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Sir James George Frazer's comparative study of anthropology, folklore, and myth has been an influential work for writers and a standard text for scholars since its original publication, in several volumes, in the early part of the 20th century. Frazer was a professor of social anthropology and a classicist. (This edition was originaly listed as "the Arabic illustrated editi Sir James George Frazer's comparative study of anthropology, folklore, and myth has been an influential work for writers and a standard text for scholars since its original publication, in several volumes, in the early part of the 20th century. Frazer was a professor of social anthropology and a classicist. (This edition was originaly listed as "the Arabic illustrated edition for the four parts of the book, published by the General Egyptian Book Organization. However, the ISBN and cover image are for the Wordsworth Reference edition in English and the record has been accordingly updated.)


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Sir James George Frazer's comparative study of anthropology, folklore, and myth has been an influential work for writers and a standard text for scholars since its original publication, in several volumes, in the early part of the 20th century. Frazer was a professor of social anthropology and a classicist. (This edition was originaly listed as "the Arabic illustrated editi Sir James George Frazer's comparative study of anthropology, folklore, and myth has been an influential work for writers and a standard text for scholars since its original publication, in several volumes, in the early part of the 20th century. Frazer was a professor of social anthropology and a classicist. (This edition was originaly listed as "the Arabic illustrated edition for the four parts of the book, published by the General Egyptian Book Organization. However, the ISBN and cover image are for the Wordsworth Reference edition in English and the record has been accordingly updated.)

30 review for The Golden Bough: A Study in Magic and Religion, Volume 1

  1. 5 out of 5

    Greg

    A copy of the Golden Bough is on Col. Kurtz's desk in Apocalypse Now. This is THE key text for Anglo (as opposed to German or French) anthopology in the 19th century. He takes an evolutionist approach to culture, assuming that Western modernity is the peak of civilization. That will totally grate on our contemporary post-modern relativist sensitivities, but the wealth of ethnographic and ethnological data in the work is astounding. His theory of magic in primitive societies predates Malinowski's A copy of the Golden Bough is on Col. Kurtz's desk in Apocalypse Now. This is THE key text for Anglo (as opposed to German or French) anthopology in the 19th century. He takes an evolutionist approach to culture, assuming that Western modernity is the peak of civilization. That will totally grate on our contemporary post-modern relativist sensitivities, but the wealth of ethnographic and ethnological data in the work is astounding. His theory of magic in primitive societies predates Malinowski's utilitarian approach. His analysis of the dying and rising god (Isis and Osiris, Dummuzi and Inanna, etc.) motif throughout the world is worked into Apocalypse Now.

  2. 5 out of 5

    Crissy

    This is an amazing read, although it is an aquired taste. This is a study on the rituals, birthrites and practices in belief systems in so many of our worlds cultures. From kings and queens to human sacrifice and magical lore, this book is the apex of info. At times can be a tough read, but in the end so worth it. Also good as a reference book to keep handy.

  3. 5 out of 5

    Cynthia

    I read this to fall asleep. I don't even know how to rate it. The copious, repetitive, unsourced examples are often racist, jingoistic, etc., but in the most boring way possible. Frazer is what modern anthropologists' nightmares are about. I read this to fall asleep. I don't even know how to rate it. The copious, repetitive, unsourced examples are often racist, jingoistic, etc., but in the most boring way possible. Frazer is what modern anthropologists' nightmares are about.

  4. 4 out of 5

    Aaron

    Sex is magic in paganism meme book. Dated and overlong (get abridgement) despite a few cool insights.

  5. 5 out of 5

    John Dolan

    This is a quite brilliant exposition of man's progression from superstition and primitive magic to religious belief. The learning and anthropological detail are quite breathtaking. 'The Golden Bough' is a huge read (and this is the abridged edition!), but it repays the investment in spades. One of my best reads of all time. This is a quite brilliant exposition of man's progression from superstition and primitive magic to religious belief. The learning and anthropological detail are quite breathtaking. 'The Golden Bough' is a huge read (and this is the abridged edition!), but it repays the investment in spades. One of my best reads of all time.

