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The Golden Bough [abridged - 1998 Fraser] by…
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The Golden Bough [abridged - 1998 Fraser]

by James George Frazer

Other authors: Robert Fraser (Editor)

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The Golden Bough is a book most often encountered in bibliographies. If you have ever read a book of comparative religion it was probably lurking quietly, or not so quietly in the works cited.

If one decides to actually read the book itself it they might have trouble nailing down a specific text. Always a chunky tome the book has been abridged at least twice and expanded as well. The largest version of the piece spanning 12 volumes. Not surprizingly, few people mean that version when they say they read The Golden Bough. I chose to read the most modern abridgement, which, at nearly 850 pages, is still a fair commitment.

But what is The Golden Bough? Frazier came from an era of eurocentric exploration and armchair academics. Frazier built an extensive network of contacts with early anthropologists and ethnographers. Using the mountain of information they provided him on culture, belief and behavior from cultures all over the world he assembled The Golden Bough. In my experience, it is the sheer volume of data on diverse and obscure people and their religions that make this a mainstay of comparative religion texts. But Frazier was never a simple aggregator.

Amazingly, despite the sprawling mass of text, Frazier's intent was surprizingly specific. He wanted to understand the basis of a certain arcane religious tradition, the King of the Wood at Nemi. The king of the wood stood guard at the sacred grove until he was defeated in single combat by a slave or fugitive who then took his place as the King of the Wood. Frazier's approach is wholistic, and based on the belief that the development of belief, myth and religion has a common logic and course of development across diverse human cultures. He analyzes belief and practice from many cultures attempting to reconstruct the logic and processes that shaped myth and tradition in the most distant days of human history and it's development and legacy as culture evolved and matured.

The work is more literary than scientific, but it is well thought out and intriguing. It is a worthy text for it's sheer volume of anthropological data (though some of it is surely dated) and well as a sincere and very early attempt to understand religious belief academically. And the the abridgement I read restores the wry humor and observations that earned it a respectable level of controversy and outrage from the god-fearing crowd.

But really, who can resist a Victorian that's got some shit to say?

"...Christians and pagans like were struck by the remarkable coincidence between the death and resurrection of their respective deities, and that the coincidence formed a theme of bitter controversy between the adherents of the rival religions, the pagans contending that the resurrection of Christ was a spurious imitation of the resurrection of Attis, and the Christians asserting with equal warmth that the resurrection of Attis was a diabolical counterfeit of the resurrection of Christ. In these unseemly bickerings the heathens took what to a superficial observer might seem strong ground by arguing that their god was the older and therefore presumably the original, not the counterfeit, since as a general rule an original is older than its copy. This feeble argument the Christians easily rebutted. They admitted, indeed, that in the point of time Christ was the junior deity, but they triumphantly demonstrated his real senority by falling back on the subtlety of Satan, who on so important an occassion had surpassed himself by inverting the usual order of nature." ( )
  fundevogel | Sep 11, 2016 |
Superstition and religion. The cultural - not theological - evolution of religions. A very interesting book, it has a modernist view and takes mythology as a basis for belief in higher powers. Very influential for its time. ( )
  JVioland | Jul 14, 2014 |
Without its dust jacket, the book looks like a Holy Bible. It is divided into brief numbered chapters; some so pithy and thought-provoking, you might call them verses. I read a chapter or two each time I visited the bathroom. About six months later, I am finished. By piling on anecdote after anecdote from beliefs and rituals throughout history and around the globe, and applying some informed but creative speculation, Frazer pursues his goal of interpreting the myth of the golden bough. While his ultimate conclusions may have been a bit mistaken, he makes so many interesting observations along the way that it really doesn't matter. Consider him a modern-day Herodotus and a pre-modern Jung.

In the Kangean archipelago, East Indies, when the mice prove very destructful to the rice-crop, the people rid themselves of the pest in the following manner. On a Friday, when the usual service in the mosque is over, four pairs of mice are solemnly united in marriage by the priest. Each pair is then shut up in a miniature canoe about a foot long. These canoes are filled with rice and other fruits of the earth, and the four pairs of mice are then escorted to the sea-shore just as if it were a real wedding. Wherever the procession passes the people beat with all their might upon their rice-blocks. On reaching the shore, the canoes, with their little inmates, are launched and left to the mercy of the winds and waves.
the New Golden Bough, No. 422 ( )
3 vote slickdpdx | Apr 8, 2010 |
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Author nameRoleType of authorWork?Status
James George Frazerprimary authorall editionscalculated
Fraser, RobertEditorsecondary authorall editionsconfirmed
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"New" 1998 abridgment edited by Robert Fraser (not Frazer). Please do not combine with either volume of Frazer's own 1922 abridgment of his 13-volume work, the full set, any of its separate volumes, nor Theodore Gaster's New Golden Bough abridgment (1959)
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Amazon.com Product Description (ISBN 0192835416, Paperback)

First published in 1890, The Golden Bough is a seminal work of modern anthropology. A classic study of the beliefs and institutions of mankind that traces the development and confluence of thought from magic and ritual to modern scientific theory, it has been a source of great influence upon such diverse writers as T.S. Eliot, Wyndham Lewis, and D.H. Lawrence. This edition restores many of the controversial passages expurgated in the 1922 edition that elucidate Frazer's bolder theories, and sets them within the framework of a valuable introduction and notes.

(retrieved from Amazon Thu, 12 Mar 2015 18:16:52 -0400)

Originally published in 12 volumes, this is James Fraser's own abridgement to one volume of his comparative study of the beliefs and institutions of mankind.

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