worship in Modern Europe
- Chapter 11. The Influence of the Sexes on Vegetation
- Chapter 12. The Sacred Marriage
- Chapter 13. The Kings of Rome and Alba
- Chapter 14. Succession to the Kingdom in Ancient Latium
- Chapter 15. The Worship of the Oak
- Chapter 16. Dianus and Diana
- Chapter 17. The Burden of Royalty
- Chapter 18. The Perils of the Soul
- Chapter 19. Tabooed Acts
- Chapter 20. Tabooed Persons
- Chapter 21. Tabooed Things
- Chapter 22. Tabooed Words
- Chapter 23. Our Debt to the Savage
- Chapter 24. The Killing of the Divine King
- Chapter 25. Temporary Kings
- Chapter 26. Sacrifice of the King’s Son
- Chapter 27. Succession to the Soul
- Chapter 28. The Killing of the Tree-Spirit
- Chapter 29. The Myth of Adonis
- Chapter 30. Adonis in Syria
- Chapter 31. Adonis in Cyprus
- Chapter 32. The Ritual of Adonis
- Chapter 33. The Gardens of Adonis
- Chapter 34. The Myth and Ritual of Attis
- Chapter 35. Attis as a God of Vegetation
- Chapter 36. Human Representatives of Attis
- Chapter 37. Oriental Religions in the West
- Chapter 38. The Myth of Osiris
- Chapter 39. The Ritual of Osiris
- Chapter 40. The Nature of Osiris
- Chapter 41. Isis
- Chapter 42. Osiris and the Sun
- Chapter 43. Dionysus
- Chapter 44. Demeter and Persephone
- Chapter 45. Corn-Mother and Corn-Maiden in N. Europe
- Chapter 46. Corn-Mother in Many Lands
- Chapter 47. Lityerses
- Chapter 48. The Corn-Spirit as an Animal
- Chapter 49. Ancient Deities of Vegetation as Animals
- Chapter 50. Eating the God
- Chapter 51. Homeopathic Magic of a Flesh Diet
- Chapter 52. Killing the Divine Animal
- Chapter 53. The Propitiation of Wild Animals By Hunters
- Chapter 54. Types of Animal Sacrament
- Chapter 55. The Transference of Evil
- Chapter 56. The Public Expulsion of Evils
- Chapter 57. Public Scapegoats
- Chapter 58. Human Scapegoats in Classical Antiquity
- Chapter 59. Killing the God in Mexico
- Chapter 60. Between Heaven and Earth
- Chapter 61. The Myth of Balder
- Chapter 62. The Fire-Festivals of Europe
- Chapter 63. The Interpretation of the Fire-Festivals
- Chapter 64. The Burning of Human Beings in the Fires
- Chapter 65. Balder and the Mistletoe
- Chapter 66. The External Soul in Folk-Tales
- Chapter 67. The External Soul in Folk-Custom
- Chapter 68. The Golden Bough
- Chapter 69. Farewell to Nemi
The Golden Bough attempts to define the shared elements of religious belief. Its thesis is that old religions were fertility cults that revolved around the worship of, and periodic sacrifice of, a sacred king.
This king was the incarnation of a dying and reviving god, a solar deity who underwent a mystic marriage to a goddess of the Earth, who died at the harvest, and was reincarnated in the spring. Frazer claims that this legend is central to almost all of the world's mythologies.
- "When I first put pen to paper to write The Golden Bough I had no conception of the magnitude of the voyage on which I was embarking; I thought only to explain a single rule of an ancient Italian priesthood." (Aftermath p vi)
The book's title was taken from an incident in the Aeneid, illustrated by the British artist Joseph Mallord William Turner: Aeneas and the Sibyl present the golden bough to the gatekeeper of Hades in order to gain admission.
The book scandalized the British public upon its first publication, because it included the Christian story of Jesus in its comparative study, thus inviting an agnostic reading of the Lamb of God as a relic of a pagan religion. Frazer removed his analysis of the Crucifixion to a speculative appendix for the third edition, and it was entirely missing from the single-volume abridged edition.
Its influence on the emerging discipline of anthropology was pervasive and undeniable. For example, Bronisław Malinowski, stricken with tuberculosis shortly after receiving his doctorate in physics and mathematics, read Frazer's work in the original English to distract himself from his illness. "No sooner had I read this great work than I became immersed in it and enslaved by it. I realized then that anthropology, as presented by Sir James Frazer, is a great science, worthy of as much devotion as any of her elder and more exact studies and I became bound to the service of Frazerian anthropology."
Despite whatever controversy the work may have generated, and its critical reception amongst other scholars, The Golden Bough had a tremendous effect on the literature of the period. Robert Graves adapted Frazer's concept of the dying king who is sacrificed for the good of the kingdom to the romantic idea of the poet's necessary suffering for the sake of his Muse-Goddess in his Frazer-esque book on poetry, rituals, and myths, The White Goddess, which was published in 1948. William Butler Yeats makes reference to it in his poem, "Sailing to Byzantium". H. P. Lovecraft mentions the book in his short story "The Call of Cthulhu". T. S. Eliot acknowledged indebtedness to Frazer in his first note to his poem The Waste Land. William Carlos Williams references it as well in Book Two, part two, of his extended poem in five books, Paterson. James Joyce, Ernest Hemingway, D. H. Lawrence, Aleister Crowley, Ezra Pound, Mary Renault, Joseph Campbell, Naomi Mitchison (in her The Corn King and the Spring Queen), and Camille Paglia are but a few authors deeply influenced by The Golden Bough. Its literary impact has given it continued life, even as its direct influence in anthropology has waned.
