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The Golden Bough (1890)

by James George Frazer

Other authors: See the other authors section.

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3,995262,092 (3.9)95
A world classic. "The Golden Bough" describes our ancestors' primitive methods of worship, sex practices, strange rituals and festivals. Disproving the popular thought that primitive life was simple, this monumental survey shows that savage man was enmeshed in a tangle of magic, taboos, and superstitions. Revealed here is the evolution of man from savagery to civilization, from the modification of his weird and often bloodthirsty customs to the entry of lasting moral, ethical, and spiritual values.… (more)
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» See also 95 mentions

English (24)  Spanish (2)  All languages (26)
Showing 1-5 of 24 (next | show all)
So far, while it does a lot of mythological name-dropping, and the very thin veil of a theme seems accurate, I'm tempted to say that this book is a real mess. Goddesses with mixed up attributes, bald-faced assumptions about ancient societies, and rampant misspellings almost turn me off. And yet, I have stamina. I have fortitude. I shall endure another escaped slave trying to murder me so he can break off the branch of my sacred tree and so take my place.

Some random, albeit unfortunate, quotes:

"And they were forced to lay upon some erections."

"And she was given the gift of a cock."


Seriously enough, I've been very impressed by the work. Ok, so on my ebook reader, it only runs up to a little under 1500 pages, and there are at least a dozen accounts as proof of each point. I cannot, in good faith, find fault with much of his conclusions. I was astonished to realize how many assumptions I had held about Osiris were completely balderdash. At least I've been put to rights about the real reason he was worshiped. Hint: it wasn't because they never found his penis.

Overall, the main themes are drilled into our skulls so thoroughly that there's no way we could ever forget them, even if we tried. The best and the worst that I can say for this work is that it is very thorough. I can honestly say I've heard discussions of the many themes, as I'm sure most of us have; fertility deities, all manifestations thereof.

What I was most astonished to feel, after reading this work, was a great sadness. I look back at all of the thousands of cultures that have independently worshiped the same principles over time and see how they were systematically wiped out as "poppycock", and I wonder about the now-lost depth of understanding that is now lost to time and chronos... and I wonder if Uranus ever did find his penis. ( )
  bradleyhorner | Jun 1, 2020 |
It's important to note that the abridged version of this book, aside from being abridged, omits Frazer's most groundbreaking and controversial (at the time) thesis, regarding Christianity's relationship to the rest of humankind's myriad religions. ( )
  therebelprince | Apr 27, 2020 |
This is a great and fascinating work, steeped in detail and careful scholarship, and very well-written.

The pity is that the underlying assumption of the work, that the customs it details are evidence of a primitive, pan-European, primitive culture. There is evidence enough that many of Frazier's pagan survivals were in fact developments of the high middle ages, perhaps immemorial but not antique.

It's still a wonderful and compelling book, as long as one keeps in mind that the patterns it documents are more widely spread in time, and less primitive, than Frazier thought. ( )
  jsburbidge | Dec 30, 2019 |
This book was fascinating. It talks about rituals and ideas that came from superstitious beliefs, and how those beliefs evolved over time. I don't know if this is the full version of the book, since I heard that this version is abridged, but it is already pretty long, so I don't know what they cut out to make it shorter. ( )
  Floyd3345 | Jun 15, 2019 |
I recall reading this book quite a few years ago, when I was a new Wiccan. I recall thinking that it had rehashed just enough mythology to be annoying, but not especially revealing, so I did not take notes on it. I suppose I shall have to read it again.
  FourFreedoms | May 17, 2019 |
Showing 1-5 of 24 (next | show all)
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» Add other authors (23 possible)

Author nameRoleType of authorWork?Status
Frazer, James GeorgeAuthorprimary authorall editionsconfirmed
De Bosis, LauroTranslatorsecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
Stocking, George W., Jr.Introductionsecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
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Epigraph
Longior undecimi nobis decimique libelli
Artatus labor est et breve rasit opus.
Plura legant vacui.


MARTIAL, xii. S.
Dedication
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Who does not know Turner’s picture of the Golden Bough?
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Disambiguation notice
Frazer's own 1922 abridgment of his 12-volume work, originally published in two volumes but now usually published in one. Please don't combine with the multi-volume (8 to 15 volumes) sets, with any of its separate volumes, nor with either of the the "new" abridgments edited by Theodore Gaster (1959) or Robert Fraser (1998), nor with any edition titled Illustrated Golden Bough, of which there are at least two with different editors doing the abridgment, unless you know they are using the 1922 Frazer text. To add to the confusion, some editions claim to be "unabridged" because they are unabridged from Frazer's original 1890 two-volume publication, not the best-known multi-volume third edition (1906-1915).

Wikipedia entry for Golden Bough:
http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/The_Gold...
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A famous work on comparative religion and mythology.   The number of volumes varied as the author first published two volumes, then expanded to fifteen, and then cut it down to one.   The reputation of the work has varied across time and among critics.
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