Theoretical Review of Sir James Frazer's Golden Bough

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Harvey Mudd College
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Literature review
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The Mirror of Diana is the lake in Frazers opening of the Golden Bough. In his book, first printed in 1890 then reprinted in 12 copies two decades later he tries to explain the development of man, via the anthropological resources he had. Using the resources, he had, he created a picture of how at a primal level, how human beings acted and thought and how this school of thought persisted up to today. The book also aims to understand different cultures, both ancient and contemporary. His work also helped create a niche for mythology, "helped reveal the full significance of mythology, which otherwise might have remained an airy fancy with no social or psychological relevance to modern humanity." Ever since the book came out, it has had a significant weight on anthropology and religion and psychology. Despite the fact that the book is essential, it has its flaws just like any other theorist's because ideally, it is only a school of thought.

The high nature of the Aracian King of the Woods was found throughout the ancient kingdom. As the overall leader, he was supposed to be kept alive by any means possible. As time went by, this being developed into a sacred person. According to Frazer, magic has two principles. The first one is homeopathy which means that like produces like.' According to this law, the priest was supposed to mate with the goddess every year to produce productiveness for the people. Such nuptials are found throughout the first kingdom, and it is the first indication that copulation promotes vegetation. As the representation of the spirit of fertility, the priest is a human god, who has to be taken care of so that his soul is not destroyed. It is believed that the soul can reside outside the body during times of sleep, stress, when under the weather and old age. It can also be catastrophically or purposefully be removed by incompetence. The second principle is contagion which means that things that have been in contact with each other have the possibility of influencing each other forever.

If by any chance the priest shows any signs of imperfection, he has to be killed when still healthy so that his divine spirit can migrate to a new person when still healthy

Frazer expressed his work with such imagery that even though his work was technical and required a lot of research; he managed to maintain an entertaining pace. In fact, this work is as much literary as is it scholarly and definitely one of the most influential works of the 20t century. Frazer created an opportunity whereby mythology got an essential place in the world of literature.

Additionally, as an anthropological book, it created so much to the psychosomatic climate of recent times. With comparison to feud, Frazer did psychoanalysis for civilization as a whole. He enlarged our understanding of the behavior of societies by laying bare the primitive concepts and traditional folk customs which, as a subliminal element of culture, underlie so many of our institutions. Presently, this work is part of modern culture in that people find themselves employing arguments of this text uninformed of its source. However, it is essential for people to keep in mind that even though this book and the ideas in it are a gem, Frazer, just like Darwin or feud, thought of himself as the answer to all problems. For a scientific book, this book is severely faulty because there are new findings that have proof that deny the credibility of Frazers observations.

It is not to be assumed that Frazer did not research his work because he borrowed literature from renowned scholars of his time. Whenever he came up with a theory, he hunted through ethnographic writing to find out literature that obliterates his arguments." His unwavering empirical sense often led him, after he had painstakingly formulated a theory, to scour ethnographic literature and to extract from it evidence which often annihilates his assumptions." But Frazer began and ended his work with the substantially throughout his work, one thing is clear, he believed that mankind progresses from barbarism to civilization and that the advancement of religious conviction is the same everywhere in the world and that the human brain operates with fixed rules. He shared the same school of thought as Lewis Henry Morgan that rituals and convictions of human beings can be arranged in sequential order. Additionally, he referred a lot to the work of Edward B. Tylor who stated that the way humans behave is the same everywhere in the world and any variants in this behavior can be explained as survivals from an earlier state.

The most significant flaw in this work is the connection between savage tradition and orthodox legend. The description of the sanctuary at Aricia seems not more than a place where runaways sought refuge. Additionally, Frazer made many hypotheses based on assumptions and to his credit; he foretold that many of his ideas will be rejected, as they are already being proved wrong with scientific and scholarly evidence. His work also came under scrutiny and doubt in the 19th-century school of thought, which had a different way of viewing things. The most distinguished is the unruffled catering to the fascination with the interrelationship of pain, love, and death that polite Victorian society had for so long tabooed. Frazer was a student to john F. McLennans school of thought, and as a result, he blindly assumed that primitive man must have been fixated on sexuality, private property, and social standing. "With an almost salaciously maternal attitude of concern, he delighted in their pranks and pleasures, while regretting their naughtiness."

What was ironical was that Frazer refused to associate himself with anything that Feud proposed. He wants for the idea of psychoanalysis even though the writings of feud had their basis on Frazers work. In spite of the fact that Freud's anthropological contributions are based on Frazer's writings.

In conclusion, Frazers believed that magic and religion stand in succession of each other. He thought that religion was as a result of the refinement of magic. The earliest human being performed magic by the power of his brain and as time went by, this magic developed a sacred nature to become a religion. He conveys his ideas in a proper manner, and they are clear although he uses very many assumptions and guesses of missionaries who have no proof. This is the reason why most of his work is currently being discredited because scholars have now traveled the world and have evidence. He followed the school of thought of several anthropologists and refused to associate with others like Feud.



Malinowski, Bronislaw. Sir James George Frazer: A Biographical Appreciation, A Scientific Theory of Culture. North Carolina UP, 1944.

Vickery, John B. The Literary Impact of The Golden Bough . Princeton: Princeton UP, 1973.

Gaster, Theodor H. The New Golden Bough. New York: Mentor, 1959.

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