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Review of Golden Bough

2/24/2014 10:25PM

The Golden Bough, by Sir James George Frazer, is a bit of a read. This is a book that could be used as a club, and it has small text and no pictures. In fact, in the unabridged version, it has TWELVE volumes of this size. This is not something to be read in a day.


However, for both a reference book, and sheer learning, it is unsurpassed, and one of my all time favorites. It was groundbreaking and scandalous at the time it came out, and its influence can be felt throughout pretty much most anthropology books after. In fact, it was one of the first anthropology books, and it kind of shows.


The entire basis is to prove why a culture would think to kill off it's king every year. It was a ritual in Greece, often using a golden bough, which is where the title comes from. It rambles through all sorts of subjects, including homeopathic magic, transmutation, kingly powers, puberty rituals, taboos, and all sorts of cultural rituals and traditions. It does so because one subject flows into another, and each section proves why it's talked about before moving on to the next one.


This book is also not for the faint of heart. Sir Frazer pulls no punches when describing puberty rituals where the girls get tied up into a hammock and beaten because th thought is that if more blood flows then, less will flow later. And yes, he mentions some of them did die from this. He mentions Aztec and Mayan rituals, including one where the priests run around the city in the skin of a young girl. But again, if you are trying to write about a new culture, and need some odd ideas for rituals and traditions, this is an excellent place to start.


This one has added in something that was taken out from the original abridgment, which was comparing Jesus to other figures in mythology, like Osiris, and how they seem very similar. This offended a lot of people, so it was taken out, and put back in much later.


It's also very obvious it is written by a British gentlemen in the late 1800's, from the words 'Hindoo'; and the words 'pagan', 'heathen', 'primitive', and 'savage' a lot, often when describing Aborigines, American Indians, Africans, Germans, and the Irish.

If you're into anthropology, into world building for writing, or just into learning interesting things in general, I highly recommend this book.