Don LaVange (donlavange) wrote,
Don LaVange

Frazer- Summary

In The Golden Bough, pages 49-60 and 135-146 (Frazer 1940) we are told that magic precedes religion in human evolution. Humankind, discovers magic first in attempting to induce changes in nature. In ways analogous to scientific rationalism, humans practicing magic believe that the world is orderly and precise. Magic allows one to “touch the secret springs” that in fact govern the natural world. The natural world, thus affected, is bound to follow the changes made by magic unless such changes are overridden by more powerful magic. In all cases an assumption that one event follows another is assumed.

Magic’s only flaw is that it misconceives “the nature of the particular laws that govern [a given] sequence” and believes in an implied relationship between one thing and another because of some observed associations. Thus, the lighting of a candle is believed to cause the sun to rise, or coitus in the fields to create the conditions for fertility.

Frazer believes that it is obvious that magical thinking gives way to religion through a process of evolution. Religion he explains, is a “conciliation of powers superior to man which are believed to direct and control the powers of nature” whose aim is to “please the deity”. This may take the form of belief and / or practice. Belief in deities implies a certain amount of elasticity to the universe (unlike the magician or scientist who believes in an absolutely sequentially significant world). The deity can be appealed to, but certainly not controlled.

Religion and Magic, may well exist in their pure forms, but often do as amalgams of earlier magical practices with religion or as ceremonies that are vestigial remains of the practices in an earlier day. Thus the European ceremonies of spring and solstice celebration are but an extension of the Roman, Greek, and Germanic mythical religious system, and that system a descendent of an even earlier magical one.

In chapters 11 and 12 Frazer describes numerous mythologies that show humans either engaging in ritualistic sexual relations (or refraining from such relations) in order to influence success over various aspects of agriculture. Finally, he describes how the goddess Diana, her origins as goddess of the wood, becomes goddess over fertility and the attendant rituals that denote that relationship. Water seems to be an important factor in the myths surrounding these religious stories.

Frazer, J. G. (1940). Magic and Religion. The golden bough; a study in magic and religion. [New York,, The Macmillan Company: 12 v.
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