The Golden Bough

From ArticleWorld

The Golden Bough is a seminal, if flawed, work of comparative anthropology. Its author, Sir James Frazer was one of the earliest anthropologists albeit an armchair one. Published in 1890, The Golden Bough is noted for its vast catalog of references to mythology and religions from around the world, as well as its influence on English influence on English literature and psychology.


Frazer worked on a particular concern of early anthropologists, the idea of universal patterns of thought and behavior. Thus, The Golden Bough is remarkably even-handed in its descriptions, and does not hesitate to compare so-called primitive religions with Christianity at a time when the latter was being pushed in indigenous communities around the world. While the comparative approach has fallen into disfavor among anthropologists, and on a number of occasions Frazer stretches his data to meet his interpretations, The Golden Bough remains an astonishing compilation, including pagan rituals and details of fertility cults. Some of Frazer's work is accepted to this day. His writing on symbols and magic, particularly sympathetic magic, remains a touchstone for many anthropologists.


The Golden Bough was also a huge influence on major thinkers and writers of the first half of the 20th century. Carl Jung's theory of a collective unconscious was inspired by Frazer's work, as was The Wasteland by T.S. Eliot. Ludwig Wittgenstein's notes on the book have been published, and Ezra Pound, James Joyce, Mary Renault, Joseph Campbell, W.B. Yeats and D.H. Lawrence have all acknowledged its importance in their intellectual and artistic development.