  6. 4 out of 5

    Jack Deighton

    I would not have read this had it not been on the 100 Best Scottish Books list and also available from my local Council’s library service. Nevertheless it provided an interesting overview of its subjects. This abridged version - of 759 pages! - has been distilled down from no fewer than twelve volumes. The original must have been a prodigious feat of research and scholarship. In his preface Frazer states the book’s primary aim was to explain the “remarkable rule which regulated the succession to I would not have read this had it not been on the 100 Best Scottish Books list and also available from my local Council’s library service. Nevertheless it provided an interesting overview of its subjects. This abridged version - of 759 pages! - has been distilled down from no fewer than twelve volumes. The original must have been a prodigious feat of research and scholarship. In his preface Frazer states the book’s primary aim was to explain the “remarkable rule which regulated the succession to the priesthood of Diana at Aricia”. His examination shows this rule was not in any way unusual as he presents countless examples of similar practices and expands his investigation into various religious rites from around the world which have a bearing on the matter. He considers the evolution of human thought on the way in which the world works as a progression through magic into religion and then science, with both magic and science seeing a set of rules as governing natural phenomena (though belief in magic is of course misplaced) and religion as a case of the rules being alterable by the relevant deities who must therefore be propitiated or supplicated. What he calls “primitive” humans envisioned that similar objects could each be affected alike by treating one of them in a certain way and also that things that had been in contact thereafter somehow bore the essence of what they had touched; hence the belief in sympathetic magic. Magicians developed into priests when those who knew quite well that magic was ineffective took to faking its supposed effects. The power that priests enjoyed eventually mutated into kingship and the priestly functions became divorced from the ceremonial ones. The protection kings’ subjects enjoyed could only be provided by the king being strong hence arose the custom of their being replaced before their faculties eroded, either ritually or by combat. Out of all this came the actual (and later symbolic) killings of kings, their resurrections, and consumption of kings/gods in the form either of vegetable matter shaped in the desired way or of animals which embodied the god’s spirit. Frazer provides numerous examples of customs from many cultures all of which he asserts point to a common origin or at least to common apprehensions of the same kind. His frequent references to savages (Australian Aborigines for example) read distressingly to modern tastes. Indigenous peoples living with and respecting the land (and its spirits) are arguably less deserving of such a term than the colonialists who treated them and their ways of life as backward and disposable. Our long journey through the ways and beliefs of the world via kings of the wood, sympathetic magic, magical control of the weather, magicians as kings, incarnate human gods, the worship of trees, taboos, myths of varying god(desses), sacrifices, corn-spirits, those consumptions of gods, scapegoating and fire-festivals seems to have for Frazer a crucial link in the tale of the Norse god Balder, killed by a sprig of mistletoe. The resemblance to the plucking of the Golden Bough with which the priest of Diana at Aricia was killed and replaced cannot be missed. Despite the abridgement there are still longueurs and arguably too many examples of instances of the behaviours which Frazer discusses along with too frequent repetitions of the points he is making but this is still a remarkable survey of the practices with which humans have attempted to understand and to control the world. Aside:- Frazer notes that in the north-east of Scotland the Beltane fires in which witches were symbolically burned were called bone-fires. Bone-fires such as these are indeed from where the modern term is derived. In his discussion of fire festivals Frazer notes people, especially children, going round the neighbourhood to collect items of wood and the like to be burned in the fire. He does not, however, mention the similar long-established Halloween custom in Scotland of guising (adapted in the US - and Canada? - to trick-or-treat) nor indeed the penny-for-the-guy collections which used to precede Bonfire Night, a festival which it strikes me must have been handily co-opted for secular (well, sectarian) purposes from the All Hallows Eve fire ceremonies he describes, albeit shifted by five days. The apparently non-religious purposes of these customs may be the reason for that omission. They certainly don’t relate as easily to the Golden Bough as others in the book.

