British Anthropologist, Folklorist and Classical Scholar
James Frazer, aka James George Frazer
British Anthropologist, Folklorist and Classical Scholar
From time immemorial the mistletoe has been the object of superstitious veneration in Europe.
It is a common rule with primitive people not to waken a sleeper, because his soul is away and might not have time to get back; so if the man wakened without his soul, he would fall sick. If it is absolutely necessary to rouse a sleeper, it must be done very gradually, to allow the soul time to return.
The custom of burning a beneficent god is too foreign to later modes of thought to escape misinterpretation.
The world cannot live at the level of its great men.
A candidate for the priesthood could only succeed to office by slaying the priest, and having slain him, he retained office till he was himself slain by a stronger or a craftier.
Hence the strong attraction which magic and science alike have exercised on the human mind; hence the powerful stimulus that both have given to the pursuit of knowledge. They lure the weary enquirer, the footsore seeker, on through the wilderness of disappointment in the present by their endless promises of the future: they take him up to the top of an exceeding high mountain and show him, beyond the dark clouds and rolling mists at his feet, a vision of the celestial city, far off, it may be, but radiant with unearthly splendor, bathed in the light of dreams.
It is for the philosophic student to trace the train of thought which underlies the magicians practice; to draw out the few simple threads of which the tangled skein is composed; to disengage the abstract principles from their concrete applications; in short, to discern the spurious science from the bastard art.
The fear of the human dead, which, on the whole, I believe to have been probably the most powerful force in the making of primitive religion.
Themselves of the belief historical look at the origins of religious belief, to refute aside, override, though the confidence needed to this belief, as did no doubt often be shaken. This is a result of further weakening of confidence in the study of religious origin, is a very important issue for the community; because society is built on a large extent a religious foundation and superstructure without sacrificing the danger is impossible to shake the foundations.
Ancient magic was the very foundation of religion.
I am a plain practical man, not one of your theorists and splitters of hairs and choppers of logic.
It is not a new opinion that the Golden Bough was the mistletoe. True, Virgil does not identify but only compares it with the mistletoe. But this may be only a poetical device to cast a mystic glamour over the humble plant.
The man of science, like the man of letters, is too apt to view mankind only in the abstract, selecting in his consideration only a single side of our complex and many-sided being.
This doctrine of transmigration or reincarnation of the soul is found among many tribes of savages
But once a fool always a fool, and the greater the power in his hands the more disastrous is likely to be the use he makes of it. The heaviest calamity in English history, the breach with America, might never have occurred if George the Third had not been an honest dullard.
If any of my readers set out with the notion that that all races of men think and act much in the same way as educated Englishmen, the evidence of superstitious belief and custom collected in this work should suffice to disabuse him of so erroneous a prepossession.
It may be suspected that the custom of employing a divine man or animal as a public scapegoat is much more widely diffused than appears from the examples cited.
The moral world is as little exempt as the physical world from the law of ceaseless change, of perpetual flux.
Thus it comes about that the endeavour of primitive people to make a clean sweep of all their troubles generally takes the form of a grand hunting out and expulsion of devils and ghosts. They think that if they can only shake off these their accursed tormentors, they will make a fresh start in life, happy and innocent; the tales of Eden and the old poetic golden age will come true again.
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.
If in the present work I have dwelt at some length on the worship of trees, it is not, I trust, because I exaggerate its importance in the history of religion, still less because I would deduce from it a whole system of mythology; it is simply because I could not ignore the subject in attempting to explain the significance of a priest who bore the title of King Of the Wood, and one of whose titles to office was the plucking of a bough ? the Golden Bough ? from a tree in the sacred grove.
Man has created gods in his own likeness and being himself mortal he has naturally supposed his creatures to be in the same sad predicament.
The natives of British Columbia live largely upon the fish which abound in their seas and rivers. If the fish do not come in due season, and the Indians are hungry, A Nootka wizard will make an image of a swimming fish and put it into the water in the direction from which the fish generally appear. This ceremony, accompanied by a prayer to the fish to come, will cause them to arrive at once.
Thus religion, beginning as a slight and partial acknowledgment of powers superior to man, tends with the growth of knowledge to deepen into a confession of man?s entire and absolute dependence on the divine; his old free bearing is exchanged for an attitude of lowliest prostration before the mysterious powers of the unseen, and his highest virtue is to submit his will to theirs: In la sua volontade Š nostra pace.
Dwellers by the sea cannot fail to be impressed by the sight of its ceaseless ebb and flow, and are apt, on the principles of that rude philosophy of sympathy and resemblance which here engages our attention, to trace a subtle relation, a secret harmony, between its tides and the life of man, of animals, and of plants. In the flowing tide they see not merely a symbol, but a cause of exuberance, of prosperity, and of life, while in the ebbing tide they discern a real agent as well as a melancholy emblem of failure, of weakness, and of death.