The Golden Bough
A Study in Magic and Religion
Abridged, introduced and annotated by Robert Fraser
James George Frazer's monumental classic, The Golden Bough – a subversive study of religion and folklore that scandalised its first readers – in a lavishly illustrated Folio edition.
Over 125 years after it first appeared, The Golden Bough remains a uniquely disturbing masterpiece – a groundbreaking exploration of the twisted roots of magic, ritual and religious belief, and a transformative influence for writers from Eliot to Hemingway, Lovecraft to Freud.
I thought only to explain a single rule of an ancient Italian priesthood...
The life-work of James George Frazer (1854–1941), a pioneering Cambridge University anthropologist, The Golden Bough set out to elucidate a mysterious Roman tradition: that a runaway slave could inherit the priesthood at the shrine of Nemi by chopping a branch from a nearby sacred tree, then murdering the incumbent. To unravel this conundrum, Frazer embarked on a virtual ‘voyage of discovery’ into a dark world of fertility rites and human sacrifice, sacred kings and dying gods. Pushing the comparative method to its limits, he set myths and rituals from ancient Egypt, Greece and Rome alongside Christian practices, and 19th century observations of tribal beliefs against the residual folk traditions of late-Victorian Britain – with startling results.
The resemblance of many of the savage customs and ideas to the fundamental doctrines of Christianity is striking...
On the surface, The Golden Bough provides a comforting Darwinian account of humanity’s progress from an Age of Magic, through an Age of Religion and on to an Age of Science. But other unnerving conclusions gradually emerge: that the superstitions that Frazer catalogues still bubble dangerously beneath an easily cracked veneer of rationality, and the thought-processes of the reader and primitive man share an unexpected ‘essential similarity’. Even more alarming, he presents shocking parallels between tribal rituals, ancient religious ceremonies and key components of Christianity, including its festivals, its sacraments, and even the narrative of Christ’s crucifixion and resurrection.
I had no conception of the magnitude of the voyage on which I was embarking...
Frazer spent half his life writing and re-writing The Golden Bough, as the two-volume first edition of 1890 mushroomed into three, and then a staggering twelve volumes. Robert Fraser’s masterful 1994 abridgement distils these riches, retaining Frazer’s most controversial passages, honouring his original ‘four-book’ structure, and providing comprehensive notes and a thorough introduction – an authoritative account of the origins of The Golden Bough, its creation and its enduring legacy.
Following on from the frontispiece that Frazer himself specified – Turner’s atmospheric painting The Golden Bough – this monumental text has been lavishly illustrated for the first time, with over 70 pages of archaeological, ethnographic and artistic images. Romy Blümel’s stunning bindings of gold and white images that recall Greek vase decoration, a slipcase decorated with an oak and mistletoe motif, and gilded page-tops complete this deluxe edition of a truly unique work.
Bound in printed and blocked cloth with designs by Romy Blümel
Set in Miller Text
Volume one, 464 pages; volume two, 520 pages
Frontispiece and 72 pages of colour and black & white plates
10˝ x 6¾˝