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The Golden Bough: A Study in Magic and Religion: A New Abridgement

4.0 of 5 stars 4.00  ·  rating details  ·  5,049 ratings  ·  147 reviews
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
Paperback, 2nd, 3rd, 858 pages
Published September 10th 1998 by Oxford University Press, USA (first published 1890)
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Nick Black
Influential without bound and ere-breaking of ground, this is undeniably a major modern classic that reshaped its entire field. Of course, most of Frazier's theses have been broadly discredited, but it's not like you're studying comparative mythology to build bridges with it (although it's been proposed that unsold copies of Joseph Campbell, shredded to a fine mist, would provide high-quality industrial weathering and cheap insulation suitable for the Third World).

That having been said, this boo
Michael J.J. Tiffany
Discovering The Golden Bough, and then Graves' The White Goddess (which owes a critically huge debt to the Golden Bough), was a life-changing time for me that recast the stories I had vacuumed up at that age, from Greek myths to Kipling, as about something more than their contents or even the authors intent. It was first published over 100 years ago; still, nothing can get a boy into that modernist, meta- meta- meta- perspective on society like The Golden Bough. Of course it's only fair that we ...more
Cassandra Kay Silva
This is such an important work. If you take it from the perspective of what it is, an anthology of rituals and belief systems found in religious and non religious cultures across the globe. As some other readers have pointed out it is not linear, it is also not well coordinated in way of connecting points and making/laying out statements about those points. But what it is absolutely superb and unbeatable in, is its exhaustive amount of information. I did read the full version, and the sheer amou ...more
If you're going to learn about anything "occult", then, this is where to start. Forget all those other cheap, juvenile occult books, based on a poor and feeble-minded outlook on anything Pagan. Once you read this book, you will understand why.

Instead of just thinking you can be "pagan", why don't you learn about the where and how of modern and historical pagan's genesis.

After you have read this book, 80% of every other modern pagan book will equate to children playing with words.

The pace is equ
The Golden Bough is no doubt an exercise in patience. To be clear, I have not finished this book, and will not for many years. This book takes time to digest and fully understand, but once that time is taken to contemplate it, literally everything that can be seen in the world opens up to the insights that are provided. Expecting to read this book once, without careful pause and effort, is akin to attempting to understand the enlightenment of the ages in an afternoon. I can see how many parts of ...more
One simply cannot, in my opinion, understand anything about the history and origins of religion -- and of society (for the primitive social unit, the family, is primarily a religious unit) -- without a thorough mastery of this book.

In this context, a study of de Fustel Coulanges is also essential:
Book Description
A classic study of the beliefs and institutions of mankind, and the progress through magic and religion to scientific thought, The Golden Bough has a unique status in modern anthropology and literature. First published in 1890, The Golden Bough was eventually issued in a twelve-volume edition (1906-15) which was abridged in 1922 by the author and his wife. That abridgement has never been reconsidered for a modern audience. In it some of the more controversial passages were droppe
i didn't actually finish this. i valiantly read on to page 368 until the repetition, racism, imperialism and sexism wore me down. every time, after several pages of examples, JGF said something like, 'a few more examples will suffice to prove...', i wanted to stab myself in the neck.

the content is actually very interesting (although i bummed to hear that a lot of it has been discredited) and just thinking about how he organised all this information blows my mind, but, see paragraph one.

a huge we
I read this, like many people, because I know how influential it was. I studied English in college, and this book always kept cropping up. So I thought to myself, maybe if I read this, I'll have a greater understanding of Modernist writers.


How to describe this? 850 pages of poorly argued drivel. The only part worth reading is the section on sympathetic magic. That part at least actually seems to be going somewhere and actually makes sense. It's an interesting and intelligent way of thin
As Albert Einstein is to physics, Charles Darwin to biology, Karl Marx to social theory and Sigmund Freud to psychology, so is Sir James G. Frazer to anthropology. The Golden Bough is an ambitious work in which Frazer works with field reports describing superstitions and practices, and theorizes that the folk rituals he discusses can be traced back to ancient times and an annual event in the forest at Nemi. From a contemporary point of view, it can be argued that Frazer’s approach is reductive, ...more
A classic, groundbreaking piece of comparative mythology and anthropology. It's influenced Jung, Campbell, T.S. Eliot and even Apocalypse Now.