  7. 4 out of 5

    Debbie

    This was part of my reading list for my mystical exploration summer following that crazy Southeast Asia trip. I took away some profound connections to the mystical and physical world, familiar stories and primitive ancient rituals...some of those were the resurrection stories and how they are meant to explain the death and rebirth of plants. Which, when you're living through a hard Midwest winter and it's the dead of February...COMPLETELY makes sense why you'd need someone telling you stories to This was part of my reading list for my mystical exploration summer following that crazy Southeast Asia trip. I took away some profound connections to the mystical and physical world, familiar stories and primitive ancient rituals...some of those were the resurrection stories and how they are meant to explain the death and rebirth of plants. Which, when you're living through a hard Midwest winter and it's the dead of February...COMPLETELY makes sense why you'd need someone telling you stories to explain how in the hell anyone or thing lives through that. The problem is that it's REALLY dense and does a lot of twists and turns. It just needs a REALLY good editor to make it more easily accessible.

  8. 5 out of 5

    Nick Harrison

    So clearly it's a work of its time, yet this doesn't diminish its value as a starter point for researching belief systems within an anthropological framework. Written in a non-scholarly manner that still manages to feel relatively modern in approach, ensures that this work is hugely accessible to anyone with the remotest interest in cults, belief and ritualised behaviours. So clearly it's a work of its time, yet this doesn't diminish its value as a starter point for researching belief systems within an anthropological framework. Written in a non-scholarly manner that still manages to feel relatively modern in approach, ensures that this work is hugely accessible to anyone with the remotest interest in cults, belief and ritualised behaviours.

  9. 4 out of 5

    Mac

    For several years, I have come across reference after reference to James G. Frazer's "The Golden Bough." Frazer set out to explain a curious tale from classical times of a rex nemorum (king of the forests) who protects a golden bough. This king would continue to serve until he was killed by another man, who would take over the office. As Frazer explored this custom, his research spanned the globe and all recorded time. The first edition of "The Golden Bough" came in two volumes, the second in fi For several years, I have come across reference after reference to James G. Frazer's "The Golden Bough." Frazer set out to explain a curious tale from classical times of a rex nemorum (king of the forests) who protects a golden bough. This king would continue to serve until he was killed by another man, who would take over the office. As Frazer explored this custom, his research spanned the globe and all recorded time. The first edition of "The Golden Bough" came in two volumes, the second in five, and the third in no fewer than twelve. (As someone who enjoys research and often follows questions down obscure rabbit holes, I can relate!) Initially I started reading Frazer's one-volume abridgment of the twelve-volume third edition, but I quickly decided that I wanted to read the real thing. This first volume lays out the scenario of the rex nemorum and the golden bough and then begins exploring what Frazer considers the necessary background. First he considers the nature of sympathetic magic—perhaps if I eat a rock, I will become as strong as it. He draws anecdotes from all over the world. Even if I didn't believe that every one of these could possibly be true (they are often based on correspondence from a single missionary, for example), I was persuaded by the overall pattern of his argument. According to Frazer's thesis, those who could most successfully wield the influence of magic became priest-kings. Though the book is dense and took a while to work through, I enjoyed the effort. It has already paid off in a small way; while reading M.L. West's commentary on Hesiod's Works and Days, I came across a reference to a passage I had recently read in "The Golden Bough."

  10. 4 out of 5

    Justin

    A bit too slow and academic for me

  11. 4 out of 5

    Johanna Haas

    Fascinating, but very repetitive. I recommend getting a condensed version of the book.

