The Golden Bough was written by Scottish anthropologist James Frazer and first published (in two volumes) in 1890. Its second edition came out in 1900 in three volumes and the third edition with 12 volumes was published over 1906-1915. Regarded as a monumental and seminal work on comparative religion, The Golden Bough was an attempt at objective discussion of mythology and religion, not from a theological viewpoint but from the perspective of a cultural experience. It treated religions not as theological philosophies but like human cultural artifacts.

In The Golden Bough, Frazer makes a cross-cultural study of religious customs, undertaking a systematic analysis of innumerable cultural references in different eras and regions for the purpose of finding commonality in behaviors and customs of extremely disparate people. He strives at classifying and commenting upon the religious aspects that are shared across a number of cultures all over the world. These include social rites such as coming-of-age rites, fertility rites, marriage rites, death/funerary rites, dying & reviving gods, animal, and human sacrifice, along with the practices of theophagy and cannibalism.

It was Frazer’s belief that a mythic template that permeated humanity resonated in nearly all mythologies the world over. It included a fertility rite involving worshiping a sacrificial king, a deity’s incarnation, and, thereafter, the deity’s passage through a cycle of marriage, death, and reincarnation. He claimed that all world religions had the concept of a dying and rising Sun God and that older fertility cults gave rise to rituals and rites connected with that God’s worship. He also suggested the progression of mankind from female worship to fertility cults, to a relatively formalized pantheon of gods, to monotheism.

The Golden Bough had a major influence on the literature and philosophy of its time and is considered a classic early anthropological resource.

The Golden Bough


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