Goodreads helps you keep track of books you want to read.
Start by marking “The Golden Bough” as Want to Read:
The Golden Bough
Enlarge cover
Rate this book
Clear rating
Open Preview

The Golden Bough

4.03  ·  Rating details ·  7,989 ratings  ·  353 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, ...more
Paperback, Abridged, 880 pages
Published December 1st 1995 by Touchstone Books (first published 1890)
More Details... Edit Details

Friend Reviews

To see what your friends thought of this book, please sign up.

Reader Q&A

To ask other readers questions about The Golden Bough, please sign up.
Popular Answered Questions
Susan If you still haven't read it yet, just read a good abridged version. I'm pretty sure the Oxford abridgement contains all the relevant hypotheses. Fraz…moreIf you still haven't read it yet, just read a good abridged version. I'm pretty sure the Oxford abridgement contains all the relevant hypotheses. Frazer's various original editions will contain many more examples to support his various hypotheses and will make for extremely gruelling reading. The Oxford abridgement is wonderful stuff, but each argument is broken down into lots of smaller arguments, which are in turn supported by up to about a couple dozen examples - fatiguing to read. The unabridged editions will simply hammer the points home, or possibly be more of a compendium to dip into rather than something to read straight through.(less)

Community Reviews

Showing 1-30
Average rating 4.03  · 
Rating details
 ·  7,989 ratings  ·  353 reviews

More filters
Sort order
Start your review of The Golden Bough
I read an abridged version of this some years ago that I picked up in a bookshop for a pound - the output of a cheap publisher. It was a slow and awkward read, possibly because of the abridgement, but the original was long and appeared in numerous editions each of which tended to get more elaborate during Frazer's lifetime.

The opening echoes Gibbon's Decline and Fall of the Roman Empire, the British scholar in Italy looks over the landscape and allows a vision of the past, the product of their c
Ahmad Sharabiani
The Golden Bough: A Study in Comparative Religion = The Golden Bough: A Study in Religion and Magic, James George Frazer

The Golden Bough was first published in two volumes in 1890; in three volumes in 1900; and in twelve volumes in the third edition, published 1906–15. It has also been published in several different one-volume abridgments.

The work was aimed at a wide literate audience raised on tales as told in such publications as Thomas Bulfinch's The Age of Fable, or Stories of Gods and Hero
Nick Black
Mar 23, 2008 rated it really liked it
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
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
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
E. G.
Note on the Text
Select Bibliography
A Chronology of Sir James George Frazer

--The Golden Bough: A Study in Magic and Religion [Abridged]

Explanatory Notes
Oct 14, 2011 rated it did not like it
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
Walter Five
This is not a "review" of the classic "Golden Bough." This is a review of several hardback and soft back editions available to the collector which are complimentary to each other's content and pagination. The purchaser may wish to take care in selecting which edition of the Golden Bough they consider for purchase. Several hardbound editions exist.

The most common edition is the 2-volume abridged 4th edition,this is the edition supervised by Graves widow; it is woefully incomplete. It seems Mrs. G
Oct 26, 2010 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
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:
Oct 03, 2012 rated it it was amazing
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
☘Misericordia☘ ⚡ϟ⚡⛈⚡☁ ❇️❤❣
My favvy fav. Loved reading it as a kid. Who would have guessed comparative mythology could be this intriguing?
Dec 02, 2008 rated it liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: anthropology
As Einstein is to physics, Darwin to biology, Marx to social theory and 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, and indeed anthropology has ...more
Dec 15, 2007 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
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
Aug 03, 2007 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
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
Mar 26, 2013 rated it really liked it
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:

F.G. Cottam
Nov 25, 2009 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
This is a brilliant and disturbing distillation of Frazer's much longer and doggedly scholarly original work. I've come across it late (the edition I've got is dated 1978). I bought it second hand four years ago at Ventnor Rare Books on the Isle of Wight and have only just got around to reading it. If anything, the illustrations make the text all the more shocking. Reading about belief systems where human sacrifice was commonplace is one thing - seeing those sacrifices depicted in contemporary a ...more
Jan 09, 2010 rated it it was ok
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
Apr 06, 2008 rated it it was ok  ·  review of another edition
Recommends it for: Pseudo-intellectual horses' rear ends.
How I could possibly have highlighted so much of this book and yet not actually read it is a pure freakin' mystery. ...more
Bob Nichols
Sep 18, 2013 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
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
Welwyn Wilton 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... ...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
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.
Jan 27, 2011 rated it really liked it
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
Sep 27, 2009 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
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.