  12. 4 out of 5

    Gabriel Vidrine

    This was a very hard book to get through. I'm glad I did, but it was a struggle to read it cover to cover. I tried to read this once before and had to put it down. Basically, this book is a collection of myths, superstitions, and religious and folk practices. But Frazer sucks all of the interest out of the stories not only by his writing style, but the manner in which he treats the material. According to Frazer, anyone who believes in magic, has a religion, or otherwise participates in folk or re This was a very hard book to get through. I'm glad I did, but it was a struggle to read it cover to cover. I tried to read this once before and had to put it down. Basically, this book is a collection of myths, superstitions, and religious and folk practices. But Frazer sucks all of the interest out of the stories not only by his writing style, but the manner in which he treats the material. According to Frazer, anyone who believes in magic, has a religion, or otherwise participates in folk or religious customs is the lowest of the low in terms of culture and intelligence. He has the very colonialist view of "savages" as less then human. What's even more horrifying is that there is an entire chapter dedicated to saying that we must treat the "savage" with respect because of his beliefs. Yet, throughout the first third of the book and throughout the rest he continually insults primitive peoples. Throughout the book, I get the impression that he's just barely keeping back the impulse to point and laugh, and say, "Can you believe what these stupid people believe?" This is NOT an acceptable way to treat anthropological material. The book eventually devolves into a listing of myths. Such as: "These people of Germany believe this about corn. They say this about corn. They burn corn in honor of the corn spirit on Midsummer. These other people of Southern Germany believe this about corn. They say this about corn. They burn corn in honor of the corn spirit on Midsummer. These people in France believe this about corn. They say this about corn. They burn corn in honor of the corn spirit on Midsummer. These other people in France also believe this about corn..." Thrilling, isn't it?????? If Cut and Paste had existed in his time, it would have been used in at least a third of the book. Some parts are nearly word for word the same. I scanned those sections, and that was the only reason it did not take me another month longer to read this book. The book is also full of silly errors and contradictions, such as an entire chapter being devoted to whether the bonfires of May Day and Midsummer were for purification or to increase the power of the sun. He argues for the purification route, and then continues to refer to them as sun-charms. *sigh* However, there were some parts that were interesting, and the book is useful for those interested in studying the evolution of myth. That's the only reason it got 2 stars instead of one.

  13. 4 out of 5

    Araminta Matthews

    I am disappointed that this far in my academic career I have not had a previous opportunity to read this book. Everything in this book amounts to the subject and discipline of my interest since I first started reading. Yet, somehow, this book never crossed my desk. I won't lie. Frazer presents a somewhat flawed argument with a clear agenda and a clear bias. For instance, there are several cases in which he suggests that Christianity is so correct, that it isn't even possible to view the historic I am disappointed that this far in my academic career I have not had a previous opportunity to read this book. Everything in this book amounts to the subject and discipline of my interest since I first started reading. Yet, somehow, this book never crossed my desk. I won't lie. Frazer presents a somewhat flawed argument with a clear agenda and a clear bias. For instance, there are several cases in which he suggests that Christianity is so correct, that it isn't even possible to view the historical significance of any other perspective. This is problematic, because it points to a bias through which historical an anthropological evidence has been delivered. One such problem is with the starting assumption of the author that superstition and magic cannot possibly hold the place against intellection. I believe this is a problematic perspective because magic as a concept may represent the unity of the body and mind as a source of divine connection and another way of "knowing." In other words, the previous peasant and pagan religions that placed a connection between the sympathies of the natural world and the actions of humanity may well have been an intuitive way of living that was subjugated by the establishment and reverence of intellection. And logic as the only way of being. This author presents several biases in which he cannot entertain even the self awareness that intellection may not be the only way of being, or the only way of being connected to divinity. Having said that, I do appreciate the detailed presentation of folklore and the connection of that folklore across multiple cultural history's. I do have to wonder though how he was able to research so many cultural identities with any veracity. There has to be an element of "the other "in this scenario… And I was not always convinced of the author self awareness in that regard. Only, what? 12 more volumes in this book to go… I will read them. I am suitably impressed. Just, hyper aware of potential problems in this perspective…