Critical analysis of The Golden Bough
The philosopher Ludwig Wittgenstein returned time and again to The Golden Bough, often enough that his commentaries have been compiled as Remarks on Frazer's Golden Bough, edited by Rush Rhees, originally published in 1967, with the English edition following in 1971. He writes, "Frazer is much more savage than most of these savages." Weston LaBarre made the observation that Frazer was "the last of the scholastics", and wrote The Golden Bough "as an extended footnote to a line in Virgil he felt he did not understand."
Some modern criticism sets Frazer in the broader context of the history of ideas, for example, Robert Ackerman in his The Myth and Ritual School: J. G. Frazer and the Cambridge Ritualists. The myth and ritual school includes scholars Jane Harrison, Gilbert Murray, F. M. Cornford, and A.B. Cook, who were connecting the new discipline of myth theory and anthropology with traditional literary classics at the end of the nineteenth century. This school was an important influence on a great deal of Modernist literature.
"If the test of truth lay in a show of hands or a counting of heads, the system of magic might appeal, with far more reason than the Catholic Church, to the proud motto, Quod semper, quod ubique, quod ab omnibus ["Always, everywhere, and by all"], as the sure and certain credential of its own infallibility." (Chapter 4, "Magic and Religion".)
"The danger, however, is not less real because it is imaginary; imagination acts upon man as really as does gravitation, and may kill him as certainly as a dose of prussic acid." (Chapter 21, "Tabooed Things".)
In popular culture
- The M. R. James short story "Casting The Runes", references The Golden Bough.
- Stephen King has a character refer to The Golden Bough as a demonology text in "The Mangler".
- In his poem, Sailing To Byzantium, William Butler Yeats refers to "a golden bough."
- The book is mentioned in Raymond Chandler's novel The Long Goodbye.
- Aleister Crowley wrote a series of short stories inspired by The Golden Bough, which were collected into a volume called Golden Twigs.
- Umberto Eco makes reference to the book in Foucault's Pendulum.
- William Gaddis quotes directly from The Golden Bough in The Recognitions to describe a sacrificial act to be performed on a Barbary ape named Heracles to save the life of the protagonist.
- Thomas Pynchon makes reference to both The Golden Bough and The White Goddess in chapter 3 of V..
- The Golden Bough is both directly referenced in and a partial framework for the plot structure of the Diana Wynne Jones novel Fire and Hemlock.
- The book is mentioned repeatedly in the John Ringo book Kildar, part of the Paladin of Shadows series, as a reference to understand the practices of a lost tribe of pagan warriors.
- The book is mentioned several times in Albert Sánchez Piñol's Cold Skin.
- The book is heavily referred to in the novel The First Verse by Barry McCrea.
- In Grant Morrison's graphic novel Arkham Asylum, psychotherapist Dr. Amadeus Arkham reads The Golden Bough as his mental health deteriorates.
- The book plays a role in Mary Stewart's 1956 mystery novel Wildfire at midnight involving ritual murders on the Scottish Isle of Skye.
- The Golden Bough is seen in the film Apocalypse Now in the stack of reading material for Colonel Kurtz, along with Jessie Weston's From Ritual to Romance.
- In the first note to his poem, The Waste Land, T.S. Eliot acknowledges a debt to both books.
- Information from The Golden Bough was used extensively for the 1973 film The Wicker Man.
- The titular myth forms the basis of Stuart MacRae and Simon Armitage's opera The Assassin Tree, which premiered at the Edinburgh International Festival on 25 August 2006.
- In the Japanese anime series Eureka Seven, two characters, Holland Novak and Colonel Dewey Novak,are seen reading The Golden Bough, and it is a symbol for one of the anime's fictional organizations. Frazer's theme of the sacrificial king is prominent throughout the series.
- Jim Morrison's song "Not to Touch the Earth", begins, "Not to touch the earth, not to see the sun...," which are subchapters of chapter 60, "Between Heaven and Earth," with subchapter 1, "Not to Touch the Earth," and subchapter 2, "Not to See the Sun".
- The Golden Bough is mentioned in Robert A. Heinlein's novel Stranger in a Strange Land when Valentine Michael Smith is trying to learn about human religions.
- The Golden Bough is referenced in the 2002 video game, Eternal Darkness, by one of the characters - a psychiatrist, Dr. Edward Roivas. He makes reference to Frazer's work as well as others such as Carl Jung in the context of the game's psychological themes.
- The book is mentioned in Nick Laird's novel Utterly Monkey.
- The book is mentioned in Erica Jong's novel Fear of Flying.
- On the popular medical drama, House, M.D., House pretends to be reading The Golden Bough, only for his friends and colleagues to discover it's another book wrapped in the cover.
- Archetypal literary criticism
- The Hero with a Thousand Faces
- The Mass of Saint-Secaire
- Rex Nemorensis
- The Seclusion of Girls at Puberty