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Sir James George Frazer’s The Golden Bough. World Literature Mr. Brennan. AGENDA.

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SWBATexplain the development of man’s relationship with the natural world and its influence on man’s transition from the mystical to the religiousSWBATexplain the perception of truth in regards to historical myth and express myth’s contribution to contemporary society.



  • Mini-Lecture: Modernism
  • Mini-Lecture: Sir James George Frazer
  • Class Reading: The Golden Bough (1890)

Answer Reading Questions for:

The Golden Bough




Literature is intended to transform the reader; to have the reader see the world in a different way


Literature is intended to transform the reader; to have the reader see the world in a different way

  • Modernism was an avant-garde movement in the arts during the late 19th and early 20th centuries whose aim was to break with classical and traditional forms.
  • Main Conflict: with the Self and society
  • Search for the Real, the Undercurrent, the Process/Patterns (Attempt to make the real reality Real)
sir james george frazer
Sir James George Frazer
  • Frazer (1854—1941) was a Scottish social anthropologist & modernist
  • His most famous work, The Golden Bough (1890), explores the similarities among magical and religious beliefs across the globe.
the golden bough
The Golden Bough
  • Frazer offered a modernist approach to discussing religion, treating it objectively as a cultural phenomenon rather than from a theological perspective.
  • Frazer believed that human belief progressed through three stages: magic > religion > science
origin of myth
Origin of Myth
  • Euhemerism: One theory claims myths are distorted accounts of real historical events. Storytellers repeatedly elaborated upon historical accounts until the figures in those accounts gained the status of gods. (i.e. myth of the wind-god Aeolus evolved from a historical account of a king who taught his people to use sails and interpret the winds).
  • Allegory: Some propose myths began as allegories for natural phenomena (Apollo=sun) or philosophical concepts (Aphrodite=desire), but came to be interpreted literally.
  • Personification: Some believe myths resulted from the personification of inanimate objects and forces; the ancients worshipped natural phenomena (fire, air, etc.), gradually coming to describe them as gods.

After reading, The Golden Bough, answer the reading comprehention questions which summarize Frazer’s theory on the progression of belief,and his reasoning regarding “our debt to the savage.”


Modern Myth? The Big Bang Theory

Our universe began as an infinitely small, infinitely hot, infinitely dense, something. Prior to that moment there was nothing. After its initial appearance, it apparently inflated, expanded and cooled, going from very, very small and very, very hot, to the size and temperature of our current universe. It continues to expand and cool to this day and we are inside of it: incredible creatures living on a unique planet, circling a beautiful star clustered together with several hundred billion other stars in a galaxy soaring through the cosmos, all of which is inside of an expanding universe that began as an infinitesimal singularity which appeared out of nowhere for reasons unknown.


[Frazer sails] all around his dangerous subject, as if charting the coastline of a forbidden island without actually committing himself to a declaration that it existed. What he was saying-not-saying was that Christian legend, dogma and ritual are the refinement of a great body of primitive and even barbarous beliefs, that almost the only original element in Christianity is the personality of Jesus.

A key theme underlying Frazer’s writing is that all “savage peoples” are pretty much the same. […] For Frazer, social life is a kind of institutionalised expression of symbolism – a representation of something else, and his mission is one of decipherment or interpretation. […yet] “all we can do is speculate. […] Like many of his contemporaries, he believed that European “civilisation” was superior to all other cultures – particularly “savage” ones – he thought that magic was misguided “savage science” and that all cultures progressed from a magical worldview to a religious, and ultimately rational, scientific mentality.