  14. 4 out of 5

    Mdaly

    It is so well written by Sir James that he manages to pull off being condescending and generous to 'savages' as he is often wont to call his ancestors. It is interesting in the way he follows up and explains ancient customs and rites but he makes the simplistic mistake, homoeopathic as he'd say himself, of thinking that because some pagan customs are similar to religious ones that therefore he has explained the religious impulse. He doesn't seem to understand the pre-figurative nature of people's It is so well written by Sir James that he manages to pull off being condescending and generous to 'savages' as he is often wont to call his ancestors. It is interesting in the way he follows up and explains ancient customs and rites but he makes the simplistic mistake, homoeopathic as he'd say himself, of thinking that because some pagan customs are similar to religious ones that therefore he has explained the religious impulse. He doesn't seem to understand the pre-figurative nature of people's deepest personal yearnings and assumes a convenient commonality to the impulses of completely disconnected ethnic groups to push his theory. The certainty with which he writes is reassuringly 20th century thinking. There is a feeling somewhat that the author makes the stories fit his theory rather than the other way around. It is written with a large dollop of confirmation bias. Still found it interesting but took some of it with a pinch of salt.

  15. 4 out of 5

    Jerome K

    Still reading this... the style of writing is a bit stiff, with a very Victorian slant, and the analysis requires readers to step out of their heads for a bit. Frazier draws wild parallels between magical practices across cultures without really exploring how they should be seen in sympathy with each other. I guess that's why this book is widely panned as a scholarly work. But it's still fun to read about his categorisations of various types of magic and the examples he writes about, as a way of Still reading this... the style of writing is a bit stiff, with a very Victorian slant, and the analysis requires readers to step out of their heads for a bit. Frazier draws wild parallels between magical practices across cultures without really exploring how they should be seen in sympathy with each other. I guess that's why this book is widely panned as a scholarly work. But it's still fun to read about his categorisations of various types of magic and the examples he writes about, as a way of explaining the fate of the priest kings who were sacrificed in honour earth godesses, and that this legend (or something like it - I haven't finished readng it yet!) forms the basis for all religions. Intriguing, far reaching, I guess... LOL... just don't expect gripping storytelling...

  16. 4 out of 5

    David

    This book is a very deep wade. So far i am able to say that people use to be a lot crazier than they are today. I can say with certainty that I am better off a wage slaving nobody today than a person from the times described in this book. Imagine that you live in a world that believes everything to be governed by immutable physical laws that can be manipulated by magicians and priests for the benefit or ill of society. Human life means next to nothing in comparison with will of the gods and the This book is a very deep wade. So far i am able to say that people use to be a lot crazier than they are today. I can say with certainty that I am better off a wage slaving nobody today than a person from the times described in this book. Imagine that you live in a world that believes everything to be governed by immutable physical laws that can be manipulated by magicians and priests for the benefit or ill of society. Human life means next to nothing in comparison with will of the gods and the costs to propitiate them. Love is non-existent in the romantic sense. Every action a person makes could fall within the realm of taboo and bring a quick end to their life. More later

  17. 4 out of 5

    Justin Covey

    For most books I consider abridgment a crime, but with this one I really wish I'd gone for a 'Selection from.' The ideas and theories Frazer expounds are compelling and rather convincing, but these theories are probably about 15% of the text. The rest is the seemingly endless evidence he gathered for these theories. His list of sources is a full third of the books length. It's an admirable amount of research, but the casual reader will not get much out of the detailed descriptions of harvest fes For most books I consider abridgment a crime, but with this one I really wish I'd gone for a 'Selection from.' The ideas and theories Frazer expounds are compelling and rather convincing, but these theories are probably about 15% of the text. The rest is the seemingly endless evidence he gathered for these theories. His list of sources is a full third of the books length. It's an admirable amount of research, but the casual reader will not get much out of the detailed descriptions of harvest festivals from nearly every peasant population in Europe, especially because they are all so nearly alike that they almost instantly begin to blend together in the readers mind.