Like this review? yes 0 comments

Dec 01, 2009 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Reference reread - Sept 6, 2017.

Okay. I actually have 2 copies of this book, same ISBN, but 2 different fronts. The chapter breakdowns are a tad different as well, which is why I've kept both.
Jan 24, 2010 rated it liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: anthropology
This book is swarming with folklore, mythology and animistic ritual examples. Pretty much the entire book is dedicated to short explanations of ritual practices from all over the globe. What it lacks is much in the way of a linear, coherent argument or point.
This is a book, like one of Borges's favorite conceits, with a secret meaning underneath its stated one. Explicitly, Frazer's aim is to "explain" the mysterious tradition of the priest of the sacred grove of Diana at the lake of Nemi, who gained his post by stealing a "golden bough" from the grove and killing the current priest, taking his place, until killed in his turn by the next contender. Frazer recounts and then dismisses the explanations in the classical sources, saying they are clearly a ...more
Less about magic and religion and more a catalog of superstitions throughout history (although, to be fair, the three things generally get melded together by people who believe in these kinds of things).

This book is dense and Frazer is doing a lot of guesswork throughout, but I was never bored and Fraser's obvious enthusiasm for the topic is infectious.
Feb 24, 2019 added it
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.
Frederik Vandelannoote
Very interesting book. As an atheist, Frazer sees history as a progressive process, he studies, religion from a modernist and a-religious point of view. He discards Magic from the beginning as superstition and non existing. His theories are nevertheless interesting. Magic is based on two principles witch where the foundation of ancient worldview. Magic precedes religion, religion precedes science.

Personally, the value of this book for me are not his theories, but the enormous amount of examples
« previous 1 3 4 5 6 7 8 9 10 next »
topics  posts  views  last activity   
Goodreads Librari...: Golden Bough - wrong language description 2 8 Apr 17, 2020 10:01PM  
Does this explain the origin of magic? 11 36 Sep 24, 2018 03:28AM  
Winter Reading Pr...: Online editions 1 10 Oct 03, 2013 06:47PM  
Giant Text... 5 41 Jul 05, 2013 08:32AM  
nyaze fori 1 10 Sep 16, 2011 02:08AM  

Readers also enjoyed

  • The White Goddess: A Historical Grammar of Poetic Myth
  • Shamanism: Archaic Techniques of Ecstasy
  • The Hero With a Thousand Faces
  • The Decline of the West
  • The Sacred and the Profane: The Nature of Religion
  • The World as Will and Representation, Vol. 1
  • The Celtic Twilight: Faerie and Folklore
  • The Mabinogion
  • Light (Kefahuchi Tract, #1)
  • Hermetica: The Greek Corpus Hermeticum and the Latin Asclepius
  • The Dictionary of Imaginary Places: The Newly Updated and Expanded Classic
  • The Greek Myths
  • Walden Two
  • A History of Warfare
  • The Philosophy of History
  • Being and Time
  • The Masks of God, Volume 1: Primitive Mythology
  • The Talisman
See similar books…
See top shelves…
Sir James George Frazer was a Scottish social anthropologist influential in the early stages of the modern studies of mythology and comparative religion. His most famous work, The Golden Bough (1890), documents and details the similarities among magical and religious beliefs around the globe. Frazer posited that human belief progressed through three stages: primitive magic, replaced by religion, i ...more

News & Interviews

  Jordan Morris is a comedy writer and podcaster whose credits include @Midnight, Unikitty! and Earth to Ned.  The sci-fi comedy Bubble is his...
12 likes · 4 comments
“Small minds cannot grasp great ideas; to their narrow comprehension, their purblind vision, nothing seems really great and important but themselves.” 62 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.” 15 likes
More quotes…