It's a bit dated, particularly in its sticking to the "primitive savage" evolves into "sophisticated civilization" model, but alot of the basic principals are still very sound.

Frazer starts a single incident, a Latin ritual of a King of the Forest, who is ritually killed and replaced by his successor.

He uses this a launching pad for a far reaching, glob
Inna Shpitzberg
It's a really profound and interesting study of the origins of mythology and religion.
Since it's extensively referenced as being a great influence on the early 20th century literature, I just had to read it.
I strongly recommend it to everybody who is interested in the origins of modern literature and poetry, since it explains a lot of themes and motives that were developed by the major modernist writers.
The classic book of comparative mythology. Between this and Joseph Campbell's "Hero with a Thousand Faces," I came to realize the universality of belief in the dead and reborn demigod at the heart of nearly all the world's religions.

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Bob Nichols
This is an abridgment of a much larger work by Frazer that compiles, categorizes and interprets the belief systems of very old cultures. It's easy to get overwhelmed by the extensive listing of examples that Frazer provides unless these are viewed as attempts by these cultures to understand and control nature through magical practices. These practices for Frazer appear to manifest deeper structures surrounding human need and fear. In short, Frazer writes, they reflect "the essential similiaritie ...more
So I really shouldn't be marking this as "read", because I only read about half of it in a college Comparative Religions class. I'd like to go back and read it in full. It's a wonderfully dense, comprehensive, textbook-like thing chronicling all of religion. Vastly influential for not only academics such as Freud, Durkheim, Eliade, et al, but also fiction writers such as Gaddis, Eliot, Lawrence, and countless fantasy authors.
It was a great favour done to mankind when Frazer and his wife chose to condense the original twelve volumes into one volume; even the single volume appears so repetitive one can only imagine the ordeal that s/he that tries to read all the twelve has to undergo.

That said, I believe that Frazer's work (twelve volumes or one) is an immense contribution to the realm of anthropology - though one may not agree with all its contentions, it undoubtedly provides one structured framework for the entirety
Jul 23, 2009 Isidore added it  ·  review of another edition
Recommends it for: anybody who enjoys being bathed in textual diarrhea
To be hit upon the head over and over again with the same point illustrated by a million slightly different and equally dry examples. That is what it is to read The Golden Bough. Hundreds of pages roll by and the reading is continued out of spite. At times there is a faint hope that the conclusion will be grand, the payoff enormously worth the pain and trudging it took to arrive. Finally the last page comes into view. Having been read and the book closed only anger, betrayal and confusion remain ...more
It's important to bear in mind that this book is almost 100 years old, and therefore some of the author's attitudes are . . . narrow-minded, to say the least. However, Frazer is more open than usual for his time, I think, and his look at folkloric and religious customs is exhaustive. (I read the abridged version, which was over 800 pages long and meandered widely through numerous cultures, so I can only imagine what the unabridged Golden Bough is like.) He ties a great many disparate ideas toget ...more
Welwyn Katz
As with so many of my scholarly books on mythology and comparative studies of myths and legends, I read them in an ongoing sort of way. They are great resources for writers who like to mix myth into their ordinary fiction. This one is a bit more "story-like" than e.g. Graves' The White Goddess and so it's a lot easier to read. It's still not easy. I'm not a scholar of mythology, but I love to know about it. Maybe if I live to be 96 and my eyesight and brains hold out...
I was torn when rating this book.

On one hand this is a great book if you want to have at hand a resource for descriptions of rituals. In one volume you have a collection of rituals across cultures and description of their processes. On the other hand, pretty much every single conclusion that Frazer comes to is total conjecture. It is not something to base your reasoning or research on. After all, if you've done any research on Frazer you'd know that he was what you might call an 'armchair anthr
O lucrare enorma despre gandirea magica si religioasa a societatilor vechi si a celor necivilizate care abunda in ritualuri si taboouri de tot felul. Frazer, autorul le categorizeaza in magia homeopatica si contagioasa.

Magia homeopatica consta in idea ca asemanatorul lucreaza similar originalului. Exemplu clasic ar fi papusa woodoo - papusa reprezinta un oarecare rau si orice rau facut papusei va afecta originalul.