  18. 4 out of 5

    Emily

    I read this again and again; it is endlessly interesting to look at cultures through the lens of myth and ritual. The Golden Bough is agreeably gory and the author's rawther posh British sense of superiority to these colorful primitive cultures with their superstitions and pageants--even when the culture is his own--is hilarious. I read this again and again; it is endlessly interesting to look at cultures through the lens of myth and ritual. The Golden Bough is agreeably gory and the author's rawther posh British sense of superiority to these colorful primitive cultures with their superstitions and pageants--even when the culture is his own--is hilarious.

  19. 4 out of 5

    Amy

    This is a dense book. I had to read every sentence twice at least. It is a very good reference book to understand more about literary symbolism, scientific theory, etc. But I would recommend reading the Hero with a Thousand Faces first to ease you in to Frazer's way of writing. The books are different, but do tend to tackle similar topics. This is a dense book. I had to read every sentence twice at least. It is a very good reference book to understand more about literary symbolism, scientific theory, etc. But I would recommend reading the Hero with a Thousand Faces first to ease you in to Frazer's way of writing. The books are different, but do tend to tackle similar topics.

  20. 5 out of 5

    Bob Woodley

    A root text in cultural anthropology, but dated and clearly a case of 'armchair anthropology'. Nonetheless Frazier has archived countless myths from cultures around the world and there are great stories and rich material for any creative venture. The overall premise is forced, though it influenced many others and started a new discipline. A root text in cultural anthropology, but dated and clearly a case of 'armchair anthropology'. Nonetheless Frazier has archived countless myths from cultures around the world and there are great stories and rich material for any creative venture. The overall premise is forced, though it influenced many others and started a new discipline.

  21. 4 out of 5

    Marisa

    this is a great book if you secretly want to be an anthropologist or are otherwise into folklore. Otherwise you will probably find it pendantic. I think its interesting to watch Frazer diss religion but then superficially suck up to christianity.

  22. 4 out of 5

    Travis

    Scholarly and amazing, the commonly read version is a condensation of a twelve volume work! Ties it all in to intiation and succession rites at the Oracle at Delphi, breaks magic down into two types etc. etc. awesome, if sometimes challenging.

  23. 4 out of 5

    Anthony Valletta

    Basically a catalog of belief systems from all over the globe and many civilizations. Comprehensive and fascinating. Every page has such a vast wealth of information, that at times it can be a bit overwhelming. A must read for students of anthropology and comparative religion.

  24. 4 out of 5

    Barbara

    Really great for those who like to know where our holidays came from and why our ancestors painted themselves blue. All the superstitions and magical reasoning behind traditions. Really boring for those who are not into mythology.

  25. 5 out of 5

    ProgGrrl

    Why am I not surprised this book got a *very* good rating in general on GR? :-) A few lines of this that caught my eye were mentioned in one of the Mortal Instruments books... I may give it a read soon.

  26. 4 out of 5

    Alexis

    I had started reading this one for research for one of my art collections. It has a great number of points to start from, and was a perfect resource for me, but I'm not sure how many people would be interested in reading this "for fun" ; ) I had started reading this one for research for one of my art collections. It has a great number of points to start from, and was a perfect resource for me, but I'm not sure how many people would be interested in reading this "for fun" ; )

  27. 4 out of 5

    Syncreation

    Great Reference book on archaic magic practices! I'm a spirit quest traveller and this is my road map Great Reference book on archaic magic practices! I'm a spirit quest traveller and this is my road map

  28. 5 out of 5

    Deb

    Anyone who hasn't read this book - get it now! The key to understanding literature from Gilgamesh to C.S. Lewis... Anyone who hasn't read this book - get it now! The key to understanding literature from Gilgamesh to C.S. Lewis...

  29. 4 out of 5

    Count No Count

    In a nut, you wear the crown then they throw you down.

  30. 5 out of 5

    Nicci

    I am excited to read it not for a class!

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