Saturday, September 17, 2011

The Golden Bough

"The Golden Bough" by J. M. W. Turner

Back in June, I posted about my summer reading list.

I just finished the 700+ page The Golden Bough by James George Frazer. I've been reading that book at work during my lunch breaks. Fingerprints of the Gods was my vacation book, & I'm almost done that too.

The Golden Bough was excruciating at times to read, but I pushed through it. Mostly, the book is a scattered list of every superstition & folk ritual imaginable. It is a repository for details of various cultural traditions & taboos, but there are so many examples it's hard to absorb it all.

The ultimate purpose of the book was to investigate the ancient rites that took place in the sacred Arician groves at Nemi in Italy. Supposedly, there was a priest-king who guarded the grove. His successor had to break a limb from a sacred tree & kill him to take his place.

However, getting to the possible history & reasons behind those sacred rites is a long, tortuous road. As I said, most of the book just becomes a rambling list of superstitious beliefs among various peoples. It's tedious to read through, even for someone interested in cultural anthropology.

One part of the book that was interesting is a chapter on the god-man Osiris of ancient Egypt. The Fingerprints of the Gods questions the astronomical connections & possible historical foundations of the Osiris legend. The Golden Bough instead looks at the link between Osiris and agriculture, especially the growing of corn.

These varied aspects of the same deity show how symbolically multi-faceted the ancient people were. Our ancestors were able to encode vast amounts of knowledge into characters & stories that could be passed down through the ages.

I judge a book by the chance I'd read it again. There were some interesting sections, but it's safe to say I don't think I'll be taking this lengthy book on again anytime soon.

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