Magia contagioasa ar fi ca obiecte sau persoane atinse de alt lucru sau persoana
Arpi Gulgulyan
Սա այն գրքերից չէ, որ կարդացվում է մեկ շնչով, գիրքը ինքը կարծես բաժանվաժ է հատվածների, որոնք առաջին հայացքից իրար հետ ոչ մի կապ չունեն, սակայն վերջում դառնում են մեկ ամբողջական համակարգի մասնիկներ, առանց որոնց իմացության չէր հաջողվի ընկալել այն ավելի մեծ ու համապարփակ գաղափարը, որը հեղինակը ուզում էր փոխանցեր ընթերցողին: Ինքս գիրքը ընթերցել եմ մոտ վեց տարի պարբերական դադարներով, սակայն յուրաքանչյուր առանձին ենթագլուխ իսկապես հաճույքով եմ ընթերցել, իմաստավորել և իմս դարձրել, ամեն ենթագլուխն ընթեր ...more
Francisco Becerra
Inspiring, rich, illuminating. A book that looks into the past to give meaning to the present and future.
Ordered this book from the now defunct A Common Reader catalog without really knowing what I was buying. Over the last 30 years I've probably read every entry at least once and many of them repeatedly. My fantasy is to own the complete edition, but until then this volume has an honored place in my home library.
I never get tired of reading this. The way Frazer takes a single curious bit of trivia - the forest priests called The King of the Wood - and extrapolates from there the whole history of magic and the mystical traditions of priesthood is simply amazing. It's like a conjurer's trick that never gets old.
Joshua Daniel Cochran
My friend Andy gave me this book and it sat (quite fatly) on my shelf for six years.

Andy gave it to me because it's in Apocalypse Now, the topmost book on Kurtz's shelf toward the end.

Let me just say, this book will open your eyes to many things, make you question your beliefs, your mode of thought, why you think what you think and believe what you believe. All of it.

The writing is a bit tedious. Clear and concise, it's just not written for literature but more of a study in humanity. This book s
Matt Friedman
As outdated as it is, this is still a critical text, if only to observe a key moment in the history of the discipline. Highly influential, although some of Frazer's anti-Christian polemic has long since been refuted by secular as well as Christian scholarship.
This was recommended to me as a book that would provide some basic information on magic. While that's not what I found, it was still a fascinating study of pagan myth and ritual. Frazer himself calls it a study of "the folly and error" of mankind. I read the abridged OWC edition that adds back in the section on the crucifixion of Christ that Frazer edited out of his own abridgement. I found the whole thing quite enjoyable, despite it being 800 pages long and devoting the largest section to corn ...more
Feb 04, 2008 Steven added it
technically I stopped at page 202 (chapter 17, The Burden of Royalty). But since I don't see myself picking it up again in the foreseeable future, I'm taking it off my "currently reading"
The Golden Bough is a classic survey of the nature of magical and religious belief across many cultures. It's extremely helpful in understanding religion and mythology.
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Scottish social anthropologist influential in the early stages of the modern studies of mythology and comparative religion.
More about James George Frazer...

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“Small minds cannot grasp great ideas; to their narrow comprehension, their purblind vision, nothing seems really great and important but themselves.” 30 likes
“By religion, then, I understand a propitiation or conciliation of powers superior to man which are believed to direct and control the course of nature and of human life. Thus defined, religion consists of two elements, a theoretical and a practical, namely, a belief in powers higher than man and an attempt to propitiate or please them. Of the two, belief clearly comes first, since we must believe in the existence of a divine being before we can attempt to please him. But unless the belief leads to a corresponding practice, it is not a religion but merely a theology; in the language of St. James, “faith, if it hath not works, is dead, being alone.” In other words, no man is religious who does not govern his conduct in some measure by the fear or love of God. On the other hand, mere practice, divested of all religious belief, is also not religion. Two men may behave in exactly the same way, and yet one of them may be religious and the other not. If the one acts from the love or fear of God, he is religious; if the other acts from the love or fear of man, he is moral or immoral according as his behaviour comports or conflicts with the general good.” 10 likes
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